In our culture, we have a long history of duality in storytelling. From thematic duality like an epic fight between good and evil or the journey from innocence to experience right through to duality within one personality such as in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde – the concept of opposing forces has long been a key catalyst for creating drama.

And of course, this idea is rich in visual potential when depicting it within a film poster. In this article, I’m going to explore some of the strongest ideas for using duality in film posters and how powerfully this idea can be used to convey the narrative of a film.

Worlds Apart

Film posters are especially good at evoking two different worlds at just a glance. It can be particularly effective to utilise highly contrasting colour palettes for the different environments like this Stranger Things poster. There is also narrative power in how the environmental elements and characters (if they feature) are placed in relation to each other. Is everything mirrored as in Stranger Things or are the characters aware of their differences and longingly trying to reach each other like in the Upside Down poster? There are also more minimalist, metaphorical visual approaches like this Taxi Driver poster that conveys simply the dark underbelly of New York City in the film.

Poster design by Bruce Yan

Two Sides to Every Story

Using duality in a poster can be a fantastic way of capturing two different perspectives in a film. This can appear in many different ways. It could be two characters in direct conflict – like Karen Gillan and her clone in the film Dual who find themselves caught up in a fight to the death. Or it could be characters with an emotional distance and difference of experience symbolised by a physical distance like in the poster for Plaza Catedral. Or the striking poster for Passing which represents two characters who are divided by societal expectations around race in the 1920s.

Poster design by Dan Petris
Poster design by Empire Design

A Meeting of Minds

Visual doubles or opposites can also evoke different, sometimes closer relationships. The poster for Little Fish shows two characters heads together suggesting an intimate relationship – although they are facing in completely different directions which perhaps signifies the challenges they are to face in the film. The Ides of March smoothly connects Ryan Gosling’s face to George Clooney’s expressing their political relationship but also maybe inferring who is the brains behind the operation. And the poster for Carol brilliantly encapsulates that moment of capturing someone’s gaze across a crowded room – creating a distinct relationship between the two characters but also with the audience

Poster design by MOCEAN
Poster design by Ignition & LA
Poster design by Empire Design

Opposite Sides of the Same Coin

The dual nature of one person is a common theme in modern cinema and is a really exciting prospect to work on stylistically. It often focuses on transformation, like this deceptively simple poster for Invincible that focuses on the (true) story of a troubled 14 year old boy who died after driving a stolen car into a river. This alternative poster for Boyhood shows the character’s journey from boy to man and is so seamless due to the character being played by the same actor over many years. The Looper poster also shows the same character at different ages but the sci-fi plotline puts these two incarnations in conflict so they are depicted in a more oppositional way.

Poster by Version Industries
Poster design by Emre Unayli
Poster design by Ignition & LA

Time After Time

Who doesn’t love a good time-travelling plotline? Ok, they can be complicated to follow at times, but they can be suggested in a clean and compelling way on a poster! Like in this one for Tenet that shows the same character moving in opposition to himself. The Aporia poster tackles time travel in a different way – showing Judy Greer (in a right way up image) running whilst hinting that what she is pursuing is the world shown in the upside down image. The Third Day has a simpler plot (no time travel) but different time periods which are cleverly reflects the twisty narrative by having no one ‘the right way up’.

Poster design by B O N D
Poster design by The Refinery
Poster design by Canyon Design Group

Pick a Side

Of course, of course! Visual duality is perfect for depicting a classic fight between good and evil! This can be portrayed in stark black and white like in The Stand (no prizes for guessing who the baddie is!) or with a more ambiguous colour palette in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (where we already know who the baddie is!). It’s not all life and death though! The same idea can underpin stories of rivalry – for instance, in Blue Star – a story of competing Indian cricket teams.

Poster design by LA
Poster design by WORKS ADV

Leaning into the duality at the heart of a film’s story can be a fantastic way to create visual interest and engagement with the narrative at just a glance. They can be minimalist or complex, emotional or more detached but whenever they are done well – they pique my interest in a film and how and why things might unfold. I hope these examples have inspired you to think about duality in poster design and how powerful and versatile it can be.

What do you think of posters that use duality in their imagery? Bold and striking or a bit too simplistic? Are there any posters you particularly love? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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