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A derogatory term referring to the tendency in modern Film Posters and DVD cover art to have a black background with the faces of the lead actors above the name of the movie. 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 poster for them, when they could just take stock photos of the lead actor and have interns run it through Photoshop.

Generally felt to be a lazy approach, as it requires little in the way of creativity and imagination, and leads to many DVD releases looking all but indistinguishable on the shelf.

It is particularly bad when other publicity materials such as teaser posters have looked different and distinctive, but the final poster is floating heads. Or even the theatrical posters have been distinctive, but the DVD art has the syndrome.

A type of Contemptible Cover.

When done with the Villain, it is Evil Overlooker. Often overlaps with Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You.

Compare Framed Face Opening.

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

Examples of Floating Head Syndrome include:


  • 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 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.

Films — Live Action

  • All the Star Wars DVDs released during the 2000s suffer from this.
  • 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.
  • 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 and 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Posters for the Harry Potter films have followed this on occasion.
    • The first one is an actual painting by Drew Struzan and doesn't count.
  • Alien Resurrection. And the Aliens DVD (with the Alien's head!).
  • 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 DVD Ever.
    • Disney also gave The Gnome-Mobile worse.
  • All Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs, especially when the cast grows.
  • DVD/Posters of the first two 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 — 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 dialogue by The Mist: after a thunderstorm demolishes the main character's studio, destroying the (amazing) movie artwork he had been painting, he laments that the studio will just opt for "some floating heads" instead of extending his deadline.
  • 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.
  • Almost all of the Star Trek movies do this. 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.
    • This gets alluded to in the making-of features of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The creators said they wanted something simple, and wished to avoid the "roughly five kids facingforward" thing that seemed prevalent at the time.
      • Which still got a floating head poster in the form of a floating head Leatherface (with a green tint).
  • The cover of the Silent Hill movie features the floating head of Sharon Da Silva.
  • Utilized in this poster from the original release 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 the original DVD cover, averted for re-releases from 2000 [1] and 2004 [2], and played straight again in 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.
  • Saving Private Ryan, oh god, Saving Private Ryan. Particularly when you look at the classy earlier posters with just the soldier silhouette.
  • 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 McKellan 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 cool moustache.


  • When the Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures started, there was no requirement for the cover to depict a scene from the book, and the cover from the first book in the series included the Doctor's head floating in midair. Years later, when the last book 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.

Live Action TV

  • 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.)

Video Games

Web Original

  1. which focused more on Mary flying with her umbrella
  2. Mary flying in silhouette