Double-sided movie posters

I am always awed by small moments of ingenuity. The little features you notice in something you’ve owned for years, the quirks corrected before you even knew a problem existed.

I put the double-sided movie poster in this category.

Nowadays, when we think of movie posters, we think of the cheap reproductions that adorn high schooler bedrooms or cover the wall of some Marvel super-fan’s house. But the double-sided movie poster is something else altogether. It, like many things, was a design solution for a highly specific issue that turned into a collectable.

When you put a poster on a wall, there it is, looking just fine. When you put a poster in a light box, like those found at movie theaters and video rental stores, it looks washed-out and colorless.

So, at some point in movie-making history (some light searching online suggests this became common in the late ‘80s, but I didn’t bother to confirm this as a fact), someone realized they could print a reverse, mirrored image on the backside of the poster (usually in lighter tones), thus making it so when you shined a light behind it, the image was still clear and vibrant. If the mirrored backside isn’t lined up perfectly with the front, the image won’t look correct, so the printing process is complex.

What I like about this solution is that it was so clearly contrived within the limitations of the medium it was presenting. “How do we put this in a light box and make it look good?” Someone asked once, and another responded, “Well, why don’t we replicate it as though it’s a single-cell of a movie, using the same basic technology we used to show these on a projector.” And there it was.

These prints tended to be expensive and the paper quality was far more substantial than what you’d get from those massive plastic panels at Target (though few things can replace the satisfying “click” of flipping those large panels).

Naturally, collectors gravitated toward these two-sided posters. After all, they were exclusive to movie theaters and rental stores—they were never sold directly to the public. I encountered my first poster like this at my local VHS shop, Video Mania. At some point, I learned they kept many of the posters for the movies they had. I was in there once or twice a week renting movies and video games (if not more often), and the owners seemed to like me well enough. I’d ask to check out what posters they had, and occasionally, if there was something I really liked, they’d give them to me. I don’t know for sure that these video rental versions—which were double-sided—were as high a quality as those in the theater, but I cherished them, nonetheless, even though I rarely got one for a movie I actually cared about.

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