Josh Wolk
June 23, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a movie poster a million moviegoers. With so many summer blockbusters choking the multiplexes, all it takes is one striking image to jolt ticket buyers out of their indecision — or one muddled message to send them fleeing to another theater. If one-sheets are works of art, then this season’s offerings — a tidal wave, a giant moose, and two guys in fat suits — would make one hell of a museum exhibit. Here to take you on a tour of the masterpieces and missteps is EW‘s semiannual movie poster critique.

How do you create an action poster? Take star, subtract smile, add generous amounts of orange, and ta-da! A stylishly flesh-wounded Tom Cruise making a fiery armed entrance tells fans all they need to know about M:I-2 (it can even get by with an abbreviated title): He’s off his serious-flicks sabbatical and back in blockbuster mode. The only demerit: John Woo’s trademark birds on the right, a visual signature that’s long since tumbled into self-parody. Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, has never strayed far from indistinguishable adrenaline flicks, and the generic 60 Seconds image gives no hope of anything new; all that’s fresh is the mesmerizing Angelina Jolie, but that’s a gimme. Finally, the Shaft update makes one bad mother of a mistake: Nostalgia for the original derives from the theme song, yet this poster makes no reference to it. Any questions? Damn right: Where’s the ”Can ya dig it?”


Image can be everything: The minimalistically creepy phantom face of Hollow Man (Aug. 4) gets more unsettling as your eyes adjust to it. X-Men‘s (July 14) teaser poster depends on a mysterious stand-alone symbol, but does it have the universal cachet of Batman’s bat? The uninitiated might assume it’s hyping a sci-fi remake of Malcolm X.


Just because you’ve got the big stars doesn’t mean you have to flaunt ’em. The Perfect Storm (June 30) bumps George Clooney in favor of the giant wave Warner Bros. has been using as the film’s effective breath-stealing selling point since the first trailer. As for Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, in light of the dismal box office of Random Hearts and The Story of Us, the creepy Beneath (July 21) wisely opts to play up a horror angle more foolproof than its stars, with a stark image that could give bathtub fans a Psycho trauma to call their own.


Is it a come-on for a movie or a strip club? That’s the point. The lingerie-model pouting pose is as beer-ad basic as you can get, but it seems entirely representative of the movie (Aug. 4): beautiful women acting beautiful (occasionally veering into gorgeous). End of story, end of poster. Who says there’s no truth in advertising?


Sometimes all it takes is a star’s face to sell a movie, especially when it’s one as expressive as Jim Carrey’s. His split-skulled shot for Me, Myself & Irene (June 23) not only sells the split-personality concept but allows twice the mugging. The Patriot (June 28) is putting all its money on Mel Gibson’s determined blue eyes and sideburns, although his generic glare is so dominating that this cheesy portrait looks like Mel’s 1776 Lexington High School yearbook picture. Emotion isn’t lacking in the soft-focus Autumn (Aug. 4), where Richard Gere’s passionately closed eyes and Winona Ryder’s doomed-heroine ”come to the light” gaze wail Tragic Love Story. The ”He fell in love for the first time…she fell in love forever” tag line completes the sap attack, but earns points for being unapologetic.

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