Promo History Lesson: The World's First Movie Poster Was a Promotional Failure (But Still Sold for $70K at Sotheby's)
OK kids, settle down. Class is in session. I know you're still all amped up from summer, but we're already three weeks behind schedule if we want to get through everything on the syllabus this semester. No, I don't know how we're already behind, but it's not my job to explain the intricacies of the educational process!
It is my job, however, to teach you the history of promotional products ventures and advertising over time. Today's lesson comes to us from 19th Century French cinema—specifically, the poster that is believed to be the first film poster in history. It was unsuccessful at driving people to the theater, but it was successful at raking in some cash more than 100 years later.
The poster for Auguste and Louis Jean Lumiére's film, which was also the first public movie screening, only garnered 30 attendees out of an invited 100. The whole concept of going to see a movie, or what a movie was at all, was sort of lost on Parisians in 1895. One woman even reportedly freaked out when they brought the lights down to show it. And they called themselves cultured!
World's first film poster set to go up for auction at Sotheby's! Poster depicts the first-ever screening of films by Lumière brothers in Paris in 1895 https://t.co/zOKGtJ2TP5 pic.twitter.com/eEqPbn1POc
— Alex Billington (@firstshowing) August 16, 2018
But while the brothers Lumiére didn't get those box office numbers like James Cameron or Iron Man, last year the poster was included in a Sotheby's auction of classic movie posters. Before the auction, the poster received an estimated value of somewhere between $50,830 and $76,240.
Sotheby's reportedly called it "the ultimate collector's poster" and said "this exceptionally rare piece has only surfaced a few times."
The collection of posters also included rare prints advertising "2001: A Space Oddysey," "Star Wars" and "King Kong." It's as much a testament to the history of film as it is a reminder of just how much of a foreign concept this was at the time.
"Later on, there was widespread talk of magic and trickery, as though the moving images were the ruse of a clever conjurer," Sotheby's wrote, according to Artnet. "One man complained that it was unfair to make a mockery of the public in such a way."
Hey, that's exactly what I said after I had paid to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." At least I didn't freak out when they brought the lights down. I just battled feelings of existential hopelessness and disappointment for two hours.
While this won't be on the test, this is a great example of the value that some promotional products accumulate over time. This was such a rarity when it debuted that it's gained a ton of monetary value compared to similar products even of that era. The press didn't bother to show up to the Paris premier, so we have no idea how many stars or thumbs-up it received. But, if the auction price is any indication, it at least wasn't universally reviled, like, say, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
Seriously, that movie came out on my birthday and I was really excited about that. Thanks for nothing, George and Steven. Here's a scene where Indy survives a nuclear blast by cramming himself into a mid-century fridge and getting launched miles away, rolling out unscathed and saying what's up to a groundhog. The blast turned a whole town into dust, but that fridge's seal is holding strong, but not too strong that Indy couldn't pop it back open once he falls to the ground—a fall that would unquestioningly cause several horrific physical injuries. OK, I'm sorry. I'm done.
While there's no guarantee that the "Pulp Fiction" poster you had up on your dorm room in college will be worth tens of thousands of dollars in 100 years, you might as well hold onto it. Who knows?