The Artist Behind The Most Important Movie Posters In History Has Died

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

There is something almost transcendent about the Jaws movie poster: even those who have never watched the seminal Steven Spielberg film know the iconic image of the menacing shark rising from the depths, poised to end a hapless swimmer’s life in a single, vicious bite.

The man behind this iconic poster and so many others is Roger Kastel, better known to movie buffs as one of the best artists in cinematic history. Sadly, Kastel has passed away, but he leaves behind a cultural and artistic legacy that will keep his legend alive into the coming years.

Cinematic Artist Icon Roger Kastel Passes Away

Aside from the fantastic Jaws poster, the Roger Kastel art that would be most recognizable to movie lovers is his poster for The Empire Strikes Back. That poster is damn good because it tells Star Wars fans everything they need to know about this film: a Tauntaun-riding Luke Skywalker scans the horizon, symbolizing his search for Yoda, even as Han Solo and Leia Organa’s passionate embrace symbolizes their growing affection. Familiar sidekicks fill the lower left while mysterious new characters fill the lower right, all while Darth Vader hovers menacingly over everything. 

Star Wars And Other Popular Movie Artwork

While those posters are Roger Kastel’s best-known works, he did fantastic art for other films, books, and comic book covers. For example, he provided fantastic covert art for HG Wells’ underrated novel The Invisible Man, putting his own spin on a creepy look obviously inspired by the Claude Raines film adaptation. Speaking of the Universal Monsters, Kastel did fantastic renditions of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman, the latter of which graced the cover of Nancy Garden’s book Werewolves

Roger Kastels Book Covers

In point of fact, Roger Kastel did plenty of book covers, and he seemed adept at bringing every possible genre to life. His cover for The Metamorphosis instantly sells us on Franz Kafka’s creepy tale of transformation, but the artist does just as good a job at capturing John Steinbeck’s passions and his pangs in his cover for East of Eden. Kastel even did a bang-up job on the steamy cover for Betina Krahn’s Behind Closed Doors, proving that he’s just as good with sexy bodice rippers as he is with monsters and mayhem.

Roger Kastel’s Road To Hollywood

Roger Kastel had a gift for bringing the fantastic to life, and it’s a gift that he spent a lifetime honing: after serving in the Korean War, the artist did freelance work for ad agencies and studios alike by day and took classes at The Arts Students League at night. He became a well-respected name in publishing after doing covers for Pocket Books in the ‘60s and beyond, and it was ironically his literary reputation that made him into a Hollywood icon. 

Kastel provided the cover for Richard Bentley’s JAWS book, and Universal was so impressed that they purchased the rights to use the image for the poster, which became an immediate icon. As for the artist, went on to create amazing poster art for the second Star Wars film, ultimately leaving behind quite the legacy: Kastel himself once estimated that he created at least one thousand images in his lifetime. We are that much poorer for the loss of such an awesome talent, and we hope Roger Kastel’s friends and family take solace from the fact that he has redefined both literature and cinema for generations of fans around the world.

This is the way.

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