How Disney has sold a feature take on a popular animated series.
Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers hits Disney+ today as a meta follow-up to the series of the same name from the late 1980s. In this version, Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg), meet and become friends in school before going on to star in the “Rescue Ranger” series. When professional ambitions pull Dale into a solo career, he and Chip part ways. 30 years later they are forced to reunite and put aside their differences to help their old friend Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), who was kidnapped as part of a toon bootlegging operation.
The movie also features cameos – either live action or in voice form – from Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Rachel Bloom and a host of others. It’s directed by Samberg’s fellow Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer, who convinced Disney to include animated characters from Warner Bros. Nickelodeon, Sony and other companies and then convinced those others to lend their characters for the film.
announcements and casting
The movie was one of several announced by Disney during its 2020 investors presentation, though it had been in development for six years or so at that point. In 2019 Schaffer was brought on as the film’s director with Dan Gregor and Doug Mand writing the script.
That December 2020 announcement included the casting of Samberg and Mulaney, though it was later confirmed Tress MacNeille and Corey Burton, who voiced Chip and Dale (respectively) in the original series, would also return.
the marketing campaign
Things kicked off in mid-February with the release of a teaser trailer (3.2m YouTube views) that immediately communicates what kind of story the audience can expect. Presented as an “E! True Hollywood Story” type show, we see Chip and Dale rise in popularity thanks to their show before it all comes crashing down. 30 years later they have to put their differences aside to help their friend, with lots of hijinks along the way. It manages to explain why they two are animated in different styles and show off some of the animated cameos that will provide much of the appeal.
The partners are back-to-back on the poster released at the same time, which promises “It’s not a reboot. It’s a comeback.”
The full trailer (3.6m YouTube views) then came out in late April. It offers more of the same, with a few more cameos, a bit more explanation of the story and so on, but the message to the audience hasn’t changed here.
Similarly the next poster shows the two chipmunks striding toward the camera with an explosion behind them but otherwise is sending the same message as the first one-sheet.
The first TV spot, also used for pre- and post-roll online, is just a cutdown version of that second trailer. Additionalcommercials varied slightly.
A half-dozen character posters came out earlier this month with the same messaging as the other one-sheets, just featuring closer looks at some of the key people and animated characters.
A clip was released a week before the movie debuted that offers an extended look at Dale explaining the CGI surgery he had to revitalize his look for the modern age.
The cast and crew came out for the red carpet premiere in Hollywood earlier this week.
Two more posters were released that poke fun at the kinds of designs frequently featured on the one-sheets for action movies.
You* asked for it, we delivered. Here's even more shiny new ✨MOVIE POSTERS✨
— Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (@RescueRangers) May 19, 2022
Both Samberg and Mulaney filled in for Jimmy Kimmel when he had Covid (again), interviewing each other about this movie and generally goofing around.
Chip and Dale narrate a tongue-in-cheek making-of featurette that has a few more cameos but is basically a way to continue the self-aware nature of the movie. Another video offers a look at some of the voice cast recording their lines alongside the finished footage.
Banner ads like this drove people to the Disney+ site to find out more about how they could watch the film. Audio ads on Spotify in the last week have also promoted the film’s streaming debut.
That out of the way, the largely positive reviews – it currently has a 79% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes – have compared it favorably to Who Framed Roger Rabbit for its self-aware story and ability to bring together a number of different animated franchises.
But the key is likely going to be whether people enjoy the kind of riffing Samberg and Mulaney are known for. That’s a big part of the campaign and will either make people definitely seek it out or avoid it at all cost.
How Focus Features has sold a high society sequel.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is, of course, the sequel to the 2019 film and, like that first movie, continues the story begun over the course of six series.
Once again the focus is on the aristocratic Crawley family, with the action this time set in the late 1920s. The story is split into two parts: In one part of the family travels to the south of France to visit a villa that was recently left to Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) by a man she knew there decades earlier. In the other, a Hollywood film crew has come to Downton to film a movie there. That production is not smooth but proceeds with the help of the home’s residents as well as the help staff.
Most of the main cast returns and once again series creator Julian Fellowes wrote the script with Simon Curtis stepping in to direct the movie. With all that in mind, let’s see how it’s been sold to the public.
announcement and casting
While it had been speculated on and about since 2019 when Julian Fellowes said he and others were already working on ideas for a sequel, it wasn’t until April 2021, when production was already underway, that Focus Features officially announced the movie. The principle cast all confirmed their return in the months before and after that.
Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August of last year a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies. That was also where the studio revealed the movie’s subtitle.
the marketing campaign
A teaser released in November of last year didn’t do much other than to provide a few quick glimpses and announce the mid-March release date.
The full teaser came out shortly after that. It begins with a surprise as the Countess of Grantham announces she now owns a villa in the south of France because of a man she met decades earlier. So the whole crew is off to this new location for more high-society parties and such.
In January, Universal moved the film’s release date from mid-March to mid-May, making it an early summer film event.
The official trailer (7.1m YouTube views) came out in February. It expands nicely on the teaser by showing more of the mystery Lady Grantham offers her family regarding the villa she’s been bequeathed, one that everyone goes off to in an attempt to learn more. That travel is well-timed as a Hollywood film crew has taken over Downton as a location where they’re shooting a movie, leading to lots of moments of film stars bringing their spotlight to the old world sophistication of the landed aristocracy.
“The legacy continues” declares the poster released at the same time. Most all of the main characters are seen here sitting outside Downton, with the klieg lights of a film production hinting at that aspect of the story.
“Downton Abbey: The Official Podcast” launched in mid-May, offering listeners both episode-by-episode recaps of the original series and exclusive content from this new movie.
Early April brought a short recap of the first movie for those who needed to catch up.
Viking Cruises also launched a contest offering the chance to win a trip to the castle that serves as stand-in for Downton Abbey itself.
Another poster was released on National Pet Day in mid-April showing the family dog following the car down the driveway. The split nature of the story is on display on a one-sheet that has half the cast in one location and the other half in another.
You could take an audio tour of the abbey via Amazon Alexa with Mr. Carson as your guide.
AMC Theaters shared an exclusive behind the scenes featurette with the cast and crew talking about making the movie and returning to their characters and more. Meanwhile Marcus Theaters promoted a movie-themed tea event later in May. Landmark Theaters later announced a similar event in conjunction with Republic of Tea.
The first clip came out around that same time showing the film crew arriving at Downton. Carson has an awkward moment while buying a hat in the next clip from early May.
Everyone assembled once again for the U.S. premiere of the movie in mid-May, an event that was followed by the cast appearing together on “The Today Show” and other media appearances to talk about the film
Focus/Universal once again included the movie in their promotions to exhibitors and others at CinemaCon.
The week of release Focus ran Twitter Promoted Trends ads to drive interest and awareness.
An episode of the studio’s food-centric video series was devoted to recipes for some movie-themed cocktails and snacks.
Star Michelle Dockery talked about the movie when she appeared on “The Tonight Show.”
One more trailer came out just days before release. This one covers all the expected story points while positioning the movie as an event that must be experienced on the big screen.
Another featurette focused on the costumes and styles of the characters.
At this point the audience for additional Downton Abbey stories is pretty much baked in and fully formed. It’s hard to imagine there are a lot of people unfamiliar with the franchise who are going to be converted by this campaign. Similarly, there aren’t going to be many who have decided it’s not for them who decide this is the point they’ll give in and check it out.
But it’s hard to fault the marketing team at Focus Features for sticking with what’s worked before in selling this new movie. We see all the old favorite characters interacting with each other and once again navigating the world of the landed gentry in the early 20th century. The tie-ins that promise movie-themed tea times and so on are going to speak to audiences that want to live the upper crust lifestyle of the series they love, if only for an afternoon.
With an 82% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and projections for an opening weekend of about $18 million, what the campaign will really test is whether or not those audiences will turn out for an “event” in theaters that isn’t a sci-fi adventure. That hasn’t been the case recently, but Downton has a devoted base that could make this the exception to that precedent.
Firestarter, out this weekend from Universal Pictures in theaters and on Peacock, is another adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name.
This version stars Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlene “Charlie” McGee, a young girl who one day finds she has developed pyro-telekinesis, able to start fires with the power of thought. That makes her a danger to those around her, including her father Andrew (Zac Efron) and mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). It also makes her a person of interest to a government agency known as “The Shop”, personified by agents and assassins played by John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes and Gloria Reuben.
An earlier adaptation was released in 1984 with David Keith, Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott and others. This time around Universal partnered with Blumhouse Pictures for a version that promises to be just as terrifying as the original movie as well as the book both are based on.
announcement and casting
Universal and Blumhouse, along with Akiva Goldsman, announced their plans for a fresh adaptation of King’s book back in 2017. After a few missteps, Keith Thomas was named director in late 2019, with Scott Teems writing the script.
Efron and Greyeyes were cast over the course of 2020, with Armstrong joining in mid-2021 just as production was getting underway.
the marketing campaign
If you recognize the first poster, released in early February, that’s because it’s virtually identical to the one-sheet for the 1984 film, just with Armstrong instead of Barrymore. As such it’s pretty simple, conveying the basic idea that the story involves a young girl and fire. Copy at the top makes an additional appeal, calling out Blumhouse as the company behind the well-received The Invisible Man. It also makes sure to note the simultaneous theatrical/streaming release date, the copy here amounting to an announcement of those plans.
The trailer (18.8m YouTube views) opens by showing Charlie beginning to lose control of her powers in the middle of class, causing the temperature to rise, water to steam and metal to become hot to the touch. Her dad wants her to learn to keep those emotions buried deep down, but that’s impossible and an outburst gets the government’s attention. Now on the run, Andrew tries to teach Charlie how to harness her abilities, but the more control she gains the more she gives into the righteous feeling she gets when hurting others, especially those chasing them.
Around that same time, Universal announced horror legend John Carpenter, along with others, had composed the film’s score.
A TV commercial-like video (likely used as pre-roll on YouTube and probably on Peacock as well) came out in mid-April, about a month out from release. It boils (sorry) the trailer down to a few key dramatic moments to show the audience what they can expect. More spots like this continued to come out over the next few weeks.
Just a couple weeks ago Universal promoted the movie to exhibitors at CinemaCon, leading to an awkward moment on stage.
Over the last week or so there have been pre-roll ads placed in front of YouTube videos as well as online banner ads like the one here that lead clickers to the page where they can find out more about where and how to watch the movie.
Efron promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” recently.
The marketing here is…fine. It communicates what it needs to and includes multiple nods to the first film, which is a legitimate choice to be made versus trying to carve out and create a brand new identity for this new adaptation.
What I can’t quite grok, and which the campaign largely ignores, is that Zac Efron is now playing dad roles. That seems like a cultural turning point we should have collectively marked, or at least been made more aware of as it happened.
Two comics creators offer more of what super hero movies need
It’s been a rough few weeks for comic book lovers with the passing first of Neal Adams and then, just this past weekend, of George Perez. Both were artists whose work for both DC and Marvel Comics ranks among the best the comics industry has offered in the last 50 years and came to define how those characters were seen by the public.
Which makes it surprising that those interpretations have been so lacking in the shows, series and films featuring those characters.
Consider these covers below, some of the most iconic from the two artists.
Warner Bros. keeps thinking Batman needs to be darker and darker, more traumatized and more isolated from the world at large. But the Batman story told by Adams (and of course writer Dennis O’Neill) in many of their comics weren’t grim and bereft of hope or connection. They were big, bold super hero stories that had the Caped Crusader going up against a gleefully pranksterish Joker, getting into sword fights with R’as al Ghul and so on. Batman operated in public and was a hero.
Similar problems plague other heroes, notably Superman and Wonder Woman. On film recently both characters have become known more for wringing their hands over the moral implications of using their powers than actually using their powers. Filmmakers keep wanting to “reinvent” them for modern audiences, which means loading them down with all kinds of constraints, making them feel bad every time they do anything and spending more time debating among themselves than being heroic.
Contrast that with the kinds of stories Adams, Perez and their contemporaries were telling, stories that had them punching aliens threatening the Earth, fighting against mech-suited human villains and more, all while fully embracing their powers. These were bright, colorful comics featuring some of the greatest art in the industry’s history.
But on screen, we keep getting desaturated colors, blotchy digital lighting and 20 minute interludes featuring messianic symbolism.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The push to make Batman increasingly damaged and serious is an extension of DC’s attempt to reclaim the character from the camp portrayal seen in the “Batman” TV series of the 1960s. That makes some sense, but the over-correction since The Dark Knight Returns now makes Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman seem bright and optimistic compared to Zack Snyder’s Batman, who was ready to unquestioningly destroy Superman because of the potential threat he posed. And someone seems to have decided that making Superman and Wonder Woman – a nearly all-powerful alien and Amazon demigod, respectively – more human was the key to making them popular with modern audiences.
Interestingly, while WB’s heroes continue to largely operate in the shadows and fall victim to all-too-human conditions, Marvel’s big screen heroes are more of the big, public pantheon of god-like beings DC’s comic characters have historically been presented as on the page.
Part of this may be a desire to set the DC films apart from Marvel’s stylistically. But it’s gone too far, and the celebrations of the work for Adams and Perez should be a call to WB to go in a new direction.
Make a super hero movie where the characters are proud of their powers and use them to help the less fortunate.
Have Batman fight a Joker who’s not a deranged incel terrorist but one who unleashes a bunch of mutated fish on Gotham City because he’s an insane clown.
Have Wonder Woman fight Giganta as she rampages through the city, inspiring little girls and using a consistent and non-confusing set of powers.
Have Superman go into space to fight a mech-suited Lex Luthor in Mongul’s battle arena, breaking kryptonite chains and embracing his assumed role as humanity’s protector.
In short: Make movies like the comics everyone remembers as among the best ever produced.
How Marvel Studios has sold a supernatural trip into alternate realities.
It’s been about six years since the concept of a multiverse was introduced in super hero mass media, meaning outside of the source comics. That introduction came in a 2016 episode of “Supergirl” that featured Barry Allen from “The Flash” accidentally vibrating from his universe into hers.
But in the Marvel Cinematic Universe the idea was introduced just last year in Spider-Man: No Way Home and is now being expanded upon in this week’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
A sequel to the first Doctor Strange movie in 2016 (though the idea of a sequel is kind of outdated since the character has appeared in major roles in four subsequent MCU releases), Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Dr. Stephen Strange, the now-former Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. After the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the multiverse is now cracking and becoming a danger to our reality. To help him fight back – and fix the mistake he made by opening the door to alternate universes to begin with – Strange will need the help of Wong (Benedict Wong) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) as well as new ally America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez).
Rachel McAdams also returns as Christine Palmer, who will perhaps have something tangible to do in this movie, along with Chiwetel Ejiofor as mentor-turned-rival Karl Mordo. And there are some surprise (or not so surprise) appearances as well.
So with all that as prelude, let’s take a look at how the movie has been sold.
announcements and casting
Marvel Studios’ presentation at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 served as the platform to announce a release date as well as the movie’s full title. As the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the country, though, that release date was pushed back a few times.
The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May 2021. That came after significant discussion and speculation of how the hit “WandaVision” series on Disney+ may be impacting this movie.
In early 2020 the news came that Scott Derrickson, who directed the first movie and was announced as the helmer of the sequel, was stepping down from that role but would stay on as a producer. A short while later reports came that Sam Raimi was in discussions to take over, reports that were confirmed in April of 2020. And Marvel imported a new writer from its “Loki” series on Disney+ to take over script work.
Raimi’s role as director was confirmed at Disney’s investors presentation in December of last year, as was the fact that the film would feature America Chavez and that McAdams would return to her thankless role from the first movie.
An interview with Raimi from October 2021 had the director admitting he was hesitant to come back to the Marvel world.
Reshoots/additional filming that started in mid-November raised some eyebrows but didn’t seem like a major deviation from the norm for MCU productions.
the marketing campaign
The formal marketing of the movie finally got underway in late December, mostly because it needed to wait for Spider-Man: No Way Home to be released since that film leads directly into this one.
Along those lines, Wong’s warnings for Strange to not cast the spell open the first teaser trailer (40.2m YouTube views) after first being seen in the Spider-Man trailers. After some trippy visuals of cities forming at odd angles we see Strange seek out the help of Wanda, who’s chilling after the events of “WandaVision”. From there we’re shown that Mordo and others are going to confront Strange about his breaking of reality and more.
The way Strange and Wanda’s faces are interchanged on the poster released at the same time continues to show her importance to the story and the fact that we’re dealing with shards or remnants of different versions of these characters.
Raimi commented on the state of filming, including those reports of reshoots, in a brief interview a bit later.
In early January 2022, Marvel announced a new Doctor Strange series it billed as being a good entry point for those who aren’t already fully-immersed in the character’s history and backstory.
The first full trailer (50.3m YouTube views), released in mid-February, opens with Strange still haunted by the fallout from cracking open the barriers between universes. While he enlists Wanda’s help to put things back in order, Mordo brings him before a group of people to answer for his actions.
There’s a lot that’s teased in that trailer, including:
Patrick Stewart’s voice hints at him appearing as Charles Xavier for the first time in the MCU proper
And the tribunal Strange is brought to is most likely The Illuminati, of which Xavier is a member
Wanda’s line about Strange being a hero after breaking reality while she’s been shunned is [fire emoji]
There are clearly multiple versions of many of the same characters on display here, including Strange, Wanda and others
America Chavez, ladies and gentlemen
Various characters and settings appear in the shards of reality surrounding Strange on the next poster, released at the same time as the trailer. Notable that for as much as Raimi is highlighted in that trailer, his name doesn’t appear here.
Cumberbatch was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in late February, with Feige introducing him and commenting on how Strange is now, with Tony Stark no longer available, the core character of the MCU.
Empire Magazine had two movie-themed covers for an issue that included interviews and photos.
The first TV spot came out in early April and hits many of the same beats as the trailers, focusing on Strange convincing Wanda to help him fix the multiverse and the problems they’re all going to face in trying to do so.
Dolby Cinema’s exclusive poster has Strange looking out the shattered remains of the window of his home, an image that follows the earlier poster that has the same window breaking around him as a metaphor for the various realities that have splintered. RealD 3D’s poster has the main characters all spinning out of themselves, reinforcing there are multiple versions of each that will play into the story. A different take on the same idea is used on the Screen X poster, which also makes Wanda’s role appear much more significant, as well as on the IMAX one-sheet.
For the official theatrical poster, many of those ideas are brought together, with Strange in the background (a position that seems more like how villains are usually placed on these posters, which is interesting), Wanda up front and the rest of the characters placed around them.
An extended TV spot came out in early April when tickets went on sale that also expands on some of the themes we’ve seen previously. Especially prevalent here is how much more Wanda’s journey seems to parallel Strange’s as we see some of her alternate realities, including one where she has her two children.
At this point, in what has become an unfortunately common occurrence, comics writer Joe Casey, who created the character America Chavez for Marvel Comics in 2011, spoke out about the “pittance” he was offered by the company for her use in other media. Casey rightfully notes that while Marvel owns the character outright, it’s become standard for the freelance writers and artists to receive little more than a hearty handshake and tickets to the premiere when the movies and shows those characters appear in make hundreds of millions of dollars. The point, he said, was not even for him to get a big check from Marvel but to affect change in the industry as a whole so those who come along later can benefit more substantially from the success of their creations.
Back to the campaign, another TV spot emphasizes how the movie is meant to be seen on the big screen, which is why it’s coming exclusively to theaters. It’s somewhat of an odd message considering Disney has sent a number of movies, either from Marvel or Pixar, straight (or very quickly) to Disney+ streaming recently. So it’s almost reinforcing the notion that streaming is a second-class distribution platform that degrades the “event” nature of content.
Character posters for Strange, Mordo and Christine Palmer came out next, followed by the first featurette that has Cumberbatch, Olsen, Wong and Raimi talking about the dark, dangerous nature of the story.
Another beat that has become common recently came next when the movie was banned in Saudi Arabia for mentions of America Chavez being gay.
The next featurette from later in April focuses on Raimi’s involvement, from how he got the gig in the first place to the unique vision he brought to the production and story.
The Illuminati will see you now
That it’s The Illuminati sitting in judgment of Doctor Strange was confirmed in a TV spot that marked 10 days before the movie’s release.
Disney used its CinemaCon 2022 presentation in late April to tease this movie, among others, and affirm its commitment to theatrical releases. Part of that presentation included the news that the first trailer for the much-anticipated Avatar 2 would play in front of this movie in theaters.
The Illuminati are teased once again in another TV spot that also features what seems to be an appearance by Captain Carter, an alternate universe Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell in previous movies) who was given the Super Soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers that first appeared in the “What If…?” Disney+ series last August.
It’s the same themes explored on the final poster that we’ve seen before, just with a slightly different spin.
Cumberbatch, Olsen and Raimi appeared at the Berlin stop of the movie’s global press tour. They were joined by Wong in London.
Another featurette that came out in late April focuses on Wanda and how this movie is a continuation of her story from “WandaVision” along with offering multiple versions of the character.
An interview with Raimi had him talking more about how he approached his return to the world of super hero movies, what regrets he has over how the last sojourn ended and more. Unfortunately much of the attention paid to the interview focused on scrapped plans for a fourth Spider-Man installment instead of on the film he’s currently promoting.
Marvel held the movie’s red carpet world premiere this past Monday with the cast and crew along with others involved in other aspects of the MCU in attendance.
The Contest of Champions mobile game announced the addition of Wong and Rintrah, a character glimpsed in the trailers, as champions in a coming movie-themed event.
Cumberbatch appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about this movie and more.
Let’s go back to Feige’s comments in February about Doctor Strange now being the “anchor” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That makes a lot of sense considering the supernatural direction Marvel Studios has been going in over the last couple years since Avengers: Endgame concluded the first phase of the series. “WandaVision” is a big part of that shift, as is the just-finished “Moon Knight” series along with the introduction of Black Knight and Blade at the end of The Eternals.
That aside, the campaign here is an interesting mix of picking up where “WandaVision” left off and exploring the many opportunities available by embracing the multiverse. We see the latter in how the second half of the marketing, especially in the TV spots, gave more screen time to the alternate versions of Strange and Wanda while also spending a lot of energy setting up The Illuminati and teasing Captain Carter and other new characters.
Tracking projections estimate a $175m opening weekend for the film, which has an 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The tracking in particular represents not the power as much as the size of this marketing push, which has been pervasive. When the campaign works, though, it’s pretty strong, especially in how it seeks to put Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff at the center of the story as much as Strange is.
How Focus Features has sold a movie of Viking revenge.
Director Robert Eggers takes a break from filming Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in a lighthouse to bring us The Northman. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a man who since being found after escaping the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) was raised by Vikings as a berserker. Discovering terrible secrets about his mother (Nicole Kidman) and with the help of Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth sets out to exact bloody Nordic revenge against those who assassinated his father and reclaim the kingdom that should have been his.
Dafoe, Björk and others costar as the sorcerers, seers, warlords and others Amleth – widely regarded as the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – encounters on his quest.
So with a story steeped deeply in Norse mythology and folk tales, a director known for making some of the most visually-interesting movies in recent history and a whole bunch of Serious Actors, let’s take a look at how this has been sold to the public that will completely ignore it at the box office.
announcements and casting
The movie was announced in 2020, including most of the main cast. It wasn’t until May of 2021 that Lionsgate added an official release date.
Kidman commented on the weird process of filming the movie while also praising Eggers in an interview from January 2021.
Ineson talked about shooting the film and how he responded to some of the first footage in this interview from later that year. An interview in June with Dafoe had him talking about the larger scale of this film when compared to his previous work with Eggers, saying while it was a bigger story it still wouldn’t lack for detail or nuance.
Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August 2021 a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.
the marketing campaign
“Conquer your fate” declares the first poster, released in December of last year. Amleth stands atop a cliff looking out over the sea and the handful of ships sailing there. It very much establishes the visual tone of the movie and the campaign, offering the audience a fiery and violent experience in theaters.
The first trailer (21.3m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with a young Amleth enjoying the love and company of his parents before his father is brutally murdered, Amleth barely escaping the same fate. Cut to an older Amleth, making his way through the world as he looks for those responsible. When he meets Olga he finds someone with her own agenda as well as abilities that could help him, leading to lots of bloodshed and violence.
In February Skarsgård was interviewed by Kirsten Dunst about his role and what it’s like being part of a big family of actors. There was also a conversation with Eggers about creating the costumes and other design elements of the film as well as the physical transformation Skarsgård underwent for the role. Taylor-Joy spoke about filming in the Irish wilderness and how much she enjoyed getting out in nature for an extended period of time.
More here from Skarsgård about filming such a violent story as well as how he got in Viking-appropriate shape.
TV spots like this began airing in late March focusing on the revenge story and Viking violence, keeping some of Eggers’ more esoteric visual stylings kind of hidden behind quick cuts and heavy music.
The second poster came out shortly after that, this one using the same tagline but now featuring the whole main cast.
A profile of Eggers covered what inspired this story and how the director set out to make an epic that was also an ambitious visual film while being historically accurate. How the movie finally moved into production was also covered in a later profile of Skarsgård that included how he collaborated with Eggers both before filming and during production.
The cast and crew assembled for a special screening of the movie in Rome at the beginning of April. They also appeared for an event in London, which led to first reactions from critics that were overwhelmingly positive.
Eggers and others from in front of and behind the camera contributed to a featurette about the technical aspects of making the movie. Similar ground was covered later on in an exclusive featurette from AMC Artisan Films.
At this point Focus Features announced a movie-themed RPG tie-in with Fortnight featuring locations and costumes from the film.
An exclusive Nerdistclip shows an extended look at the killing of King Aurvandill that sets Amleth on his quest for vengeance.
How this movie fits into his daily life as well as career to date, along with other topics, were covered in another profile of Skarsgård.
Last week Skarsgård made a promotional appearance at NASCAR’s Geico 500 in Talladega. He also talked about the movie in an appearance on “Today” and later on when stopped by “The Late Show.”
All that came just before the film’s Los Angeles black carpet premiere that included a Q&A with the cast and crew. That generated plenty of comments from everyone about the process of making the movie, working with Eggers and more. The director also talked about filming a nude Skarsgård, making the production work despite the location and Covid restrictions and more. Another profile of him included him sharing how he convinced Björk to take on a role in the film.
A short red-band trailer was released right after that, just days ago, that doesn’t break much new ground in terms of the story but does feature even more visceral action.
How Skarsgård got in shape for the role was covered here.
With an impressive 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and some incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated in the last two weeks, tracking projects an opening weekend of $10-15 million, which would be great for a movie of this type.
But really, what matters is that this campaign has been a brutal, bloody good time and that Skarsgård’s glistening abs seem to be the main draw for a substantial portion of the audience. So it’s effectively sold itself to the groups interested in those things, which means this has been a success.
Rounding up a few stories from the last few days that have gotten my attention.
Compiled while thinking about how we’re in like the 17th news cycle of the “Elon Musk might buy Twitter with money he doesn’t have for purposes that are unclear and with a mindset that seems pulled straight from 2003” story.
The Streaming Wars Enter The “We Do Not Have Troops in Cambodia” Phase
The first interesting bit of data to hit on this front was a Nielsen survey reporting how nearly half of all streaming customers are overwhelmed by the amount of content on the services they subscribe to. While it also states those customers aren’t planning to scale back on those services, many also want some sort of bundling that would make it easier for them to choose what they have access to, something Disney already does with Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.
It’s another reminder that the theory of infinite growth that powers investor expectations just isn’t realistic, especially in what’s now a mature market where people are making choices based on content and UX as opposed to significant product innovation. And Netflix keeps canceling popular/well-reviewed series and reducing the rest of its catalog even while raising prices, actively honking off the audience.
Plus, Netflix now finds itself in the position of the one streamer not aligned with a legacy media company/production studio. It used to benefit from that independence, but now it’s regularly shedding popular catalog titles as studios launch their own platforms.
Post-Lockdown Theatrical Audiences Are Extremely Picky
It’s not necessarily that Netflix (and streaming in general) killed action movies, romantic comedies or any other genre’s chances for theatrical box office success.
It’s more that audiences these days, with all the choices available to them, can only focus on one movie in theaters at a time.
Many weekends this year have seen the #1 movie at the domestic box-office gross twice or more what the #2 movie brought in.
So you can guess which movie will win the weekend based on the volume of press coverage more than anything.
Also, while it’s seemingly positive that the average movie ticket price hasn’t increased since 2019, inflation means people are having to weigh whether that $9.17 isn’t better spent on increasingly expensive gasoline, food and other necessities as opposed to luxuries like a movie at the theater.
People have lost jobs and seen their incomes fall in real dollars, not just the value of those dollars, over the last two years, so that’s of course going to impact how they decide to spend their money.
And even with price hikes, that $9.17 goes further and offers more options – many of which are totally “good enough” – when applied to a Netflix or other streaming subscription, though it’s still more than what customers think is a reasonable price for such subscriptions.
You Want to Prioritize Superman, You Say?
This is at least the third “Warner Bros. wants to reorganize DC Entertainment and find a Feige-like film head” story I’ve read in the last 10 years but I’m sure this time something will actually happen that won’t be undone in six months by a new studio head and/or how one movie underperforms compared to expectations.
There are a number of great things about the trailer for the new season of “Kids in the Hall” coming to Amazon Prime Video May 13th. Lots of familiar characters are seen, with new twists that bring them up to date for 2022.
The best thing, though, may be that it uses Don Roritor (Mark McKinney) and his corporate toady Marv (Dave Foley) from the hilarious 1996 comedy Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy as the framing device through which to discuss the Kids’ return to sketch comedy and highlight what’s new.
If you’re not familiar with Brain Candy, you’re likely not alone. It grossed a paltry $2.6 million at the U.S. box office and was not well-received by critics at the time. In part that’s the result of a production marred by the fact the troupe was already well into its dissolution at the time and wasn’t on the same page creatively.
Despite that, Brain Candy serves as a worthy cap on Kids in the Hall’s run and has not only some very funny bits but also a pretty good science fiction story with, as we’ll see here, a number of important lessons for you to apply to your everyday business and personal lives.
For when you know what your product is and won’t have anyone weighing in with their useless opinions.
This is a drug… for the world… to give worms to ex-girlfriends.
For when the latte with 12 customizations you ordered at Starbucks turns out just perfectly, giving you exactly the emotional boost you were hoping for.
This urine is great!
For when you refuse to be criticized by those who are clearly your intellectual inferiors.
It was only a couple of flipper-babies!
For when you just can’t muster up the emotional energy for small talk.
So I hear dad’s dead. Hey, is that egg nog?
For when other people just aren’t doing their jobs and you make it clear things need to happen or there will be consequences.
Are we ever going to get the big table in here or do I have cut down the F*#*ING tree myself?
How Warner Bros. is selling the latest outpost in The Wizarding World.
The gold standard when it comes to stretching out an IP into as many films as possible was, for a short time, held by The Hobbit trilogy, which managed to create three movies from, with assistance from various appendices and secondary material, a scant 310 pages of fiction.
Now, though, you have to bow down and pay respect to Warner Bros. for taking a 128-page guide book – not even a novel – and turning it into an entire series of films that have kept the Wizarding World originally seen in the Harry Potter films on the big screen.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore hits theaters this weekend. It’s the third in the Fantastic Beasts series, with WB still apparently on track to produce two more in the future. Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt Scamander, a wizard specializing in the care and protection of all sorts of magical creatures. In the other corner, wearing the black trunks, is Johnny Depp Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald, an evil wizard planning an nasty scheme. He hired a temp by the name of Mike…
…wait…that’s something else.
Grindelwald’s objectives aren’t super clear, though, other than taking over the Tri-State Area the world. With a story set in the early 1930s and set in Austria/Germany, you can put some of the pieces together.
Jude Law returns as Albus Dumbledore, future Hogwarts headmaster but at this point still a teacher at the wizarding school. Jessica Williams, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol and others are also back, with new additions joining as well.
The marketing campaign has, just as with the previoustwo installments, become a lightning rod for all sorts of issues and controversies, none of which has helped the movies become more attractive to audiences.
announcement and casting
The movie had technically been announced since 2014, which is when Warner Bros. said they would be creating a trilogy – if not more – of films based on the book. But most of the returning cast reiterated they would be coming back in March 2020.
While various stories about the movie and its production were in circulation prior to that, early November 2020 brought two big updates.
First, Warner Bros. took the move some had been calling for since the first movie, finally cutting ties with Depp. The decision came in the wake of a U.K. legal ruling that gave the studio the air cover to finally let go of an actor whose reputation has become far less ideal in recent years. In the wake of that news, reports circulated that Mads Mikkelsen was being considered for Depp’s role. Those reports were confirmed later in November.
Second, because of pandemic-delayed production as well as a release schedule that was dramatically different because of theater closures, the movie’s release was pushed back several months from late 2021 to the summer of 2022. It was later shifted again to a few months earlier in 2022.
Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021, around the same time the studio revealed the film’s official title.
the marketing campaign phase one: just the tip of the wand
At that point (specifically early December of last year) the marketing campaign for this movie finally kicked off with a video that celebrates the whole 20 year history of the Wizarding World, whether it’s in the form of books, movies, theme parks or anything else. It ends with a tease of the first trailer.
That trailer (18.5m YouTube views) opens with Newt coming to meet up with Dumbledore as they prepare to take the fight to Grindelwald, who is continuing his campaign of hate and terror. With a ragtag group of friends helping him, Newt has to figure out what the bad guys are up to next and stop them.
As noted here, the name of J.K. Rowling, who wrote Fantastic Beasts along with all the Harry Potter books, is nearly entirely absent from the trailer, an indication of how far the author’s public stock has fallen over the last few years. That’s largely because of her continued position against trans individuals, one she has shared time and again and in various ways.
Anyway, the first poster that came out a week or so later invites audiences to “Return to the magic” while showing a fiery phoenix flying over the water toward Hogwarts. This is a pretty generic image, not one that seems specific to this movie, but it’s an awareness and branding play more than anything.
Things went relatively quiet for a few months at the beginning of 2022, with the overall brand kept active by the release of the HBO Max special on the first movie’s 20th anniversary, a few other updates about various Wizarding World activities and so on.
the marketing campaign phase one: going whole hogwarts
Activity ramped back up with the release of a few batches of character posters in late February, an attempt to help introduce some of the new characters taking various stances in the story. One set focuses on allies of Dumbledore’s fight against evil, one on those who are fighting with Grindelwald and one with some of the wizards who are part of a dark “new power” said to be rising at the time of this film’s events.
A new theatrical poster came out at the end of February that has most of the major characters in various battle-ready poses, Hogwarts seen in the background along with another image of a phoenix in the middle of it all.
The second trailer (16m YouTube views) came out at the same time. Once again the battle is presented as being a half-dozen good guys fighting Grindelwald’s army and their quest to rid the world of muggles. As things go on there are a handful of mentions of secrets about to be exposed, past actions that are coming back to haunt people and so on, all in keeping with the film’s title.
The first featurette came out in mid-March and offers a brief explanation of the story from the cast, including what kind of challenges the good guys will face. It continues the presentation of the heroes in the story being Dumbledore’s “First Army,” a reference to the name Harry, Hermoine, Ron and the others would given themselves decades in this universe’s future.
How steep the odds are stacked against the heroes is the theme of the first TV spot, which also came out around that time. It pulls footage from the second trailer and doesn’t add much, just positioning it as a fight that will be difficult to win.
An IMAX poster features a design that’s just a slight variation on what was used for the one-sheet back in December. IMAX later announced some early screenings fans could buy tickets for if they wanted to be the first ones to see the movie. The Dolby Cinemas poster has Newt engaging in a wand duel with one of the dark wizards.
A second featurette uses Hogwarts and some of its locations as the framing device for further discussion of the story and where some of the characters are when this film begins. Another finally turns the attention to some of the creatures that factor into that fight.
The same “Dumbledore’s First Army” line is used in another TV commercial that’s a little more action-packed than the first one.
MovieClips got its own exclusive featurette that delves into some of the secrets Dumbledore is keeping and why he is doing so as well as how that impacts his ability to recruit allies and such.
The world premiere was held in London at the end of March with much of the cast and crew – including Rowling in one of her only appearances in the campaign – in attendance. Later on Mikkelsen appeared on his own at the Denmark premiere. Events were also held in Brazil and Italy.
Movie-themed sticker packs were released for various messaging and GIF archive platforms. A bit later on Regal Cinemas introduced a Room of Requirement AR app.
Members of the technical crew were part of a Dolby-exclusive featurette that had them talking about the visuals, sound design and other aspects of making a movie like this.
Williams talked about her franchise fandom in a profile that also touched on issues of self-care, health industry inequality and more that are unique to women of color and not usually covered in pieces like this when they appear in other publications. She’s also the focus of another featurette that’s just about the professor she plays, a role that’s much expanded from a brief moment in the second film.
A similar character-specific featurette came out later on about Grindelwald.
Around this time another issue popped up, namely some bad behavior by Ezra Miller that prompted studio execs to have a panicked meeting about the actor’s future given his involvement in both this and the DCEU franchises.
More positively, both Williams and Redmayne appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about their roles in the movie. Around that same time Redmayne and others popped into the New York City fan screening to surprise attendees.
Flashback to a fantastic night at our NYC Fan Screening. ✨
A final trailer (2.3m YouTube views) only came out earlier this week. There’s a bit of new footage and some additional story context offered, but for the most part it’s a reminder of some of the main points seen in earlier spots, one more reminder of an epic story awaiting audiences in theaters.
At the very end, controversy came up one more time when it was reported WB cut six seconds or so of dialogue alluding to Dumbledore’s gay love life in order to meet the needs of Chinese censors. That caused people to slam the studio for a willingness to bend the knee in that way and over the realization gay representation in a major release like this only amounts to a scant six seconds.
Tracking projections are estimating an opening weekend of $40-55m, which is good but not great, especially for what should be a sure-fire IP like this. And it would continue the downward trend, which each new installment coming in 15% or so below the previous film.
The movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score is a dismal 57%, in part because critics are calling it overstuffed with a story that’s paper thin and nonsensical.
Perhaps that’s because the Wizarding World has overstayed its theatrical welcome, even if it might still have potential as a theme park attraction. That may have a lot to do with Rowling’s continued anti-trans opinions, which have soured people on the whole thing.
Perhaps that’s because audiences aren’t all that interested in what kind of secrets Dumbledore has had to keep, already aware he keeps things close to the vest.
Perhaps that’s because the campaign doesn’t feature any actual Fantastic Beasts, at least not at any greater scale than any other movie about wizards and goblins.
How Universal sold the latest experiment with Bayhem
[ed. note: yep, this came out last week, the schedule just didn’t pan out as planned]
The logline for Ambulance, which hit theaters last week, really doesn’t matter as it essentially boils down to the fact it was directed by the one and only Michael Bay. But for the sake of completeness, let’s fill in the rest of what the movie’s about.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Will Sharp, a military veteran desperate to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for his wife’s surgery. Out of legitimate options, Will reaches out to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enlists Will in a bank robbery he’s planning that could net them $32 million. But the robbery, of course, goes sideways and the two find themselves on the run in a stolen ambulance with an EMT (played by Eiza González) still on board while pursued by both the FBI and LAPD.
So with the thinnest of premises in place and a director known less for his storytelling skills than his ability to keep the action going at all costs (including to common sense), let’s see how this was sold in advance of last week’s release.
announcement and casting
News of the movie’s production, along with the lead, broke in late 2020 with Bay directing. But that was only after he had passed on the film a few years earlier. Now, though, he eyed it as a good project to get him out after a bit of Covid-relaterd quarantine.
Gyllenhaal and Eiza González were cast in late 2020, Abdul-Mateen II joined a short while later, replacing Dylan O’Brien, who had previously been selected to play the more legitimate of the two brothers.
A couple months later its release was delayed by Universal to February, 2022.
the marketing campaign
The first trailer (22.5m YouTube views) was released in late October of last year, opening with Will explaining to Danny he needs money for his wife’s surgery. Danny takes that as an opening to get Will’s help with a bank robbery offering an even bigger payday. That heist goes south quickly, leading the two of them to go on the run to avoid the police, taking a cop wounded in the shootout hostage in the ambulance they’re escaping in.
A poster showing an ambulance’s rear doors with two massive bullet holes in it came out at the same time, the image making it clear the title is very literal and not a metaphor as well as conveying the kind of action and danger the story will contain.
The next poster came out in February and this time shows the three main characters, their huge heads arranged above the ambulance they spend so much time in, which is being pursued by various elements of law enforcement.
That was followed by the first TV commercial, which focuses on the drama between the two brothers and interestingly *not* the chaos that results from their impromptu chase across the city of Los Angeles.
A handful of new images from the movie were included in an interview with Bay about how he choreographs the massive action sequences he’s best known for. Right after that a profile of Gyllenhaal came out that had him talking about the experience of shooting a Michael Bay movie along with comments from Abdul-Mateen II about how the actor would occasionally seize the camera and start filming things himself as well as how Gyllenhaal made sure everyone on set was doing alright.
A series of character posters was released in early March that makes sure to highlight the L.A. location as a character in and of itself.
An IMAX-exclusive poster offers a variation on some of the earlier design themes.
Bay’s creativity and how that influences the process of shooting those big explosions and other sequences were covered in a featurette that included comments from many of the coordinators, drone pilots and others responsible for actually pulling those shots off.
The director along with the primary cast were in attendance at a red carpet premiere in Paris later in March. That was followed by similar events in Berlin, London and elsewhere, each accompanied by a round of interviews and other press activity.
An interview with Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal focused on how they bonded on set, a theme that kept coming up at this point of the campaign. That just reinforced how great Gyllenhaal is in junket settings when bantering with his costars, something he’s demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.
MovieClips debuted an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about Bay’s skill as a filmmaker as well as the details of the story and the emotional stakes the characters have in the movie. Similar ground was covered in a Dolby Cinemas featurette.
Another trailer (10.5m YouTube views) came out toward the end of March that skips some of the emotional setup for Will in favor of cutting straight to the action. We see lots of the moments between Will and Danny as they navigate the situation they’ve found themselves in, all while Cam is stuck along for the ride caring for a patient in the back of the ambulance. There are some interesting moments, but the primary message is that there’s lots of gunplay and other violence, all set to the sound of grown men shouting at each other.
Additional TV spots like this were released that cut down the trailer footage in various ways to help sell the different aspects of the movie.
A movie-themed version of “Grand Theft Auto” gameplay was streamed on Twitch.
Just last week the stars and others came out for the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles. Once again the theme of the conversations with the stars was working with Bay and how they adapted to his unique energy on set and similar topics.
Just as she’d done in previous interviews – and a featurette – Gonzalez talked about how she hopes her role and performance as an EMT in some way honors the kind of work first responders do every day.
How he worked to cut through the chaos to focus on character was the subject of an interview with Abdul-Mateen II. A joint interview with him and Gyllenhaal was again about working with Bay and being pushed by the director to break out of what they may have expected.
USA Network aired a short exclusive featurette/commercial that mixed comments from the cast with high-octane footage. There was also a solo featurette with Abdul-Mateen II where he expanded on his character.
Gyllenhaal hosted “Saturday Night Live” just as the movie was opening. That came after her and Abdul-Mateen II appeared together on “Kimmel” to promote the film while Gonzalez showed up there on her own.
Tracking estimates prior to opening had projected $10m for the weekend but it failed to clear even that bar, leading to lots of hand-wringing over the future of original action movies at the box-office and so on. But the lukewarm critical reception, as represented by the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, likely led many people to choosing the family film in theaters over the action-oriented one.
What jumps out most from the campaign is how so much of it is devoted to everyone praising Michael Bay as if he’s some sort of impassioned but relegated artist. He has a reputation as being somewhat difficult, sure, but this feels like a kind of effort to trigger a Baynaissance of sorts, which is odd considering he’s been one of the most reliable box-office performers of the last…30 years? And as much as everyone can talk about his craft, this is still what Bay is best known for, which is why all those flipping cars and such are stil so central to this movie’s marketing.