A 19th century Painting: The root of many Blockbuster movie posters

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There is an oil painting that dates back to the 1800’s which has clearly inspired many of the Hollywood blockbuster movie posters, Old is Gold inspiration for designers.


When I look at the movie posters of the blockbuster Hollywood flicks, the most important thing I notice prior to the actors and directors is the amount of details that goes into the posters. The designing process and moreover, the idea for the poster has its roots found somewhere which is in existence. I have kept complaining about the stunning visual and thematic sameness of blockbuster films, I am moreover impressed by many of them.


The ultimate level of excitement we feel from the ominous, dark stakes these movie posters represent is unimaginable. But what of the ubiquitous imagery present in every single blockbuster movie poster? The lone figure standing on a precipice, overwhelmed with the plot of the movie! All the credit for these designing is not the work of cynical corporate movie marketing people. Nope. It comes to us from Caspar David Friedrich, the artist of the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, a beautiful oil painting from 1818.


The 19th Century Painting That Most Blockbuster Movie Posters Are Based On


A young man standing upon a rocky precipice with his back faced to the viewer, the man gazes at the landscape filled with thick sea of fog. That is nothing but the ‘Wanderer above the Sea’ oil painting made in 1818, an art by Caspar David Friedrich. Have you felt the same feeling I have while reading the above line? Yes. It strikingly features the same pattern found in many of the Hollywood blockbuster movie posters.


Through the wreaths of fog, forests of trees can be perceived atop these escarpments. In the far distance, faded mountains rise in the left, gently leveling off into lowland plains in the east. Beyond here, the pervading fog stretches out indefinitely, eventually commingling with the horizon and becoming indistinguishable from the cloud-filled sky.




The painting has been re-used repeatedly, for instance to promote a Canadian musical. The title of the painting is the name of a song in Wolves in the Throne Room’s 2009 album Black Cascade.


The painting’s iconic composition has been highly influential on the composition of scenes in stage or screen productions such as David Tennant’s Hamlet and the BBC’s Sherlock, and the composition of blockbuster movie posters, such as the ones from 2010 to 2013 seen above. He argued that the image of a lone figure standing on a precipice evokes the feeling of “big stakes” and inevitable change aimed at by dramas, focusing the audience’s attention on the point where the fictional hero decides what to do about the challenge they face.



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The army guy standing with his back faced to the viewer with a backdrop of destruction caused by war.

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The poster of After Earth with the protagonist standing on a rumble of airplane damage facing the woods.


The soon to be released Star Trek Flick also features a strikingly similar feel to the oil painting.

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The action flick released in 2011 has all the backdrop elements, except for the setting in Jakarta slums.


The soon to be released Tom Cruise flick Oblivion, does some replication of the oil painting, but with the backdrop of a sci-fi fiction. 



The original Oil Painting: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog




What do you think about the oil painting and the inspiration it is leading for generations ahead? Share your thoughts and comments below.


Srikanth A.N. is the founder and editor-in-chief of Infworm, one of the fastest growing technology and information destination. Srikanth is currently an Electronics Engineering undergrad from the University of Mumbai. Follow him on Google+.

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