Vintage Movie Posters: A Beginners Guide To Collecting

Blade Runner 1982 - Warner Bros
Credit: Warner Bros, portion of the 1982 movie poster

Real vintage movie posters do something to a man my age (42), they trigger our nostalgia glands (Biology 101: Those glands don’t really exist).

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Vintage Movie Poster Credentials:

My first hit of poster nostalgia happened when browsing a yard sale back sometime around 2010-2011. My wife said someone down the street was selling a retro Nintendo console. So I went to check it out (at that time I was big into retro video games).

A neighbor, 10-15 houses from where I lived was selling what looked like the contents of his man cave. Including an NES Entertainment System and Duck Hunt (I regret not picking that up to this day).

He was also selling framed classic retro movie posters. They grabbed me. And I know they grabbed him because his haggling was brutal – until his wife gave him the look (you know the one). Clearly, only one person in that house loved those posters.

Regardless, his loss was my gain, and that day I walked away with two vintage movie posters for the contents of my wallet at the time (around $80). The posters I took home included:

Blade Runner 1982 - Warner Bros - Vintage Movie Posters
Credit: Warner Bros, portion of the 1982 movie poster
  • Ghostbusters 1984 one-sheet poster, complete with the marketing tagline “They’re Here To Save The World” (above).
  • And a 1982 Blade Runner one-sheet (this post’s featured image).

They never made it up on the wall. They were pretty darn big (27×41 inches) and my wife wasn’t impressed (I got the look too – and this is why I never went back for Duck Hunt).

Those posters sat leaning up against a wall in the corner of my living room for about a month before my wife said that they might be worth more than I paid. Today, their combined value is between $1,000 and $1,500. Depending on which way the wind is blowing.

I was super lucky. I had no idea they were vintage or valuable. They just grabbed me. And the best thing is that each time I look at those old movie posters from the 80s, I have a momentary glance back to childhood (and that remains true to this day).

Since 2013 I’ve collected a total of 11 vintage movie posters for love not investment. Yet, they’ve become both (sadly, only 10 survived my idiocy).

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What to look for when buying vintage movie posters?

I follow five simple rules when hunting old movie posters:

1. Poster Creativity

If it grabs you with its subject matter, vibrancy, titling, or marketing prowess – it will likely grab others. Always remember that artwork is what makes a poster grab someone’s attention.

If the value of a poster is important, these next rules are vital because buying vintage can get tricky.

2. Poster Condition

When considering a vintage movie poster always ask yourself whether it is in good enough condition to show. And remember, a poster in near-mint condition is worth double that of the same poster in good condition.

TIP: Don’t be afraid of restored originals or folded classics.

3. Movie Classics

Anything that was a big hit or has a cult following will be eternally relevant to collectors.

Focus on classics if you want others to covet your collection.

TIP: Having a major movie star on the poster can save a dud movie when it comes to its overall valuation.

If they interest you, try to find 1910 to 1950 classics for the best ROI.

4. Poster Rarity

Scarcity drives value. Yet if someone is charging a fortune for a classic – shop around – jump on eBay. Always do your research before buying. Thanks to technology, this can be done on the spot when shopping.

TIP: Remember that age does usually determine rarity, but there are exceptions – Roadshow posters of classics, limited theatrical releases, and three-sheet poster prints are worth looking out for too.

5. Authenticity

WARNING: The world of vintage movie posters is full of fakes, reprints, and reproductions.

So when buying, look for sellers, shops, and auctions with credibility. Don’t presume you’ll get lucky as I did at the yard sale.

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Quick Ways To Spot A Fake

  • Look for posters that have a faded reverse image on the back (only relevant for post-1990 posters).
  • Avoid oversized or undersized posters. Pre-1990 the size was 27×41 inches. Post-1990, the size was 27×40. Some posters will be 1/4 of an inch off, but fakes will often be far more.
  • Always look at the smallest text on the poster. If it is fuzzy, don’t buy it.
  • Like with the small text, check the fuzziness of the picture studio and union logos. If fuzzy, don’t buy it.
  • Don’t trust clean white posters. Paper ages and tans. If an old original poster, it is unlikely to be a brilliant white.

FACT: I’m a collector of all sorts of items, with 20ish years of buying. Yet, I’ve been conned, duped, and tricked more times than I care to remember (the last time was in August 2021 with a vinyl record – another one of my slow-burning collector hobbies).

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In Conclusion

Whatever vintage movie posters you look for, make sure you love them and more importantly can look after them.

Frame and store them to preserve quality. Otherwise, it’ll look like trash quickly! And I should know (RIP The Lost Boys 1987 one-sheet).

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