The Designer Who Makes Movie Posters Worthy of Museums

The killer’s knife, a woman cowering before it.

This was typical horror movie box cover stuff before 1991, when Dawn Baillie was asked to design a poster for a cerebral new thriller called “Silence of the Lambs.” She learned it was about a young F.B.I. agent-in-training, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who enlists the help of an imprisoned serial killer, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), to solve a case.

“It came to me that I could illustrate ‘Silence’ if Clarice was the ‘lamb’ and the moth — or the bad guys — is what has left her without the right words,” Baillie explained in an email. “I think the poster works in showing vulnerability, strangeness and eeriness.”

In other words, the poster said: This isn’t your typical scary movie.

Starting March 14, Baillie gets marquee billing in a new exhibition, “The Anatomy of a Movie Poster: The Work of Dawn Baillie,” at Poster House in Manhattan. The show, through Sept. 8, takes us from her first poster, “Dirty Dancing” (1987) to “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (2021), for which she was the creative director. Along the way are posters for films as varied as “Zoolander,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “The Truman Show.”

Baillie’s career as a movie poster designer and creative director spans over four decades. Born in 1964, Baillie entered advertising in the 1980s when the industry was dominated by men and posters were mostly made by hand, not computer. After working at the agencies Seiniger Advertising and Dazu, in 1992 she co-founded BLT, the agency behind memorable posters for recent films (“Barbie”), TV shows (“The Last of Us”) and Broadway (“The Music Man”).

Angelina Lippert, the chief curator and director of content at Poster House, called Baillie a “design genius” with a style defined by “effortless simplicity.” Take the poster for “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“It’s visual anxiety that you get when you look at this, which is what makes it indelible,” Lippert said.

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