25 Bizarre But Beautiful Communist-Era Posters For Oscar-Worthy Hollywood Movies

Published February 27, 2016
Updated May 3, 2021

Their stark, often surreal portrayals of Hollywood's most beloved films revealed a startling, and intentional, divide between the East and West.

Big names, big slogans, and even bigger heads. That’s typically been the make-up of a Hollywood movie poster since the 1920s. In the Soviet states, however, things were a little different. It was a complicated time.

As the Cold War dragged on throughout the 20th century, some of the most important ideological battles took place in the artistic sphere. Eastern Bloc artists — mostly from Czechoslovakia and Poland — were not merely stamping actors’ grinning faces on a given film’s promotional material. However, they used the poster medium to show off their artistic talent and technical precision.

Many poster artists hadn’t even seen the film they were tasked with depicting. Instead, they created the posters based on an idea or some abstract association. Their stark portrayals of Hollywood’s most beloved films revealed a startling, and intentional, divide between the East and West.

See for yourself in the gallery of Oscar-nominated or winning American film posters below:

Jaws Posters
Big Poster
Ghostbusters Posters
The Conversation Movie
25 Bizarre But Beautiful Communist-Era Posters For Oscar-Worthy Hollywood Movies
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An Art Form All Its Own

From 1948 until the late 1980s, Czechoslovakia's isolation made for abstract interpretations of even the most popular Hollywood films. There were no competing movie studios; just one distribution company. Rather than spend money to ship and receive the original posters (and to not bother with reviewing materials that may be banned) they commissioned their own artwork.

At least one plus to this system was that artists simply got paid to make art. The state didn't place many restrictions on them, other than the work couldn't be blatantly political in nature.

During the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Communist-era movie posters were definitely dynamic — and fairly surreal. They created some stunning designs — though it's evident that most artists never even saw the films. They often went off a synopsis or sometimes just a title.

Most of Poland's later contributions to Communist-era movie posters were painted, though there are lovely examples of photo-collage during the late 1950s. From then until the 1980s, the communist state closely monitored the country's film industry.

However, throughout the Eastern Bloc, it was Poland that seemed to maintain the most autonomy — especially when it came to art and culture. Through this time of repression and limited freedoms, they retained their typical Polish spirit: indignant insubordination.

Poland rightly made poster design a true art form using vibrant colors and clever metaphors. If you encounter an eye-catching foreign film poster, there's probably a pretty good chance it's Polish.

Hollywood couldn't do anything about the treatments their movies received in the Eastern Bloc during this time, but the artists certainly enjoyed their time of celebrated creativity.

Polish Movie Poster Display

mwichary/FlickrA collection of Polish movie posters on display.

The Fall And Legacy The Communist Era Movie Poster

As the Eastern Bloc crumbled in the late 80s, Western companies could exercise more control over their movie releases. Now, much of the same promotional materials were used, with the only change being translated text.

It's a shame to see it go. Thankfully, its quality keeps it relevant in the art world today.

Historians refer to this graphic renaissance in Poland as the "Polish School of Posters". While it's not a school in the physical sense, it's definitely a phenomenon. One that took expressionism and surrealism to new levels of impact.

The head curator of Poland's poster museum, Marisuz Knorowski, describes the breadth of the legacy of the Polish school of Posters: "We are talking about thousands of works' several prominent artists and at least three generations".

Next, enjoy more surreal examples of highly bizarre Polish movie posters. Then, explore how Nazis used propaganda posters to control the masses.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.