Sometimes the promotional poster is the only good thing about a movie, David Lieberman of CineMasterpieces said the other day.
“Especially those fifties science fiction movies. Invasion of the Saucer Men — you can’t sit through that. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman — a horrible, horrible movie. But the posters are iconic, and colorful, and beautiful. And they sell for a boatload of money. Many thousands of dollars.”
Lieberman peddles vintage movie posters. His Scottsdale-based company offers more than 10,000 lobby cards, one-sheets (those big movie ads that hang in theater lobbies), and press kits from classic Hollywood. He collects old posters himself, so Lieberman knew there was a need for a good Internet shop hawking movie posters.
“In 2002 I was working in real estate with my father and not having a great time,” he recalled. When he launched a website offering movie posters for sale, it took off.
“I said, 'Dad, I don’t want to sell property anymore. I want to have fun.'”
At first, Lieberman placed ads offering to buy entire collections. “Sometimes, it was a lot of crap,” he admitted. “But sometimes, you’d wind up making a deal.”
Movie studios have long since discontinued most of the promotional stuff Lieberman deals in. “They all stopped producing inserts and half-sheets in the mid-'80s,” he said. “Theater managers weren’t ordering them anymore. And lobby cards? Forget it. Tarantino did a set for The Hateful Eight in 2015, but he’s a movie buff and that was just him having fun.”
James Bond and the original Star Wars trilogy always outsell everything. Also Jaws and Blade Runner and Scarface, Lieberman said. His typical client is male and decorating a man cave or a home theater. “The guys who are buying these posters now are in their 40s and 50s, and they’re buying a piece of their childhood.”
Disney has always been popular at CineMasterpieces. And lately, chick flicks like The Notebook and Pretty Woman have been selling. “The past 10 years or so, I’ve been selling to more women. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re buying the posters for their husbands or their boyfriends.”
The other day he bought a Rocky one-sheet signed by its stars, Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire. Because autographs are often forged, he doesn’t usually bother with signed pieces. But Lieberman knows the dealer he bought the Rocky poster from. “In fact, he bought this poster from me, had Stallone sign it, and sold it back to me.”
His favorite movie is 1977’s Slapshot, a comedy about a hockey team. “I was 11 when that came out, and there’s nothing funnier to an 11-year-old than a movie where they say the word ‘fuck’ about 300 times. It’s Paul Newman’s favorite movie he ever made.”
Settling on a favorite movie poster is harder for Liberman. “I’d have to go with Star Wars. The Style A one-sheet is classic. Everyone knows that image by Tom Jung, with Luke Skywalker holding the lightsaber over his head. I’ve sold hundreds of those over the years, and I always have a few in stock. The price has gone from $300 when I first started selling to now, where they’re going for $3,500 and up.”
Not long ago he sold a Casablanca one-sheet to actor Mark Wahlberg. “I got to meet him because I delivered the poster to his mansion in Beverly Hills,” recalled Lieberman, who took the order from an employee of Wahlberg’s. “I made her put Mark on the phone, and I said to him, ‘Do you realize how much this is going to cost?’”
Casablanca posters are pricey. In fact, Lieberman said the rarest item he’d ever sold was a Casablanca half-sheet that went for $100,000 about 10 years ago.
One of his oddest purchases was a large stash of posters found inside the walls and floors of a house in Canada. “This guy was doing demolition work, tearing out walls, and he found all these old movie inserts.” Lieberman thinks the former homeowner must have worked in a movie theater in the mid-'30s, based on the age of the posters. “They were used as insulation,” he said. “The guy who found them thought, This is junk, and he put them in the trash. Then he thought, Wait, that stuff might be valuable. He was right. One of them, for a movie called Special Agent, might be the only one of its kind. Let’s just say the guy who found those is a lot wealthier today.”
People enjoy owning a piece of the past, Lieberman said. “Why else do people spend ridiculous amounts of money on Mickey Mantle rookie cards or Spider-Man comics?” he asked. “They’re capturing a little piece of 1962 or 1952. I don’t know. I’ve been collecting my whole life and I still don’t really understand it.”
A while back, Lieberman rented a stack of old sci-fi films. “I thought, I’ve never seen some of these garbage movies, and I’m always selling the posters from them. I felt like it was my responsibility to give them a try.”
“And of course,” Lieberman said, “They were just terrible.”