old – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest twist-heavy film from a singular director

old movie poster

Director M. Night Shyamalan, known for his intricately-structured slow reveals, returns with this week’s new release Old. Gael García Bernal stars as Guy, who’s vacationing with his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their two children. The family visits a secluded beach but soon discover they, as well as others already there, are mysteriously aging rapidly, with years going by in just minutes. With time running out, they look for ways to escape before it’s too late.

The marketing campaign has focused on explaining that premise, largely because hooking audiences to come see the twists in the last act is the primary value proposition for any film from Shyamalan. With middling reviews giving it a 60% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and projections for a $12-15 million opening weekend at the box-office, let’s take a look at some of the details.

The Posters

The first poster, released last September, hints at time being a major factor in the story by showing human beings falling through an hourglass like grains of sand. The “It’s only a matter of time” copy unnecessarily underlines that hint.

That theme is made even more explicit on the theatrical poster, released in May. This one shows a woman relaxing on the beach, her face hidden by her hat but her legs and arms visible. One side of her body, we see, is much more gaunt and aged than the other, further indicating to the audience that there’s some unnatural force at work in the story. A motion version came out at the same time.

The Dolby poster shows an aerial view of the beach, with some kind of shape visible in the lines formed by the waves and sand.

The Trailers

When the first trailer (23.2 million views on YouTube), released in May, begins, we see that some vacationing families decide to defy requests to not visit the beach near the resort they’re staying at. That choice has dramatic consequences when after a series of strange events they find they are aging years in just minutes and can’t escape, leading everyone to make some very difficult choices. It’s full of tension but not silly and works to create anticipation and wonder about what power is behind what’s happening.

Online and Social

You’ll find only the basic marketing content on the movie’s official website, including a photo gallery that has a handful of behind-the-scenes shots. There were also social media profiles for the movie.

Advertising and Promotions

Shyamalan announced the movie and debuted the first key art in September, 2020.

Shyamalan briefly spoke about the movie in early 2021 when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

The first look at the film came in a Super Bowl spot that aired in early February. Understandably, there’s not a whole lot of the story in that spot but it does have enough elements to hint at the kind of story audiences can expect.

After the first commercial debuted during the 2021 Super Bowl, the director appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s Instagram to discuss the movie.

While the movie didn’t screen there, did sit down for an interview at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.

Clips that hint at the mystery of what’s happening on the beach and the confusion of the characters began hitting in mid-July.

Shyamalan talked about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” in July.

Clips like this started coming out earlier this month, but none offered much in the way of detail as to what the overall story was.

The second key art was used for outdoor ads like this as well as online ads that drove traffic to the official website where people could buy tickets.

A special movie-themed escape map was added to Fortnite where people had to collect needed resources and put together the clues to get out of that area.

Surprisingly, the cast talked about how this movie doesn’t rely on the typical Shyamalan twist at the film’s premiere earlier this week.

How Shyamalan worked with his daughter on the film was the subject of a short featurette released just before the movie came out. He also discussed how he doesn’t think he makes horror but something more akin to drama in this spot.

Another featurette, this one exclusive to Fandango MovieClips, has the cast and crew discussing the concept of time and how it relates to the movie. The director discussed how sound and other elements help create fear and uncertainty in a Dolby-exclusive video while he and the stars all appeared in a Regal Cinemas video.

Shyamalan discussed how this movie fits into his overall filmography and more in this interview. He also spoke more in this profile about what drives him creatively and what some of his film influences are and have been.

Overall

M. Night Shyamalan movies are always sold on the idea that the audience won’t believe what lies just beyond what they see in the trailers and this campaign doesn’t significantly deviate from that formula.

The concern with that approach is that it can hold so much back there’s little for the audience to actually comprehend. Put another way, there’s a minimum level of context needed for the audience to grasp the broad outlines of the story and why they should care about the characters.

Universal’s campaign for Old, in my opinion, *just* crosses that tipping point. That could mean that, whatever the merits of the movie itself, it may simply be too obscure a proposition to motivate people into making this choice. Not that the campaign isn’t well-executed from a technical standpoint – it is – but it’s right at the cusp of holding too much back to maintain the sense of mystery associated with the filmmaker.

snake eyes: g.i. joe origins – marketing recap

How Paramount has sold an action prequel/reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise

snake eyes theatrical poster

The first two live-action G.I. Joe feature films, released in 2009 and 2013, were not great movies. But they performed well enough – and the innate studio desire for franchises with built-in fanbases great enough – for Paramount Pictures to keep things going with this week’s Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

With a title that unfortunately evokes memories of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the movie stars Henry Golding as a loner going by the moniker Snake Eyes who already has substantial fighting skills but lacks direction. When he saves the life of Thomas “Tommy” Arashikage (Andrew Koji) he’s invited to join Clan Arashikage, a secretive group of ninjas with their own agenda. Though they become as close as brothers, the two have falling out. At the same time they’re drawn into the nascent battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra, personified by Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) respectively.

Originally scheduled for March 2020 but pushed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic, the movie arrives following a campaign that has leaned into the land-standing popularity of the title character and the affection fans still have for the man who defined much of that character’s backstory and persona.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), also released online as a motion poster, came out in mid-May and shows Snake Eyes, sans mask, in front of a bright neon version of the Clan Arashikage symbol.

Two posters (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out in early June, both still using the Clan Arashikage symbol. One shows a sword in front of that symbol, the other a pair of dice that have come up snake eyes

Character motion posters (by BLT) for Snake Eyes, Baroness, Scarlett, Hard Master, Blind Master, Storm Shadow, Akiko and Kenta. were released exclusively to IGN in June

Another poster was released in June, this one finally showing a masked Snake Eyes looking very serious against a bright Japanese downtown.

The whole cast of characters – including both masked and unmasked Snake Eyes – is seen on the theatrical poster released in early July in a design that’s similar to most other ensemble franchises, with everyone arrayed around the main character who looms over them in the background.

An IMAX exclusive poster has Snake Eyes staring at the camera with the company logo reflected in his mask’s visor. Dolby’s poster again puts Snake against the backdrop of a city street, that view coming through a window shaped like the company’s logo.

One final poster, released just last week, illustrates the dual nature of the man who is Snake Eyes, his masked and unmasked face bifurcated by his sword.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer (17 million views on YouTube), which debuted during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in May, very much positions the movie as an origin story. It focuses on how The Man Who Would Be Snake Eyes is seeking purpose in his life and so joins a ninja clan devoted to maintaining peace and justice in the world. There are glimpses of his training as well as supporting characters like Storm Shadow, Scarlett and The Baroness, but the short running time means this is a teaser first and foremost, not offering many details.

Another trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-June, starting off by establishing how Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were once friends. Their falling out isn’t shown, but we do see how Snake becomes involved with the Joes and their fight against Cobra.

One last trailer (2.5 million views on YouTube) came out just days ago. It hits many of the same notes but focuses a bit more on Snake Eyes attempting to outrun his past. Also, it ends with Tommy fully embracing his new persona as Storm Shadow, which is a nice touch.

Online and Social

Not much on the official website, which is mainly about selling tickets to local theater showings, just a basic synopsis and a few videos.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

A brief video in January 2020 marked the beginning of production in Japan, showing the cast and key members of the crew assembled to start getting things going.

Back in February of last year Golding offered a first look at the title character via his personal Instagram.

Unsurprisingly, in August of last year Paramount delayed the film’s release a full year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around that time Golding made an appearance during the virtual Hasbro Pulse Con event, talking about the movie.

Golding talked briefly about the movie at the end of 2020 while promoting other projects, including showing off some footage of him training on “The Tonight Show” in November.

At CCXP in December Golding, Corbero, Weaving and others all made virtual appearances to get fans excited for the movie. Also joining them was G.I. Joe legend Larry Hama, who gave his endorsement to the movie and its cast for their portrayal of characters he was integral in laying the foundation of nearly 40 years ago.

Because of the delay in release Golding made his second appearance at Hasbro Pulse Con this past February, talking more about what fans could expect and showing off more of the toys and other products coming to store shelves.

Official first look stills came via EW in May, showing off maskless pics of Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Akiko and others along with comments on the characters and how the story developed and evolved over time from Golding and others, including producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

The trailer’s debut during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in May was teased by Golding in advance and introduced by him during the show.

A featurette released at the same time as the first trailer has Golding and others praising Hama’s work in creating the characters, teasing what the story will cover and showing a bit of behind-the-scenes footage in addition to clips from the movie.

Golding presented at the Billboard Music Awards in May.

Short videos like this were released occasionally, not adding much but calling out different aspects of the movie. Other promotional spots and commercials came out regularly in the last month or so, each hitting on various story or character points.

An interview with di Bonaventura had him talking about various parts of the film, from the questions that came about casting Golding to turning one of the great “mystery” characters of pop culture into an action hero and more.

Fandango MovieClips had an exclusive featurette that focused on the stunts and choreography that went into the movie and its ninja-tastic action.

There was a big promotional presence for the movie at ComplexLand in June, including a recreation of Snake Eyes home neighborhood. Visitors there could also get a free poster designed by Japanese-American artist Adam Fujita and register to win other exclusive merchandise.

Another featurette had Golding, Hama and Koji talking about the backstory of the friendship between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.

The “Robot Chicken” team created a video that has Golding voicing Snake Eyes in a twisted version of the PSAs that were included in the classic cartoon series, though this includes the rest of the G.I. Joe team feeling pretty hurt that they were left out of the movie.

Snake Eyes had been added to Fortnite a while ago and recently made an appearance in the Batman: Fortnite comic series from DC. A video of Golding playing the game as Snake Eyes was released in July.

Online ads like this started running in the last few weeks, driving traffic to the official site where people could get ticket-buying information.

snake eyes online ad

An exclusive apparel line of movie-inspired products was released by Steve Akoi’s Dim Mak Collection earlier in July.

Just days before release there was a virtual cast panel as part of Comic-Con @ Home. This is one of the *very* few movies to make an appearance at SDCC, with studios apparently feeling the value wasn’t there this year.

Golding also appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about shooting the movie and more.

Overall

There are some good elements to the campaign, particularly the slick visuals seen on the posters. And Golding deserves a lot of credit for taking on a lot of heavy-lifting, using his personal social media in combination with a number of awards show and other appearances to sell the movie to his fans.

The marketing deserves special credit, though, for bringing the legendary Larry Hama so deeply into the effort. Having him as part of so many featurettes and interviews goes a long way toward making the movie attractive to those who may be wary, either because they’re concerned a Snake Eyes movie won’t be as good as they want it to be or because they still feel slightly burnt by the previous G.I. Joe franchise entries.

Gi Joe Mask GIF by Snake Eyes - Find & Share on GIPHY

trollhunters: rise of the titans – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold its animated feature based on a hit series.

The three seasons of “Trollhunters” have been popular on Netflix. Created by Guillermo del Toro and produced by DreamWorks Animation, the series follows a group of teenage friends who find they must protect the world from all manner of mystical monsters and other threats.

Now the story concludes in the feature-length Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans. In the movie, the group of teenage protectors, led by James “Jim” Lake Jr., (voiced by Emile Hirsch) and Aja (voiced by Tatiana Maslany) must stop the threat posed by the Arcane Order and their massive Titans and keep the world safe.

Netflix’s campaign has relied heavily on the popularity of the three previous series, selling the film as a culmination of everything that’s come before.

The Posters

The first poster, released in mid-June, shows the assembled team of heroes – human or otherwise – as they are prepared to face some unseen threat. There’s not a whole lot of information about the story, but those familiar with the series will be able to identify who’s who and make some conclusions about what to expect.

The same characters are shown on the second poster, released earlier this week. This time they’re posed on a building rooftop, the massive Titans they are facing off against looming in the background.

The Trailers

Finally the first trailer (800,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-June. A war between mankind and magic is coming, we’re told, as we see the teen heroes told about the emergence of ancient titans determined to destroy civilization. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of action, both of which are familiar to anyone who’s seen the series, and overall it looks like a lot of fun.

Online and Social

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

Netflix announced in August, 2020 that the movie would be coming some time in 2021, acting as a conclusion to the popular series.

A short teaser from late April finally made the movie’s release date official.

This was one of a few features Dreamworks promoted at the 2021 Annecy Animation Festival in June.

The cast appeared in a video released at the beginning of July warning people of the dangers of cyberbullying and telling anyone who’s been the victim of it to not fight back but to report the harassment.

Netflix put out the first few minutes of the video to help get people excited and show what they could look forward to.

Overall

Netflix hasn’t made as big a deal about this movie as it has for other recent releases, particularly the Fear Street trilogy, but the smaller campaign has played well to the elements that have made the original series successful. There’s a good deal of humor as well as the promise of plenty of supernatural action and adventure, which is exactly what fans are likely to expect. There could have been more done to pull in some new fans and explain how it concludes the three series already available, but that’s a relatively minor quibble in an otherwise solid push.

gunpowder milkshake – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a female-led action thriller.

Karen Gillan plays Sam in Gunpowder Milkshake, this week’s new release from Netflix. Sam is an assassin who finds herself on the run following a job gone wrong. That winds up bringing her back in contact with Scarlet (Lena Headey), Sam’s mother who also happens to be an assassin. Scarlet herself had to disappear years ago, leaving a young Sam alone, and so the two have some issues to work through. Helping them both are former associates of Scarlet’s; Madeline, Florence and Anna May (Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett, respectively).

The movie, which has a middling 69% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has been sold by Netflix as a bright, female-driven take on the action/revenge genre, with Gillan at the forefront, though the rest of the cast isn’t far behind. Let’s take a look.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in May, offers a very literal visual interpretation of the movie’s title, with a bullet taking off the top of a diner milkshake. It’s the title treatment at the top that stands out, though, immediately establishing an identity for the movie with its bright neon lights.

Another poster released at the same time has a similar approach, but this time the bullet is breaking the glass, smeared red lipstick visible at the point of entry.

The main poster came out in mid-June, showing most all of the lead cast as they stand in front of a diner with the title as its brightly-lit sign. All five characters are armed in some manner, the variety of their weapons hinting at how many ways they collectively know to kill someone.

Sam got a poster of her own a bit later.

The Trailers

The trailer (317,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-June and opens with Sam seeking out the help of the librarians who are actually assassins. She needs that help because an assignment has gone sideways and she’s now responsible for protecting eight-year old Emily (Chloe Coleman). That’s just the setup, as the rest of the trailer is solely concerned with selling the over-the-top action of the movie, showing just the kind of butt-kicking audiences can expect.

Online and Social

No website, as is standard for Netflix releases, but StudioCanal, which produced the film, did run some social media accounts like this Twitter profile that helped with promotion, including sharing some promo spots. Netflix did give it some support on its own brand channels, but the focus there has been on its recent Fear Street anthology.

Advertising and Promotions

Distribution rights were picked up by STXFilms in February, 2020, about two years after it was announced during the American Film Market in 2018. A batch of first-look stills came out in mid-November.

Things were quiet until April 2021 when STX sold the movie to Netflix, one of many such sales as studios cleared out some titles as the coronavirus pandemic wound down.

The cast and director assembled via video chat to talk about how they got involved in the project and what the story entails. That video, released as part of Netflix’s “Geeked Week” campaign, also included the first publicly-released footage from the film.

Gillan and writer/director Navot Papushado attended a screening/Q&A at the New Beverly Cinema earlier this week.

A video with Bassett sharing some of her favorite lines from throughout her career, up to and including this movie, was released just the other day.

Another video has Papushado sharing some of the influences he pulled from when making the movie.

Gillan, who had shared a handful of videos from the set, put out what she called the first episode of her new talk show with Headey – kind of – as her guest.

Papushado talked about how and why he cast Gillan, who herself commented on what attracted her to the movie (including the title itself) and more.

Overall

Unlike some other recent releases this campaign has done a solid job of establishing a visual identity for itself, thanks in large part to not only the bright title treatment but also the enthusiasm of Gillan and the rest of the cast.

That’s not to say the movie looks great in and of itself, but it sure is sold to the public as being a lot of fun, and that’s really just fine. The same can be said of many similar movies like John Wick or Nobody, so clearing that bar is really all the campaign needs to do.

space jam: a new legacy – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the sequel to what might be Hollywood’s cynical pinnacle.

The idea that there might be a sequel to 1996’s Space Jam, which paired the recently retired Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters Warner Bros. was hoping to revitalize, has been swirling around for quite a while.

This week the prophecy is finally fulfilled as Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to HBO Max and theaters. This time around LeBron James is the NBA superstar at the center of the story, forced to play basketball after his son Dom (Cedric Joe) is kidnapped by the evil A.I. Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) that runs Warner Bros.’ computer system. James recruits the Looney Tunes to help him, with hijinks ensuing as they face off against the Goon Squad team of avatars assembled by the A.I.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, which currently has a poor 45% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been heavy on IP, using it as the key selling point for the audience to connect with.

The Posters

Character posters (by marketing agency BOND) were released in late March and featured James as well as many of the more well-known Looney Tunes characters like Bugs, Tweety, Lola, Daffy and others. Each is very simply placed in front of a red/blue background so there’s not a lot of action but you definitely are reminded of who will appear in the film.

The next poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out just a few days later, this one showing James and Bugs standing in front of the title like they’re waiting to head out on the basketball court.

In May more character posters (by Works Adv) came out, this batch focusing on the Goon Squad and taking a much more visually-interesting approach, putting each one against what almost looks like street art.

James – and Tweety, of course – soar above the rest of the Looney Tunes on the next poster, released in June.

The final theatrical poster came out in mid-June and just has James standing in

The Trailers

The first trailer came out in early April, announced by a teaser announcement. It starts with LeBron talking with his son, who is promptly sucked into another dimension, with LeBron following soon after that. An evil AI tells him he has to play basketball in order to get Dom back, resulting in LeBron meeting Bugs and the rest of the team, who assemble to help him out. They’re up against the Goon Squad, but the Tunes have a few tricks up their sleeves.

The same basic message is conveyed in the second trailer from June, though with a few additional or changed details.

Online and Social

You’ll find the basic marketing content as well as some games to play on the movie’s official website. There were also social profiles on the major networks.

Of course you can’t discuss a Space Jam website without noting that, for 25 years, the page for the first movie was oddly and stubbornly still around on the internet, offering a time capsule of what late-90s web design encompassed. That site is no longer at the domain it was for over two decades but has been archived on the updated page.

There were also sticker packs created for Giphy, iMessage and WhatsApp.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After seemingly endless years of speculation, the movie moving into production was finally confirmed in September 2018 along with the primary filmmaking team.

After a long period of speculation, James revealed the movie’s official title in April of last year, sharing a video of him wearing a hat sporting the title treatment.

Differences that emerged during the early stages of production lead to initial director Terence Nance to be replaced by Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee in mid-July 2020.

A few months later in August he previewed the new uniforms that were going to be worn by the Tune Squad in the film.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Moving into 2021, a March cover story in EW offered comments from James, details on the story and first looks at the characters, including a redesigned Lola Bunny.

A small, overblown kerfluffle emerged back in March when reports emerged Pepe Le Pew, a problematic at best character, would not appear in the movie, nor was he part of WB’s future Looney Tunes plans. There were conflicting accounts of whether the skunk was included in early cuts of the movie or not, but costar Santo seemed to confirm he did, offering to pay the studio for the cut footage of their scenes together.

[full disclosure: space jam advertised on GoNoodle, my employer, but I was minimally involved in the promotion of that content.]

News that Zendaya had been cast to voice Lola Bunny came just before the first trailer dropped.

After the first trailer came out a video was released showing some of the hidden (and obvious) references and cameos in that trailer.

Cheadle talked about shooting the movie with James when he appeared on “Kimmel” in May.

Also that month the first commercial, which features some of the funnier moments from the trailer, came out.

We Win” by Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin was released in late May, offering the first song from the movie’s soundtrack.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Microsoft/Xbox, which has been involved since late 2020, offering teachers and students – access to STEM lessons hosted by James, who also appeared in a promotional video for the partnership.
  • I PROMISE School, which is part of James’ personal foundation and which has hosted first look events and more throughout the campaign.
  • Nike, which launched a new line of shoes and other apparel featuring movie branding. That included the LeBron 19
  • Candy Crush, which added a movie character takeover to the game.
  • Skype (part of Microsoft), which added movie-themed backgrounds for your video calls.

And of course all of that doesn’t even cover the various consumer merchandise offered to appeal to consumers of all kinds.

A Cartoon Network promo has the Nerdlucks from the first movie steal the powers of the “Teen Titans Go!” characters to hilarious — and in Robin’s case embarrassing — results. That was part of the promotions for “The Teen Titans Go! See Space Jam”, which had the team offering Pop-Up Video style commentary on the original film.

For ESPN there was a faux mini-documentary produced that had James talking about how he needed to team up with the Looney Tunes characters to save his son. The video is presented straight, just like one of ESPN’s other specials, and is the better for it.

More details about the movie’s soundtrack and what artists were contributing to it were shared in mid-June.

The first official clip was shared with Fandango MovieClips at the end of June, showing Speedy, Granny and others going full Matrix.

Another fake documentary type video had James and Bugs Bunny talking about what kind of teammate the other one is, getting into a debate about who’s the GOAT.

DC got another exclusive clip, this time of James and Bugs entering the world of super heroes, though why they turned into Batman & Robin when they were visiting Metropolis is unclear.

Warner Bros. hosted a screening party for the movie at Six Flags California in late June. Later on there was a fan screening in Los Angeles.

A featurette had James along with Ryan Coogler and others talking about the visual style of the movie and more.

James stopped by “Kimmel” – guest-hosted by Arsenio Hall – and then “Good Morning America” to talk about the movie.

The L.A. premiere earlier this week featured appearances by much of the cast and crew.

James, sporting his Tune Squad uniform, was added as a playable character in Fortnite.

Overall

It’s remarkable that the campaign reminds me less of the original Space Jam and more of Ready Player One from a few years ago. That’s because the focus is less on Bugs, Daffy and the craziness of the Looney Tunes and more on the brand synergy Warner Bros. has brought to the movie, bringing in IP from across the company’s portfolio.

Basketball Tune Squad GIF by Space Jam - Find & Share on GIPHY

That contributes to what is a disappointingly lackluster marketing effort, one that is so busy making sure all the cameo characters and settings are given their due that the core elements don’t get much time in the spotlight. The movie looks like some amount of fun, but you don’t have a very strong brand identity because there are scores of other brands that are more important.

black widow – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios has sold a long-awaited – on multiple levels – super hero solo film.

Over a decade after being first introduced in Iron Man 2 and following several supporting appearances in other MCU movies, Scarlett Johansson strikes out on her own in this week’s Black Widow.

Set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, which gets around the fact that Natasha Romanoff sacrificed herself in Avengers: Endgame, the story follows Natasha as she’s on the run from the authorities. A series of events lead her to reunite with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a fellow agent of Russia’s Red Room who shares a sister-like bond with Natasha, as well as former Black Widow Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian (David Harbour), the Russian equivalent of Captain America. All four, a surrogate family of sorts, face off against Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), a villain who can copy anyone’s movements and who is after the same MacGuffin sought by Natasha and Yelena.

Originally scheduled for May of last year but delayed multiple times because of Covid, the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ Premier Access this week. It’s notable for a number of reasons:

  • It is, of course, the first solo movie Marvel Studios has released with a female lead character, the only founding Avenger other than Hawkeye to not get a standalone story (and his turn is coming via a Disney+ series later this year).
  • It’s the first MCU release in two years, the longest the franchise has been absent from audiences since the gap between the first two Iron Man movies.
  • It’s the first MCU feature film to be released on Disney+ day-and-date with theatrical, a circumstance brought on because plans made during the worst of the pandemic were hard to adjust on short notice.

First reactions have been largely positive, with critics calling out the movie’s spy genre heritage as well as the strong performances, particularly Pugh’s. That’s resulted in an 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a film that’s received a full court press campaign from Disney that’s focused on Johansson finally getting her own turn in the spotlight. This confluence of events has led to speculation the movie could score a pandemic-high opening weekend box office of $80 million or more.

The Posters

In November 2019 the first teaser poster (by artist Andy Park) came out offering a look at Natasha as she stands at the forefront of an arrangement of the other characters, the red “X” that will dominate the film’s branding from here on out in the background.

The second poster (by marketing agency LA) from December of that year brings that branding even more to the surface as the solid red “X” dominates the design, Natasha shown at the bottom walking toward the camera ready for action. It’s inspired by a cover from the character’s 2016 comics series.

An exclusive poster handed out at CCXP in early December 2019 features an artistic drawing of Natasha’s face looking weary and tired, as if she’s come through a difficult battle.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

The four major heroes received character posters released in February 2020, each standing in front of a background made up of heavily-redacted documents, the kind a bunch of spies would be very interested in.

Everyone’s brought together on the initial theatrical poster, which came out in March of last year, including a handful of faceless women at the bottom who look very much Black Widow and are walking away from the Kremlin, establishing them as part of the same program that trained Natasha.

Another poster came out in March of this year that shows Natasha in her white uniform.

More character posters, including ones for Taskmaster and the agent played by O-T Fagbenle, came out in May.

A similar approach from the character posters is taken on the final one-sheet, with Natasha at the center of her surrogate family, with other supporting characters scattered around as well.

Additional posters for RealD 3D, Dolby Cinemas, ScreenxUSA and IMAX offered their own takes on the character and settings.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released in early December 2019, opens with Natasha’s lines from Endgame about how the Avengers gave her a home and a family. At this point she’s ready to confront her past and so heads home, leading to an interesting reunion with her sister. The two set out to investigate the organization that made them what they are, but why is unclear. What is shown are brief looks at Taskmaster and his goons along with an extended introduction to Natasha’s father, who can still fit into his Red Guardian costume.

One thing that’s not clear is the movie’s time period. Natasha’s comments and narration are vague, so you have to have some foreknowledge that the story takes place before the events of Infinity War.

A “Special Look” trailer came out in mid-January 2020 that introduced a key premise of the film, that there is a new generation of Widows being trained that Natasha and her family must confront before they’re loosed upon the world.

The bond between Natasha and her chosen family is the focus of the next trailer, released in early March. It starts with her and her sister reconnecting and sharing the lies they’ve told and ends with everyone gathered around the table as we see the same kind of dynamic that might be found in any family. In between we’re shown Natasha has found some of the mistakes she made before becoming an Avenger have caught up with her. The Taskmaster is introduced as the new head of the Russian training facility she came out of, but he’s more cruel and so she sets out to stop him and free the girls that have been sent to kill her.

The final trailer, released in early April, is all about secrets and dealing with the sins of the past. It’s the same basic message being sold here about family and such, but with a few new shots and the promise of a lot of action and a lot of drama.

Online and Social

Marvel’s page for the film featured some videos, posters and other background information, but not much details on other aspects of the marketing campaign. There were also social profiles that offered a bit more.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After years of speculation, rumors, comments by Marvel Studios execs about how they’d “love to” make a Black Widow movie (as if they were subject to someone else’s whims), it finally moved into the realm of reality when Cate Shortland was hired to direct the feature. Many people pointed out as the synopsis was released that the story sounded more or less just like 2018’s Jennifer Lawrence-starring Red Sparrow about a female Russian agent trained to seduce and spy at all costs in the service of the Motherland.

The topic of the movie’s existence came up during the Avengers: Endgame press tour, but Johansson remained mum on whether it was happening or not, part of Marvel’s strategy of not officially announcing any future projects.

Plans became much more official when the movie was part of Marvel’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2019. That event featured revelations about the cast, characters and story, including Johansson commenting on her desire to keep playing Natasha over the last decade. Marvel put out a video of footage from the panel that included insights from the cast.

There were more comments from Johansson about the timing of the project and what it means for her and the character. She kept teasing the movie while promoting other projects in 2019.

In addition to the trailer shown, attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of 2019 were able to see costumes from the movie on the show floor.

The first paid promotion came via a commercial aired during the College Football Playoffs on ESPN in January, 2020, when the movie was still expected to be just a few months away.

A featurette released in mid-January 2020 had Johansson talking about the potential for future stories the character has while also reflecting on the fact she’s been playing Natasha for 10 years now, with this movie offering audiences something new as well.

Marvel had three Black Widow comics already on the schedule for May, all of them focusing on characters that would be seen in the movie, when it announced in January the launch – also in May – of a new ongoing series for the character. Later on the publisher showed off movie-themed variant covers for some issues of those titles.

Widow has unfinished family business in the Super Bowl commercial that shows the drama and action of the story, including some of the threats she’ll face off against.

An explanation of who Red Guardian is was the subject of a video released by Marvel in mid-February.

The movie was a major part of Marvel’s promotional presence at two major conventions earlier this year. Toys based on the film were shown off at ToyFair in February, while C2E2 in March included Black Widow merchandise for sale.

A profile of Johansson had her talking about her long history with the character and what it means to finally have her stand on her own in a film. Another piece had her sharing what she felt were the character’s best scenes from over the years.

An Omaze campaign was launched in March with a video featuring Johansson telling people they could win a trip to the movie’s premiere. That was followed by an International Women’s Day greeting from Johansson and Pugh.

At that point – early April 2020, about a month after Disney pulled it from the schedule – the first date change happened as the movie was pushed to November, when we thought things would be back to normal again.

Harbor spoke about his character of Red Guardian and what it means in the context of the story.

In an interview from last July, Shortland revealed the film essentially puts a cap on Johansson’s time in the MCU and lets Pough’s character pick up the baton going forward. Another feature package in Empire came out in September that had more comments from Johansson and others along with exclusive new images. Shortland also commented on how the story, which mixes super heroics and family drama, evolved during development and production.

Another interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two talking about production of this movie, the pandemic-related delays and what future plans there might be for both of their characters.

In November Black Widow, sporting the same white uniform she’s wearing in many of the trailers, was added to Fortnite.

The question of release seemed to be settled in December of last year, when Disney made it clear during its investors presentation that the movie was still planned as a theatrical-only title. It reiterated that commitment in February during the company’s earnings announcement, which also included the news Disney+ had grown to 94 million subscribers.

A few months later, in March, that commitment was (unsurprisingly) called into question when Disney announced A) one last date shift – from May to July – as well as B) that the movie would get a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

Johannson presented the movie as being a chance for audiences to finally get to know Natasha’s true story in a video released on National Super Hero Day in early May.

Additional footage was included in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video also from early May. It’s not a lot, but it puts this film in the context of the previous MCU entries while also playing up the communal experience of theatrical viewing.

The first clip came in mid-May during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” broadcast, where Johansson accepted the “Generation Award.”. It shows Natasha and Yelena bickering like the sisters they are while trying to get away from a bad guy.

A “special look” came out in early June telling fans the wait is over, though technically there was still another month or so to wait.

Weisz talked about the movie when she appeared on “Kimmel” in June, as did Pugh when she appeared a week or so later.

Tickets going on sale in early June unlocked a host of content, almost like a tide that’s been held back for a year and was suddenly unleashed. That included:

Around that same time, Shortland was interviewed about what movies and other stories she drew inspiration from.

Harbour talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in June of last year

In a much-shared interview, Johansson talked about how her character has evolved since being introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 where, she said, Natasha was overly-sexualized and objectified, underestimated because of that by almost all the other characters at some point or another.

Harbour had some fun speculating on his character’s backstory and what potential there might be in that unexplored territory while the rest of the cast talked about working with Shortland.

In a video released on Father’s Day Harbour read some corny “dad jokes” much to the embarrassment of his costars.

Johansson appeared on “The Tonight Show” to hype the movie, convince people to see it in theaters and tease some revelations.

A ton of commercials and other promo spots started running in early June, each taking a slightly different take on the story but all selling the movie as a fast-paced action romp with the Romanov family.

Weisz answered a handful of questions about the production like the person most likely to pull a prank on set in a video from mid-June. Later on Johansson, Harbour and Pugh answered their own sets of fan questions.

A joint interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two of them sharing anecdotes over how they bonded on set, particularly over the ridiculousness of some of the fighting poses they were expected to perform and more.

A fan screening event was held in Los Angeles recently with some of the cast in attendance and some appearing virtually. Similar events, each with some subset of the cast and crew, were held in major cities around the world.

Another interview with Shortland had her talking about the multiple times she declined taking on the project, only to eventually be worn down/won over by the persistence of her agent and Marvel.

Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive video interview with the cast.

More background on Taskmaster was shared by Marvel in a featurette released just a week or so ago. There was also a recap of Widow’s character journey through the 10+ years since her introduction to the MCU.

The last wave of commercials like this explicitly called out this being Marvel’s return to theater screens after a two year absence.

Natasha and Yelena are breaking Alexei out of prison in the last official clip released before the movie was made available.

One last featurette had the cast talking about the makeshift family the characters have formed.

Additional interviews with Shortland like this had her talking about the opportunity that exists for more female directors to be brought into the MCU. Meanwhile Feige talked about how this story takes place during the third phase of the MCU arc but sets the stage for things that will happen moving forward.

Disney+ released a movie-themed episode of the “Legends” series, offering more background on the character and her history.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Geico, which has the company’s spokesgecko imagining what it would be like to ride along with Natasha and Yelena.
  • BMW, which released exclusive interviews with the cast in support of a campaign that shows the company’s cars executing some of the movie’s big driving stunts.
  • Synchrony Bank, which launched a campaign encouraging people to learn about its savings tools.

Overall

This is probably the biggest campaign in terms of sheer volume of elements in quite a while, even bigger than F9 and other recent releases. As such it’s hard to judge on an objective level. But what’s impressive is how Marvel Studios has maintained a sense of brand consistency despite the unexpectedly long period of time the marketing has been forced to stretch over. Add to that a very professionally enthusiastic push from Johansson and a focus on Pugh that sets her up as the future of this part of the franchise’s future and you have a solid campaign that hopes audiences are ready for more of the series after a prolonged break.

Now we just see if it can stick the landing.

Scarlett Johansson GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

no sudden move – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest heist film from one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors.

Of the high profile directors working today perhaps none has embraced streaming quite like Steven Soderbergh. After putting out two movies for Netflix in 2019, this week brings his second straight film for HBO Max.

No Sudden Move focuses on a group of small-time criminals in 1955 who are hired by a mysterious party to steal corporate documents. They recruit a reluctant insider to actually nab the goods, with some of the crooks sent to his home to keep his family in check. But when the job goes sideways they set out to find out who it was that hired them and why.

The movie stars Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin, Benicio del Toro and others as the criminals, David Harbour as the executive marked to actually steal the documents, Amy Seimetz as his wife Mary and Jon Hamm as the Detroit city detective assigned to investigate the crime. With a solid 87% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s campaign has been heavy on the kind of stylized filmmaking that Soderbergh is known for.

The Posters

“Trust is a setup” we’re told on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery). Shown are Goynes and Russo, two of the criminals at the center of the plot played by Cheadle and del Toro. The rest of the notable cast is named at the top of the one-sheet, but the overall design is very simple and moody, setting a dark and shadowy tone for the movie more than anything else.

The Trailers

A brief teaser in late May preceded the first trailer’s release, which didn’t happen until early June.

That trailer (238,000 views on YouTube) is all about selling an attitude and a vibe. It conveys the story of how the criminals are A) convincing a mid-level auto executive to steal company secrets while B) the gang watches over the exec’s family to make sure they don’t do anything stupid and he knows what the consequences for not cooperating are. As usual, everything turns pear-shaped in a flurry of irrational behavior, divided loyalties, law enforcement investigation and other factors, but what’s clear is that this is another stylized Soderbergh production that looks fantastic.

Online and Social

The signed-out landing page for the movie on HBO Max’s site has some very basic information, including a collection of cast headshots, a small gallery of stills and the trailer.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Casting news dominated much of the press for a while. In late September production, previously delayed because of the pandemic, resumed at the same time the movie was renamed from its original “Kill Switch” to the current title.

HBO Max and Warner Bros. confirmed in May that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. At that premiere the cast was interviewed about the movie itself as well as the uncertain nature of the production.

Harbour promoted the film when he appeared on “Late Night” in June.

A profile of Seimetz focused on how she has bounced between acting and writing/directing her own material over her career, including how she steals the show in this film.

While it’s not actually press for the film, Alissa Wilkinson at Vox explores some of the very real social issues, including housing discrimination, highway construction and more, that inform the movie’s setting, action and characters.

Online ads like the one below were used to drive traffic to the HBO Max landing page for the film.

Warner Bros. partnered with Shinola Detroit on a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to Detroit’s Shinola Hotel. The company also created a movie-inspired line of handbags, watches and other apparel.

An interview with screenwriter Ed Solomon emphasized how he and Soderbergh sought to construct a story the audience would have to follow closely if they wanted to get the full experience of the payoff.

Short spots like this were used on social media (and likely elsewhere), presenting a cutdown version of the trailer that continues selling the movie as a high-drama heist story with a great cast.

HBO Max released a featurette with the cast talking about the complex nature of that story and the unique filmmaking aesthetic of Soderbergh.

Overall

What I said above really encapsulates the campaign from Warner Bros./HBO Max: Everything about the campaign is focused on presenting it as a dramatic, tense heist film with a great cast portraying characters who are always just one move away from turning on their compatriots.

Adding to that is the brand Soderbergh has for himself as a director who dabbles in seemingly every possible sub-genre and style. If you told me tomorrow he was directing a remake of The Music Man it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The point being that his involvement in and of itself is a big draw for the movie, which is why his name is so prominent throughout the campaign.

zola – marketing recap

How A24 has sold a buzzy new film with social media roots.

Several years ago there was a small wave of books and TV shows based on — or at least inspired by — Twitter or other social media threads. This week there’s finally a feature film that can claim the same pedigree.

Zola stars Taylour Paige in the title role of a woman who meets and almost immediately agrees to go on a road trip to Florida with Stefani (Riley Keough). The two have it in mind to dance in strip clubs and make a bunch of money in a short while. But the trip turns out to be a lot more wild and violent than Zola bargained for as she also has to deal with Stefani’s boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and pimp X (Colman Domingo).

It’s been six years since the real life Aziah “Zola” King posted her 148 update long Twitter thread, but the buzz around the movie, which currently sports a solid 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, is still palpable.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in March of this year and sports an appropriately Instagram-esque look. Zola and Stefani are featured in front of a bright background, the multiple exposures creating a sense there are many versions of the characters.

The second posters, released in May, offers the same idea but with the camera shifted slightly. “Wanna hear a story” nods nicely to the movie’s origins as a story told on Twitter.

The Trailers

Further details on release plans didn’t come with it, but a brief teaser was released in early August of last year

It wasn’t until March of this year that the first full trailer (894,000 views on YouTube) came out. As it begins, Zola and Stefani are planning a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Florida with the promise of making a whole lot of money stripping. Once they’re there, Stefani seems to take it to an extreme, leaving Zola to pick up the pieces and deal with her craziness.

Online and Social

No standalone website for the movie but there were social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Sundance 2020 was slated to be the movie’s premiere venue, with the cast and crew in attendance. A24 acquired distribution rights just as the festival was kicking off and reactions were generally positive from those in attendance.

Director Janicza Bravo was interviewed along with others involved in the film about how they developed the story and characters, turning a bunch of Tweets into a full-fledged movie.

At Sundance Bravo was interviewed again about how they crafted a story out of a Twitter thread, how she wasn’t worried about most anyone’s potential reaction to the film and more. There was also an interview with the person whose Twitter story has been adapted here. The movie’s editor spoke about similar topics.

As the campaign ramped up in 2021, IMDb shared a set of exclusive stills from the film.

Paige and Keough attended the MTV Movie Awards in May.

An interview with Colman had him talking about this movie in particular but also other upcoming films he’s in and more.

In June it was added to this year’s Sundance Film Festival: London lineup.

An interview with Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, who cowrote the screenplay with Bravo, had them talking about the challenges of turning a viral social media incident into a feature film and the process the two went through to make that happen. That was also the focus of a later profile of Bravo on her own.

Of course there were profiles of the real Zola that looked back on the legacy of her viral thread as well as the surreal nature of seeing a movie based on her experiences. In fact A24 went so far as to turn that thread into a collectible print book, with promotions running for anyone interested in owning a bit of internet ephemera.

Paige was interviewed about how she connected with the character of Zola when she was presented with the project. She and Keough were interviewed together about the craziness of the story as well as the off-screen friendship that resulted from the production.

Talk show appearances included Colman on “The Tamron Hall Show”, Keough on “The Tonight Show”

Later interviews with Bravo had her talking about the movie influences she pulled from in crafting the film and more. She was also part of a profile of Keough focused on the actress’s commitment to the insanity of the story. Those two were then joined by Paige for this look at the movie’s journey over the last couple years.

Bravo on her own talked more about creating more opportunities for black filmmakers and how hard she worked to make the story happen.

Additional interviews with Paige included how she has some experience with seeing exotic dancing/stripping as a potential income source and how she actually went ahead and did so as part of her research for this role. Meanwhile Keough talked about finding the empathy in her character even though she found her “offensive” in many ways.

A special screening was held in Atlanta that included a Q&A with the cast and crew.

Overall

It’s a bright, fast-paced campaign that seems, much like the movie purports to be, very much rooted in the world of social media. Everything in the trailers seems GIF-able (and it largely was), the poster looks like an elaborately-staged Instagram pic from an influencer and even the social media promotions seem to speak native internet in a way many campaigns can’t manage.

More than all that, the movie may benefit from all the buzz that’s built up with critics and others calling it one of the year’s best films, if not the best to date.

This Is Messy Riley Keough GIF by A24 - Find & Share on GIPHY

the tomorrow war – marketing recap

How Amazon Studios has sold its latest sci-fi action movie.

Chris Prat stars as Dan Forester in this week’s Amazon Studios release The Tomorrow War. Dan is a husband and father who retired from the military but is called back into service when time travelers from the future arrive seeking recruits for a battle against an invading alien army. Determined to save the future his young daughter will ultimately live in, Dan leaves his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and teams up with his estranged father James (J.K. Simmons) and a scientist from the future (Yvonne Strahovski).

Reviews haven’t come in yet, but the movie — the feature debut of “Robot Chicken” director Chris McKay — has received a campaign that’s focused on the sci-fi action in hopes of getting people excited.

The Posters

Dan, Muri, Charlie (Sam Richardson) and Dorian (Edwin Hodge) are locked and loaded on the first poster (by marketing agency MOCEAN), released at the end of May. In the background is a city skyline that’s crumbling from the destruction of battle while in the sky a big portal has opened up. All of that offers some context as to the story, but the generic positioning of the characters is a bit over the top.

A second poster, released in mid-June, offers the same conceit but zooms in on Dan and Muri.

The Trailers

The movie’s futuristic setting, alien enemies and overall tone were conveyed in a teaser released in late April.

About a month later the full trailer (8.1 million views on YouTube) was released. When a mysterious army appears from the future seeking help in fighting an alien invasion Dan is drafted/volunteers so his wife won’t have to go. He and the other recruits are fighting with the very existence of humanity at stake, leading to lots of dramatic posturing in addition to the usual running and fighting.

The final trailer (6.5 million views on YouTube) opens with Dan reaching out to his dad for help before setting up the premise and showing how Dan decides to leave his family to take part in the fight. From there it’s lots of shooting and running and talk about the fate of humanity and such.

Online and Social

No standalone website but in addition to the Amazon Video landing page there were social outposts like this Twitter profile.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

Due to the massive shuffling of release dates by Paramount in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the movie’s release was moved back several months. Reports emerged in early 2021 that Skydance Media, which produced the film, was shopping it around to streaming distributors. Those reports came to fruition in early April, when Amazon acquired it and set an official release date.

A handful of first-look stills were released a few weeks later.

Pratt and screenwriter Zach Dean were interviewed together about the story, how it’s different from other alien invasion flicks, with the rest of the cast and crew also commenting on the production and other topics, including Simmons’ buff physique.

Short promos like this pulled out different aspects of the movie’s action and/or humor to present slightly different messages to the audience.

A little behind the scenes video had Pratt hamming it up for the camera and leaning more to his comedic side instead of actually offering anything substantive.

An interview with Pratt had him extolling Strahovski’s stuntwork and talking more about the production.

Amazon exercised its monopoly powers engaged in some cross-divisional promotion by putting promotions for the movie on shipping boxes used for retail delivery, the first time it’s used that medium to sell an Amazon Studios release.

More commercials emphasized how Dan’s decision to join the fight is rooted in his desire to protect his daughter.

Late night talk show appearances included both Gilpin and later Pratt on “Kimmel.”

Online ads like this used elements of the key art to drive traffic to the Amazon landing page for the movie.

this ad, of course, appeared on the Amazon-owned IMDb.com

The Pocono Raceway recently hosted a booth devoted to the movie where visitors could find out more and enter a sweepstakes for a $5,000 Amazon gift card.

Amazon scheduled a watch party on Twitch (which it owns) for this Friday. There was also one planned for Amazon Video itself.

A clip given to Fandango’s MovieClips shows the moment the time travelers arrive in the present looking for help in the war they’re fighting.

JoBlo then got an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about the story and the production of the film.

It also setup “The Tomorrow War Experience” at various spots around Los Angeles where people could come find out more and see one of the alien enemies.

Overall

It’s a fine campaign, but what seems to be missing is a clear definable brand for the movie. The visual identity of the film isn’t very strong or identifiable. Even Pratt’s presence for the most part is just kind of general and not centered around something specific. That could be part of what seems to be a general lack of buzz around the release.

What does seem to be clear is that Amazon’s acquisition of the movie is part of its broader strategy of focusing more on big, tentpole-type titles. Whether or not this particular tactic supports that strategy remains to be seen, but the campaign doesn’t make a very strong case for this being a contender for people’s time and attention.

f9: the fast saga – marketing recap

How Universal is selling the latest in one of cinema’s biggest international franchises.

I may have mentioned this previously, but with the exception of Hobbs & Shaw I’ve never seen a single entry in the Fast & Furious franchise. That’s despite the core series reaching its ninth entry over 20 years with this week’s F9: The Fast Saga. Here’s the official synopsis of the movie, courtesy of IMDb:

Cipher (Charlize Theron) enlists the help of Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s (Vin Diesel) younger brother, to take revenge on Dom and his team.

OK, sure. If you, like me, are largely in the dark as to what is happening in the above sentence, you may not be the audience for this new movie, despite a campaign that has boiled the pitch down to “muscle bound men and women engage in increasingly over-the-top stunts with cars.”

The movie, like many others, was originally scheduled to be released in April of 2020 but has been pushed numerous times because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not wanting to imperil the franchise’s massive international box-office, it has seemingly never even been considered for non-theatrical distribution. That international appeal is evident in how it’s already nearing $300 million in overseas ticket sales before it hits the domestic market, where it’s Fandango’s biggest pre-order title of the year so far.

It finally hits screens this weekend with a projected box-office of $60 million dollars thanks to a flashy campaign but not to the lackluster 62% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s alright because this is for the fans, not the critics.

The Posters

The teaser poster of Dom with his back turned as he leans against the hood of his car was released all the way back in January, 2020. It’s not much but it doesn’t need to be as it’s simply the announcement that a new movie in the series is coming out and yes, it’s about family.

A series of character posters came out at various points in the campaign that placed each character in front of what I’m assuming is their signature car, or at least one that seems to match the color aesthetic being used. The Photoshopping here is obvious, as the photos look like they’ve been cut out like Joker assembling his scrapbook and then glued to the smoke-filled background.

Dom is at the center of the group of characters featured on the theatrical poster, the rest arrayed around him while at the bottom there are a bunch of cars and a helicopter engaged in some form of racing or chase. I’m not sure the multi-colored plumes of smoke are meant to symbolize or what purpose they serve other than to add something to what would otherwise be a collection of browns and grays. An earlier version of this poster ditched the action and just featured the primary cast leaning against their cars with the same colorful smoke in the background.

Dom and Jakob are engaged in a no-holds-barred race on the IMAX poster, dirt and sparks flying everywhere as they trade paint.

One final poster came out just a few days ago, this one released at the end of a big online promotional day that included the cast answering fan questions. The poster itself was part of the 20th anniversary celebration aspect of the campaign and had Dom standing by himself alongside his car with a collection of memorable quotes from the previous films placed above him.

The Trailers

A teaser trailer was shared by Diesel a couple days before the release of the first trailer. When that trailer (52.5 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of January 2020 it showed that this movie would pick up on the same themes and ideas as the series’ previous entries. It focuses on family both real – Dominic talks about how everything he does is to keep his wife and son safe – and chosen, as he reunites with his colleagues and partners in crime and adventure. This time around they once again face off against Cypher, who has enlisted a criminal who turns out to be Dom’s brother. There are fast cars and over-the-top stunts, including what seems to be Dom catching a car while standing on top of a bus.

Demand for the trailer was so high it recorded over 262 million views across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in the first 72 hours after it was released.

The final trailer (46.5 million views on YouTube) debuted over a year later, in April 2021. Debuting first on “Today” (thanks to some NBCU corporate synergy), the focus is once again on family, whether it’s the found kind or the one you’re born into. Other than that there are of course ridiculous car and other stunts on display, including some sort of scheme involving magnets and, at the very end, a hint that the franchise will finally go into space, just as fans have been clamoring for.

Online and Social

You can find trailers, a photo gallery, story synopsis and more marketing assets on the movie’s official website. It also has information on the entire saga to date including a timeline of events. Links to the movie’s social profiles are also on the page, but that list doesn’t include the Giphy page for an unknown reason.

An Instagram AR lens was available that assigned each user to a character from the movie.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

In advance of the first trailer’s debut during the Super Bowl, a concert was held in Miami featuring Cardi B., Ludacris and other artists, with the stars of the movie on hand to give fans their first full look at what they could expect. That concert was livestreamed so audiences everywhere could experience it as well. Universal announced the event in December, building anticipation over a month out from it happening.

As the promotional concert was happening, Jimmy Fallon called Diesel from “The Tonight Show” to hear how it was going and get important updates.

When the trailer revealed Han from Tokyo Drift was returning for real, it was only natural that Kang would be interviewed about how that is happening and what it means for him and fans.

The movie was among those with commercials airing during the Super Bowl, just a few days after the first trailer was released. That Big Game spot is short on dialogue – that’s not what the audience is interested in – and long on dramatic car chases and other thrilling sequences.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Dodge, which released a commercial featuring footage from the movie and other shots of the company’s cars narrated by Diesel that positioned those cars as the ultimate muscle performance machines.
  • Cameo, which let fans enter to win a personalized message from one of the cast members.

Diesel talked about the movie and more when he stopped by “Kimmel” in March of 2020. A few months later Rodriguez was interviewed about the important new perspective brought on by a female writer for the movie. While he was promoting other projects, Cena spoke about his trepidation before finally signing on to join the series.

In one of the biggest announcements that came as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, Universal pushed the movie’s release an entire year, apparently wanting to put the maximum possible distance between that virus and the film hitting theaters. Especially important at the time was that while U.S. theaters were (at the time) still open, Chinese theaters had completely shut down, effectively cutting off a major segment of the audience.

The picture hadn’t improved enough by September for Universal to stick with that release date, pushing it out an additional three months.

In October of last year, Universal revealed there would only be two more F&F movies before the series shut down, with Lin attached to direct both of them.

Due to those delays, it was advertised again during the 2021 Super Bowl, the only movie from 2020’s lineup to make a second appearance. The new spot mixes the usual bits about the importance of family with the kind of outsized and ludicrous action the franchise is known for.

EW’s 2021 Movie Preview included more comments about the story (such as it is) and characters.

One more delay, this time from May to June, was announced in March.

Diesel narrates a spot, released in late April, that starts with him talking about the power of going to the theater before cutting to the same movie footage we’ve seen before. His voiceover positions the movie as the perfect time to “come together” in a communal viewing experience with all the involvement and engagement that entails.

That spot was parodied in a late-May episode of “Saturday Night Live,” with Beck Bennett’s Vin Diesel just kind of naming things that exist in a movie theater.

The “Total Car-Nage” video from early May mixed scenes from the finished film with a bit of behind-the-scenes footage showing how some of those scenes were shot. It’s not exactly a featurette, more of a hype reel.

Black was interviewed about coming back to the franchise and the fan-driven legacy of Tokyo Drift.

Universal shared a video of a massive publicity stunt where footage and images from the movie were projected onto the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

A “thank you” video was released with the cast expressing their gratitude to audiences in China, Egypt and elsewhere after it opened to an impressive $162 million in those markets. Unfortunately there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Cena, while being interviewed by a Taiwanese outlet, referred to Taiwan as a country, causing a backlash in China and resulting in him issuing an apology on the social media app Weibo. That backlash was at least in part to blame for the movie’s dramatic drop in its second week in China.

Rodriguez, Theron, Mirren and other women from the cast talk about how the story brings the female perspective to the action genre in a featurette released later that month that also teased the new song “Furiosa” by Anitta.

Diesel narrates a spot broadcast on ESPN that mixes movie footage with shots of NBA stars.

How the filmmakers pulled off a key sequence involving driving around and with the aid of massive magnets was the subject of a feature story.

Dom and Letty swing across a valley in their car in a clip released at the end of May.

To the surprise of many, news came in early June that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition as a way to bring some serious star power and brand juice to the event.

Beginning in early June there were a series of featurettes released regularly. Those included:

  • A look at one of the key stunts Dom is involved in
  • A spotlight on costar Anna Sawai where she talks about preparing for the physical demands of the production
  • A focus on Cardi B, who has a cameo in the film
  • Another behind the scenes look, this time at a sequence shot at Peligro Mines
  • A look at the technical work done to flip a car in an overly dramatic manner
  • Similarly, here’s how they flipped a truck
  • And one more on the magnet stunt

Theron hosted an outdoor screening on the Universal Studios lot that raised money for the Africa Outreach Project, a cause that’s very personal to the actress.

Lin and others were interviewed again about finally taking the franchise into space and bringing Han back after the character was killed in Tokyo Drift.

Regal Cinemas shared video interviews with the cast as well as Diesel on his own. Cinemark Theaters gave control of its Instagram Stories to the cast to post and answer questions from the fans.

Diesel also appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie while costar Jordana Brewster was interviewed about some of her favorite memories and moments from the franchise so far.

One final promotional reel looked at the 20 years of cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and more from all the previous movies, cementing how this is a long-lived franchise.

Overall

What else is there to say other than

It’s about family.

Fast And Furious F9 GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s about justice for Han.

Fast And Furious F9 GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s about magnets.

Fast And Furious Magnets GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

But, as I alluded to earlier, there’s little in the campaign for someone unfamiliar with the previous movies to latch on to or be interested in. I get that by branding this “The Fast Saga” that unconverted audience is being encouraged to check out the earlier movies, but if they’re not willing to do so they will likely remain unconvinced this is the movie to see.