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Floating Head Syndrome

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"They could whip up some bad Photoshop poster in an afternoon. They do it all the time. Two big heads."
David Drayton, The Mist

A term referring to the tendency for Film Posters and DVD cover art to have a black background with the faces of the lead actors above the name of the movie. A simple one or two heads staring at you with the setting superimposed in the background with set-piece specific art in the foreground. It could also be the entire cast in various stages of intensity... and nothing else. When done with the villain, it is Evil Overlooker. Often overlaps with Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You.

The style became ubiquitous once the age of photo editing software came about, since it meant studios no longer had to commission an artist tens of thousands of dollars to paint a carefully crafted poster for them, when they could just take stock photos of the lead actor and have interns superimpose them onto any background. The same basic principle can exist with more than just a floating head, as full body group pictures splashed across the poster in different sizes and scaling creates a similar style, while maybe more crowded with more to look at it can still evoke a sense of having a generic template.


In many cases, the main film poster may be more creative because of the larger size it will be displayed at, but the VHD/DVD/Blu-Ray will have a more generic "main actor heads against a black background" design so that a potential consumer can see who is in the movie at a glance.

Compare Framed Face Opening.

Not to be confused with Flying Face, when heads literally float as a magical side effect of Losing Your Head, or metaphorically as a Floating Advice Reminder, or Huge Holographic Head, or Sky Face. Or, for that matter, exploding head syndrome.



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    Comic Books 
  • It's also quite common in comic books, particularly back in the 60's and 70's in team books, where they'd have one character doing something interesting in the middle and every other member of the team as just a floating head watching the action.
  • This rather cheesy cover art for a Jurassic Park comic book adaptation is — excluding the raptor — comprised of nothing but floating heads on a blue background. The raptor seems comprehensibly scared.
  • '30s and '40s pulp comics tended to have a Dramatis Personae on the side of the cover, usually in the form of a strip of mug shots depicting characters from multiple stories that would appear in the books.
  • A not-so-uncommon appearance in Rob Liefeld comic covers.
  • Peter Parker had his own version of this within the comic pages, known to some fans as the "Floating Heads of Guilt", which would appear whenever Peter was pensive or on the verge of death, showing the faces of his friends, his loved ones, and, one time, a casual friend named Josh.
  • Spoofed for Damage Control Vol. 3 No. 1. "How many times can we do the same floating heads cover?"
  • The cover of White Sand has floating heads of Praxton, Khriss and Baon overlooking the group of Sand Masters on the ground below them.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Isaac Asimov's The Rest of the Robots:
    • The 1968 Panther cover has a pink/red robot head in the centre of the cover and eight translucent duplicates around it, all on a black background.
    • The 2018 Harper Collins cover has a yellow robot head in the centre of the cover and six duplicates around it, all on a dynamic purple background.
  • When the Doctor Who New Adventures started, there was no requirement for the cover to literally depict a scene from the book, and the cover from the first book in the series, Timewyrm: Genesys, included the Seventh Doctor's head floating in midair. Years later, when the last book starring the Seventh Doctor, Lungbarrow, was being written, there was a thought that it should have a similar cover. Since it was now the convention that the cover should depict a scene from the book, the author added a sequence where the Doctor's Huge Holographic Head appeared over London. Then that scene wasn't used for the cover after all.
  • The Doctor Who Novelisations often had the Doctor's floating head, especially on covers by Chris Achilleos who traditionally did the heads in monochrome and the rest of the picture in colour. See some examples here.
  • All three books of The Flight Engineer feature co-author James Doohan's head. Which is rather odd considering that the character who's most like Scotty isn't the hero. The third book adds the head of a Fibian.
  • No live actors represented, but the cover to Galaxy of Fear: Ghost of the Jedi has floating heads of Darth Vader and Aiden Bok in the background. Bok might be understandable, as he's the eponymous ghost, but Vader?
  • The original paperback cover for Return of the Living Dead had a giant disembodied zombie head and hands looming behind a woman in a black void, seemingly about to grab her. Overlaps with Evil Overlooker, what with the zombies being the villains and all.
  • This was a common cover design for almost all of the Star Trek novels of the nineties.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One of the boxes of Smallville DVDs only has the faces of Clark, Lana and Lex on it.
  • When serials from the classic Doctor Who series were released on VHS in the 1990s, most of them had beautiful paintings commissioned specially for them. After 1997, this stopped.
    • The cover of the Limited Edition of the Series 6 boxset consists of only a giant floating Silent head in a pitch black background. (For the sake of contrast, the regular edition's cover is a non-beheaded group shot.)
  • Angel: Up to Eleven on the British DVD boxsets, where the covers tend to be floating busts but every single disc has a floating Angel head. All doing the same "Am I brooding or did I leave the iron on?" face, but separate images. You'd guess the camera team got drunk and did a giant photoshoot of this one expression at different angles, then realized they had to do something with it.
  • The Sony Bewitched DVDs had covers that each showed large versions of Samantha, Darrin, and Endora (and in later seasons, Sam's and Darrin's children as well) looming above a cartoonish city, usually cut off from either the torso up, or the shoulders up. The box for Sony's DVD of the complete series instead had a full-body shot of Sam's Animated Credits Opening self as its focal image, but did have little bordered pictures of actors' heads on the bottom.


  • With the Beatles has the four band members' faces half-lit in darkness, with Ringo just below the other three.
  • More than one of Michael Bolton's albums qualifies, including Time, Love, and Tenderness.
  • Scorpions: The original album cover of Taken by Force featured the band in a cemetery, but it was replaced by a black background with stock photos of the band.
  • A few Kraftwerk albums have this, namely Computer World and Electric Cafe.
  • Little Games by The Yardbirds shows the band members as floating heads on a psychedelic art work cover.
  • Phil Collins has his head in the red light on his No Jacket Required Album. Also appears in the music video for his greatest hit "In the Air Tonight" to intercut with Phil wandering down the corridor full of doors.


    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 

    Web Original 


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