John Alvin

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Not to be confused with John Alvin (actor).
John Alvin
Born John Henry Alvin
(1948-11-24)November 24, 1948
Hyannis, Massachusetts
Died February 6, 2008(2008-02-06) (aged 59)
Rhinebeck, New York

John Henry Alvin (November 24, 1948[1] – February 6, 2008[2]) was an American cinematic artist and painter who illustrated some of the world's most recognizable movie posters.[2] Alvin created movie posters, which are also known as key art,[1] for over 135 films over the course of his career, beginning with the poster for Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles in 1974.[2] His style of art for his posters became known as Alvinesque by friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry.[1]

Alvin's work included the movie posters for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Color Purple and Gremlins.[1] He also created the anniversary posters for Star Wars.[1]

John Alvin also created numerous masterpieces in Disney Fine Art, which are highly collected and considered extremely valuable.[3]

Early life[edit]

John Alvin was born on November 24, 1948, in Hyannis, Massachusetts.[1] His parents were in the United States military and the family moved was relocated often.[1] The Alvins settled permanently in the area of Monterrey, California, where John Alvin graduated from Pacific Grove High School in 1966.[4] Alvin's interest in movie posters reportedly began by his interest in the latest movie advertisements in the Sunday newspaper.[2] Alvin graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1971[1] and began work as a freelance artist.


Alvin's first official movie art campaign was for the poster for Blazing Saddles, directed by Mel Brooks, in 1974.[2] Movie posters were considered to be the preeminent means of advertising new films at the time and often appeared in newspapers and billboards.[1]

Alvin, who was working as an animator at an animation studio at the time, was invited to work on the Blazing Saddles poster by a friend.[1] Alvin took an unusual path when designing the movie poster. He designed a serious movie poster, which incorporated unusual and quirky elements from the film.[1] For example, in the poster, Alvin depicted Mel Brooks, who plays a Yiddish-speaking Native American chief in the film, wearing a headdress inscribed with the phrase, Kosher for Passover.[1] The joke had been suggested by Alvin's wife, Andrea.[1]

Alvin's work on Blazing Saddles was liked by Mel Brooks, as well as by others in the industry. He went on to work on a number of Brooks' later films, including Young Frankenstein, which was also released in 1974.[2]

Another of Alvin's most famous cinematic posters was his work for Steven Spielberg's 1982 film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[1] Alvin designed the film's iconic poster showing E.T.'s finger touching the finger of his human friend, Elliott, finger tip to finger tip.[1] The fingers create a glow where they touch. The idea for the poster was reportedly suggested by Spielberg, and was inspired by Michelangelo's painting, The Creation of Adam.[1] The E.T. poster was personally important to Alvin. He used his own daughter, Farah Alvin, as the human hand model for the poster.[1]

Alvin created artwork for more than 135 film campaigns over the span of three decades.[1] His work for such high profile film studios as New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Disney Studios and Lucasfilm Ltd., included Blade Runner, Cocoon, The Lost Boys, Predator, The Princess Bride, Gremlins, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Jurassic Park. He also created the anniversary posters and other artwork for the 30th anniversary Star Wars Celebration.[1] His recent high profile campaigns included commissioned artistic posters for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter film series and Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean films.[2]

Alvin, and the images he created for his films, often played a key role in the success of a film.[1] John Sabel, the executive vice president of creative print advertising at Walt Disney Pictures, who often worked with Alvin, told the Los Angeles Times that, "There was a reason why The Lion King did the numbers that it did... There was a reason why 'Hunchback [of Notre Dame]' became a big success. It's because of the images that were produced, and a lot of those were John Alvin's paintings."[1]

Alvin's poster for The Phantom of the Paradise was selected by the National Collection of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian Institution Smithsonian Museum and the Museum of Modern Art to be included in "Images of an Era (1945-1975)," a collection of posters that toured Europe as part of the US Bicentennial under the auspices of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Alvin began to focus more on cinematic fine art in recent years, as the importance of movie posters has gradually been usurped by newer forms of advertising, such as the Internet marketing of new films.[1] Alvin's fine art portfolio centered on movies artistically, rather than on advertising.[1]

His most recent work was as an artistic contributor to the campaign of the Walt Disney Pictures film, Enchanted, which was released in November 2007.[2]


John Alvin died after suffering a bout of myocardial infarction at the age of 59 on February 6, 2008, at his home in Rhinebeck, New York.[2] He was survived by his wife, Andrea, his daughter, Farah Alvin, a Broadway actress, as well as his sister, Suzanne Alvin.[1][2]


  • MGM
    • Rainman
    • Texasville
    • Betrayed
    • City Slickers
    • Fritz The Cat
    • Leviathan
    • Losin’ It
    • Rancho Deluxe
    • Red Dawn
    • Running Scared
    • Solarbabies
    • Spaceballs
    • The Princess Bride
    • Young Frankenstein
  • Twentieth Century Fox
    • Phantom of the Paradise
    • Star Wars: The Concerts
    • The Turning Point
    • Star Wars 10th Anniversary
    • Project X
    • Rhinestone
    • Silent Movie
    • Willow
    • Alien (15th Anniversary)
    • High Anxiety
    • History of the World Part 1
    • Cocoon
    • Cocoon The Return
    • Conrack
  • Warner Brothers Studios
    • Cats Don’t Dance
    • Empire of the Sun
    • My Favorite Year
    • S.O.B.
    • Christopher Columbus: The Discovery
    • Joe Vs. The Volcano
    • Gremlins
    • Innerspace
    • Victor/Victoria
    • Mosquito Coast
    • That’s Dancing!
    • The Color Purple
    • 10
    • Ace Ventura
    • When Nature Calls
    • Batman Returns
    • Blade Runner
    • Blazing Saddles
    • Cobra
    • Deal of the Century
    • Innocent Blood
    • New Jack City
    • Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
    • Quest for Camelot
    • Spies Like Us
    • The Frisco Kid
    • The Goonies
    • The Lost Boys
    • The Nutcracker Prince
    • Under Siege
  • Other
    • Royal Flash
    • Serial
    • Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother
    • Smile
    • Nickel Ride
    • North
    • Arthur II
    • Lisa


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Stewart, Jocelyn (2008-02-10). "John Alvin, 59; created movie posters for such films as 'Blazing Saddles' and 'E.T.'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Movie poster artist John Alvin dies, Campaign designer worked on 135 movies". Variety Magazine. 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  3. ^ Collectors Editions
  4. ^ "In Memory of John Alvin". Pacific Grove High School Class of 1966. 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 

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