The blockbuster values of original racing film posters

Racing films means racing film posters, and in among a multitude of reprints and copies, original movie posters can be worth a good deal. Gordon Cruickshank reports from the red carpet

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Cinema posters were not printed in huge quantities, and if not binned when showings were over were returned to the distribution centre for credit, so a limited number of originals survive. Sometimes studios printed a large run for giveaways or sale, and there’s an endless number of modern reprints, official or illicit. There’s nothing wrong with buying these for their decorative value, but they have no worth in collectability – which makes buying a minefield as some vendors seem confused about the meaning of the word ‘original’.

Film distributors often use different artwork and layouts for their own country. Sometimes the name of the film is changed – Paul Newman’s Winning, for example, was released in France as Virages. It’s likely most readers will be thinking of English-language films, but if it’s just the graphic element that excites you then versions in other languages can sell for lower prices. Terry Etherington at  Chequered Flag Collectables currently has a German version of a poster for Grand Prix at £144.99, and a US example with different but recognisable graphics of a similar size for £200 on top. But there are lots of variations, he warns: “There’s a big difference in value between promotionals and the actual cinema poster.”

“Of course Le Mans and Grand Prix are top of everyone’s wish list, but I’m finding the recent films sell fast – Rush, Senna and Le Mans ’66.”

Checkpoint film poster

Fisticuffs and flames promoting the 1956 film Checkpoint, filmed around Mille Miglia roads and involving a (dummy) Aston DB3S going over a cliff

Not all racing films are made in Hollywood or Elstree. Italy, Germany and France all have their back catalogue of racing films, and posters for these can be just as handsome to look at, and often rarer.

Sizes fall into certain brackets, since posters had to fit on boards of existing size. Common formats are ‘Quad’ which translates to 30x40in and ‘One-sheet’ –  40x27in. You’re unlikely to come across a three-sheet – 81x40in – as these were meant for pasting on billboards but you might see ‘double-sided’ – these had a reversed image on the rear which increased their punch in a backlit light box. Earlier posters were often delivered folded, so it’s common to have intersecting fold lines visible. More serious defects involve creases, holes, stains and fading, which all reduce the value.

While a big poster makes an impact, there’s a lower cost alternative – front of house lobby cards, 10x8in photos for cinemas to display in the foyer, in frames of eight. They would mix scenes from the film with posed shots – graphically less impactful than posters, but fascinating in themselves. A complete set of eight for one film would be a great find, but single cards can be had for £15 upwards.

You can pretty well guess which films are most sought-after, but popularity brings reproductions, so check your vendor: if you’re hoping for investment returns, buy from a reputable dealer or auction house. Le Mans is top of the list, surging on a Gulf-liveried tide of love for Steve McQueen – which means reprints abound. But the film had limited cinema release so fewer posters were printed originally, boosting rarity. For a top-quality original, you’ll need to spring £2995 at Vintage Movie Posters.

John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix and Winning starring Paul Newman can hit prices in the thousands for original printings. An enthusiast’s film like Senna (while a surprise success) won’t have had the studio promotion of Rush, about Lauda and Hunt, let alone the recent Ford v Ferrari/Le Mans ’66, although nowadays PR is more about pixels than paper. Star value counts too – Tom Cruise fans might be chasing Days of Thunder, while die-hard Stallone followers might conceivably shell out on the dreadful Driven.

You’ll face less competition over half-forgotten titles such as Checkpoint (1956) starring Stanley Baker (great Mille Miglia footage), The Green Helmet from 1961, currently available in the US at $275, or James Garner’s other racing film The Racing Scene (1969), a documentary about the star’s own team. And for some sensationalist romance filmed around the 1963 F1 season, try tracking down a poster for Roger Corman’s The Young Racers – “A little death each day, a lot of love every night!”

McQueen’s Le Mans

Very scarce and original quad (30x40in) poster for the cult film Le Mans, with artwork of the star in front of grandstands. Shows original folds but in near mint condition.

For sale
Vintage Movie Posters, £2995

Steve McQueen Le Mans film poster

Grand Prix lobby card

Single lobby card for Grand Prix showing James Garner and Jessica Walter in domestic setting. Larger American 14x11in size, card 7 of US series.

For sale
Moviemem, £14

Grand Prix lobby card

The Green Helmet

Original poster for The Green Helmet, featuring sports car racing from various circuits with a romantic thriller plot and a cameo by Jack Brabham. Fair condition, with folds and staple holes.

For sale
Original Vintage Movie Posters, £220

Green Helmet film poster

Newman’s Winning

American poster for Indy 500-based drama Winning that got Newman into racing. Good condition, with folds, some corner tape marks.

For sale
Chequered Flag Collectables, £149.99

Winning film poster