Film and architecture go together like peanut butter and whatever you like to eat with peanut butter (I’m not here to judge). The point is that the two art forms share an intimate bond, a fact that was recognized early on in film history.
In the late 1930s, the legendary Russian director Sergei Eisenstein explained the filmmaking technique of montage by means of an architectural metaphor, noting how a visitor to the Acropolis would not be able to take in the whole complex from a single vantage point. To do this, the visitor would need to move through the Acropolis and experience the different spaces as a sequence of individual impressions.
Still from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1931 film “¡Que Viva México!”; via The Third Eye
Filmmaking, for Eisenstein, works the same way. Films, like buildings, are constructed environments, and the filmmaker, like the architect, must ensure that they are navigable. Like architecture, film has had its postmodern and deconstructionist rebels, who created techniques to throw viewers off the trail and frustrate their attempts to comprehend the whole. But in general, the medium prizes narrative smoothness, which can be seen as an analogue to functionality.
It is no surprise, then, that filmmakers often take a great interest in architecture. From Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” to Charlie Kaufman’s “Synechdoche, New York,” directors have drawn on architectural influences to create memorable, sometimes otherworldly sets. It is common to hear movie fans say that they wish they could live inside their favorite films. What follows are 10 examples of stylish movie posters featuring architecture that speak to the special relationship between these two art forms. This is far from a complete list, so please share your own favorites in the comments.
10. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013)
This one is a bit meta. For the promotional campaign of the second entry in the popular “Hunger Games” series, the studio decided to create posters advertising an event that occurs within the storyline of the movie, a “victory tour” featuring the winners of the most recent “Hunger Games.” In these posters, a Libeskindian stainless steel structure looms menacingly behind the dwarfed protagonists, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta. The world of the “Hunger Games” may be a dystopia, but this expressionistic steelwork is hard not to admire.
Via Business Insider
9. “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Readers of Architizer might remember an article from earlier in the year that explored the history of Gotham City as it has been represented in cinema. Because it is a metaphor for urban decay, Gotham serves as a blank canvas for different filmmakers, who are free to represent it in ways that reflect their own anxieties about modern existence.
In this poster, the city is shown to be collapsing in on itself. The viewer, hemmed in by skyscrapers, looks upward to find a clearing in the urban canopy shaped like the bat signal. Here, as always, the bat signal is an ambiguous signifier: It is a symbol of hope, on the one hand, but then again it only shows up during times of crisis, which are all too common in the beleaguered Gotham.
Via The Superslice
8. “Oblivion” (2013)
There are a good deal of skyscrapers featured in the posters on this list. This is because skyscrapers, more than any other building, exemplify one of Hollywood’s favorite moods: the sublime.
Immanuel Kant described the sublime as the intuition of something immense, or “limitless,” which causes the spectator to feel comparatively small and fragile. Romantic writers on aesthetics would often associate the sublime with nature, but noted that builders of temples and cathedrals had also attempted to create this sense of grandeur via imposing structures. In the 2010s, a time of great environmental anxiety, what better way to capture the sublime than to depict a great city overtaken by even greater natural forces?
7. “Inception” (2010)
One day, a long time from now, filmgoers will realize something I have known for years, which is that “Inception” is quite a bad movie. On that day, people will feel like they have been awoken abruptly from a dream. It will almost be as startling as if the contours of their reality, their own cities, were to fold in on themselves in the manner of a tidal wave.
6. “Mean Streets” (1973)
Martin Scorsese’s New York is quite different from Robert Moses’s view of the same city. While Moses saw New York as something perfectible, a kind of laboratory for rational urban living, Scorsese has always depicted the Big Apple as a twisted concrete labyrinth, a feral netherworld that pulses with lust, violence and everything else that brings intensity to the experience of living in close quarters with millions of other human beings. There’s nothing utopian about his Mean Streets, as reflected in this noir-inspired poster that inserts a smoking handgun in the place of a skyscraper.
5. “The Towering Inferno” (1974)
While this list has so far focused on filmmakers’ general affinity for architecture, it is worth noting that buildings do not always fare so well in Hollywood films, a phenomena we covered in a previous article that focused on the popularity of disaster films. “The Towering Inferno” is an exemplar of the genre, a rollicking adventure with a star-studded ensemble cast that dominated the box office the year it was released.
4. “Synechdoche, New York” (2008)
One of the most challenging films to feature the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Kaufman’s “Synechdoche, New York” is a heartbreaking meditation on the incommensurability between art and life. Hoffman’s character, Caden, is a playwright who, after earning a genius grant, decides to stage a play that represents his life perfectly. Like his life, the play is ongoing and unpredictable. As one might expect, the set of this surreal theatrical production takes on outsized proportions, as seen in the poster for the movie.
3. “As Above, So Below” (2014)
A horror film presented in the faux documentary style of “The Blair Witch Project,” “As Above, So Below” follows a group of filmmakers as they venture into the historic catacombs of Paris. While the reviews for this film were only lukewarm, the poster was absolutely brilliant.
The inverted Eiffel Tower — a familiar landmark made strange — reminds this reporter of the inverted cross that many view as a symbol of the Devil. (Catholics differ with Satanists on this point.) In any case, there is something unmistakably evil about an image in which the Eiffel Tower points downward and the sky is filled with graves.
2. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
Wes Anderson has an architect’s interest in set design. “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) and “The Life Aquatic” (2005) both feature elaborate sets presented in the cutaway fashion of a dollhouse or section drawing. His most recent film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” also centers on a singular structure: a gorgeous, bright pink Beaux Arts hotel located in the mountains of Central Europe. The image of the hotel that appears on the poster is clearly a model, a fact that should speak to architects, who understand better than anyone how fulfilling it is to work out the details of a large-scale project in miniature.
1. “Metropolis” (1927)
Writers often mention that the German Expressionist film “Metropolis” was inspired by Art Deco architecture and design. I think a fairer way to put this is that the film has become inseparable with the public’s understanding of Art Deco aesthetics. Fritz Lang’s attractive dystopian sets established a pattern for cinematic cool that would be copied by Ridley Scott and others.
This poster for the original theatrical release emphasized the film’s presentation of the city as a vast machine that dwarfs the individual. Comparisons can be made between this image and Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 16th-century painting of the “Tower of Babel,” a Biblical symbol of architectural excess.