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James Cameron Explains Why the Original Aliens Poster Is So Basic

The Avatar and Terminator filmmaker is promoting his new art book, Tech Noir.

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Ripley holding Newt in an image cropped from the alternate poster for James Cameron's Aliens.
Most people think of this as the poster for Aliens, but it was not the first poster. Director James Cameron told us why.
Image: 20th Century Fox

Did you know James Cameron used to make movie posters? It’s true. In his new book, Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, the director of Terminator, Avatar, and Aliens talks about his time creating posters for an old movie company called Saturn, not even watching the movies because they were so bad, and just sending in images he thought were cool. “They’re horrible movies,” Cameron said. “I strongly recommend nobody ever see the films, like I never did. I could watch only about five minutes before I switched it it off.”

io9 was one of a group of journalists who spoke to Cameron about Tech Noir, which contains a bunch of these posters, and we asked him about how, if at all, that experience impacted the posters for his own movies, none of which have even been illustrated. “I’ve never really pushed marketing departments to go one way or another [between photos and illustration],” Cameron said on video call. “They show me stuff. I think on Avatar was one where I think they missed it, and we actually brought in Dylan Cole, who was one of our designers, and Dylan did the one sheets for Avatar. Believe it or not, we literally just did [them] in our own design department. So I do believe in the one sheet the same way I used to believe in the book covers of all those science fiction books I used to buy as a kid. If it was a good cover, I bought the book.”


Before Cameron moved onto the next question though, he perked up and said “There was a funny one sheet story on Aliens! I did have a strong opinion on that.” And that’s when he told the story of how the one sheet for Aliens ended up just being this.

The original poster for Aliens, which is just black with the word 'Aliens'
Why was the original poster for Aliens just this? Read below.
Image: 20th Century Fox

So I went into the office of the the head of marketing for 20th Century Fox, I literally met him on his last day at the office and his office was all boxed up. I was his last meeting before he left the job,” Cameron began. “He was sitting at the desk and he had this little green plastic frog and he was squeezing a bulb and making it hop around the desk. And I said, ‘What’s with the frog?’ And he said, ‘It’s my stress frog.’ I’m like, ‘OK, this guy is a casualty.’”

“Then he said, ‘But I’ve got a one sheet for you.’ And he showed this one sheet. I think you can get it online, a few of them kind of leaked out. [Note: We weren’t able to confirm which version Cameron is referring to, but if you know, let us know!] And it was this horrible sort of mash-up photography. It looked worse than a Roger Corman one sheet because, like me, Roger believed in good one sheets. Not good movies, but good one sheets. And I looked at this thing and I kind of held it in my hands and and I said, ‘Oh, let me tell you exactly what I think of this one sheet,’ and I just slowly sort of crumpled it up [into] a ball and threw it in the corner. And he was working the stress frog. And I said, ‘Honestly, if I had a choice between that piece of shit and just an all-black frame, I’d go with the all black frame.’ And apparently what happened was I walked out of the office and he called somebody up and said ‘He wants it all black!’ He wasn’t hearing what I was saying. So if you ever wondered why there was literally nothing on the one sheet for Aliens, that’s why.”


We’ll have more from Cameron in the coming days. Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, which compiles hundreds of pages of drawings from Cameron’s entire life and is incredible, is out next week. Preorder here.

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