Saul Bass’ movie posters: then and now

What's left of Saul Bass’ movie posters on today's DVD packaging design

Saul Bass Love in the afternoon 1957
    Original design by Saul Bass (1957)
    DVD, Warner Home Video (2002)
Saul Bass Saint Joan 1957
    Original design by Saul Bass (1957)
    DVD, Warner Archive Collection (2010)
Saul Bass Bonjour tristesse 1958
    Original design by Saul Bass (1958)
    DVD, Sony Pictures (2003)
Saul Bass Vertigo 1958
  • VERTIGO (1958)
    Original design by Saul Bass
  • VERTIGO (2008)
    DVD, Universal
Saul Bass Anatomy of a murder 1959
    Original design by Saul Bass (1959)
    DVD, Sony Pictures (2000)
Saul Bass Exodus 1960
    Original design by Saul Bass (1960)
    DVD, MGM (2002)
Saul Bass One, two, three 1961
  • ONE, TWO, THREE (1961)
    Original design by Saul Bass
  • ONE, TWO, THREE (2003)
    DVD, MGM
Saul Bass Advise and consent 1962
    Original design by Saul Bass (1962)
    DVD, Warner Home Video (2005)
Saul Bass It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world 1963
    Original design by Saul Bass (1963)
    DVD, MGM (2003)
Saul Bass In harm’s way 1965
    Original design by Saul Bass (1965)
    DVD, Paramount (2001)
Saul Bass Bunny Lake is missing 1965
    Original design by Saul Bass (1965)
    DVD, Sony Pictures (2005)
Saul Bass Such good friends 1971
    Original design by Saul Bass (1971)
    DVD, Olive Films (2011)
Saul Bass The double McGuffin 1979
    Original design by Saul Bass (1979)
    DVD, Good Times Video (2005)

When Saul Bass worked for Hollywood studios he created a complete and consistent identity for films (main and credit titles, a symbol or trademark, trailers, posters, ads, album cover).

Director Otto Preminger persuaded studios to use Bass’ work, which was considered unconventional and differed from the norm. Hitchcock followed later and from 1955 to 1965 Bass created some of the most iconic and historically significant designs for films like The man with the golden arm (1955), Vertigo (1958) and Anatomy of a murder (1959). Today, fifteen years after his death, his work still remains relevant and keeps inspiring designers.

Marketing people in today’s Hollywood don’t seem to know much about design or film history. Maybe they’re too obsessed with Photoshop, gradients and floating heads. For whatever reason, they decided not to use Saul Bass’ artwork for DVD covers.

I’ve put the original designs next to the recent versions. I kept staring at them to figure out what makes the versions on the right superior to Bass’ designs, but it’s kind of hard to find an answer. Anyone?

EDIT: More information about Bass’ work can be found in the fantastic book Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham.

Designed by Saul Bass’s daughter Jennifer and written by distinguished design historian Pat Kirkham, who knew Saul Bass, this book contains more than 1,400 illustrations, many from the Bass archive and never published before, providing an in-depth account of one of the leading graphic artists of the 20th century.

Hardback | 1484 illustrations, 440 pages | £48.00 | Published in the UK by Laurence King Publishing.

EDIT: the Criterion Collection prove their knowledge of design and cinema history and used Bass’ design for the DVD and Blu-ray packaging.

Saul Bass Anatomy of a murder 1959
    Original design by Saul Bass (1959)
    DVD/Blu-ray, Criterion Collection (2012)

Related: Saul Bass title sequences

  1. the horror! the degeneration of the discipline! speechless

  2. Brendan says:


  3. bandit says:

    easy to see the theme, and even easier to hear the marketing person speaking in the back of your mind … “make the logo bigger” “put the logo at the top” without fail this is the mantra. unfortunately this has become the only “convention” that marketing people are familiar with.

  4. The Bass posters are, of course, far superior aesthetically. But I do think the redesigns have a point in adding clear photographs of the stars. Some of these actors’ names may be obscure to modern shoppers, but a photo of James Cagney or Kirk Douglas could trigger a jolt of recognition from childhood. That said, the Vertigo poster, for example, should work just as well as the remake — everyone knows who Jimmy Stewart is!

  5. James says:

    Marketing is what happened.

  6. DonZilla says:

    I agree with Reed . . . plus, TV is what happened. The original movie posters, as awesome as they are, wouldn’t be recognizable to those who weren’t old enough to see these films in theaters, but caught them on TV.

  7. Tony says:

    The simple answer is that design is problem solving, and the designs on the right solve a different problem than the designs on the left. However graphically, conceptually and historically superior Bass’ work may be, a poster and a DVD cover are different beasts, right?

  8. Toni says:

    This is incredibly depressing and seriously poignant as we take our film (and its artwork) into distribution phases. Ugh.

  9. rutep says:

    thanks so much for this. all I can say is “#$”%#$&$%”&%. The horror, the horror…

  10. RunBMC says:

    To be fair, the 2003 Special Edition release of WEST SIDE STORY used Bass’ exact poster design with almost no alterations. The Blu-Ray release of that title (as well as MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD) will do the same.

  11. Alinos says:

    to be it seems like the new covers are a way of saying yes this is a film from the 50-60s

    Bunny lake is missing seems like the only one that would appeal to todays markets

    At least the Saint joan one is still his work instead of a bunch of cheap screengrabs

  12. Yeah, the originals are obviously better from a design perspective but i agree with Reed Donzilla and Tony that movie posters aren’t aimed at designers, they need to stand out on the supermarket shelf or the high street.

    The alternative posters by Olly Moss or the Black Swan deco-styled artwork are head and shoulders above the average key art but would they catch the eye of Joe Public? Probably not.

    With the massive choice of entertainment on offer now- internet, tv, gaming, phones, etc etc – cinema or DVD has a lot to do in order to attract people. The artwork therefore needs to have as many hooks as possible – starring…, directed by…, from the director of…, from the producers of…, from the same studio that brough you… etc. Any one of them could hit a particular audience type so they usually all end up as big as the logo.

    Whilst it’s a shame, it’s a completely understandable change from how it used to be.

  13. Agree with some of the other comments on here. “Big photos of the actors” seems to be something that ticks more marketing boxes. However, I can’t help but feel that there could have been better compromises made. Perhaps “Advise & Consent” offers the best example of good compromise.

    A nice design solution would have been to have the modern “marketing-approved” covers on the store copies and the original poster artwork printed on the reverse side so design (and film) nerds like us could switch it to something more aesthetically appealing once we got it home.

  14. The worst thing about the new version of One, Two, Three is that it spoils the ending. That’s the final scene from the film there on the cover.

  15. Mark says:

    Sales people seem to be designing the world these days. Where are the Howard Roarks of our time?

  16. Ben says:

    I wonder if there was some sort of copyright issue. Why else would they come to the decision to change these?

  17. Lauren says:

    It’s really the retailers that control these things. The whole “giant floating head”phenomenon was generated by Blockbuster’s insistence on having it as a part of the design or they wouldn’t carry the title. If it’s not a huge recognizable blockbuster your creative currency goes down. You gotta have a star or make it LOOOk like it’s another famous movie if ur an indie/obscure/older film.

  18. JoeFresh says:

    Saul Bass is dead, get over yourselves. I think the new designs are awesome. All those awesome faces. That really let’s me know who’s in the movie.

  19. Nittles says:

    No one buys DVD’s at a store anymore. The covers probably are made to be quickly recognizable when scrolling through something digitally.

    The Bass works are classic, but were made for a different purpose. The new ones are garbage aesthetically, but probably just churned out by some first year production artist so that they could throw them onto Netflix.

    I doubt most of these covers were truly art directed. Probably just layed out according to a formula and approved all within a week’s time.

  20. Driver says:

    The first thing I noticed is how 2D and flat most of the old posters are. I agree that they are better as far as aesthetics, but most modern posters tell a story and showcase the talent (visually, not just by name). It can be argued that the new posters have more depth and pull the viewer into the packaging more. Having said that, every modern poster follows this line of logic and they are totally uninspiring if you ask me. : /

  21. Tayo says:

    i think most of the new covers are great. there not meant to be art house films or even quirky. thanks to designers limit frame of referencing a saul bass style of cover means the film could be a bit indie or possibly interesting (many exceptions i know) as all the influences get confused. hitchock aside, most of these movies are awful and the new covers rightfully represent that.

  22. Oluseyi says:

    I’m quite pleased at the number of people who pointed out that design does not occur in a vacuum, and that the problems the original posters and the new DVD box covers are trying to solve are vastly different. I sometimes worry about a sort of “echo chamber” of fawning over certain icons – deserving though they are of praise. It’s good to know that many people can appreciate the aesthetic value of the Saul Bass originals (and they’re wonderful!) while understanding the commercial and communicative pressures placed on the newer versions.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  23. Bran says:

    I think most people defending the new versions are looking at all this in a wrong perspective – I’m sorry, but Saul Bass had the courage to to not give a F@€# about the stupid star system in his posters, while making them easier to produce at the same time (reduced use of colors, simplicity, etc.)

    They are what it all should be about (graphic design and movies). Modern designers simply “sell their souls” to the general marketing crowd and all the white collar folk, who think they know all about the audiences because they ridiculously want to create the future based on statistics and studies.

    All this ugly modern covers help to create and maintain a lot of missconceptions in people – even making people say they need to see the actors face in the cover..

    Of course, the truth is mainstream movies are also spoon feeding their audiences, treating us like little brainless children, so I guess it’s natural that such an attitude extends into the rest of the “merchandising”..

    What if Raygun would remake all of their “Carson’s editions” with “looks more appealing to the general public” now..

    P.S. – Just for the record, I wasn’t even born when those covers were made. I mean, I wasn’t even born when the first Star Wars hit the streets. I think things may change and be “updated” but only when that means they can get better or at least maintain the respect for what preceeded them and the objective/product/client/project/movie..

  24. Joe says:

    In most cases, Bass work is conceptually far better. In a few cases, the ugly update does make it a bit clearer (if that *is* a goal, but I kind of like a mysterious movie poster, it makes me want to see it! Derivative hollywood design approaches make me not want to see a movie!)
    What drives me nuts is when a hack takes the Bass design and moves the type up and zooms in on the image. Saint Joan being the worst destruction of the design.

  25. Mario says:

    Marketing destroyed graphic design and communication. What used to be a visual identity for a film, became “we desperately need to show people this is a film!”, “we desperately need to show what genre of film is this!”, “we desperately need to show who the actors are!”.

    I am sorry but the whole “people today don’t know who Kirk Douglas or James Cagney are” argument is just stupid. I was born decades after most of these films were made and that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it because I don’t know who the actors are or because they weren’t on some celebrities magazine cover.

    It’s a matter of companies giving too much power to the marketing dept. which ruins everything! Because what it does is finding an average point to reach to a broader audience and in doing so, everything has to be, well, average! not too bold, not too strong, not too hot, not too cold, just meh… and it definitely can’t have a defined style because then it won’t please people who might not like that particular style.