Film posters are like birthday gifts: we usually know what we're gonna get. With so many big sequels this summer, studios need only freshen up the images (new shades for Messrs. Jones and Smith in Men in Black II, for instance), slap on a release date, and we're there. But what about films vying to win us over for the first time? Here's EW's semiannual critique of promo propositions.
Never mind the girth of the budget or the berth of the submarine, it's the size of the head that counts when a movie lands an A-list actor. The dark mug of Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker sternly reminds ticket buyers that the star was around well before Matt Damon was Bourne. Tom Cruise's close-up on the sneak poster of Minority Report is nothing new (his comely cranium has been the centerpiece for nearly all his movies since Risky Business). But his chin discreetly points out that this sci-fi endeavor is also a Steven Spielberg movie, providing double-barreled cred.
K-19 B+ - MINORITY REPORT B+
When summer movies strive to be cinema, studios banner the marquee name but hide the attention-sucking face. Tom Hanks' rain-soaked silhouette in Road to Perdition reveals DreamWorks' intent to position the Depression-era drama as an Oscar contender. In the lineup for Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal, Julia Roberts is intentionally hard to single out: The poster covers her baby-browns and even lists her alphabetically among the ensemble cast. And while Mel Gibson's name glows above Signs, his mug is bumped for crop circles -- a sign that the real star is director M. Night Shyamalan's mysterious Sixth Sense-ability.
ROAD B+ - FRONTAL C+ - SIGNS B
Something shaggy's going on -- and we don't mean Scooby-Doo's Matthew Lillard. Everywhere you turn, stars seem to be letting a goatee disguise their films' potential shortcomings. David Arquette's muzzle and the campy '50s horror style of Eight Legged Freaks seem straightforward, but our memories aren't so peach-fuzzy that we forgot the title changed from Arac Attack. Eddie Murphy's soul-patched smirk can't hide the fact that Pluto Nash has been held over from April 2001. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio's scruffy portrait on the Gangs of New York teaser recalls that of Dorian Gray: It's taken Martin Scorsese so long to finish the epic, Leo could have a Van Winkle beard by now.
FREAKS B - NASH C- - GANGS B+
Start with Armageddon Orange, add some artfully angled flames, and you've got the backdrop for a summer mind-eraser. Vin Diesel's pipes are still hot from driving 2001's The Fast and the Furious to a $145 million gross. Judging by Diesel's nuclear-size arm and Sony's $90 million budget, XXX should muscle action fans into the theater -- and the gym. Meanwhile, Reign of Fire wisely opts for angry fire-spewing dragons to torch London, rather than star Matthew McConaughey. He may know his way around a boat (U-571), but he's yet to prove he can slay testosterone-charged audiences.
XXX A - FIRE B-
To get the butts of the jackpot young-male demographic into the seats, it's sometimes best to lead with your backside. The '70s-blaxploitation spoof Undercover Brother pushes the tushes of Denise Richards and Aunjanue Ellis into inflatable-doll proportions. Perhaps it's strategic padding for the Eddie Griffin vehicle's paper-thin concept? With the '80s-rock-reviving indie Cherish, Robin Tunney looks like she's plotting to break out of her uneven career and one day be Brother's missing sistah...or a Charlie's Angel. Fine Line hopes this poster stretches her appeal as much as her pants.
BROTHER B- CHERISH C+
Without the budget or the battery of stars, indie marketers tend to seek coolness. Even if audiences shun the movie, the one-sheets will linger on dorm walls for years. Consider the comic-book style of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. Inspired by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane's cartoon sequences in the film, the cheeky no-nun-sense peek at Jodie Foster offsets the unfortunate title. Meanwhile, the illustration in The Kid Stays in the Picture, which also features animated graphics, literally adds iconic sparkle to '70s-film producer Robert Evans -- whether you know who he is yet or not.
ALTAR BOYS A- KID A