Drug movies date back to the earliest days of Hollywood. Movie memorabilia collectors love drug movie posters, especially examples which feature gaudy graphics, outrageous taglines and the seedier elements of the drug trade. Here are the ten best drug movie posters along with a collector's value guide. Rest assured, there are many more outstanding posters in this genre...
The Pace That Kills (1935) Window Card
The Pace That Kills – also released as Cocaine Fiends – is one of those drug "shocker" exploitation movies from the Depression-era 1930s. Noel Madison plays big city boy Nick, a drug pusher who gets small-town girl Jane Bradford (Lois January), waitress Fanny (Sheila Manners) and Jane's brother Eddie (Dean Benton) hooked on "headache powder" – a.k.a. cocaine. The movie's 14x19-inch window card poster – displayed at businesses in order to promote the picture – is a classic in drug movie lore, featuring seedy characters along with outrageous blurbs. One example in good condition sold at auction for $42.
The Pace That Kills (1935) window card
Reefer Madness (1936) Reissue One Sheet Movie Poster
Drug movie cult favorite Reefer Madness – also known as Tell Your Children and The Burning Question – stars Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles, Dave O'Brien and Thelma White. It's a "cautionary tale," dramatizing the consequences of marijuana use as viewed by its religious makers in 1936, complete with sex-crazed pot smokers and homicidal fiends. A 1940s reissue one sheet poster (28x42-inches) hits most of the movie's highlights – or lowlights, if you will – featuring the enticing blurb "Dope-Created Ecstasy Avalanching Into Frightful Perversions." One example in very good condition and preserved on linen brought $240.42 at auction.
Reefer Madness a.k.a. The Burning Question 1940s reissue poster
Cocaine Cowboys (1979) One Sheet Movie Poster
Cocaine Cowboys features Tom Sullivan as Dustin, the head of a rock band whose members are also involved in cocaine smuggling. Jack Palance, Andy Warhol, Suzanna Love, Pete Huckabee and Richard Young also appear. The film's standard one sheet poster (27x41-inches) is wild, featuring the tagline "Rock 'N Roll In The Fast Lane...Kilos, Killers and the Colombia Connection!" One example in fine/very fine condition sold for $25.
Cocaine Cowboys (1979) one sheet poster
The Trip (1967) One Sheet Movie Poster
Right out of the psychedelic 1960s comes The Trip starring Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a television commercial director who seeks spiritual and pharmaceutical guidance from LSD guru John (Bruce Dern). Also on hand are Dennis Hopper (of course) and Susan Strasberg. The Trip's one sheet movie poster is, well, a real "trip," featuring wild graphics and the blurb "A Lovely Sort of Death." One example in very fine/near mint condition sold at auction for $131.45.
The Trip (1967) one sheet poster
Midnight Express (1978) One Sheet Movie Poster
Brad Davis plays the real-life Billy Hayes, who was arrested for hashish smuggling and thrown into a hellish Turkey prison from which he eventually escaped. Randy Quaid, John Hurt and Bo Hopkins as a government spook named Tex also appear. The movie's standard one sheet poster (27x41-inches) captures the nightmarish essence of the picture, with Billy Hayes' cancelled U.S. passport featured prominently. One example in very fine- condition brought $15 at auction.
Midnight Express (1978) one sheet poster
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) Three Sheet Movie Poster
Frank Sinatra stars as Frankie Machine, an ex-heroin junkie who returns to the old neighborhood following his release from prison. Kim Novak, Eleanor Parker, Arnold Stang and Darren McGavin as slimy drug pusher Louie also appear. The movie's big three sheet poster (41x81-inches), as executed by noted illustrator Saul Bass, is a brilliantly understated effort, featuring a dangling arm just after a heroin addiction or perhaps searching for the next fix. One example in fine+ condition sold at auction for $1,673.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) three sheet poster
The French Connection (1971) Half Sheet Movie Poster
Gene Hackman won a Best Actor Oscar playing Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, the real-life New York City cop who cracked the fabled French Connection dope smuggling ring. Roy Scheider plays his partner Buddy Russo and Fernando Rey appears as the elusive drug kingpin Alain Charnier. The movie's half sheet poster (22x28-inches) features the aftermath of the famous car chase scene, with Popeye gunning down his fleeing adversary, who becomes yet another casualty in the war on drugs. One example in very fine condition sold for $40.
The French Connection (1971) half sheet poster
Wait Until Dark (1967) One Sheet Movie Poster
Audrey Hepburn plays Susy Hendrix, a young blind woman whose apartment is invaded by thugs searching for a doll stuffed with heroin. Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. also appear. The movie's one sheet poster is a work of understated terror, picturing a horrified Audrey Hepburn scared out of her wits. One example in fine/very fine condition sold at auction for $39.
Wait Until Dark (1967) one sheet poster
Stakeout on a Dope Street (1958) One Sheet Poster
Warner Bros. produced this drug exploitation picture examining the lives of "the hooked on drugs" crowd. Yale Wexler, Jonathan Haze, Morris Miller, Abby Dalton and Allen Kramer star. The film's one sheet poster is a wild effort, featuring the blurb "A Bombshell! What Happens When Kids Get Their Hands On Dope!" (Answer: Nothing good.) One example in very fine condition sold at auction for $47.
Stakeout on Dope Street (1958) one sheet poster
Fiend of Dope Island (1959) Three Sheet Movie Poster
Essanjay Films produced this drug "shocker" in 1959, with Bruce Bennett starring as Charlie Davis, a drunken dope dealer who runs his own island, mistreating natives, seducing blonde entertainer Glory La Verne (Tania Velia) and plotting the overthrow of several island governments. "You wanna end up on dope island!" some parents no doubt warned their wayward kids in the late 1950s. The picture's big three sheet poster (41x81-inches) is typical of the low-budget dope movie genre, complete with the degenerate dope island dictator Bennett and scantily-clad Yugoslavian bombshell Tania Velia. One example in very fine/near mint condition sold for $18.
Fiend of Dope Island (1959) three sheet poster
- All auction results and images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
- Top image: Midnight Express (1978) British quad movie poster (30x40-inches) $32
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.