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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
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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.

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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 and Stacked Characters Poster.

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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Examples:

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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, 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 
  • Absolute Power: Clint's giant disconcerted face adorns the poster.
  • Alien: Resurrection and the Aliens DVD (with the Alien's head!).
  • The Japanese poster of The Avengers features the team in civilian clothing, with pictures of them in crime fighting garb from the torso up floating above them.
  • After the distinctive use of logo without text for the 1989 film Batman, the marketing division apparently decided to embrace this trope. The primary posters and video covers for Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin all use this approach, with the first two using variants of the logo for their teaser posters. This got dumped when the series was rebooted.
    • The Dark Knight did this (there was also an individual poster for each face), though it at least pulls it off with some style.
  • Give My Regards to Broad Street, 2000s DVD release — taken to the minimalist extreme; the original posters also had a dash of this.
  • Some posters for A Hard Day's Night, including the ones the various AHDN album covers use.
  • Posters for the Harry Potter films have followed this on occasion.
  • The most common poster for Iron Man did it too. This carried over to the Vanilla Edition DVD cover, and the two-disc edition has packaging exclusive to Target stores that is literally a plastic Iron Man face. Iron Man 2 had two guilty posters (the third one averted it as most characters are full-bodied).
  • While not technically "floating heads" per se, the DVDs of the James Bond films dumped the distinctive posters for shots of Bond with a Pistol Pose in front of the most memorable set from the film. Calling them prosaic would be an understatement. One can just tell that the marketing executives wanted to hide the age of the films by redoing all the covers (since the posters are all pretty indicative of their eras).
  • The promotional posters for No Country for Old Men featured Llewelyn Moss as a tiny figure fleeing desperately from the looming visage of the inexorable Anton Chigurh, the composition of the image reflecting the story's contemplation of trying in vain to outrun fate. For the DVD cover? Floating Heads!
  • Disney ignored the excellent Art Deco poster it made for The Rocketeer and cooked up a Floating Head Syndrome cover as part of their effort to make the Lamest Home Video Releases Ever.
    • Disney also gave The Gnome-Mobile worse.
  • The first three Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs, especially when the cast grows. The fourth one averted with either only Jack Sparrow or half-body versions of the four main characters.
  • DVD/Posters of all three movies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (theatrical editions only; the special editions had polished art.)
  • The Fifth Element, or — as the goons call it in our page image — Guy being chased by cops and three big heads.
  • A slipcase edition of Independence Day was simply a flaming Earth with Will Smith's head floating above it. Thankfully, the actual cover remains the same.
  • Lampshaded in The Mist: after a thunderstorm demolishes the main character's studio, destroying the (amazing) movie artwork he had been painting, he laments that instead of extending his deadline, the studio "could whip up some bad Photoshop poster in an afternoon. They do it all the time. Two big heads."
  • We wonder what cracked-up alternate universe Michael Moore film was viewed by the Japanese person paid to design the Floating Head to end them all.
  • One of the posters for Scorsese's The Aviator, which carried over to the DVD cover. It frankly looks like a plane being chased by a giant floating Leonardo DiCaprio head.
  • K-19: The Widowmaker or Harrison Ford's head is judging you. Also available with bonus Liam Neeson in some editions.
  • Most Star Trek movies feature this. An iconic Star Trek: The Motion Picture poster features the Enterprise beneath a pillar of rainbow light with Kirk, Ilia and Spock's head floating above it. Both Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: First Contact feature similar "heads in a pillar of light," while one poster for Star Trek Beyond had a poster replicating TMP's almost exactly. Star Trek: Insurrection goes for the Evil Overlooker instead.
  • A good deal of posters and DVD covers for the Terminator series are simply pictures of the title cyborg's head. Many of these show off the "part man, part machine" aspect.
  • A large number of of horror films released after Scream (1996).
  • The cover of the Silent Hill movie features the floating head of Sharon Da Silva.
  • Utilized in the original poster of Mary Poppins, which in contrast to later home video covers, emphasizes the flashy musical aspects over the fantasy aspects. This Syndrome was also utilized on DVD covers from 1998 and 2009.
  • The DVD version of Deadfall features the floating heads of Michael Biehn, Nicolas Cage, and Sarah Trigger. There's a minor case of Covers Always Lie to boot: Presumably for the sake of keeping him recognizable, the Cage head is a more recent, clean shaven photo. However, in the film itself, Cage has a mustache and spends most of the time wearing sunglasses.
  • The theatrical poster for Saving Private Ryan features the heads of Tom Hanks and three other actors slightly faded into the clouds above a silhouetted soldier
  • The DVD cover of Yellowbeard features full body shots of most of the main cast together, but it's mostly dominated by the giant floating heads of Cheech and Chong, who incidentally really only show up towards the end of the movie.
  • X-Men: First Class came under fire for its teaser posters featuring floating heads of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender floating (right near the respective crotches) of a silhouette of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen respectively.
  • One of the posters for the Miley Cyrus romance movie The Last Song might just contain the most literal example ever of Floating Head Syndrome. Liam's Hemsworth's face is shown in profile, framed against the sun, with his neck cut off at the base of his jaw and skull, making it absolutely nothing but a floating decapitated head.
  • Gangs of New York: In addition to the floating heads, the names are jumbled, so that Daniel Day-Lewis is a hot chick and Cameron Diaz has a cool moustache.
  • All of the movies in the Walt Disney Home Video/Vault Disney Collection of DVDs. The Pollyanna cover looks especially bad, with the protagonist's giant head appearing in the sky above a normal-sized Pollyanna.
  • Star Wars
    • The covers for the 1995 VHS and Laserdisc releases of the Original Trilogynote  show the disembodied heads of Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, and Yoda cut vertically in half, and looming over scenes from the movies.
    • All the DVDs released during the 2000s suffer from this.
    • This also applies to some of the movies' March 2020 4K Ultimate Collector's Editions, and any releases that recycle their cover art.
  • The Superman special edition DVD has this, along with the "deluxe editions" of the third and fourth movies. The second film's special edition DVD averted this by showing Superman flying instead of his floating head.
  • In the 1997 informative video The Kids Guide to the Internet the kids head float around in "cyberspace".
  • DVD covers for Mulholland Dr. do this, up to and including The Criterion Collection release with heads hovering over Hollywood. Alongside their other releases for David Lynch films, such as for Eraserhead and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch seems to require that his films be illustrated in a simple fashion and closely to how their original posters looked for Blu-ray and DVD.
  • The movie poster of Gang Related.
  • Kull the Conqueror: Kull and Akivasha's heads are seen in the sky on the poster.
  • The poster for The Patriot was a pretty big offender - as the image caption says, it looks like the soldiers are running for their lives from Mel Gibson's terrifyingly enormous face. The initial home video release also suffers from this, but the Extended Cut release is an aversion.
  • Tian Di features Andy Lau's giant floating head over the skyline of 1920s Shanghai.
  • Turkish Delight: Not on the poster picture as seen on the movies' TvTropes page, but on the DVD cover: the two main characters' heads are really floating and tacked-onto the background.
  • The DVD cover for River's Edge. Averted with the film's actual poster.
  • Justice League (2017) posters are primarily just the main characters staring straight at the viewer. Since the selling point of the movie is the characters gathered together, it ends up proving that Tropes Are Not Bad, as with some great lighting, colors and composition, the posters were praised for evoking both Rock Band covers (such as Queen) and the iconic superhero group paintings of Alex Ross.
  • The Secret (2007): The poster has David Duchovny's face over Olivia Thirlby's with a black background.

    Literature 
  • 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.

    Magazine 

    Music 
  • 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.

    Pinball 

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 

    Web Original 

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