The marketing departments at movie studios are in the business of boiling the success and failure of movies down to simple formulas. Based on the posters from the first half of this year, the formula they seem to have settled on is "Movie Posters MINUS Face EQUALS Money."
While the Lincoln poster is admittedly badass, it appears that Abraham Lincoln is actively hiding his face from us for no apparent reason. If he wanted to hide his identity, he probably would have chosen something besides a Lincoln stovepipe hat to hide behind. The entire premise of Haywire is "beautiful woman realistically beats the shit out of people," and its poster opts to hide her face and instead go for more of a Slash from Guns N' Roses look. We're not sure what Now You See Me is about, but it seems content letting us assume it's a caper set in an early iPod advertisement.
Now there's a logic at work here that, like all bad ideas, makes sense in certain contexts. For instance, some blockbusters opt to show a simple logo instead of actors.
Nolan's gritty Batman movies, Spider-Man and the Hunger Games books all have bigger fan bases than any individual actor in those movies, so it makes sense that they'd use their logo. Other times, blockbusters are willing to acknowledge that they do, in fact, contain characters by opting for the "show the character from behind, thus leaving open the possibility that it's your favorite actor" design:
This can also be useful if you have something to hide; for instance, that your comedy is only produced by the guy who directed The Hangover, and doesn't have any of the recognizable stars from The Hangover in it. Is that Bradley Cooper passed out face down in the grass? The makers of Project X aren't telling ...
But often times, perfectly good movies are being hurt by the assholes in marketing's new, pointless rule. For instance, you probably didn't go see Wanderlust when it came out earlier this year, even though it's made by one of the best comedic directors working and stars the hilarious Paul Rudd. Of course, you wouldn't have known who was in it based on the poster, which could just as easily have been an ad for allergy medication.
Wanderlust had what used to be considered money in the bank: two likeable stars we wouldn't mind watching fuck each other. And it went out of its way to hide that fact from us on the movie poster.
There is, of course, a perfectly stupid misunderstanding behind all of this: Hollywood has noticed that movie stars -- people audiences will turn out to see regardless of what the movie is about -- are an endangered species. In the early '90s, they had Schwarzenegger and Stallone for action movies, Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise for comedies and dramas and at least a dozen other bankable go-to stars. These days, the only actors with reliable box office track records are early '90s rap novelty acts, and they've only taught two of those how to act.
Don't think they haven't tried to make Vanilla Ice take lessons.
The supposedly bankable movie stars who aren't Will Smith and Mark Wahlberg spent the past few years proving that we won't go see them in any old piece of shit.
Our message to Hollywood was loud and unmistakable: We will no longer go to see a crappy movie just because it has two famous people riding a motorcycle together. But when marketing departments are trying to reverse-engineer successes and failures, the one thing they're not allowed to take into account is quality. Those three movies from back when movie posters had faces in them were all aggressively unoriginal pieces of shit, but studios are not in the business of accepting responsibility for crappy movies. Again, it's in their best interest to pretend that they can avoid future failures by turning past failures into formulas, and "Faces on the Poster EQUALS Cinematic Shit Stain" seems to be where they've landed on this one.
Now that The Avengers has broken every record at the box office with a poster that lets you in on who's actually in the movie, we might start seeing more faces in movie theater lobbies. But it will always be fun to look back and remember the first half of 2012, when Hollywood was so afraid to show faces on movie posters that they made a character-driven movie expressly designed to appeal to fans of the actors involved, and then tried to sell it with a poster that uses a nuclear-blast-level lens flare to make sure you couldn't see who they were.