The Jaws Poster


This piece of design doesn’t really need any introduction. The Jaws poster is one of the most iconic images in cinema history and I’m a huge fan of the artwork.


The original 20” x 30” painting was made by Roger Kastel, an American artist and illustrator born in 1932. Kastel was initially commissioned however to create a book jacket for Peter Benchley’s “Jaws, A Novel” in 1974. His final book cover design was of a simple shark, on a black background, rising up out of the deep to attack an innocent female swimmer in the water. Later, when asked to design a poster for a film based on Benchley’s book with the same title, he developed his design slightly to depict a more realistic watery scene with blue sea and white sky, a great white shark (painted from photographs of a real shark this time) and tweaked the text to make it the iconic bright red.

With this image, Kastel perfectly sums up the film without giving anything away. The first pages of the 1974 novel, as well as the opening minutes of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster, begin with the attack on young Chrissie Watkins, who’s dragged to her watery doom by a great white shark, feeding in the waters off the seaside vacation town of Amity Island. Having been exposed to this single piece of artwork time and time again over the last 45 years, and witnessing parodies and spoofs from all over the globe, I feel we’ve become desensitised to the design. However, if you really look at the scale of the shark, the huge teeth as big as a human skull, and how vulnerable Chrissie is, alone, in the vastness of the ocean, it is genuinely quite terrifying.

The film taps in psychologically to the fear of things we don’t know are there, or can’t see on the surface and the poster captures that feeling so well, despite making a scene so bright and vibrant. When you think of horror films and their posters, you think of a dark colour pallet with close-ups of wide-eyed victims and blood splattered walls. Kastel deviated from this stereotype, reflecting Amity’s summer vibes, with bright blue sea and clear sky, making something simple and colourful that can be visually read and understood from a distance. It’s no wonder this  still holds up as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) film posters of all time.

Today, the original 20” x 30” panting’s whereabouts are sadly unknown. Kastel’s last glimpse of his painting was it “hanging at the Society of Illustrators in New York. It was framed because it was on a book tour, and then it went out to Hollywood for the movie. I expected it to come back, but it never did.”


Check out Kastel’s website here:

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