Enhanced breasts and headless women: why movie posters have always been sexist

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Ed Power
·6 min read
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The 'enchanced' posters for For Your Eyes Only and Captain America: Civil War
The 'enchanced' posters for For Your Eyes Only and Captain America: Civil War

Rosamund Pike has spoken out about how her breasts were “augmented” in the poster for the movie Johnny English Reborn. Setting aside the fact that what the film could really have done with were augmented jokes, her comments have understandably created a stir and once again focused attention on Hollywood’s obsession with photoshopping actresses.

“In the poster for the character shot, I have got a really impressive chest, which I don’t have,” said Pike of the 2011 spy spoof. She then cited another example from the 2019 Marie Curie biopic, Radioactive. “Strangely, they made my eyes brown,” she said. “I still don’t quite know why. A browny, crazy colour.”

Watch: Rosamund Pike calls out movie posters that gave her 'massive breasts' and 'brown eyes'

“Then I was thinking about it,” Pike continued in an interview on The Kelly Clarkson Show. “Those are the obvious times, right? When you do notice, 'Oh, I’ve got brown eyes,' or, 'I’ve got massive breasts.'

"But there’s probably countless times where our image is doctored and we don’t notice it, because I think we are all losing our grip on what we really look like.”

Rosamund Pike and Rowan Atkinson in the Johnny English Reborn poster
Rosamund Pike and Rowan Atkinson in the Johnny English Reborn poster

She isn’t the only female star to discover that she has been objectified in a poster in order to put more bums on seats. Here are some of the more flagrant examples.

Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only (1981)

The James Bond film For Your Eyes Only - Rex
The James Bond film For Your Eyes Only - Rex

An oldie and very much not a goodie, this Bond poster was a classic example of the “between the legs” shot so beloved of the industry. Bouquet plays Bond Girl Melina Havelock, who joins Roger Moore’s 007 (and obviously ends up going for a tumble with him) as she tries to track down the murderer of her marine archaeologist parents – not that any of that is conveyed in the image.

Geena Davis, A League of their Own (1992)

a league of their own
a league of their own

Davis starred alongside Madonna and Tom Hanks in what was pitched as a tale of feminine empowerment (the film is about female baseball players taking over from their male counterparts during World War II). The memo clearly never reached the marketing department, which gave us Davis in the notorious “headless woman” pose. There are more sexist examples of the trope – but never did a poster clash so blatantly with the message of the film it was supposedly promoting.

Angelia Jolie, Lara Croft Tomb Raider (2001)

tomb raider
tomb raider

The excuse the designers of this poster might trot out is that the video game character of Lara Croft already has wildly disproportionate body measurements. Jolie is receives the full “Lara” treatment, her waist seemingly slimmed and the upper half of her body re-contoured . She looks more like Jessica Rabbit on a camping trip than a treasure hunter risking life, limb and ponytail. Which is a shame as Jolie’s Croft movies have in many ways aged well. But with marketing material this sexist who can blame audiences for having stayed away?

Keira Knightley, King Arthur (2004)

Keira Knightley in King Arthur - Touchstone
Keira Knightley in King Arthur - Touchstone

When Keira Knightley signed up for a grim retelling of the legend of King Arthur, she presumably expected the role to involve lots of slogging about in the cold and the dark. What she hadn’t anticipated was a conversation about how large she was willing to allow her breasts be “augmented” for the poster.

“I remember we had an interesting discussion when they said, ‘We want to make them slightly larger and you’ll get approval’ and I was like, ‘OK, fine.’ I honestly don’t give a s___,” she said. “But then they showed me the first copy and these things must have been double-Es — and they were down to my knees And I was like, ‘I don’t mind you making them bigger, but don’t give me droopy breasts. They look like your grandmother’s t___s.’”

Jennifer Garner, Elektra (2005)

Elektra
Elektra

Hollywood is up to its age-old tricks as the poster of Garner’s high-kicking super-heroine is ruthlessly and unashamedly nipped and tucked. Along the way, it has apparently been decided to dial her skin tone up to blinding orange so that she looks more satsuma than human being. Then again, that is arguably appropriate given Elektra turned out to be a huge lemon.

Scarlett Johansson, Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)

black widow
black widow

Looking as if she had been shoved through a fairground mirror, Johansson’s Black Widow character is elongated, while her waist is slimmed to almost grotesque proportions. With legs and arms lengthened, Johansson looks significantly taller than her real height of 5’3”. In fact, everything about the image screams uncanny (and deeply creepy) valley. “Internal organs are not an imperfection,” observed one social media post.

Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman
Kingsman

Just seven years ago, but still Hollywood was persisting with the “between the legs” shot. Here, the “honour” went to actress and ballet dancer Sofia Boutella, playing “blade-running” henchwoman Gazelle. The legs might have been different – but the poster was dispiritingly familiar.

Emilia Clarke, Terminator: Genisys (2015)

terminator
terminator

If only someone had gone back in time and stopped Hollywood making Terminator: Genisys. One of the more egregious issues with this dystopian dross was the shameful and shameless photoshopping of the Mother of Dragons herself. Posing with a submachine gun, Clarke has been given an implausibly narrowed waist and a top heavy upper-body. It’s like two different people soldered together and then with Emilia Clarke’s head plonked on top. Obviously this is an insult to the actress – but also to the character of Sarah Connor, one of the greatest action heroes of all time.

Kate Winslet, The Dressmaker (2015)

dressmaker
dressmaker

Yes, that really is Oscar-winner and Titanic star Winslet. Not that you can tell from a poster so heavily photoshopped that it could be any actress on the planet. The skin is whiter than the first snows of winter while she has of course been given “curves”.

Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

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Aside from her blue skin, there is little interference with Lawrence’s physical appearance. Instead, the image of Lawrence’s Mystique held by the neck by Oscar Isaac’s blue-meanie Apocalypse is an example of Hollywood’s obsession with dehumanising women. Choke-holds, women with their heads removed (there is an entire blog dedicated to chronicling this creepy phenomenon in movie posters) and the “between the legs” shot so beloved of bawdy Eighties comedies are all testament to tinsel town’s wired-in misogyny.

Watch: Taylor Swift reacts to 'sexist' joke in 'Ginny & Georgia': 'Stop degrading hard working women'