Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty
Alex Heigl
January 12, 2014 08:30 AM

Matthew McConaughey‘s transition – his “McConaughaissance,” if you will – from rom-com stalwart to serious dramatic actor has been one of the more delightfully implausible career arcs we’ve seen.

And if the eyes are the windows to the soul, then movie posters must be the windows, to what could be called a career’s “elan vital.”

With this in mind, as McConaughey’s latest project True Detective ramps up for its Sunday night premiere on HBO, here’s a look at this surprising arc, illustrated through the posters to his films.

Universal Pictures; Columbia Pictures Corporation

Affable, grinning, and not yet in the practice of displaying his full body in posters, early-period McConaughey practically glowed with positivity and charm. Here, he shared the EdTV poster with future True Detective costar Woody Harrelson.

Paramount Pictures(2)

This is Matthew in his ripe-for-parody “I’m so charmingly relaxed as to be practically recumbent” rom-com period. Note the exuberant pastels used in these posters.

Paramount Pictures; Warner Bros.

“Burnt-umber hued action star” seems to be the tone of this pairing. After doubling down on the aggressive man-of-action stance and earth tones in the Sahara poster, the imagery for Fool’s Gold sees a more varied color scheme and a warmer, jocular stance with costar Kate Hudson.

Warner Bros.; New Line Cinema

The poster for We Are Marshall could be considered transitional McConaughey: He’s adopted his latter-day practice of staring off into middle distance, despite keeping the rakish grin. Meanwhile, the poster for Ghosts of Girlfriends Past finds him backsliding (pun intended) into old poster tropes, though the striking blue-grey and red color palette could be seen as a predictor of the darkness to come.

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This one provided the first glimpse of Serious McConaughey. The aforementioned middle-distance stare is first displayed in the poster for The Lincoln Lawyer, while McConaughey is so obscured in Killer Joe‘s poster, one would be hard-pressed to identify him.

Lionsgate;Millennium Films

Contrast the washed-out, almost Instagram-esque palette of this pairing with the dark, suffused tones of the previous examples. Also, something very interesting and/or grim must be happening stage left of these posters.

Dallas Buyers Club (l), and True Detective (r)
Focus Features; HBO

The poster for Dallas Buyer’s Club is placing McConaughey’s weight-loss at the fore by having him stand in profile with the IV stand. And the poster for True Detective features a paucity of both rakish grins and hues, period. It may as well be called How To Lose Your Rom-Com Rep in 10 Films.

These trends suggest that by 2015, the average Matthew McConaughey movie poster will simply be a black rectangle that theaters will display to a constant loop of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The films will win all the Oscars.

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