Movie posters: They don’t make ’em like they used to. Sure, smaller independent films can get away with something interesting (usually with a yellow background), but posters for major blockbusters tend to be pretty formulaic. The first few decades of cinema were, however, a different story.
With hand-drawn illustrations and lettering, collages of black-and-white stills, or geometric midcentury graphic designs, these are works of art in their own right. And while some movie posters have long had a place hanging framed in dining rooms, or blue-tacked to a dorm room wall, there are so many out there for us to enjoy. Here’s what to know about a website with a large collection of classic movie posters that also happen to be free to download.
What you’ll find in the collection
The Movie Poster Collection at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center contains around 10,000 digitized movie posters going back to the silent era. We first learned of the online archive from a post by Kevin Kelly on the Recomendo newsletter.
The largest part of the collection (and some of the most fun posters to browse) come from the Interstate Theater Circuit—a chain that once included nearly every movie theater in Texas. The posters, film stills, lobby cards, and press books cover the 1940s through the 1970s with a particularly robust collection of films from the 1950s and 1960s, including musicals, epics, westerns, sword and sandal, horror, and counterculture films.
How to search, browse, and download old movie posters
There are a few different ways to access the posters in the collection. Whether you’re searching or browsing, you’ll want to start on this page of the collection’s website.
The search function works like any other library’s, including the option to do an advanced search—but browsing is the fun part. In addition to going through each image, page by page, you can also narrow it down and browse specific genres, like crime, science fiction, erotica, action/adventure, and horror.
Click on any poster to see a larger version of it, or to print or download it for free. There are three size/resolution options for each poster. Be aware that The Harry Ransom Center does not own the rights to these posters, and they are for personal and educational use only. If you have any specific questions about usage, contact the Harry Ransom Center directly.