There are thousands of movie theaters worldwide, and each one is filled with movie posters on any given day. Most people are curious about what they do with the poster when the movie runs its course—especially movie lovers and poster collectors.
That’s why we wanted to explain the situation to satisfy your curiosity and potentially help you acquire a few of those artistic pieces of movie glory.
Movie studios provide the promotional material
The movie studio provides the posters, cut-outs, and all promotional material for a movie you will see in a cinema.
The movie studio gets the vast majority of a ticket sale, so they want as many people watching that particular movie as possible. So, it is their job to promote it and make people want to see it.
Why do movie theatres put up promotional material?
Cinemas get a small percentage of a ticket sale for a particular movie, but they make most of their money selling food and drinks. This isn’t surprising when you consider the price of popcorn.
So, while movie studios want you to see a particular movie, cinemas are more interested in people through the door in general. If they have ten screens, they will want to consistently show ten popular films to get as much footfall as possible.
Cinemas use the movie studios’ free movie promotional material to keep people wanting to come back to the cinema to watch the movies. As they know, they will get an average amount of food and drink sales from everyone who buys a ticket.
What do movie theaters do with old movie posters?
As I said, it varies, but the everyday things that happen are:
Sometimes movie studios will state that posters must be returned to them. The movie and promotional material are their property, and they will ask for the posters back.
Movie studies may have this as a policy for all their movies to cover themselves legally. Or it might be a specific policy for a certain movie, for one that is really popular or controversial, perhaps. For example, if a movie was about something gruesome or illegal, they may not want posters to remain in circulation.
They might be strict about the return policy, or it might just be something they say but don’t enforce.
Movie studios will likely deal with the same poster manufacturers. So, they might get a rebate for returning the posters to manufacturers for recycling, or they might have a deal with a recycling center.
It is also possible the movie studio will have links to charities and foundations and request the return of the posters so they can be passed on to raise money for charity.
Generally speaking, it’s against the promotional contract that theaters have with movie studios to sell their movie posters. We actually go over this in detail here, Can You Buy Movie Posters From Theaters?
It is sad, but a lot of movie posters are simply destroyed. Once the movie is no longer showing in the cinema, the posters are a burden and are an inconvenience.
The cinema will either choose to destroy them or throw them out; sometimes, it is part of the contract between the movie studio and cinema that the posters must be destroyed. As they are the studio’s intellectual property, they are within their rights to decide what happens to them.
They might even request that the posters be shredded before being thrown out.
A better option than just throwing them out is that the cinema might decide to do the environmentally friendly recycling option. So, once they are taken down, they will go into the recycling bin for collection.
One day it is a movie poster for a Hollywood blockbuster; the next day, it is someone’s toilet paper.
Sometimes they will go to the staff of the cinema.
This is usually some form of a raffle, seniority, or a first-come, first-served basis. Once the posters are of no use, the employees can keep them as a perk of the job.
How this is managed will come down to the manager or owner of a specific cinema.
The employees are probably requested to keep them and not sell them on eBay so that the cinema doesn’t get into trouble with the movie studio.
But the reality is that most of the film posters you see on sites like eBay that were original promotional material are usually there because an employee got a poster from work and is trying to sell it as a side hustle.
Members of the public
If you are cheeky enough to ask, then it is possible to get free movie posters from cinemas.
If this is allowed, then it will usually be an “unwritten policy” of the cinema. It may depend on who you ask and when you ask.
They are unlikely to reserve the poster for a member of the public. But if they have just taken them down, and they are going to throw them out anyway, then you might get lucky.
If you know someone who works there, you will likely have a better chance.
Cinemas might have links to local charities or foundations, who will either raise money for them or send them things like movie posters so they can raise money themselves.
This is unusual for the large cinemas with a significant turnover of films and mainly only show new ones. However, some small independent cinemas might know they are going to show the movie again, so they will keep the posters.
For instance, a cinema might show It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas.
As you can see, what is done with movie posters after they have been screened is messy with many written and unwritten rules. Is it possible to score a movie poster for free from your local cinema? Perhaps!
We even wrote a brief article on the subject with a common-sense strategy that just may work. Here is the quick read:
But do you want to know what is just as fun as acquiring movie posters? Designing them on your own! That’s why we are currently working on an online course that is dedicated to movie poster design.
If you want to be notified of this course, you will want to subscribe to our newsletter. Subscribers will be notified of all new courses and updates relating to the entertainment marketing world.
One other suggestion is to subscribe to our YouTube channel, where you will find some fantastic free tutorials on poster design and all things movie posters!