Have you ever been to the theaters and seen some cool promotional posters? Do they stick out to you as one of the coolest parts of the film, and you wish you could take it home with you? Is it okay to ask to purchase the poster? 

Generally, you can’t purchase movie posters from theaters. The posters don’t belong to the theater. They belong to the movie studios and are meant to be used for promotional material. However, some studios are okay if the theaters give them away as gifts to guests or their employees. 

If you want to know how to get your hands on an authentic movie theater poster, read on!

What Happens to Movie Posters After The Film Release? 

Most of the time, posters are either disposed of, given away as gifts, or returned to the producers after the film’s debut. Most theaters give their employees posters and instruct them on how to use them legally. Occasionally, theaters may give the movie poster away to the public. 

There’s some disagreement about how movie theaters should handle old movie posters. The movie posters within the theater were given to the theater by the film producers. They’re given to the theaters to promote the movie’s release and excite people for the upcoming film. 

Gifting these posters to employees is usually fine. Some movie theater managers on web forums talk openly about the different gifting systems they use for their workers. 

Some managers explain how they utilize a claiming chart in the breakroom. Employees can mark off three posters they want the most, based on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Other managers say they gift or use posters as a reward system for their workers, which is usually fine. Or they give them as a gift for the employee of the month. 

But what about gifting them to the public? 

From what I understand, no rules prevent movie theaters from gifting these old posters to the public. 

According to a movie theater manager on Reddit, members of the public can feel free to come up to staff after the movies and ask for posters. They may not be able to give it to you, and the user advises the public to ask near the end of the movie release rather than at the beginning. 

Theaters need the posters for a few weeks after the release date to advertise and promote the film. If you visit the theater on the first day of the film release, you shouldn’t ask for posters. This creates a burden on the management to try to follow up with you at a later date. 

Ask for the posters near the end of the film’s debut, and you’re more likely to get one!

Box Office

Are Movie Theaters Allowed to Sell Old Posters? 

Most movie theaters are forbidden to sell them because it may impede with sales of new movie posters produced for sales purposes. There are also possible legal repercussions for selling old movie posters to the public in addition to private company rules. After receiving the poster as a gift, reselling it online or in person is illegal. 

Similar to the disagreements about gifting movie posters, there’s some disagreement about selling old posters. But there’s a more explicit legal requirement when reusing or selling old movie posters than when gifting them. 

Generally, it’s illegal for movie theaters to sell old promotional movie posters. The main reason for this restriction is that the images belong to the movie studio. These posters are copyrighted and belong to the studios, not the movie theater. 

The theater is only allowed to display these posters for promotional reasons. They’re not permitted to sell these posters for their profits. 

Occasionally, some movie theaters have an agreement with the production company to destroy old posters. 

Theaters with such an agreement are not even allowed to throw the posters away. People might dumpster-dive and try to scavenge for old posters in the trash. If this is the case for your local theater, you’re unlikely to be allowed to buy or get a free movie poster.

Others can gift posters to their crew but not to the public. Crew members cannot sell these posters online or in person to the public. This is because copyright law protects how people use and sell this property. 

Other agreements state that posters will be collected after the film’s release and given to charity. These posters might be sold to support a charity or displayed in an art exhibit. 

How theaters treat their old posters depends on their agreement with different studios. However, most studios do not allow theaters to sell these posters after the film’s release. Whether theater managers choose to break these rules is another matter. 

Although, most of the time, it’s not legal for them to resell them to the public without permission. This is because copyright law prohibits this action and thus can lead to legal actions against the theater. 

Before I forget, if you are a movie poster super fan, you will want to check out What Are Film Poster Conventions? (What, Where, and When).

What’s the Best Way to Get an Old Movie Poster From the Theaters? 

Knowing someone who works in movie theaters is one of the best ways to get free posters. Working at a movie theater is another excellent way to get a free poster. Finally, you can ask the theaters for a free poster, but avoid pressuring them to sell you one unless they have permission. 

There are several ways to effectively get an old movie poster from the theaters. Some of the best practices include: 

  • Working at the theater 
  • Visiting local raffles where they’re donated 
  • Visiting an auction
  • Requesting a free poster after the movie release passes 
  • Visiting a local comic book store (probably won’t have the original theater copy) 

You’ll increase your likelihood of getting a free poster if you befriend the theater’s staff. Also, attending the same theater regularly will help the team come to see you as a regular patron. 

As we mentioned above, sometimes the studios ask for the old posters to be donated to charity. In these cases, you can get your hands on one at an auction or other charity function. 

Finally, the movie theater box office and comic book stores are great for getting high-quality film posters. However, these posters are not originals from the theaters, but they make an excellent display on the walls.

Movie Employee

Can You Make Copies of Movie Theater Posters? 

There are ways to make copies of theater posters that don’t violate copyright law. However, you must be careful to avoid how you copy, display, and reproduce them. It’s also important to understand whether the copyright has expired or is still active. 

Copyright protects how images, written word, film, and other creative materials. Copyright determines how these materials are distributed and shared. This means you can’t copy or re-sell them without obtaining permission. 

However, specific images and uses are protected. 

If the image copyright has expired, using and reproducing the image is fine. Selling the image may still be a grey area in some instances. But most uses are protected when the copyright has expired, as an appellate court ruled against Warner Brothers. 

In this case, the copyright no longer applied to the old Tom and Jerry cartoon, Gone with the Wind, and other old films. The court decided that no protective law prevented the images from being used on t-shirts and other memorabilia if the copyright no longer existed. 

Occasionally, fans make artistic interpretations of copyright material at anime conventions and other artistic conventions. These may be personalized posters, pictures, or comic books. These uses are usually protected under fair use

Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material for the following reasons: 

  • Artist expression
  • News 
  • Reporting 
  • Critiquing 

This rule allows people to make parodies or an artistic interpretation of material. However, you need to be careful how this rule is applied and that you don’t cross the line into copyright infringement.  Always consult with an attorney.

Box Office

Closing Thoughts

We hope this article helped you better understand what happens with old movie posters after the film’s release. While some theaters might be willing to break or bend the rules, you shouldn’t seek out these unfair opportunities. 

You don’t want to convince the theater managers to do something illegal or violate some rules. Not only can this get you in trouble, but it can get the theater in trouble. 

Nothing wrong with asking for a copy they’re throwing out, though! Just be polite.


Reddit: What do movie theaters do with movie posters of movies no longer playing?

Poster Grind: How To Get Free Movie Posters from Theaters? (Perfect for home cinemas)

Reddit: What do movie theaters do with movie posters of movies no longer playing?

Reddit: How do I get a poster from the theaters? (A few questions actually)

Quora: I’d like to start selling canvas printed movie posters. Is it possible to work around the protecting Copyright laws, legally?

Forum Theatre: Are There Laws Against Selling Movie Theatre Posters?

Poster Grind: What Do Movie Theaters Do with Old Movie Posters?

Ohio Wesleyan University: Copyright and fair use for images