Let’s state facts at the outset: This week’s release of Aquaman is merely a holding action by DC/Warner Bros. to distract fans from continuing to demand they make public The Snyder Cut of last year’s Justice League.
OK, not really. But it is hitting theaters in the hope that audiences and critics find it more palatable than that muddled mess of a movie, adhering closer to the quality of Wonder Woman. Once more Jason Momoa takes on the role of Aquaman/Arthur Curry, the son of a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman).
Raised on land, Arthur teams up with Mera (Amber Heard) to unlock the secrets of the long-vanished kingdom and stop the threat posed by his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson). That also means Arthur is asked to embrace his destiny as the rightful ruler as well as a hero of the seas.
The first poster, released just before San Diego Comic-Con 2018, shows Aquaman perched on an underwater reef looking serious and determined as sharks, whales and various other creatures swim behind him. The copypoint “Home is calling” at the top provides some clues as to the story and what the hero will be searching for in the movie. Author Chuck Wendig didn’t care for that tagline, though, and offered some suggestions of his own.
It’s notable how bright and colorful the poster is, a stark contrast from the one-sheets for Justice League and some of the other DCEU movies. Warner Bros. clearly wants to create a distinct visual identity for the movie that’s not as dark and grim as some of the previous films have been.
That same colorful approach was taken on the promotional poster handed out at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, which shows Aquaman out in front of all the other characters, Orn and Black Manta looming over everyone in the back of the group.
“A tide is coming” we’re told on the next bit of promotional art, which shows a gloved hand being raised out of the water while clutching a trident.
Each character got their own turn in the spotlight courtesy of a series of posters in early November that featured their name and a good look at their costumes. Two more were released shortly thereafter, one with both Aquaman and Mera and the other with just Aquaman where he strikes a pose similar to that seen at the end of the Comic-Con trailer from a few months prior.
There were two IMAX posters created, one showing Aquaman posing with trident in hand as sea creatures swim around him and one simply showing his hand grasping his trident. Both sell audiences on the promise of seeing even more of the picture by seeing it in that format.
The first trailer, which debuted at Comic-Con earlier this year, starts out with a simple explanation as to Aquaman’s origins as the son of both the land and sea. There’s a scene of him as a kid being teased about how he’s talking to the fish before we get to modern day. Mera shows up and explains he has to return to Atlantis to stop his brother from launching a war against the surface world, something he’s reluctant to do. Things get increasingly dramatic from there until we’re shown a massive underwater battle involving war sharks and other creatures.
Momoa really seems to be enjoying the space he’s finally given to expand on the character significantly and it’s great to see Heard’s Mera has what seems to be a significant role in the story. There’s not much about Black Manta, though. Generally this is showing off a fun, action-packed movie that stands in stark contrast to some previous DC releases.
An extended first look video was released around the time of New York Comic Con in October that offers a much fuller picture of the movie and its story. Arthur and Mera are on a quest to find the secrets of Atlantis (which helps establish that this takes place before Justice League) while Orm has been maintaining control of the city, planning to wage war against the surface world. The centerpiece of the video is a rooftop chase sequence involving Black Manta, though the real treat for comics fans is seeing the movie borrows elements from new of Geoff Johns’ comics story arcs. Also serving as a highlight is Aquaman standing at the end of the video in his classic orange and green costume, established by Johns as being the outfit of a king.
The final trailer from just before Thanksgiving focuses on Arthur’s history and how he’s been preparing for his role as king and hero his whole life, but now he needs to find the ancient trident of his ancestors in order to truly claim the throne.
A week later a “fan reaction” video was released that showed how people online were responding to the trailer.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website is primarily concerned with getting you to buy advance tickets, at least on the splash page.
Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the “Videos” section has a collection of the trailers, featurettes and other promotional spots that have been released over the last few months. After that is the “About” section with a quick recap of the story followed by posters and more in the “Gallery.”
Commerce is the focus of the next few sections, beginning with the “Shop” where you can by action figures, apparel and more. “Partners” has links to the companies who have signed on to help cross-promote the movie.
Finally, aside from the links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles, there’s a side-scrolling game allowing you to play as Aquaman and navigate the dangers of the deep sea.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
As part of the movie’s presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, DC Collectibles announced and revealed a whole series of statues of the title character, Mera and Black Manta. DC also helped out by putting movie-themed variant covers on a big Aquaman/Justice League crossover story that hit shelves beginning in late October.
TV spots began running in mid-October with a commercial that poked a little fun at the title character while also setting him up as the fish-man who would be king. Mera’s efforts to recruit Arthur – and his reluctance to embrace his destiny – were conveyed in a spot from early November.
Outdoor ads featured Aquaman rising out of the sea in some manner or another.
When tickets went on sale Fandango offered those people making purchases through its service five free digital Aquaman comics, including a mix of classic and newer issues to introduce new fans to the character’s history. The site later reported that first day ticket sales outpaced those of both Venom and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, both of which went on to box-office success.
Amazon gave Prime members the chance to buy tickets to screenings at select theaters almost a week prior to release, the better to seed word of mouth for the official release date. The number of theaters participating was expanded shortly thereafter to meet resulting demand. Those screenings ultimately netted about $3 million.
Over the weekend following Thanksgiving Warner Bros. took over The Grove in Los Angeles with an immersive experience recreating the grandeur of Atlantis. Fans visiting the activation could not only interact with a waterfall effect that revealed scenes from the movie and have their picture taken for sharing on social media.
Momoa appeared in a promotional video for the movie-themed DLC for the LEGO DC Super-Villains game coming out around the same time as the film. A bit later Wan offered a behind-the-scenes interview that ended with promotions for Sideshow Collectibles figures based on the look of the movie and characters.
DC Universe, the OTT service devoted exclusively to DC properties and characters, offered a sweepstakes giving the winner a replica of Aquaman’s trident from the movie signed by the cast. Warner Bros. also put costumes from the movie on display on its Hollywood studio tour.
Promotional partners included:
- Various locations of Atlantis hotels and resorts
- Carhartt, which slapped the Aquaman symbol and name on a cold weather hat meant for those working or playing outdoors
- Cold Stone Creamery, which created a movie-branded blue velvet sundae served in a cup sporting the movie’s key art
- Padi, which made Aquaman part of a recent contest giving the winner a movie-branded PS4 console and pointing out how much divers are like a real life Aquaman.
- Pinkberry, which created its own themed frozen concoction that accompanied a sweepstakes giving people the chance to win a hometown screening of the movie.
- Oceana, which used the movie to encourage people to join its fight to clean up and protect the oceans, an effort that included a PSA featuring Patrick Wilson.
- Visa Signature, which ran a sweepstakes tied to the movie.
- Roblox, which offered a handful of prizes that could be won by completing games created by the company. That effort was promoted with a video featuring both Momoa and Heard.
About a week prior to release, WaterTower Records dropped “Ocean to Ocean,” a new song from Pitbull and Rhea that, to the dismay of God and everyone, is essentially a nightclub cover of Toto’s “Africa.”
Media and Publicity
While everyone was talking about Aquaman in the wake of his cameo in Batman v Superman, director Wan kept things going with comments about how he wanted to bring a fun tone to the character and movie. He also talked about how he was taking the character very seriously and not leaning into the jokes about him.
Not only was Aquaman a big part of the Justice League footage that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con in 2016 but director James Wan had a chance to talk about how he was going to bring his own unique touch of horror to the story in the hero’s solo movie. Always, because the press is insatiable, Momoa would talk about the movie while he was meant to be promoting other projects. Even Kidman was asked occasionally about her decision to join the movie, which she summed up by basically saying the director is also Australian so why not?
A small feature on Momoa called out his role as Aquaman as being part of the actor’s big breakout push. The character was a big part of WB’s 2017 Comic-Con news not only for his role in Justice League but also because the crowd in Hall H got a first look at footage from Aquaman’s solo outing. Wan later talked about the troubles he was having with the whole “most of this happens in or around water” thing, which presented quite the technical challenge.
Just as the publicity for Justice League was winding down the first official still for this movie was released, partly to capitalize on how Aquaman was frequently identified as one of the best parts of the team story. Shortly after that Wan dispelled some of the rumors that had been circulating online regarding the number of villains the movie would have, though there was some hedging in there a bit.
He eventually revealed the trailer would finally debut at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, a full year after the first footage was shown. As part of what seemed to be a substantial presence at the show for the movie, Funko revealed a convention-exclusive POP! figure of the director. It was also one of the WB movies whose title and key art were featured on the swag bags given out to attendees.
The next we heard about the movie was again Wan putting some speculation to rest, this time insisting the lack of a trailer in mid-March wasn’t because of problems with the movie, just his own perfectionism at play as he didn’t want anything less than stellar being released. Wan di, though, bring a bit of footage to WB’s CinemaCon presentation to show it off to exhibitors and press. A trailer was reportedly shown at CineEurope.
Before that trailer was officially released the movie’s producers and writers were interviewed to assure the public that the movie was still coming out and that it would be a big, fun spectacle of a story, not dour and depressing like some of the other DCEU films. That was part of a cover package on the film that included first looks at Black Manta, Orm, Queen Atlanna and more. Notably included in that package was an interview with producer Toby Emmerich about the tone and style of this movie and how it reflected a shift in the DCEU. Heard was also interviewed about how she wanted to make her character more than one-dimensional.
EW offered the first look at Fisherman King in advance of SDCC 2018 as well as a giant sea monster from the movie and an interview with Momoa about how his job was just to make sure the character came off as cool. Momoa kept talking elsewhere about what he wanted to do with the character now that he finally had his own movie to really explore things.
A couple different interviews with Wan allowed him to talk about the various challenges and opportunities involved in making the film what it was like trying to work within the DCEU. He also clarified there would not be appearances by other members of the Justice League.
A big press event allowed Wan to further explain what had influenced him, what kind of tone he was hoping to strike with the movie and more.
A featurette released in mid-November had Wan talking about how the focus remains on the characters despite the big set pieces and action, with the cast also sharing how they fell in love with the story. It also showed just how big some of that action will be, selling audiences on the scale as well as the look and feel of the film.
Heard finally got a chance at the mic with an interview detailing how she was skeptical about how she was approached for the role. In a shot across the bow of another release, it was later revealed Julie Andrews had a voice role in this movie, a role the movie’s writers discussed more later.
A conversation with Heard and Momoa discussing the difficulties their costumes presented.
Momoa was named one of the recent hosts of “Saturday Night Live” on an episode to coincide with the release of the movie. A few weeks before that in early December the actor made a surprise appearance in New York City, first wielding a trident in Times Square and then showing up to the delight of an early screening audience. Additional appearances by the whole cast at early screenings were captured in a promotional video showing how hyped those fans were.
Wilson was interviewed on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and his physical preparation for such an action-intensive role. A bit after that Momoa appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and show off his trident-throwing skills, with Heard making an appearance shortly after that to talk about Momoa’s on-set antics.
THR profiled Heard on a variety of subjects, including her role in the movie. She also appeared on “Good Morning America.” Around the same time two profiles of Kidman were run in The Los Angeles Times, one showcasing the multiple films she’s been in this year and one including Wan among the directors who have worked with her on those films touting her abilities.
In the last few days before release Wan was interviewed a number of times about how he wanted to do something new and different with the super hero genre and how he should bare the brunt of criticism if it doesn’t work for people. The whole cast spoke about the movie at its premiere while another profile of Wilson allowed him to share his experiences during filming and more.
Warner Bros. has focused its marketing of the movie on this year’s major comics conventions, seemingly aware that by effectively reaching that crowd of hardcore fans it can potentially avoid the kind of poor word of mouth that has plagued other DC-based movies, particularly last year’s misfire.
Not only have those conventions been the venue where major trailers were released but the campaign as whole has embraced and tried to showcase the character’s backstory and history. Hardcore fans should be pleased to see those elements on display while their use in the trailers and other elements provides an on-ramp for those only casually familiar with Aquaman, or who know him only as a pop culture punchline.
The studio also seems to understand that Momoa’s larger-than-life personality is a strong selling point and so, with him in the lead role, it seized the opportunity to put him front and center, leading traditional haka dances and generally selling the movie by sheer force of will.