When the first poster was released in March for Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, which opens in theaters today, people were generally not impressed. And rightly so: a poorly composed, awkwardly Photoshopped image of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio leaning against the edges of the poster frame, with a car and the Hollywood sign in the background, it looked like it had been knocked off in a rush for the Cannes Film Festival and would inevitably be replaced closer to the release date with something much better. And eventually an illustrated retro-style poster was released that was a vast improvement. But the Photoshopped version has endured, with a number of variations released in the interim. And it seems that both styles, or either one or the other, are now in theaters.
The illustrated poster, seen below, was drawn by Steven Chorney, one of the classic American ’80s movie poster artists, best known perhaps for his poster for Labyrinth (1986). Chorney has been much in demand in recent years, creating the retro-looking campaign for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, the one sheet for Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary De Palma, and the 2018 poster for Orson Welles’ recently resurrected The Other Side of the Wind.
But if the first one sheet looked like an after-thought, the same can not be said of the beautifully realized, era-specific posters-within-the-film created for DiCaprio’s character: TV western actor turned Italian import, Rick Dalton. Chorney told me that he had been commissioned to create “a number of artworks to be used within the film itself as ‘prop movie posters.’” (Ten years ago, one of my earliest Movie Poster of the Week columns was about the fake posters of Inglourious Basterds.) For Once Upon a Time... Chorney painted about six different posters, including this vertiginous fake Italian locandina for the fictional film Operazione Dyn-o-mite.
Since he hadn’t yet seen the film when I spoke to him, Chorney wasn’t sure how many of his posters had ended up in the film, but he did point me to this shot of his Comanche Uprising poster in the corner of Rick Dalton’s kitchen from Architectural Digest’s article on the film’s set design.
As the AD article says, the set also contained many original ’60s movie posters “sourced from Tarantino’s vast film collection. ‘Quentin has this very rare magnificent film poster collection, which we used for the decor,’ [production designer, Barbara] Ling says. ‘He had very specific pieces and put out his own personal decorations, such as a Hopalong Cassidy cup.’”
An even bigger coup for Tarantino and his designers was coaxing the great Renato Casaro out of retirement. Readers of this column will know Casaro’s work, in fact his poster for Birdman of Alcatraz led off my piece on Burt Lancaster just last week and I posted his German poster for Flesh + Blood as a tribute to the late great Rutger Hauer on Wednesday. Born in 1935, Casaro made his first movie poster back in 1956 and for the next 40 years was one of Italy’s most prolific film-poster artists. He was much sought after internationally—his best-known American poster is for Conan the Barbarian (1982)—but he retired in the late ’90s, moved to a part of Spain he had fallen in love with when visiting the set of Conan, and devoted himself to painting Hollywood fantasy iconography, African wildlife, and the American West. For me, his greatest work was done in Italy in the ’60s and ’70s—four examples of which can be seen below—so he was the perfect artist to illustrate Rick Dalton’s films.
For his poster for Uccidimi subito Ringo, Disse il Gringo (Kill Me Now Ringo, Said the Gringo), Casaro pays deliberate homage to his own iconic image for the spaghetti western They Call Me Trinity, seen top left above. A wall of these Ringo...Gringo posters adorned the Croisette in Cannes during the film’s premiere.
Casaro also created a poster for Rick Dalton in Nebraska Jim, credited to the real-life spaghetti western director Sergio Corbucci (director of Django, natch). The titles Ringo...Gringo and Nebraska Jim must both be nods to Antonio Román’s 1966 Ringo from Nebraska (co-directed by an uncredited Mario Bava), also known in the U.S. as Savage Gringo, and in Austria and West Germany as... Nebraska Jim.
And there is another Rick Dalton poster featured prominently in Once Upon a Time... for the film Tanner, which was painted not by Casaro as I’d earlier been led to believe (though it really doesn’t look like his style) but by London-based comic book artist Martin Duhovic whose work was personally requested by Tarantino.
There are some other Rick Dalton posters online that I initially thought were created for the film but it turns out they were labors of love made by the Madrid-based artist Octavio Terol “for fun and for personal challenge” in which he imagines DiCaprio’s character as the star of three distinct Italian pulp genres: a “macaroni combat,” a “giallo” and a “poliziotteschi.”
The film has of course already inspired its share of fan art. Tony Stella—again no stranger to this column—painted his own gorgeous one sheet for the film (Hollywood Studios, hire this man!) as well as a teaser poster.
And sports brand designer Michael Raisch also created a beautiful one sheet for the film as what he described to me as “a fun quick weekend project.”
Michael also shared his inspirations and process on Instagram.
One side note: In trying to figure out which poster Sony was using for marketing, I visited the two biggest multiplexes in Times Square that are showing the movie—the AMC Empire 25 and the Regal E-Walk—the day before the opening. Neither had a single poster in their lobby for the film. In fact, the few posters that there were (maybe 7 or 8) seemed sad and unprepossessing, dwarfed by the vast space they were in. Although key art is alive and well on the internet it seems that actual printed 27" x 40" posters are rarely seen—wildposting in New York City being generally a thing of the past—and even in theaters they seem like an afterthought. Much as I love the printed one sheet, these Times Square theaters would be better served with enormous digital screens displaying all the posters for the films they are playing rather than a few dog-eared posters behind glass.
Or, alternatively, theaters could go back to the ’60s when a marquee was a marquee, as in Tarantino’s team’s recreation of the May 1969 premiere of Krakatoa, East of Java.
Cinerama Dome photos courtesy of J.S. Lewis on Twitter. Many many thanks to Steven Chorney, Tony Stella, Octavio Terol, Michael Raisch, Taso Georgakis and Paul Shipper for their help with this article.
Note: This article has been updated since it was first published to reflect some new information about the artists that I’ve received since then.