Stanley Kubrick, as many horror fans will know, was an avid perfectionist. Every detail of his films was heavily crafted with symbolic meaning, and his attitude extended to the marketing of iconic horror classic ‘The Shining’. With few directors of the era having much of an influence on film promotion, Kubrick broke the trend with putting a great deal of effort into the -now widely recognised- original yellow poster.
The poster was designed by Saul Bass, who is considered one of the greatest movie poster artists of the 20th century. During his 40-year career Bass worked for some of Hollywood’s most prominent filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. Prior to Bass, depictions of key scenes or characters from the film formed the majority of film posters. Bass broke away from this tradition, producing pieces featuring simplified, symbolic designs that visually communicated key essential elements of the film.
After working with Saul Bass on storyboards for Spartacus twenty years prior, Kubrick was confident he had found the artist to create a suitable poster for the film. “This poster design wasn’t a ‘design and done’ deal however,” writes Derek Kimball in a DesignBuddy post on the evolution of the image. “Many of Bass’ concepts were rejected by Kubrick before settling on the final design.” Reportedly Bass showed Kubrick 300 different versions before the director was satisfied with the poster design.
Drawing from different aspects of the film, including the maze, the hotel, and the family unit, Bass’ early concepts feature striking images. Many of the concept pieces, along with written exchanges between Kubrik and Bass, were made available to view at the Kubrick LACMA Exhibit.