Part art. Part treasure. All poster.
Great movie posters are masterpieces of graphic design. But it takes a perfect storm of box office success, cult appeal, and extreme rarity for a single poster to gain tremendous cash value.
Today, the poster’s use as a marketing tool has been eclipsed by the online movie trailer and gimmick website. Meanwhile, designers from beyond the industry are producing some of the best movie art, creating high-concept unofficial posters for classic films. But for film fans, there’s nothing like a vintage poster that carries the aura of the excitement around a film’s original release. And there’s nothing like the price of an authentic poster: they regularly fetch upwards of a quarter-million dollars at auction.
Top Dollar has uncovered the most valuable movie posters of all-time – overall, and by genre and decade. And we’ve created an infographic guide to authenticating and preserving your vintage poster.
- The most valuable movie poster of all time is Heinz Schulz-Neudamm’s 1927 design for Metropolis ($690,000).
- A concept poster for the original 1977 Star Wars picture is the most expensive ‘franchise’ design to sell at auction ($45,410).
- The most expensive superhero movie poster to sell was for Barbarella (1968), at $8,400.
- Al White’s artwork for The Jungle Book (1967) is the most expensive poster for an animated film ($3,600).
In a moment, we’ll look at the all-time, six-figure-grabbing crown jewels of the movie poster trade. But first, here’s your best shot at finding a fortune in your garage. Use the drop-down menus to find the most valuable posters you might own by genre, franchise and decade.
Two Metropolis Posters Among Most Expensive Ever
Our top ten movie posters gallery is actually a sneaky top 12 – because positions three and nine are ties.
The oldest movie of the bunch spawned the most expensive poster. And, in its German version, the eighth-most expensive. Metropolis was a groundbreaking 1927 science-fiction silent film directed in Germany by Fritz Lang, who would become a legendary noir and western filmmaker in Hollywood, too.
But Heinz Schulz-Neudamm’s Metropolis poster was just as pioneering, occurring at a critical moment in design history. Drawing on the expressionist techniques of the movie itself, the artist’s use of line also hints at the recent influence of Italian Futurism and the Dutch De Stijl movement – as well, of course, as the German Bauhaus.
Our top ten (or 12) is dominated by the horror genre. What makes horror so collectible?
Horror posters are direct and iconic. Like horror movies, they are low-key laboratories for stylistic innovation. Five of the top films are from Universal Studios, which was known for its cheap, enjoyable pictures. With lower budgets and lower expectations, horror designers and filmmakers can take more risks and embrace or even lead the avant-garde – as exemplified by the range of artistic movements incorporated in the Metropolis poster.
Plus, posters from before the 1940s are rarer. And many of the films from before the 1940s that have remained the most iconic are horror movies. Another perfect storm.
How to Authenticate and Care for Your Vintage Movie Poster
If you spend a four- or five- or six-figure sum on a movie poster, you’ll want to know it’s the real deal. You’ll also need to look after it. Old movie posters are “ephemera” after all – they weren’t made to last beyond the first run of the movie.
Your poster is liable to break easily, fade, or yellow if treated like just another wall print. It might even get moldy if it’s been stored badly. If you don’t plan to display it, it is best to keep it flat in an acid-free sleeve, away from heat and humidity.
But come on – you’ve got to display it! Make sure to frame it carefully, using UV-resistant glass to protect it from the sun. And remember, the real horror movie villain isn’t Boris Karloff’s Dracula – it’s your friend with the popcorn-greasy fingers.
Collecting vintage movie posters is a superb way to explore your passion for film while adding style to your apartment. A valuable purchase might even be a good investment for the future – although, of course, you’d only sell to make room for more posters.
And remember, if you want a poster with a story but can’t afford to go vintage, you can always go Polish.
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
We collected a list of the most expensive movie posters from Heritage Auctions and supplemented it with information from an article in The Guardian to create the most expensive movie posters static.
To create the charts with most expensive posters split by genres, decades and franchises, we compiled a list of the 10 most iconic movies for each genre, each decade (1960s to 2020s) and collected a list of all movies from popular franchises. We then used Heritage Auctions to find prices and images of each poster. We limited the search to the three most expensive posters per movie and focused on only sold items.
The data was collected in August-September 2021.
A.Pulver. (2012). The 10 most expensive film posters – in pictures. theguardian.com
Heritage Auctions. (2021). Vintage Movie Posters. movieposters.ha.com
Movie Poster Collectors. (2021). HOW TO DISTINGUISH ORIGINAL MOVIE POSTERS FROM BOOTLEGS, REPRINTS, AND COMMERCIAL POSTERS. moviepostercollectors.guide
The Gregor Fisken Cinema Poster Collection. (2021). RESTORATION. fiskenposter.com
The Poster Collector. (2021). How to Restore Movie Posters. postercollector.co.uk