We Need to Talk About This Booksmart Poster

The postmortem on Booksmart’s theatrical fate was swift and harsh. While there were a dozen or more various reasons its opening weekend was seen as disappointing at $8.7 million but most of the blame was assigned to what was seen as a lackluster marketing campaign from Annapurna Pictures along with a wide release bet that didn’t pay off.

That thinking have never really worked for me, as the studio did everything it could to build anticipation for the movie’s release, but nothing was going to make a significant dent in what would go on to be Aladdin’s success that weekend. As it was, the campaign was well-executed and timed, from the festival screenings through the distribution of a clip showing off the full first six minutes of the movie to try and connect with audiences.

Probably the least exciting element of the marketing was the poster, which showed the main characters Molly and Amy sitting next to each other and glaring at the camera with looks full of attitude and defiance. That matched well with the “Getting straight As. Giving zero Fs” tagline.

In the publicity portion of the campaign, director Olivia Wilde in particular would talk about how she tried to create something that would join the canon of earlier movies about high school like The Breakfast Club and others, especially from the 1980s. But most of the rest of the marketing never really hit that tone.

That is, until this poster was released a couple weeks ago, after the movie was already in theaters.

booksmart poster 2

It’s…it’s just so wonderful. Let’s count the ways it creates a much stronger impression and identity for the movie than the theatrical one-sheet.

  1. It’s a painting, not a photo. Movie posters these days are almost exclusively photos that have received, at most, some moderate digital manipulation. But looking at a bunch of photographs can get kind of boring and makes every movie blend in with the crowd. This kind of artistic take on the movie is more unique and creates a stronger impression.
  2. It features the whole cast. Amy and Molly are still front and center, clearly the focus of the story the audience is being asked to watch. But this one clearly communicates that there’s a much larger ensemble that will play a role in the story and touch the main character’s lives in some way. That ranges from clueless parents to obnoxious jocks to an annoyed principal to…Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  3. It establishes the setting. You immediately get that the story is set at a high school and that ti takes place around the time of graduation. Not only that but by showing all the hijinks the various characters are up to around the school, it establishes the movie will cover plenty of shenanigans and adventures that the leads will engage in and have to contend with.
  4. It hints at even more wackiness. Why are there two little Barbie-like figures at the bottom? Why is someone holding a magnifying glass? Why is there a hot air balloon? Who’s the pizza dude? These are all questions that can be answered by seeing the movie.
  5. It has fun with standard marketing elements. The way “Getting straight As” is presented as a banner being pulled by a plane while “Giving zero Fs” is written on that hot air balloon is much more graphically interesting than text placed above the title. Working copy into the design is an under appreciated tactic that is put to good use here.

For those in the audience of a certain age, it will also evoke comparisons to the poster for Animal House, which features a similar painted style and uses similar elements to tease story points. That connection can only benefit the new movie by assigning some of the love for the older movie to it.

In contrast to this new poster, the old one seems like the generic DVD cover that was used because it was cheaper and worked a bit better on the smaller physical real estate.

There’s no way of knowing if the movie’s theatrical fate would have been different if this were used as the primary poster. But it’s undeniable that this creates a much stronger identity for the film and leaves the audience with a better understanding of the movie being sold while also creating questions that those choosing it will get the answers to.

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