Happy faces, action movie division

In the past few days, I’ve been researching the "happy face" phenomenon, where the studios intentionally drain whatever dramatic tension exists in a poster image for the sake of selling more DVDs.  Mostly I’ve looked at comedies (here and here), but one of my readers suggested I also investigate the packaging of some of my favorite action movies.  I did, and the results were, to say the least, disturbing.
hits counter

Here’s the iconic poster for the classic 1967 Steve McQueen vehicle Bullitt.  McQueen, the epitome of cool, never looked tougher, sexier or more challenging.  This is obviously a man you don’t want to mess with.  McQueen’s not just bigger than life, he’s bigger than the cars zooming out of his crotch.

Now look at the DVD cover.  Not only is the image now in color, which softens its intensity, but eagle-eyed readers will be able to discern some slight tweaking of McQueen’s expression.  Once stone-faced and somber, he now has been given a sheepish grin and an apologetic tweak of the eyebrows.  The Bullitt of the poster was one serious dude, the Bullitt on the DVD cover looks like he might be getting ready to play a practical joke.  The miniature cars are still zooming out of his crotch, but they’re now coming at us instead of zooming off to the left.  I’m sure there’s no significance there.  (Click to enlarge.)

Here’s Clint Eastwood gritting his teeth for the poster of his 1985 western Pale Rider.  Those bad guys in the lower left corner don’t stand a chance against the giant Clint Head hovering over their shoulders.  He’s going to float right down out of the sky and eat them.

Now look: DVD Clint has a big shit-eating grin!  Who would be scared of this dunce?  Giant floating head or not, DVD Clint poses no threat whatsoever to the tiny bad guys.

Speaking of giant floating heads, the giant floating head of Bruce Willis seems awfully scared of the tiny exploding skyscraper on the poster of 1988’s landmark action-fest Die Hard.  If the giant floating head of Bruce Willis is frightened of a tiny exploding skyscraper, I guess I am too.

But look at what they’ve done for the DVD cover!  The giant floating head of Bruce Willis isn’t scared of the tiny exploding skyscraper at all!  Even though the tiny skyscraper is now exploding in color!  Who’s idea was it to put this big goofy grin on the giant floating head of Bruce Willis?  But the worst is still to come.

Few posters are more iconic than the one for Terminator 2.  Arnold, like Eastwood and McQueen, is all man (or all robot, anyway).  He’s got a shotgun, he’s on a motorcycle, he’s wearing a biker jacket and a black t-shirt, and sunglasses at night, all bathed in the color I like to call "Cameron Blue."

For the DVD cover, the marketing people wisely chose to cut in for a close-up of the movie’s star.  But look what they’ve done to the image.  Through subtle manipulation, they’ve literally turned the Terminator’s frown upside-down.  Who would feel intimidated by this grinning loon?

No comment.


22 Responses to “Happy faces, action movie division”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Now you’re just getting silly.

  2. Here’s Clint Eastwood gritting his teeth for the poster of his 1985 western Pale Rider. Those bad guys in the lower left corner don’t stand a chance against the giant Clint Head hovering over their shoulders. He’s going to float right down out of the sky and eat them.

    Well crap, now I’m sure to be disappointed whenever I do get around to watching the movie, because I’m pretty certain it doesn’t include that.

  3. I am too embarrassed to admit how many of those I looked at before I got it. 😛

  4. chrispiers says:

    I was believing it, too.

    Oh, by the way, I saw a DVD of UP yesterday and it had a different image. It was Carl on top of the bird and he looked kinda scared, with the little boy and dog very happy. I thought it was interesting. It’s a new image, but closer to the original movie poster and not too “happied up!”

    • chrispiers says:

      Here’s the Blu-Ray vs the DVD:

      • Todd says:

        Carl and the goony-bird change places. On the blu-ray, Carl is zoned out on fluoxetine and the goony-bird is alarmed. On the DVD, everybody is deliriously happy but Carl is alarmed.

        • vinic says:

          The message is simple. Buy the Blu-ray and you’ll be in pure mindless high-definition bliss. Buy the DVD and despite all the happiness around you you’ll have no clue what the hell is going on. Welcome to subliminal Blu-ray pushing.

  5. black13 says:

    The change of the Jaws poster makes some sense: fishy is looking forward to a Happy Meal. That’d put a big grin on anyone’s face.

    On the other hand, knowing what the swimmer is wearing, I don’t want to consider the implications of the other possible reason for fishy’s grin. Especially considering how they changed his nose-cone.

  6. icesickle says:


    Shooping Die Hard into: vampire meets the twin towers must’ve taken some serious clone stamping.

  7. ndgmtlcd says:

    The protagonist would obviously like to be happy, and don’t we all?

  8. greyaenigma says:

    You know, I have enough stress in my life without people making things up.


  9. Anonymous says:

    That grin on Bruce’s face is going to haunt my dreams, thanks alot.

  10. r_sikoryak says:

    I see Adobe tech support came through.

  11. goonpuck says:

    Another happy face DVD from a scary poster

    I just saw that Patton Oswalt’s indie film Big Fan is out on DVD and you can see a beaming happy Patton on the cover which is in stark contrast to the movie poster which more accurately portrayed the darkness of the film.

  12. samedietc says:

    I saw a poster for Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson, and I started to think about the Photoshoppery required to give him a smile. And then I thought about how we could really make the District 9 DVD a little lighter–leave the spaceship, sure, but let’s throw in some of the characters that we come to know and love over the movie: a smiling, transformed Wikus; the wacky but adorable alien kid sidekick; and maybe a smiling Nigerian slumlord.

  13. The Bullitt one is real. However, the one-disc edition is in keeping with the poster artwork, face-wise:
    One-disc Bullitt

  14. (Off Subject)

    An off-topic post, but I was wondering if you had seen this.

    Someone converted The Big Lebowski into a Shakespearean work. It’s pretty amazing, actually.

  15. mr_noy says:

    I was looking through the Blu-Ray section at the video store tonight. I saw this and thought of your post.

    Here’s an old publicity photo taken for The Road Warrior.

    Now check out the ‘new and improved’ Blu-Ray cover.

    The jpg doesn’t do justice to the smudgy, hack Photoshop job they did to Mel’s face. They pasted a different photo of his head at a different angle, combed his hair, cleaned up some of his 5:00 shadow and gave him an inviting grin as if to say “Don’t be fooled by the hand on the shotgun and the post apocalyptic biker gear. I’m really a nice guy – not some crazy, drunk-ass, Jew hatin’ bastard!”

    • Todd says:

      In the DVD’s defense, they want people to know that Mel Gibson is in the movie, and the original still doesn’t look much like Mel Gibson. And while the blu-ray cover is certainly “prettier,” it’s not that different from this European poster from the original release.

      And they couldn’t very well go back to the original American poster, which is, frankly, a disaster.