Viva VHS #3: My Eyes! Horrible DVD Covers (Part One)

I don't understand it. Time after time I keep running into the same scenario - the movie poster looked great  but the DVD cover is awful! What gives? What is it about marketing the DVD that makes the "creative" directors turn a perfectly good piece of movie art into a horrible Photoshopped piece of garbage?

It just doesn't make financial sense to throw out the old artwork in favor of new artwork that looks like it was thrown together in two minutes, especially when this is a product that consumers may be wanting to add to a collection.

It would be one thing to replace old artwork with something better, but why in the world would you commission cheap Photoshopped trash? Do the marketing strategists know something we don’t know? Perhaps it’s been determined that people will more readily buy a DVD if the cover looks like something made by a 9 year old.  Are they designed strictly for passerby in Wal-Mart, with no thought whatsoever for the collector?

Simply put: The DVD cover is marketed to mass America, not movie lovers. 

Of course, one could argue we're comparing apples and oranges. The movie poster has a different function than the DVD cover, and it is substantially larger, allowing for more elaborate artwork and blank space. This explanation has some credibility; however, is there really ever an excuse to turn out this kind of crap? I think not.  These covers are bad, real bad.... inexcusably bad.

To illustrate my point, I've compiled a gallery of side by side comparisons of the theatrical poster (on the left) and the DVD covers (on the right). I think you'll see what I mean.

The DVD cover is a screen cap with a Photoshop filter applied.  Estimated time to create cover art: approximately six minutes. I think the movie poster art did a good job invoking the slightly campy/cartoonish feel of the movie - and it harkens back to those old EERIE and CREEPY magazines.

I wonder if the DVD designer was really proud of the "Charley Varrick" lettering. Some of the tackiest word art I've ever seen.  And what exactly is that black smudge occupying the right side of the picture?

I love the artwork for this movie poster - it's fairly innovative with the title taking a backseat to the proclamation that "crime lives!". The DVD cover has Woody's face so overly Photoshopped he looks like a CGI character. The lettering has a money texture effect - how delightful.

What an "ingenious" composition - stick a meaningless screen cap between each of the blades! (yawn)  That faux metallic lettering is an interesting choice - I've seen it used on WWF and muscle car magazine covers, but rarely in movie art of the 21st century. Interesting.

This one literally had me laughing it was so awful.  The movie poster was brilliant IMHO; the DVD cover is a train wreck.

Something that could be made after 15 minutes of a Photoshop beginners tutorial should not become a DVD cover! I'm thinking the DVD distributor got his son to do it for an extra 10 bucks in his allowance.

What? That's the best they could do? Are you kidding me? I guess I should focus on the positive - at least they spelled everything right.

Whose bright idea was this? Take a great piece of fantasy artwork and throw it in the garbage in favor of 3 horrible screen caps in 3 Photoshopped circles.   

The original artwork was painted by the legendary Frank Frazetta. The DVD artwork was created by an anonymous high school dropout in his mom's basement and emailed to the distributor for beer money.

The movie poster makes me want to go out and see this movie. By God, I'm ready to "take a bite and feel all right"! The Photoshop disaster on the right, however, just makes me want to weep bitterly.

How could they? The got rid of the iconic shishkebab impalement for THIS? This is too bad even for the most inexperienced Photoshopper - I'm thinking this was done using the old Windows Paint accessory. What's with the eyes? I don't unnnnderrrstaaaaaaaaand!!!
Whew! (wiping sweat from brow) Stay tuned for part two, coming your way shortly.


  1. I got to say that I rkinda like the Krull DVD cover. It sucks in all the right ways.

  2. Krull! Now there's a piece of sci-fi/fantasy trash blast from the past!

  3. I've always hated the covers for various DVD editions of TAXI DRIVER; major spoiler included. I won't say what it is here, just in case. But it's just criminal.

  4. Wow flashbacks! I really like the theater poster for Labyrinth.

  5. Really what you're dealing with are two different markets in two different time periods.

    The posters were meant to be seen large as you passed by a theater or stood in line and often times used high end illustrators who signed over rights for certain usage. DVDs weren't even in the money making food chain. So it's possible the studio simply doesn't hold rights for that usage.

    Also you have to take into consideration the size of the item. Sellers have only a few seconds to grab someone's attention and examples like the Fuz poster simply wouldn't work on a DVD. Too much detail on a small scale would be lost. Plus in the case of that one the images wouldn't be relevant in today's market. Burt Reynolds with the towel relates to his posing naked in Cosmopolitan magazine. People today would never get that reference. So there you go, that poster is of its time period, not today.

    Plus, dare I say it...people had more time mentally to ponder things in the past. Today people don't have the patience. They want the basics of the story in a matter of seconds. Fuz - hot babe with hot guy and two strange nuns. That's the story. Take the Money and Run - dorky guy in prison for something.

    I'm not kidding about this. Today things must be dumbed down for the audience. I know what I'm talking about because I have to deal with it every day in my work. Flash for cash. You can't blame it completely on the companies that produce this. They go where the money is for their products and today, thanks generations growing up with the likes of MTV, the attention span is at about zero.

    Just be glad you have memories of the way it used to be.

  6. The Race with the Devil cover is particularly bad. It looks soooooo cheap!

  7. Do you remember the topless scene with Adrienne Barbeau in the theatrical release of Swamp Thing?

  8. I understand some of the perception that "tattered and lost" is referring to, although I think it's vastly more complicated than that. I think marketing led people to the place of simplified marketing and is easily capable of leading them back if they were interested in doing so.

    And I think what is too often missed in cases of making excuses such as that is that it seems to look away from examples that don't address the point being made.

    For example, the Swamp Thing comparison. They're both the same basic image! The original poster simply has more drama! Drama is good! Drama is what you're supposed to be selling.

    Look at that Krull design. It's weirdly more complicated than the original. I actually agree with Jeff above, I kind of like it.

    Or Return of the Living Dead! That's a perfectly striking simple poster that establishes exactly what you should expect from the movie. The DVD cover looks like a grey market discount DVD. Maybe that one is a rights issue... I don't know. It did make it onto the original DVD. But that still doesn't excuse that! Test market that abomination, because I don't believe anyone looks at that cover and thinks, "Hmmm... I wonder what this is, I'd better check it out!"

    Not included here is From Beyond which had a very simple, striking poster and was given something generic and weird with no relation to the movie.

    Going back to White Lightning. Ok, for the sake of argument, let's accept that the original poster doesn't work for a modern audience and one believes there's substantial sales of this DVD to be had from them and you need replace it. I'm capable of that. But that?! It utterly lacks a sense of drama. It may be scientifically provable as the most boring possible design to include both Burt Reynolds and a gun.

    I'm sorry. I don't have an intrinsic problem with marketing within the times. I'm sure one could go through decades and decades of re-release artwork from studios - from back when that used to happen - such as Disney and see the designs change substantially.

    But until recently you wouldn't see any that didn't take the task of selling the movie seriously.

    And while there are some here that I don't prefer, I agree they took them seriously, say Krull and Labyrinth.

    You can't, however, convince me that the people who made the covers for Charley Varrick, Cujo and Race with the Devil took the task seriously. Or that the people who approved them did. They're cheap, half-assed jobs, they don't suggest the slightest level of drama to draw one's interest in purchasing or renting the movie.

    These covers have the opposite effect. They make me less interested in buying the DVDs, because they make the movies look boring and I while I understand there are generational changes, I don't understand the younger generation to have more interest in boring!

  9. Greg, the topless scene was not in the US theatrical of Swamp Thing. It was in the European theatrical version and on the original MGM DVD that was released in 2000, and mislabeled with the "PG" rating given to the US theatrical version without the scene.

    MGM pulled the mislabeled DVDs from the market and when they re-released it, inexplicably restored the "PG" version instead of getting the other version re-rated or releasing it as an unrated disk.

  10. I've always wondered about that. Though it's not retro, I liked the movie ads for "Zach and Miri Make a Porno", with their child-like script, implying it's their first time with either sex or filmmaking.

    The DVD art for that movie is very generic.

  11. The original DVD version of Swamp Thing had a better cover then the one shown here (the latrer version). It also had Adrienne Barbeau's topless scene. That scene was cut out of the more recent DVD version for some reason.

  12. Test...test...123..is this thing on? Great!
    I've been unable to post for weeks so it's good to be back.

    Tattered and Lost makes a good point, it's all in the marketing. They all seem to be sexless and with no real violence. Great for the bargin bin at Walmart.

    The DVD cover for 'White Lightning' with Burt cocking his rifle is about the closest any of them come to being sexual.Compared that to Burt stretching out in a towel in 'Fuzz' or Adrienne Barbeau showing her talents on the 'Swamp Thing' poster.

    I've got about half these posters in my collection. It's stashed away so it's good see them without having to dig them out of storage. Great artwork on 'Labyrinth'.

  13. Neil- I saw "Swamp Thing" in a theater in Charleston WV and it had the topless scene- the best part of the movie was the stunned amazement on the faces of the kids in the audience!

  14. Greg, wow! I'm certainly familiar with distributors "accidentally" providing unrated prints of rated movies as the rated version. For some reason it surprised me that this was one that got that treatment, but I suppose it shouldn't have.

    Even now as a long-time grown-up who can see what he wants it disappoints me that "PG" nudity has gone away completely.

  15. That Cujo and Return of the Living Dead covers are a damn shame. I remember seeing those as a kid, and the imagination it invoked as to what the movie would be like. My guess is that, to use the old art, they would have to pay the artists royalties, much the same problem we're seeing in old TV shows being re-released on DVD, and having to take out the original music because of the same reason.

  16. I would also guess the more recent DVD releases do NOT want to remind potential audiences (who can recall the theatrical posters) the age of those films, so they come up with a "new" (and cheap) image for the DVD cover..

    Al Bigley

  17. I'll give you WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME as actually better for modern marketing but the rest??? Ugh.

  18. I'm sure the art directors here were also thinking of "make it a simple image that communicates instantly!" As opposed to somebpdy looking at and THINKING about the artwork, like in the heyday of the movie poster...

    Also sad to think that illustration in general is gone from magazines, advertising, etc...

    Al Bigley

  19. The DVD cover that burns me up is the original Planet of the Apes. They give away the ending! Stupid jerks.

  20. I think that Krull DVD cover could be good if it was redone as a painting.

    That Cujo one is hilariously horrible! Oh man, who thought that was a good idea?!

  21. The Cujo cover I'm thinking I might save, pardon the pun, what a howler. Nice Puppy! Snookems! Doggie go walkies? Grrrrrr!