These 15 Movie Posters Are Worth a Combined $3 Million
In the pre-Rotten Tomatoes dark ages, sometimes it was simply an eye-catching movie poster that'd reel you into the theater for a few hours of cinematic stimuli. Ads for beloved classic films were often gorgeous works of graphic art. And since theater operators trashed much of this promotional paper after the final credits rolled, it became incredibly valuable.
Among high-end collectors, vintage Universal Studios' horror movie posters top the list of blue-chip investments. Popping with colorful visages of monsters, mummies and vampires, many of these super-scarce posters command shockingly high prices at major auction houses.
A rundown of the priciest posters ever sold would be dominated by Universal horror pictures. To spare you three different 1930s' "Dracula" posters, we've compiled a list of pricey paper that mixes things up by unrolling other unique, big-ticket posters spanning several film genres and nearly 80 years of movie history.
Terms of the Trade
Before diving into this lucrative hobby, familiarize yourself with a few must-know terms.
One sheet: Refers to the standard dimensions of an official studio-issued movie poster, usually measuring 27 by 41 inches. As posters increase in size, they're dubbed "three sheets," "four sheets" and so forth. Prior to the mid-1980s, most one sheets were folded and mailed to theaters in envelopes. Nowadays they're rolled and shipped inside poster tubes.
"Advance" and/or "Teaser": Much like an on-screen trailer, these are "coming attraction" posters displayed in theaters in advance of a movie's premiere.
‘A Clockwork Orange’
Poster style: U.S. alternate one sheet
A staple of college dorm-room decor and hipster-nerd t-shirts, everyone's familiar with the film's original, iconic poster featuring ultra-violent "Droog" Alex (Malcolm McDowell) brandishing a glinting knife.
In 1972, a year after Clockwork's U.S. release, director Stanley Kubrick trimmed 30 seconds-worth of "explicit sexual material" from his movie to get its original X-rating softened to "R". Promoting the film to a now-wider audience, Kubrick commissioned a new poster featuring the paperback-cover artwork from Anthony Burgess' original novel. A limited printing, this rarest of Clockwork posters has commanded as much as $19,000.
‘Revenge of the Jedi’
Poster style: U.S. advance teaser one sheet
Though not the priciest "Star Wars" poster in the galaxy, this Episode VI one-sheet is the most infamous and widely bootlegged. Before the 1983 release of "Return of the Jedi," the movie was briefly re-titled "Revenge of the Jedi." The studio printed nearly 9,000 posters with that title and began shipping them to theaters.
In late '82, George Lucas decided the word "Revenge" was unbefitting of a peaceful Jedi knight, so he reverted to the original "Return." The previously shipped posters were recalled, while the 6,800 copies still on hand were sold via mail order to Star Wars Fan Club members for $9.50 each.
Today, the fan club posters (tag-lined with the movie's May 25, 1983 release date) can fetch up to $2,000 in pristine condition. The rarer version shipped to cinemas, lacking the release date, can net $3,000 and up. But buyer beware. The market is flooded with fakes.
Poster style: U.S. one sheet
While cheesy posters promoting those bunk "Mummy" flicks starring Brendan Fraser are better suited for fish wrap, this one sheet touting the Boris Karloff classic is a vivid, true work of art. Of the three known extant copies, one is owned by Metallica guitarist and horror movie fanatic Kirk Hammett. Another sold in 1997 for $435,000, placing it fourth on the list of priciest movie posters.
Poster style: Italian "4 Fogli" (four sheet)
This enormous poster, measuring roughly 4-1/2 feet by 6-1/2 feet, is the only known surviving example of this beauty used to hype the 1942 Humphrey Bogart classic's first release in post-World War II Italy.
Many "Casablanca" collectors consider the realist-style artwork the finest ever produced for the film's numerous advertising pieces. And while this one-of-a-kind poster exhibits minor flaws and a few thumbtack pinholes (typically taboo with high-end collectors), it still managed to fetch an incredible $478,000 at auction in 2017. Here's looking at you, third-most expensive movie poster ever sold.
Poster style: U.S. advance one sheet
In the months leading up to the film's opening, theaters displayed this teaser poster featuring an alluring Uma Thurman smoking a cigarette. The image is nearly identical to the final-release poster, however subtle differences include the Lucky Strike-brand pack of smokes on the bed.
This caught the eye of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which threatened to sue Miramax for featuring its product without permission. To stub-out impending copyright litigation, the studio recalled the posters. Naturally, some copies were never returned and nowadays this rarity sells for $1,000 to $2,000, depending on condition. Beware bootlegs on eBay.
‘From Russia with Love’
Poster style: U.K. "world premiere" quad
Many old-school 007 aficionados regard this movie, not "Goldfinger," the cream of the James Bond crop. No surprise, the reel's extremely rare U.K. "quad" (measuring 30 inches by 40 inches) is highly coveted by 007 poster collectors, one of whom splurged $14,000 on a copy auctioned in 2012.
Trivia Alert: Wondering why Sean Connery isn't holding Bond's signature Walther PPK gun in the poster image? The prop master for the photo shoot, on which the artwork is based, forgot to bring the gun to the studio. So the photographer gave Connery his personal Walther LP-53 air pistol for the pose.
Poster style: U.S. one sheet
There are only three known copies of this poster featuring a menacing Bela Lugosi as everyone's favorite Transylvanian count. Actor Nicholas Cage, apparently as thirsty for cash as Dracula is for blood, auctioned his copy in 2012 for $310,000. Not to be outdone, in 2017 Dallas-based Heritage Auctions offered another copy that realized $525,800 — making "Dracula" the second-most valuable movie poster on earth.
Poster style: U.S. insert
See this infamous cult classic just once and it's guaranteed you'll be chanting "One of us, one of us, one of us" for days on end. A bizarre, fascinating, often disturbing horror flick starring real-life circus sideshow "freaks" (think conjoined twins, dwarves and bearded ladies), it bombed upon release and precious few promotional materials survived.
In 1978, a Southern California woman named Anne Stafford was browsing an antiques store for her husband's birthday gift, took a shine to a "Freaks" poster and bought it for $10. Some 30 years later, after "Freaks" became a midnight-movie legend, Stafford auctioned the poster and collected a cool $107,550.
‘The Bride of Frankenstein’
Poster style: U.S. "Style D" one sheet
Not only did the film strike fear into the hearts of 1930s' movie goers, the 2007 auction for this ultra-rare poster terrified collectors as the bidding climbed ever higher to an ultimate sale price of $334,600.
Scary expensive? Sure. But on the priceless tip, the striking artwork prominently features the monster's bride, sporting her iconic lightning-bolt hairdo. Très chic.
‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’
Poster style: Italian 24 sheet
Measuring roughly 9-feet-tall by 19-feet-wide, this immense billboard-style poster was printed for the Rome, Italy premiere of Clint Eastwood's quintessential "spaghetti western." Apparently undeterred by the likelihood that custom framing this one-of-a-kind colossus will cost more than the poster itself, a collector ponied-up $77,675 at a 2016 sale by Heritage Auctions.
Poster style: U.S. one sheet
Perhaps scarier than the movie itself, this unforgettable poster for Steven Spielberg's great-white blockbuster lured theater goers by the millions in the summer of '75. Though simple, the artwork masterfully conveys the shark-bite vulnerability of going for an ocean swim. Mint-condition "Jaws" specimens routinely hook $3,000 and up.
‘The Black Cat’
Poster style: U.S. "Style B" one sheet
Both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff make encore appearances on the list, this time together on the same poster for Universal Studios' adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe tale. Believed to be the only known copy, not to mention in "immaculate condition," the poster scared-up $334,600 at auction in 2009.
‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’
Poster style: U.S. lenticular one sheet (prototype)
It's not every day a contemporary movie poster sells at auction for $18,000, but this ain't your every-day Harry Potter poster. For the franchise's second installment, Warner Bros. created a handful of "Wanted"-style posters for Harry's godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman).
The one sheets were made in 3-D lenticular style, which simulates motion. In this case, depending on which angle you're viewing the poster, the image of Oldman fades and eventually disappears. After the studio realized putting the poster into full production would be too costly, the project was scrapped, and, presto, a collectible was born.
Poster style: Three sheet, German and international versions
What do Leonardo DiCaprio, the Austrian National Library Museum and New York's Museum of Modern Art have in common? All three possess a copy of this mega-rare poster for German filmmaker Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi masterpiece.
The fourth known surviving copy of this Art Deco-style beauty sold in a 2005 private exchange for $690,000 — crowning it the most expensive movie poster in history. In 2012, the owner was forced to surrender his prized poster in a bankruptcy auction lot that also included vintage sheets for "King Kong" and "The Invisible Man." Yet many collectors speculate a majority of the winning $1.2-million bid is owed to "Metropolis."
Poster style: U.S. one sheet
Is there a more perfect visual metaphor for 21st-century airline travel than this side-splitting spoof's poster picturing an airplane tied in a knot?
"Surely, you can't be serious?"
"I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
As long as you haven't picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, mint copies can be had for about $500 on eBay as well as from reputable, knowledgeable online dealer CineMasterpieces.