More than Advertising: Deconstructing the Movie Poster Essay Sample

More than Advertising: Deconstructing the Movie Poster

While the concept of film poster emerged almost immediately after the appearance of first black and white movies, people considered it as an exclusively marketing element until recently. The huge banners attract everyone’s attention even if the film does not have any interest for the audience. Moreover, good movie posters increase the effect of perception in several times. However, the development of post-modernism and artistic techniques showed that the placard is not only a marketing element but also the object of art that in some moments can be more interesting than the promoted film. Moreover, as a visual annotation to movies, banners very often include different rhetorical elements. In this context, the poster of 127 Hours by Danny Boyle is a perfect example of the combination of ethos, pathos, and logos with the minimalistic design. Therefore, each element of this picture performs several rhetorical functions.

Background Information

127 Hours is based on the autobiography of a young amateur climber Aron Ralston, who, in 2003, went to his favorite canyon without telling anyone about his plans. In the fatal accident, he stumbled and fell into the crevice where a giant stone pressed his hand tightly to the wall. Ralston spent 127 hours in the gorge before he could get out of there without any outside help. Danny Boyle shot this film in the manner that is very similar to Slumdog Millionaire – his most successful project. Thus, while 127 Hours formally is a drama, it contains a continuous action as well as bright, kaleidoscopic, pulsating, and enchanting image. The film combines visual elements of music videos and strong acting performance by James Franco, who was nominated for Oscar.

The poster of this movie mixes minimalistic design with action image. On the foreground, it depicts the male silhouette, trapped between two giant rocks. The background shows the sunset sky visible in desert canyons. Such image of landscape perfectly conveys the general atmosphere of the upcoming movie. Considering the survival character of the story and action style of Danny Boyle, the creator of this poster, wanted to impress the younger audience that includes primarily youngsters and adolescents. Moreover, brief and concise text promises a very interesting adventure for the viewer. In other words, the image influences the audience in different ways. However, such variety of influences would be impossible without a unique design where each element combines several rhetorical appeals.  

Pathos: Between Visual and Textual

Since 127 Hours is a feature movie, pathos occupies a central place among all rhetorical devices. Therefore, the poster to this film refers to it in two crucial ways. On the one hand, pathos is obvious in the visual aspect. As it was mentioned before, the banner depicts the silhouette of a man trapped between two rocks. However, the human figure is extremely small and helpless while rocks are huge and frightening. Therefore, the authors of the poster influence such basic human instincts as fear and reverence for wild nature. Moreover, the image of the male figure in a difficult situation implicitly promises bright adventure and challenges for the main character. Moreover, the color palette of the poster supports such statement. The designers chose to place both rocks and hero’s figure in the foreground and paint them in dark colors. However, the background that consists of sunset sky uses a lot of orange and yellow colors as well as their tints. Thus, the designers outline the epic aspect of wild nature and human helplessness against it.

On the other hand, the poster appeals to pathos through the textual claims. It contains a clear and a brief title “127 Hours” and a short slogan that states, “Every Second Counts.” Both elements evoke a certain interest in the audience. The main hero will have only 127 hours and after that, he either will be dead or manage to survive. Such essential question forces the viewer to buy the ticket and find out the answer. Therefore, in terms of this particular poster, the concept of pathos plays three different roles. Firstly, it serves as the manifestation of individuality declaring that 127 Hours is different and stands out in the general flow of other movies. Secondly, it introduces the topic of the picture in an emotional way because no one would like to see the film on the uninteresting or unpopular problem. Finally, the poster forms an intrigue that motivates the viewer to go to the cinema or pay money for online viewing.

Ethos: Authority Is a Key

Emotions can be insufficient motivators for the audience. To emphasize the unique style and interesting narrative of the upcoming movie the designers use appeals to ethos or references to authorities. The poster to 127 Hours contains four different ideas. Firstly, it declares, “A Triumphant True Story” at the top of the picture. Thus, the viewer sees that the plot of this movie is not a result of scriptwriters’ imagination but the description of events that happened with the real person. The understanding of real ground of the narrative forces the audience to sympathize with the main character and establish a stronger connection between the viewer and the film. Secondly, the poster outlines the previous film of the director Danny Boyle Slumdog Millionaire that was extremely successful. Therefore, the majority of those people who have watched it definitely will want to watch the next picture of the same director. Moreover, those who liked 127 Hours and decided to see another movie from Danny Boyle now can find its title on this poster.

Thirdly, the banner states, “From the Academy Award – Winning Director.” In the filming industry, the Academy nomination is the most vivid sign of the success of a particular movie and its creators. Thus, outlining the figure of a director who won the nomination the designers implicitly claim that the other works of Danny Boyle certainly deserve the attention of the public. Finally, the poster presents the personality of James Franco as the leading actor in the movie. Some of the viewers may dislike the Academy’s choice because it awards only popular films ignoring more auteur’s products. Thus, the presence of Franco, who is known for his experimental performances, may serve as an additional motivator. While first two appeals aim to attract the mass viewer, the other ones are more appropriate for critics and experienced audience. In other words, ethos part of the poster establishes a more trusting relationship between the viewer and the movie.

Logos: New Meaning of Old Elements

In writing and speaking rhetoric, the calls to logos are visible arguments that clearly indicate the reasonableness of a particular claim. However, in terms of film posters, such appeals cannot appear in a similar vivid manner. Therefore, the designers of the banner for 127 Hours implemented a tricky technique. They took the same elements that declared pathos and ethos and used them for logical appeals. Firstly, visual design, besides epic event, logically promises the conflict between individual and nature where only one can win. Secondly, brief title and slogan claim that this adventure will be quick and intense because the protagonist will have to count literally every second. Thirdly, minimalistic design, a schematic picture of man between rocks, and James Franco’s name reasonably declare that the upcoming movie will focus only on the main details and characters of the story. Finally, the textual appeals to the personality of director and his previous successful movie lead the viewer to the logical conclusion that 127 Hours is worth watching.

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Reasons for Overall Success

The key purpose of every movie poster is an attraction of public attention to the upcoming promoted film. The designers of the banner to 127 Hours managed to perform this task applying all three basic rhetorical appeals. The components of pathos, ethos, and logos are skillfully implemented in the minimalistic design of the poster. They establish three reasons for watching the upcoming movie: the emotional story, the excellent filming technique of the director, and logical suspense. However, each of these components cannot serve as the sufficient motivation for the viewer. The main reasons for the success of this poster are the authors’ combination of different appeals in one element of design. Therefore, the poster of 127 Hours influences the viewer’s perception and expectations on different levels simultaneously.


The deconstruction of a movie poster is not a popular occupation. Professional designers or marketing experts may highly discuss the basic techniques and devices. However, the ordinary person does not understand the mechanisms of influence of this form of advertising. At the same time, the ability to outline the key elements of the everyday flow of information is extremely important. Therefore, the task was to show how the analysis of the poster to 127 Hours allows the reader to see that even elementary rhetorical appeals to ethos, pathos and logos significantly influence the viewer’s perception and increase the popularity of promoted movie. Moreover, this paper demonstrates how this poster skillfully incorporates the rhetorical devices into the overall design creating a unique product that serves not only as the element of marketing but also as an object of art.

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