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Sparking Visual and Cultural Literacy with ‘Reimagined’ Movies

Art by Peter Stults

Every once in a while I like to talk about movie posters here, and so far each time the topic has been “imaginary” posters… either for films that have have existed… or for “brutally honest” Oscar-related posters… or, in this case, for real movies that have somehow slipped the space-time continuum to be made years, usually decades, before they actually were.

Yes, being a movie nerd is part of the reason I’m drawn to this topic, and in fact a case could be made that it’s only the movie nerds whom you know/teach who will fully appreciate the items in this series of imaginary print artifacts. That is, part of the fun of these posters by Peter Stults (which can be ordered here) derives from getting all the cinematic references–that is, knowing who folks like Fritz Lang or Jean-Luc Godard are. You might be surprised by how many secondary students do know the names of such directors, and for those who don’t, there’s obviously a teaching opportunity. And I don’t mean one involving biographical resources, or film reference books, or the informational literacy employed in doing a Web search and making sense of the results. No, I mean just by leveraging visual literacy as well as the cultural literacies of advertising design and movie history at point of use: what can you tell about these filmmakers (when they lived, perhaps where, their favorite genres or themes) just by analyzing these posters?

For example, from the early-’60s-era Avatar poster above, what can you surmise about Howard Hawks? For starters, that he made adventure movies, maybe war movies. Both are true, but only cover a portion of his greatness. Now, I’d contend that Hawks would not have made such a cheesy-looking sci-fi film… but if he had, I could see it having John Wayne as the villain (recall Wayne in Red River). Which is kind of the point of such inquiry once students gain (even if just by sharing with each other) the requisite background knowledge to make similar evaluations themselves: what do you agree with in terms of what Stults has done, and why? …is he more accurate with casting than his filmmaker choices …and which images look scarily authentic and which look like crude head-and-body swaps (the one for Pulp Fiction falls into this category).

From there, of course, anything is possible…

  • Which of these movies do you most wish really existed? Why?
  • Which other titles would you like to see someone like Stults tackle?
  • For that matter, which could you–working perhaps with a partner or two–tackle as a creative project?

And remember, students need not be movie historians to work creatively along these lines, combining both “fiction” and “nonfiction” modes of thought. They could come up with purely contemporary creative switches: what if Kathryn Bigelow made a James Bond flick? And there’s no reason why such playful forms of discourse about media need to be limited to movies and movie posters. After all, what would an epic YA fantasy/romance be like if, say, Jeff Kinney wrote it? What might its title be? What would the cover look like?

Hey, maybe that’s another post topic entirely. Guess I’ll have to research it to see if some enterprising artist has already had this idea…

About Peter Gutierrez


  1. I hope educators reading this blog post will think about not only having students analyze design of movie marketing posters but also engaging those students in creating their own posters. (I have created a website which provides ideas and resources for educators who do want to engage students in poster analysis/production: