How Netflix is selling a zombie-tastic romp through Sin City.
Imagine Ocean’s 11 but instead of Andy Garcia’s security apparatus, the thieves had to get through a horde of zombies to get to the casino safe full of cash.
That’s the basic premise of Army of the Dead from director Zack Snyder, taking a break from encouraging his most toxic fans to attack Warner Bros. for..reasons. In the movie’s story, a zombie outbreak has overtaken Las Vegas, leading casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to hire a group of mercenaries lead by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to battle their way through the undead and retrieve $200 million from vault of the casino. Time is tight on the mission because the U.S. government, fearful the quarantine of Vegas won’t hold, plans on nuking the city to wipe out the threat. But everyone has their own hidden agendas.
The movie, which also stars Garret Dillahunt, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro and others, has a solid 72% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with early reviews calling it a fun, action-filled caper film.
The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in February, showing a massive bank vault with various playing cards and currency flying around in front of it to help establish the Las Vegas setting of the story. To convey the presence of the zombies, a number of hands can be seen reaching out from the closed door, obviously not human and obviously not doing well.
Ward and his team stand atop a bright neon-lit slots bar on the second poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in April. With more neon in the background, there are a couple of skulls, a handful of poker chips and lots of weaponry on display to help sell the elements of the story. Two additional posters came out a bit later, one showing a zombie hand holding up a playing card and one showing a human hand holding a pike with a zombie head mounted on it. The bright pop-art colors keep the visual identity of the campaign going.
A series of brightly colored posters featuring each individual character were released in late April, each featuring a different tagline along with lots of neon decorations in the background in an attempt to convey the story’s Las Vegas setting.
Three more posters came out in the weeks leading up to release. One on, the focus is back on Ward’s team as they stand in the middle of the bright lights of Vegas, a group of undead hands reaching from the bottom. The other two look like comic book covers, with Ward on one walking through the flotsam of a ruined Vegas while carrying his packs. The other looks more like some kind of Mexican or similar artwork, with The Bride — a more intelligent, advanced zombie the team encounters — standing amid a collection of flowers and skulls.
The first trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of February, immediately establishing a harsh post-apocalyptic landscape before flashing back to Vegas prior to the outbreak. Without offering much in the way of details, we get that a small armed unit is trying to break into a casino vault, fighting their way through the zombie hordes to do so.
We get a little more context for the story in the second trailer (11.1 million views on YouTube) from early April. Ward is approached by Tanaka to see if he’s interested in breaking into Tanaka’s old casino, now surrounded by zombies, before Las Vegas is nuked by the government. But things get complicated when they realize the zombies now roaming the streets have evolved and are smarter than the ones they faced in the war years ago.
Online and Social
As is common, Netflix supported the movie on brand social channels — including creating a bunch of GIFs on Giphy — but didn’t launch any new profiles or sites for the campaign. But it *did* create a publicly-accessible Dropbox where, in a feature it called #DeadDrop, the company put new posters, GIFs, videos and other assets.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
In August of last year news broke that, despite the movie being fully shot and in post-production, Netflix announced original star Chris D’Elia was being replaced and Notaro brought in. Those reshoots were said to be scheduled for as soon as pandemic conditions would allow, and have Notaro acting largely against a green screen and stand-ins.
Netflix was apparently so entranced by the project it announced a prequel film and anime series later in August.
The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate. An official release date was set in February.
Snyder was interviewed about the film as part of EW’s 2021 Movie Preview, with some first-look stills also provided. He also spoke about the more in a Vanity Fair piece that was focused on his new version of Justice League, putting the development of this film in the context of his return to directing after taking a couple years off in the wake of his daughter’s death.
A few weeks after the second trailer came out Netflix shared a video of Snyder watching and reacting to a low-budget fan remake of that spot. Maybe this is meant to humanize the director or show how in-tune with his fans he is.
How the VFX team created the zombies – including the tiger – and more topics were covered in an interview with producer Deborah Snyder.
In a surprise move, news broke at the beginning of May that Cinemark planned to screen the movie at many of its locations nationwide ahead of its debut on Netflix. That’s a major concession by a large chain and one that shows how the calculus may have changed over the last year and a half.
Why Bautista chose this project instead of joining the cast of The Suicide Squad was the subject of this interview, with the star saying he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with Snyder.
The process of replacing D’Elia with Notaro was covered in-depth in an interview with her and Snyder, including how they had to make a number of adjustments simply because of the difference in size between her and the other actor.
Additional interviews with Deborah Snyder and others included how production had a smaller scope than the DC Films movies, more on how they created that CGI zombie tiger, how working with Netflix differs from working with Warner Bros., the respect Bautista gained for Snyder’s work ethic as director and cinematographer, how Snyder got all the extras thinking and walking like zombies and lots more. Zack Snyder offered an overview of the story and characters as well.
Netflix released the first 15 minutes of the movie online to give audiences a taste of what they could expect when they watched the whole thing.
Cut down versions of the trailer along with other promos offered additional glimpses at the movie, mostly focusing on the mix of humor and violence it’s presumed will be most attractive to the audience.
A number of banners, some used as ads, some used just as organic promos, were created. Most simply repurposed some of the key art, but others like the one below attempt to recreate the look of classic zombie movie title treatments.
One review of Army of the Dead simply said something along the lines of “Well, it definitely is a movie” and that sums things up nicely.
With a bunch of solid actors in the lineup, there’s so little emphasis in the campaign on the human characters the message becomes they really don’t matter. Instead the primary selling point of the marketing here is the work put in by the VFX team to create a CGI tiger.
At least it hasn’t been preceded by months and months of kowtowing to online trolls, making them feel as if they have power they don’t. But, that being said, Snyder has spent a decent chunk of this movie’s publicity cycle litigating his past super hero work, which shows he’s not as interested in selling this movie as maintaining his status as Hollywood’s most persecuted director.