If you’ve been following the news, you’ll likely know 2018 has lasted a remarkable nine years. At least that’s what it’s felt like at times. It’s hard to remember that Black Panther came out just this past February as it seems as if that was roughly forever ago.
The year has seen a number of interesting and memorable movie marketing campaigns for dramas, comedies and everything in between A few months ago I shared what I felt were the best campaigns of the year to date and what it was that made them so special.
There are some campaigns, though, that may not be as memorable or innovative as others but which in some manner perfectly represent the genre the movie was a part of, or are indicative of a larger trend in how studios are selling their films to the general public.
It’s notable that the year started out (more or less) with what was widely regarded as the first mainstream studio movie with a gay coming-of-age story, directed by powerhouse TV producer Greg Berlanti. It started 2018 on a hopeful and lighthearted note that was much different than the one it ended on. That more sour note was exemplified by releases like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased that dealt with the horrible practice commonly referred to as “gay conversion therapy.”
For the last few years Dwayne Johnson has been the king of the box-office, reliably bringing in sizable audiences for movies he stars in, up to and including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle at the end of last year. So it’s surprising that both his high-profile releases in 2018 – Rampage and Skyscraper – failed to cross the $100 million mark. Both movies’ campaigns went big to sell the large-scale action of the stories, including VR experiences that took audiences inside the world of the movie. That each movie fell short in terms of ticket sales shows that even the biggest stars are still vulnerable when the material is seen as weak.
The Incredibles 2
One of the major changes of the last 10 years is that the term “all-ages movie” has been radically redefined. It used to mean gentle, inoffensive features, either animated or live action. Now, though, PG-13 super hero movies fit that category. The Incredibles 2, though, was the rare example this year of a truly all-ages story breaking through, in this case to massive success. That was helped by a campaign that focused on selling audiences a return to the classic original they loved from over a decade ago.
Leave No Trace
There were a number of high-profile movies this year from female directors, in some cases directors that for whatever reason hadn’t released a new feature in several years or more. Such was the case with Leave No Trace, which had Debra Granik behind the camera. That was her first new movie since 2010, when she introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Also fitting in this category is The Land of Steady Habits from director Nicole Holofcener and Private Life from Tamara Jenkins among others. Granik and her return to feature directing formed a central component of the publicity campaign.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sony has had its struggles with the Spider-Man characters it manages, finding its most popular attempt was when it teamed up with Marvel Studios for last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which established the wallcrawler as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The campaign for Into the Spider-Verse, which is not part of that crossover agreement, has generated a lot of positive attention and buzz by highlighting the multi-dimensional story and focusing on Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man who first appeared in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate” line of books.
Set It Up
One of the most pervasive media narratives of the last several months was Netflix’s handful of releases in the romantic comedy genre, one the studios aren’t playing in as much as they used to. Set It Up was one of the first in what the company later labeled “The Summer of Love,” a period that went on to include Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and others. All were sold with light, breezy campaigns that focused on the chemistry between the leads and the chance for the audience to enjoy something a bit lighter on a Friday night.
Netflix started off 2018 by dropping a bomb on the movie industry, releasing The Cloverfield Paradox just hours after it debuted the first TV commercial for the movie during The Super Bowl broadcast. It had picked up the movie from Paramount, which decided it was no longer interested in the title. Paramount did hang on to Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, but sold overseas distribution rights to Netflix when it saw little potential in those markets. It was, in fact, a year of Netflix picking up titles other studios wanted to discard, including Extinction (from Universal), Step Sisters (Broad Green Pictures), Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Warner Bros.) and more.
No movie better encapsulates the tension between Netflix and theater chains than this new, highly-personal story from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It, along with other recent releases like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and others are all titles Netflix feels are worthy of awards consideration, but the rules of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences state a movie must play a certain amount of theaters for a certain amount of time to qualify. So, wanting to continue to attract high-profile filmmakers, the company has essentially rented the requisite screens. Prior to that the movie was given the full prestige treatment, with appearances at film festivals in Toronto, Venice and others, all exactly like any other studio would give an awards contender.
There were a number of coming-of-age movies released in 2018, just as there are in most years. You can’t really go wrong with telling emotional stories of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and uncertain of who they are and what their place in the world is. Bo Burnham’s feature directorial debut really got people’s attention, though, with a campaign that focused on the emotional performance from Elsie Fisher and, along with Searching and other movies, showed Hollywood may finally be understanding what the internet really is.
The Hate U Give
There were a handful of movies this year that either directly or indirectly addressed Black Lives Matter and the issue of police violence against black citizens, including Monsters and Men and Blindspotting. The Hate U Give was special, though, in that the campaign highlighted the book it was based on and its message of how the younger generation has a special role in shaping the future of society on all fronts. It was also presented as a showcase for star Amandla Stenberg, who’s earned accolades for her performances in this and other recent movies.
The marketing for Halloween hit all the right notes, striking a balance between selling something new and the return to something old, promising audiences the opportunity to see where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was after all these years. That campaign contained the best elements of Universal’s long-time management of the franchise and Blumhouse’s appeal to the modern day horror fan. Contrast that with another legacy sequel, The Predator, which failed to elicit the same feelings of nostalgia after running a campaign that maybe just a little too tongue-in-cheek for its own good.
A Star Is Born
From the minute A Star Is Born first started screening for critics it had tremendous buzz as a potential awards contender, with much of the conversation focusing on the performance by Lady Gaga as the singer nurtured to stardom by an experienced industry mentor. The promise of new material fro Gaga was among the strongest messaging hooks, so much so that Warner Bros. didn’t release the soundtrack so going to the theater was the only way to hear that music at first. It also set the stage, so to speak, for original songs from popular artists to be used as central components in film campaigns, a tactic used by Vox Lux (Sia), On The Basis of Sex (Kesha), Bumblebee (Hailee Steinfeld) and others.
BONUS – Game Night
The movie is one of the more hilarious in recent years and the campaign reminded us all just how funny Rachel McAdams can be just by including this one line.