Seeing a film doesn't necessarily make you fully appreciate a Criterion cover, but it does help define what some of the more obscure covers were attempting to encapsulate in a single image. For that reason, I've made two lists: my favorite Criterion covers of film’s I've seen, and films I have yet to watch.
One other rule: only one cover per director, or else this list would be devoted entirely to Ingmar Bergman films. Enjoy.
10 Favorite Covers of Films I’ve Seen:
Modern Times (1936)
The face of one, if not the, most iconic characters in film history with a few crude mechanical graphics, all resting on a flawless white background. Only Chaplin could make an image like this work. Equally humorous and breathtaking. Also see: Chaplin's The Great Dictator
This image mirrors the theme of its film perfectly. Like the differing stories told by the characters in Rashomon, the film’s main centerpiece is hazy and broken, yet somehow still stands tall. Also see: Kurosawa's Ikiru
Night and Fog (1955)
While I’m all about still photos from a film being utilized on its DVD cover, I’m extremely thankful that Criterion chose this faded, washed-out image to represent one of the most graphic films I’ve ever seen. Once you’ve seen Night and Fog, you realize how much justice this cover does for the film. Also see: Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour
Paths of Glory (1957)
Christ, just look at that face. If you’ve never seen Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, this cover should immediately implore you to discover its origins. Having seen the film, you’ll fully understand how appropriate this image is. Also see: Kubirck's The Killing
This text-only cover conveys the influence of its film better than any Criterion I’ve seen. Like Godard’s classic, this cover is audacious and unapologetic. You’re jarred by what you see, and you damn sure won’t ever forget it. Also see: Godard's Contempt
Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
I could go any which way with Bergman. There’s Max von Sydow’s face emerging out of the darkness for The Seventh Seal’s Blu-Ray, Alexander’s perplexed, curious face looking above, the Magician staring stoically, and on and on. But for me, no Criterion cover sums up a Bergman film better than Scenes from a Marriage. Bleak, raw, and to the point. Beautiful in its simplicity.
Whether you’ve forced yourself through it or not, we all know about Salò. Criterion doesn’t mince words with this one; they want to make damn sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. The future is bleak. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Days of Heaven (1978)
It’s tough to slap a cover on one of the best-looking films ever made, but this image says it all. It’s beautiful yet oddly concise. The house (and what’s in it) is the ultimate goal. Only the characters can lose sight of what that goal is. Also see: Malick's The Thin Red Line
Yi Yi (2000)
Perfect example of how a DVD cover can elevate a film. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Edward Yang’s sprawling family epic, but damn if this cover isn’t perfect. Also, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll appreciate how this image conveys one of the movie's best inside jokes.
In 2008, I heard very little about Hunger; just what filtered from the film festival circuit. It came and went in theaters quickly before silently landing OnDemand in 2009. I caught it one very late, very hazy night and sat utterly enthralled. Months later, I stumbled across this DVD in a Barnes & Nobel and didn’t think twice about buying it. By long and far my very favorite Criterion DVD cover.
5 Favorite Covers of Films I’ve Haven’t Seen
Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes (1960s)
I’ve heard about the films of Shohei Imamura, but I have yet to see any of his work. I discovered this cover while researching this post, which spawned my immediate interesting in seeing the three films.
The Face of Another (1966)
I’ve never heard of this film, quite frankly. But because of this image, I’m undeniably drawn to it.
Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Although I’ve never gotten around to watching this, this cover definitely has my interest piqued.
This just looks dangerous. If it’s anything like Costa-Gavaras’ masterful Z, then I’m sure this will be worth checking out.
Secret Honor (1984)
To be fair, I’ve actually seen Secret Honor, I just don’t remember it all that well. This cover (which I saw for the first time a few days ago) makes me want to revisit it.
Straw Dogs (1971)
F for Fake (1973)
Grey Gardens (1975)
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1997)
The Ice Storm (1997)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Fish Tank (2009)