The Most Expensive Movie Posters Of All Time

justCollecting

justCollecting

2017-06-21 15:26:17

Movie posters are works of art in their own right.

And just like works of art they can be beautiful, historically important, and highly expensive.

The 20 posters featured in our list are the kind collectors spend their lives searching for, or remortgage their homes to own.

In short, they're the rarest, most sought-after and ridiculously valuable movie posters in the world. 

If you're thinking of starting your own vintage movie poster collection, you'll find helpful hints and posters to look out for in our beginner's guide.

But for now, here are a few examples to aim for. Although it may take you a while – and a small fortune – to get your hands on any of them.

The Public Enemy (Warner Brothers, 1931)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Released in 1931, The Public Enemy is regarded as one of the most iconic gangster films of all-time.

It starred James Cagney as a young hoodlum who rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld, and influenced gangster films for generations to come.

This poster is the only-known surviving copy of the style-A design, and was completely unknown to experts until it was discovered in 2012.

It was found amongst a bundle of old posters which had been stuck together with wallpaper paste and used as insulation in Pennsylvania.

After being purchased at a local auction, the wad of posters was then painstakingly peeled apart, revealing several rare and unique examples that had been preserved for more than 70 years.

In 2016 the newly-restored poster sold at Heritage Auctions in Dallas for $167,300.

Frankenstein (Universal, 1931)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Frankenstein features perhaps the most famous of Universal's monsters, thanks to the truly iconic make-up design of Jack Pierce and the touching (yet terrifying) performance of Boris Karloff.

Helmed by British director James Whale, the film was both a box-office hit and a critical smash, and paved the way for countless sequels.

Back in 1994, one of four known examples of the original U.S one-sheet poster sold for $198,000, setting a new world record price for a movie poster at auction.

This huge price caught the attention of major international auction houses, and the once niche collecting hobby began growing into the multi-million dollar market it is today.

It was a further ten years before another copy of the poster hit the open market, when a newly-discovered fifth example sold at Heritage Auctions in 2004 for $189,750.

The Maltese Falcon (Warner Brothers, 1941)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

For poster collectors, this huge six-sheet poster for the film noir classic The Maltese Falcon really is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Based on Dashiel Hammet's classic novel, the film marked the directorial debut of John Huston, and gave Humphrey Bogart his breakthrough role as iconic detective Sam Spade.

Measuring more than six feet across, six-sheet posters were intended to be pasted on small billboards, and due to their size and fragility few examples survive today.

This example - the only-known Maltese Falcon six-sheet poster to ever appear on the market – sold at Heritage Auctions in 2015 for $191,200.

Casablanca (Warner Brothers, 1942)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

In 1942, hot on the success of The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart then starred in the timeless classic Casablanca, regarded as one of the greatest films of all-time.

'Insert posters' are smaller than regular 'one-sheet' posters, and were originally printed on thicker card stock.

They were designed to be displayed in the lobbies of theatres with more than one screen, and their size makes them highly popular with modern collectors. 

This rare Casablanca insert poster, from the film's original release in 1942, sold at Heritage Auctions in 2012 for $191,200.

Casablanca (Warner Brothers, R-1953)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Although Casablanca was originally released in the U.S in 1942, it took several years to make its way around the world due to WWII.

Its continuing success throughout the 1940s led to a re-release in the 1950s, as many European cities devastated by war began rebuilding their movie theatres.

Featuring a stunning portrait of Bogart and co-star Ingrid Bergman by Luigi Martinati, this rare poster was designed for the Italian re-release of the film in 1953.

Regarded as one of the most beautiful Casablanca posters ever created, it sold at Heritage Auctions in 2016 for $203,150.

The Phantom of the Opera (Universal, 1925)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

The Phantom of the Opera is one of the earliest entries in Universal's classic series of horror films.

The silent 1925 film starred Lon Chaney, known as 'The Man of a Thousand Faces' due to his remarkable transformations and monster make-up effects.

The moment the Phantom removes his mask to reveal his terrifying face was so shocking that it caused audience members to scream and faint, and it remains one of the most iconic moments in cinema history.

From the eight original posters designed for the film's release, this is the only style to include an accurate image of Chaney as the Phantom.

Just four copies are known to exist, with one in Universal's own archive, making this one of the world's most sought-after horror posters. Having originally been owned by the Hollywood star (and collector of everything) Nicolas Cage, it sold at Heritage Auctions in 2014 for $203,150.

Metropolis (UFA-Cinema Art Ltd., 1928)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece Metropolis still has the power to enthral audiences, 90 years after it was first released.

His tale of a dystopian future features production designs that still looks futuristic today, and is considered the precursor to all modern science fiction films.

This small 'daybill' poster was created for the Australian release of the film in 1928, and features original artwork by Bernie Bragg.

It sold at Heritage Auctions in July 2017 for $215,100, setting an auction record for any Australian movie poster.

Flying Down to Rio (RKO, 1933)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

The 1933 musical Flying Down to Rio marked the debut of the most famous dance team in cinema history, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and its box office success effectively saved the RKO studio from bankruptcy.

It also features one of the most remarkable dance numbers ever filmed, featuring an army of dancing girls strapped to the wings of aeroplanes – a sequence celebrated by this vibrant poster.

Described as "one of the rarest and most sought-after posters in the collecting hobby", this copy sold at Heritage Auctions in 2008 for $239,000.

King Kong (RKO, 1933)

(Image: Sotheby

(Image: Sotheby's)

When it comes to classic monster movies, King Kong is the daddy of them all.

With groundbreaking stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien, the film scared and thrilled audiences in equal measure, and today it remains a timeless and powerful piece of cinema.

In 1999 this highly rare style-A three-sheet King Kong poster sold at Sotheby's for $244,500, which at the time made it the world's second-most valuable movie poster.

It was purchased by Cecilia Presley, granddaughter of Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille, who planned to donate it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation.

Experts believe that if another example hit the open market today it could easily fetch more than $1 million.

Frankenstein (Universal, 1931)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Whilst original one-sheet posters for Frankenstein are rare, this insert poster is thought to be completely unique.

Collectors spent decades searching for an example, with just a small picture and a description in an 82-year-old promotional booklet for reference.

Then in 2013 the only-known copy in existence was unearthed, causing a commotion amongst collectors.

Following a bidding war, it sold at Heritage Auctions for $262,900.

The Invisible Man (Universal, 1933)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

The Invisible Man, based on the book by H.G Wells, was one of Universal's biggest hits of the 1930s and features a stunning performance by Claude Rains as the maniacal, murderous and entirely transparent Dr. Jack Griffin.

This 1933 poster is a remarkably rare 'teaser', produced prior to the film's official release, in order to whet the appetites of audiences several weeks in advance.

Although now a regular practice, in the 1930s it was uncommon for studios to produce teasers, and the existence of this Invisible Man poster was unknown to even the most advanced collectors for many years.

The poster sparked a bidding war when it hit the block at Heritage Auctions in 2017, eventually selling for $274,800.

The Black Cat (Universal, 1934)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Although it doesn't feature any of the classic monsters, The Black Cat was Universal's biggest hit of 1934 and features the first time horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi appeared together on-screen.

Based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe, the film features Satanism, sinister cults, torture chambers and dead women in display cases, and has been described as "a bizarre, utterly irrational masterpiece".

With only four copies of this style-D one-sheet known to exist, the poster sold at Heritage Auctions in 2007 for $286,800.

Dracula (Universal, 1931)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Dracula was Universal's first true 'supernatural' horror film, and its box-office success paved the way for almost all the studio's future monster movies.

Although adapted from Bram Stoker's original novel, the film also owes much to the hit broadway play, which had been scaring audiences since 1924.

Bela Lugosi had already been playing Dracula on stage since 1927, and was the perfect choice to play the vampire on the silver screen – although he was also hired because his fee was far lower than established Hollywood stars.

But his performance had preview audiences fainting in terror, and Universal knew they had a hit on their hands.

Only a handful of posters from the film's original 1931 release are known to have survived. This style-F poster, one of just three copies in the world, was sold from the collection of Nicolas Cage by Heritage Auctions in 2009 for $310,700.

Bride of Frankenstein (Universal, 1935)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

When audiences went crazy during test screenings of Frankenstein in 1931, Universal reshot the ending to leave the possibility of a follow-up.

Four years later director James Whale returned, along with stars Boris Karloff and Colin Clive, and result was Bride of Frankenstein - a sequel that matched the success of the original, and was even more critically acclaimed.

This unique style-D poster for film was discovered in 2007, having remained hidden for decades in a private collection.

Described as writing "a new chapter in the history of Universal horror poster collecting", it sold at Heritage Auctions for $334,600.

The Black Cat (Universal, 1934)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Although a huge hit at the time, today The Black Cat remains one of Universal's more obscure original horror titles.

Posters for the film are regarded as even rarer than those for classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein, with just a handful of style-D posters having survived long enough to hit the auction block.

For more than 70 years, the only record of this dramatic style-B poster was a small black and white illustration in the film's original 1934 press book – until a perfectly preserved copy turned up in 2009, in completely original condition.

Described as "one of the greatest posters to ever come to auction", it sold at Heritage Auctions for $334,600.

Metropolis (UFA, 1927)

(Image: Sotheby

(Image: Sotheby's)

Only a small handful of Metropolis posters from the film's original 1927 release are known to have survived.

Two of those owned by the Museum of Modern Art and the Austrian National Library museum, and a third is believed to be part of actor Leonardo DiCaprio's private collection.

This German three-sheet poster for the film's domestic release bears the iconic image of Maria the robot, beneath a towering Art Deco tower.

A Sotheby's auction in 2000 marked the first – and so far, last – time an example appeared for sale on the open market. One collector clearly recognized the chance of a lifetime, and spent $357,750 to hang it on their wall.

Frankenstein (Universal, 1931)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Following its initial success, Frankenstein was rereleased several times by Universal during the 1930s and 40s, often on a double bill with Dracula.

Instead of ordering new posters for each rerelease, movie theatres simply reused the originals until they eventually fell to pieces.

This style-c three-sheet poster had been reused many times over, but had remarkably survived – making it the only one of its kind in existence.

It was discovered in the 1970s during the renovation of an old movie theatre, hidden away inside a boarded-up projection booth.

Having been expertly restored, it spent many years in a private collection before being offered for sale at Heritage Auctions in 2015 – where it realized $358,000, making it the most valuable Frankenstein poster ever sold.

King Kong (RKO, 1933)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

King Kong's status as one of the greatest films ever made means that posters can disappear for decades into private collections, and rarely appear on the open market.

This incredibly rare style-B three-sheet poster is believed to originate from a cache of King Kong posters discovered in the early 1980s in Geneva, Switzerland.

The poster was described by experts as "an astounding piece of art that transcends its category and subject matter", and sold at Heritage Auctions in 2012 for $388,375 – setting a house record for a poster which has only been beaten once since.

The Mummy (Universal, 1932)

(Image: Sotheby

(Image: Sotheby's)

Following his monstrous performance in Frankenstein, Universal once again turned to Boris Karloff to play the lead in The Mummy – a movie inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt.

The movie proved another hit for the studio, although Karloff later called it the most trying ordeal of his life, as the makeup required to transform him into ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep took eight hours to (painfully) apply.

This original style-A poster for the film is one of only two known examples, and set a world record back in 1999 when it sold at Sotheby's for an incredible $435,000.

London After Midnight (MGM, 1927)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

London After Midnight is one of the most legendary 'lost' movies in Hollywood history.

The silent thriller starred Lon Chaney as a detective who disguises himself as a vampire to solve a murder mystery.

The film was directed by Todd Browning, who later directed the horror classics Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932), the latter of which was so disturbing to audiences that it effectively ended his Hollywood career.

The last-known print of London After Midnight was destroyed in 1967, when a fire swept through the MGM Studio vault in California, and today a record of the film exists solely through still photographs and the original screenplay.

The only existing copy of the U.S poster set a record in 2014, when it fetched $478,000 at Heritage Auctions – setting a record as the most valuable American movie poster in the world.

Casablanca (Warner Brothers, 1946)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Following the end of WWII, the classic wartime romance Casablanca finally made its way into Italian movie theatres in 1946.

This large 4-sheet poster, known as a '4-fogli', was designed for that first release, and also features artwork by renowned commercial artist Luigi Martinati.

Martinati co-founded Studio BCM and produced dozens of stunning movie posters throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

As the sole surviving example of its kind, the unique poster sold at Heritage Auctions in July 2017 for $478,000, equalling the previous auction record.

Dracula (Universal, 1931)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

This style-A poster, featuring a striking portrait of star Bela Lugosi, is one of just two known examples.

It was discovered by experts in 2017, having spent more than half a century in the private collection of a San Diego cinematographer and film historian.

Described as "one of the most desirable horror movie posters ever produced", the remarkably rare example hit the block at Heritage Auctions in November 2017.

It was initially estimated to sell for $150,000 - $300,000, but soared to a final price of $525,800, making it the most expensive movie poster ever sold at a public auction.

Metropolis International poster (UFA, 1927)

(Image: Reel Poster Gallery)

(Image: Reel Poster Gallery)

Just four copies of the original international poster for Fritz Lang’s masterpiece are known to exist.

The design is essentially the same as the original domestic poster, but doesn't include the German credits.

In November 2005, the Reel Poster Gallery in London sold a copy to a U.S collector for $690,000 – a record price for an individual movie poster which still stands to this day.

Several years later, following a legal battle with his investors, the owner of the record-breaking Metropolis poster was forced to auction it off at the US Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles.

With many of the world's leading collectors in attendance, the poster sold as a group lot along with eight other rare examples for $1.2 million.

It was snapped up by New Jersey collector Ralph DeLuca, who later said "For a poster I really want, I'll pay serious cash. I always put my money where my mouth is."

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