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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

how to make women look heroic on movie posters

Hey, it’s not all bad news when it comes to women claiming their space in pop culture as the heroes of their own stories.

A bit of background. If you haven’t already seen it, check out this post at Tor.com: “The 19th Century Painting That Most Blockbuster Movie Posters Are Based On” (I linked to it earlier this year). This is the painting:


It’s called “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” by Caspar David Friedrich, dating from almost two centuries back, 1818. Ryan Britt at Tor.com deems it “sick-ass,” and it is: it is Man both triumphant and contemplative, master of his world and ponderer upon it. It has been imitated in many a blockbuster poster of late, as Tor illustrates:


You’ll note that, “naturally,” it is always Man triumphant on these posters. I’ve written recently about women with their backs turned on movie posters, which is invariably a way to dehumanize and anonymize women. That needn’t be the case, as those posters with men with their backs turned demonstrate. There, the imagery is about standing up to something that might crush you — it is a stance of power and defiance. Why couldn’t women be portrayed that way on a poster, too?

Turns out they can. And it’s starting to happen. Check these out:



Nice. More like these, please. Which would require, of course, more movies with women in heroic central roles. Make it happen, Hollywood. Make it happen.

posted in:
movie buzz
  • Lisa

    Can I just say David Tennant clearly started this trend with the Hamlet poster?

  • cal

    And not a glimpse of cleavage. Well done, Hollywood.

  • Jim Mann

    This much older one also did a good job of making the female main character look heroic: http://tinyurl.com/p9kqmr7

  • David_Conner

    This is cool for the reasons stated, but I have to say I’m also glad simply to see some movies that are using illustrations with real artistry to them instead of having every single movie poster contain giant photographic head shots of the lead actors.

  • Bluejay

    That Frozen poster is storybook-perfect. And the Catching Fire poster just might be the best poster I’ve seen in recent years. The cloud-wings are an excellent touch.

  • Dokeo

    But…but…but…without boobies in the poster, how will male persons know they should go see it?

    OK, cynicism aside, this is a nice development. More like this, please.

  • bronxbee

    oh you beat me to it….

  • Well, the designer of that poster did. Not Tennant himself. :->

    (The Tor piece includes that Hamlet poster.)

  • Matt Clayton

    If a live-action Wonder Woman film ever gets made, would love to see a poster styled like Catching Fire.

  • Matt Clayton

    I thought the clouds were more symbolic of Katniss as a symbol of freedom and independence (the vague bird shape remiscent of the pin she wears).

    I guess you could see her as a savior of Panem too.

  • Isobel_A

    Wow, that After Earth poster is virtually identical to the painting – misty hills and all.

    I am very, very happy with the Catching Fire poster. Katniss triumphant, dressed appropriately, no stupid and unnecessary sexualisation.

  • Bluejay

    Man, they are really hitting it out of the park with the heroic Katniss posters.


  • RogerBW

    Sad that this is so unlike all the other posters. Glad that it’s being done at all.

  • Bluejay

    Hmm. The image I wanted isn’t showing up. Here’s another link.


  • Danielm80

    I’m glad that Jennifer Lawrence looks genuinely heroic on the movie poster. And I’m glad that we live in a world where Jennifer Lawrence is a movie star. But dear God is that an ugly picture. I doubt there’s one inch of it that hasn’t been PhotoShopped. I’d be surprised if the two stars were even in the same room when the photo was taken.

  • Bluejay

    I suppose you’re right. I guess it’s sad that there’s such a dearth of images of women in heroic poses that the poster genuinely seems refreshing and exciting to me.

  • Danielm80

    I think they were aiming for Maxfield Parrish and missed. But at least we can see Katniss’ head.

  • bronxbee

    but you still don’t see the girl’s face! and i must admit i’m leery about disney doing my favorite fairy tale…

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