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Poster artist extraordinaire: Drew Struzan ~ the man who made us go to the movies

August 13, 2015

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Here’s some I drew earlier: Drew Struzan surrounded by a career’s worth of iconic film poster artwork

To put it simply, it’s arguably impossible not to recognise a Drew Struzan poster. Should you not do so, you’ve surely never visited a cinema, stepped into a video or DVD store, surfed the Internet or, frankly, held any interest in popular culture in the last 35 years. So ubiquitous is the man’s work. There’s no question his status as the movie poster maestro of the modern age is only challenged by the late, great Bob Peak (another artist to have been celebrated in such a post on this blog); otherwise, to paraphrase the tagline on the poster of James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981), no-one comes close to Drew Struzan.

Born in 1947 into a poor family in Oregon City, yes, in the US state of Oregon, Struzan grew up drawing on anything he could get his hands on (apparently including toilet paper) before he enrolled at LA’s Art Centre College of Design at the age of 18. Following graduation, he barely carved out a living – with only $200-$250 a commission – with an ad agency producing the artwork for album covers for then prominent music artists, such as The Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, Earth, Wind & Fire and Alice Cooper.

Then in 1978, after making something of a name for himself churning out B-movie posters, he was approached by artist friend Charles White III to collaborate on a project the latter had been given by one George Lucas – creating a one-sheet for the re-release of Star Wars (1978), just a year after its debut in cinemas. The result saw the two artists create a poster (White focusing on the spacecraft and Struzan on the characters) that was both dynamic, memorable and distinct from the iconic images already created for the monster blockbuster.

And now Drew’s career truly took off. As the ’80s progressed, his idiosyncratic style – built, as it is, on an unusual airbrush-based approach – seemed to become the go-to look for poster art of Hollywood’s ever expanding sci-fi and family fantasy output, much of which was made up by or influenced by the barnstorming blockbusters of Lucas and Spielberg; and many of whose movies’ artwork was also created by our man Struzan.

Like I said at the top of this post, a Drew Struzan poster is instantly recognisable. That airbrushed background giving the thing a pleasingly smooth, almost glossy appearance, while the portraiture (although excellently detailed) tends to err on the comic book-esque. Most admirable of all, though (and probably the mark of the greatest poster artists), the composition of his works are always dynamic, often fantastical and usually unforgettable. Take for example, the awesome perspective conjured up by the cast of The Goonies (1985) desperately hanging on to each other’s ankles, or the irresistible iconoclasm of the principal players of the Back To The Future trilogy (1985-90) checking their watches in bemusement as they step out of the time-travelling DeLorean. Quite simply, nothing evokes Hollywood fantasy and/ or adventure like a Drew Struzan poster. It’s that simple.

As the 1980s slid into the ’90s and the art of the movie poster was ‘modernised’ like so many things by the computer, Struzan found himself in less demand; although he was still called on to produce a number of classic images for major movie promotions. Eventually, however, he moved on from film poster work for regular commissions from the comic book world, Franklin Mint collectible plates and US postage stamps. Finally, after a career of more than 35 years, he retired in 2008 following, fittingly, his efforts for that year’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Two years later, the comprehensive coffee-table book The Art Of Drew Struzan (featuring reams of his extensive artwork for the publicity campaigns of so many movies) was published and in 2013 the documentary Drew: The Man Behind The Poster was released.

Rightly so, though, Drew didn’t bow out without a swipe at modern Hollywood’s reliance on digital imagery over the more imaginative, nay more inspiring hand-drawn approach to poster art, once writing in an email:

I love the texture of paint made of colored earth, of oil from the trees and of canvas and paper. I love the expression of paint from a brush or a hand smearing charcoal, the dripping of paint and moisture of water, the smell of the materials. I delight in the changeable nature of a painting with new morning light or in the afternoon when the sun turns a painting orange or by firelight at night. I love to see it, hold it, touch it, smell it, and create it. My gift is to share my life by allowing others to see into my heart and spirit through such tangible, comprehensible and familiar means. The paint is part of the expression.

So, here’s to the one, the only Drew Struzan – from Indy to Star Wars, The Muppets to The Goonies, Police Academy to Rambo and Hocus Pocus to Harry Potter, he was quite simply as integral a part of the magic of ’80s crowd-pleasing cinema as Harrison Ford, John Williams, ILM special effects and multiple, multiple sequels. All the images that follow are the copyright of Drew Struzan. Obviously…

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Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)/
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984)

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 drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_temple_of_doom_poster

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Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)

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drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_last_crusade_poster drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_last_crusade_alternate_art drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_last_crusade_unused_artwork_2

drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_last_crusade_unused_artwork

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Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)

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drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_kingdom_of_the_crystal_skull_poster drew_struzan_indiana_jones_and_the_kingdom_of_the_crystal_skull_additional_artwork

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Back to the Future trilogy (1985-90)

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drew_struzan_back_to_the_future_trilogy

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Return (Revenge) Of The Jedi (1983)/
Star Wars ~ cinema re-release (1987)

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 drew_struzan_star_wars_the_first_ten_years

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Star Wars ~ Special Editions (1997)

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drew_struzan_star_wars_original_trilogy_special_edition_triptych

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Star Wars ~ the prequels (1999-2005)

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drew_struzan_star_wars_episode_i_the_phantom_menace_poster drew_struzan_star_wars_episode_ii_attack_of_the_clones_poster drew_struzan_star_wars_episode_iii_revenge_of_the_sith_poster

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E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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drew_struzan_e.t.-the_extra_terrestrial drew_struzan_e.t.-the_extra_terrestrial_alternate

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The Goonies (1985)/ Adventures In Babysitting (1987)

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drew_struzan_adventures_in_babysitting_poster

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Coming To America (1988)/ Crocodile Dundee II (1990)

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drew_struzan_coming_to_america_poster drew_struzan_crocodile_dundee_ii_poster

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Police Academy (1984)/ Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986)/ Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987)

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drew_struzan_police_academy

 

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The Muppet Movie (1979)/ The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

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drew_struzan_the_muppet_movie_poster 

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)/ Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

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Big Trouble In Little China (1986)/ Masters Of The Universe (1987)

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drew_struzan_big_trouble_in_little_china_poster 

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The Cannonball Run (1981)/ Cannonball Run II (1984)

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drew_struzan_the_cannonball_run_poster drew_struzan_cannonball_run_ii

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Hook (1991)/ Cutthroat Island (1995)

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drew_struzan_hook_poster drew_struzan_cutthroat_island_poster

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Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)/ The Thing (1982)

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drew_struzan_rambo_first_blood_part_ii_poster drew_struzan_the_thing

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An American Tail (1988)

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drew_struzan_an_american_tail_poster 

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Return To Oz (1985)

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 drew_struzan_return_to_oz_alternate_artwork

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Ladyhawke (1985)/ Harry And The Hendersons (1987)

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drew_struzan_ladyhawke_poster drew_struzan_harry_bigfoot_and_the_hendersons_poster

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The Name Of The Rose (1986)/ Shirley Valentine (1989)

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drew_struzan_the_name_of_the_rose_poster 

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The Pirates Of Penzance (1983)/
DuckTales The Movie: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp (1990)

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drew_struzan_duck_tales_the_movie_treasure_of_the_lost_lamp_poster

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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)/ A Small Town In Texas (1976)

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drew_struzan_the_seven_per_cent_solution 

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Hocus Pocus (1993)/ The Flintstones (1994)

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drew_struzan_hocus_pocus 

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*batteries not included (1987)/ Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

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 drew_struzan_pan's_labyrinth_poster

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007)

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drew_struzan_blade_runner_poster drew_struzan_blade_runner_the_final_cut

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Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone (2001)/
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)

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drew_struzan_harry_potter_and_the_philsopher's_stone_poster 

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Further reading

drewstruzan.com

Find the book The Art Of Drew Struzan (2010) here

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick permalink
    August 13, 2015 11:51 pm

    The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull illustration on the right was done by Hugh Flemming. It was the cover for a series done by Dark Horse Comics.

    • August 13, 2015 11:58 pm

      Ah, very eagle-eyed of you there, Patrick. I could pretend it was a deliberate mistake for someone to spot, but that would just be a lie – yes, it was a genuine mistake on my part! 😉

      Anyway, thanks for the save – the image has now been replaced by one definitely produced by Drew Struzan for the movie in question. 🙂

  2. August 14, 2015 7:53 am

    What about beyond thunderdome? Same artist? It looks like the same work, but I don’t know??

    • August 14, 2015 6:09 pm

      Hi, Tom, Thanks for your post! I have it on good authority that the classic Beyond Thunderdome poster was produced by Richard Amsel, who also produced the classic poster for Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Great suggestion, though. 🙂

      • August 15, 2015 1:32 am

        Richard Amsel, yes! Raiders, Dark Crystal (a personal favorite), Chinatown, The Sting, Flash Gordon… Definitely in the top tier of his field!

  3. August 14, 2015 8:59 am

    Drew Struzan and Bob Peak, absolutely — but let’s not forget John Alvin! He’s the third member of this trinity, IMHO. If you do another one of these posts (and I hope you do) he definitely gets my vote! 🙂

    • August 14, 2015 6:10 pm

      John Alvin did indeed come up with a clutch of classic ’80s and ’90s posters too, John, and a great suggestion for a future post there – thanks! 🙂

  4. August 14, 2015 2:06 pm

    La primera ilustración no es de Drew. Y la de cocodrile Dundee 2 tampoco.

    • August 14, 2015 6:14 pm

      According to Drew Struzan’s website, he did create the poster for Crocodile Dundee II (if not the original movie that preceded it), but great spot – thank you – yes, the first Temple Of Doom image I included there was by Bob Wolfe not Struzan. This has now been replaced by Struzan’s contribution for Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s poster campaign. Thanks for your post, Enrique. 🙂

  5. Simon permalink
    August 16, 2015 7:14 pm

    I really enjoyed seeing some of this artwork again. This artwork was so much a part of the ‘magic and fantasy’ of films as I was growing up. If though you had asked me when the first Harry Potter films were made I would have said a lot later than the early 2000’s!!!

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