The Winners and Losers in the Last 10 Years of Movie Marketing at San Diego Comic-Con (Part 1)

Later this week the entertainment press and countless fans will descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for this year’s installment of San Diego Comic-Con. The convention, which runs four days, is massive, taking up the entirety of the center with other stunts spilling out into the surrounding area.

This is the 48th year of the geek gathering and it’s long been a favorite target for movie studios looking to sell their upcoming movies to an audience with the potential to turn into a rabid fanbase. It’s not just science-fiction and fantasy movies that have been pitched here, though. Spy stories like Salt, comedies like Superbad and others have also been brought here in an attempt to get people talking and hopefully create a few movie ticket buyers.

Still, genre movies are the bread and butter of the event as they line up clearly with the interests of attendees who are more than happy to drop $250 on that ¼ scale resin bust of Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. So we’re going to look back over the last 10 years at just a small snapshot of the movies that have had a significant presence at SDCC to see how they’ve fared. Here’s 2007 through 2011.

2007 – The Winner

iron man pic

Today the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the model every studio is trying replicate. The Mummy tried to establish a “shared universe” with its marketing, as did King Arthur and many other movies over the last few years. But in 2007 we were introduced to Robert Downey Jr. in advance of the first Iron Man movie, which went on to box office success and set the stage for the next 10 years (and more) of movies featuring Marvel’s cast of characters.

2007 – The Disappointment

Speed Racer should have been a hit. It was the first movie from the Wachowskis following their massive Matrix trilogy and, as an adaptation of a beloved cartoon, was pretty well positioned to do well with this crowd. While the initial buzz was pretty good, though, it never connected with a mass audience. The movie still has ardent fans and is occasionally rediscovered and given new appreciation, but it’s not a household name.

2008 – The Winner

twilight pic

Many people like me were skeptical the Twilight franchise could become a box office hit. Surely the success of the books was a fluke, right? Nope. The cast and crew of the first movie stopped by SDCC in 2008, a few months before the movie opened, and went on to become a hit. An important reminder here that it’s not just “fanboys” here, or at any other geek gathering, but a diverse audience that wants lots of stories, not just super-violent superheroes.

2008 – The Disappointment

Does The Watchmen count here if it ultimately made over $100m domestically? How about Keanu Reeves’ overly-heavy and boring The Day The Earth Stood Still remake? Or The Spirit, which confused and turned off audiences with its odd visual style? Honestly, these are just a few of the movies that tried to enlist the San Diego crowd but failed to launch. Rough year.

2009 – The Winner

avatar pic

Clearly, Avatar is the big boy in this crowd. Director James Cameron came out and showed off the movie’s incredible visuals, which connected on every level with those in attendance. Not just that, but those who got a first look went back home and turned everyone else they knew onto the movie, turning it into one of the biggest box-office success of all time.

2009 – The Disappointment

Disney pulled out all the stops to sell TRON: Legacy, a sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic, including real-life deployments of Flynn’s Arcade at various events and an appearance at Comic-Con. It’s odd to call this a disappointment because it scored over $170m in ticket sales, but the overall reception to the movie was very mixed. The lack of a follow-up in the last eight years shows it wasn’t enough for someone to keep things going.

2010 – The Winner

the-avengers-2012

The first solo outings for both Captain America or Thor weren’t even out when Marvel went about as big as any studio had gone before or has gone since, bringing out the entire cast of The Avengers, which wouldn’t come out for two more years. Director Joss Whedon appeared on stage as well, as the audience was really introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time.

2010 – The Disappointment

Again, which one to pick? Scott Pilgrim Vs The World should have been the biggest movie of the decade based on buzz out of both SDCC and SXSW but didn’t catch on with audiences. Geek God Harrison Ford made his first San Diego appearance to promote Cowboys & Aliens but it wasn’t enough to get people talking about – or watching – that genre mashup. Seth Rogen didn’t make a convincing comic hero in The Green Hornet. And then there’s Green Lantern, which didn’t do badly but has become such a punchline it was used as a throwaway joke in Deadpool.

2011 – The Winner

amazing spider-man pic

The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield rebooting the Spider-Man franchise, is probably the biggest box-office success to come out of SDCC this year. It loses points for being rebooted just four years later, though, and I have to mention Attack the Block, a movie about aliens attacking a block of London flats and being repelled by the residents there. It didn’t light up the box-office but has an impeccable reputation among critics and introduced us to John Boyega, who the rest of the world discovered four years later when he starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

2011 – The Disappointment

Colin Farrell took over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the remake of 1990’s Total Recall. Despite the brand recognition and the big names involved, including director Len Wiseman, the spark failed to ignite. The Adventures of Tin-Tin, which combined the geek muscle of Steven Spielberg, Edgar Wright, and Peter Jackson but which couldn’t sell its animated look to audiences, would also qualify here.

 

Picking Up The Spare: The Big Sick, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War For The Planet Of The Apes

The Big Sick

  • Michael Showalter has started doing more press as the movie has expanded to more theaters, including this “The Late Show” appearance where he talked about that as well as “Wet Hot American Summer.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

  • I’m honestly not 100% certain these are official, but these posters that reference 80s John Hughes movies and acknowledge this movie’s own high school story are…not bad.

War For The Planet Of The Apes

  • There was a big feature interview with Harrelson that dropped just after I finished the marketing recap column where he talked about being part of this movie as well as various other topics.
  • Director Matt Reeves later talked about some of the technical issues and hurdles he had to surmount to shoot the movie on an accelerated schedule.

Home Assistants Present Plentiful Opportunities to Sell Movies

Some big publishers have begun creating new content for Amazon’s video-based Echo Show, an update of its existing Echo home-assistant devices, according to Digiday. Bloomberg, CNN and other media companies are taking the role of early adopter, betting that as fast as these gadgets have grown adding video will only make them more popular. These publishers are looking to monetize their content, largely through advertising, but most are also treating it as a learning exercise since the platform is still new.

It got me wondering, though, how long it’s going to be before enhanced movie marketing efforts are being produced for these devices.

The shallow end of the pool here is, of course, advertising. Right now I’d imagine there’s at least some movie promotion being done through the host-read spots that are common. But when video gets involved studio marketing teams are going to feel even more at home since they will be able to interject movie commercials into the content that’s produced. As the story points out, this is a small device that’s not built for a lean-back experience, so the programming that’s created won’t be long, meaning ads won’t be able to be lengthy either. Imagine, though, ads that are similar to the seven-second pre-roll spots that are shown before YouTube videos. Those would fit right in.

If studios got really ambitious they’d begin creating their own shows for these devices, weekly recaps of movies from the studio that are in theaters or available on home video. 90-120 recaps that are quick and hit a few key points and which could be incorporated into people’s “Daily Flash Briefings” or whatever they’re called. Include a clear call-to-action and you’re golden.

Honestly, it’s kind of shocking the studios aren’t already doing something like this on YouTube or Snapchat. It doesn’t even have to be as substantial and in-depth as The Star Wars Show, This Week in Marvel or DC All Access. Just a couple minutes each week about what’s new and what’s coming soon to keep movies at the top of people’s minds. Seems like a good option to me.

What Do Studios Have Planned for San Diego Comic-Con 2017?

An overview of the studios deigning to participate in San Diego Comic-Con this year has hit the internet. Here’s who will be making SDCC part of their movie publicity efforts:

  • 20th Century Fox: Unclear as to what movies it will be promoting, but as The Wrap points out it has plenty of X-Men films it could showcase along with talent from the Avatar sequels and more. It also has a War For the Planet of the Apes panel scheduled.
  • Sony Classics: Promoting the very odd-looking Sundance hit Brigsby Bear.
  • Warner Bros.: Will have a panel for The LEGO Ninjago Movie as well as one that hit multiple movies, including Ready Player One, Aquaman, Blade Runner 2049 and Justice League.
  • Netflix: To my recollection this is the first time the streaming service has had a Hall H panel as it looks to promote Bright, its Will Smith-starring movie about a supernatural police force.

That’s a good amount of films that will be shown off and doesn’t even include Universal’s plans to screen Atomic Blonde in advance of release. So what, if anything, can we expect to come out of this?

Yes, I concur that Fox will use SDCC to promote something relating to the X-Men. The studio just announced it has six more X-themed movies on the schedule so it’s likely they’ll use this platform to shed some more light on that, including possible titles and an actual release schedule.

Warner Bros. is the other big player and its primary panel is usually a collection of actors, clips, and announcements. I’d expect to see the Ready Player One cast on stage as I’m guessing a trailer may not be ready yet with the movie still a year or so away. Justice League, though, is just five months out. With Wonder Woman breaking box-office records my guess is there will be a new trailer revealed that heavily emphasizes that character. Superman might even move off the sidelines of toys and promotional items and finally become part of the marketing.

Aquaman, too, might be a bit far out for a trailer. But with a December 2018 release date planned this *would* fit into the pattern established by the campaigns for other WB/DC movies.

There may also be a new trailer for Bright as Netflix moves that marketing into a higher gear.

As always, we’ll have to wait and see. And there are usually smaller, non-Hall H tactics that will be employed by studios to promote upcoming releases. Details to come as they emerge.

Quick Takes on Trailers for Dunkirk, California Typewriter and More

  • There’s a new trailer for Terminator 2: Judgement Day to promote the movie’s upcoming 3D rerelease in theaters.
  • A new 60-second trailer for Dunkirk amps up the tension through a cool use of sound and cuts in the film. The movie is also getting its own VR experience, which is unusual for a non-superhero/sci-fi flick, and that has a trailer.
  • One more trailer for War For The Planet of the Apes acts as a “previously on…” recap of the previous two movies and the events that have lead to all-out war.
  • The details on which studios are bringing which movies to San Diego Comic-Con to reach that audience have emerged. Some interesting choices here.
  • The first trailer for Icarus, Netflix’s new documentary about Russian Olympic doping, is really powerful. Can you imagine if a system this devoted to cheating set their mind toward, I don’t know, American politics? Yikes.
  • Belle de Jour is turning 50 and getting a big 4K theatrical release, with a new trailer promoting that event that’s amazing. (via IndieWire)
  • I don’t get to watch too many of them but I love documentaries about niche subcultures, so I dug the trailer for California Typewriter about enthusiasts of the technology.
  • Fox Searchlight put out a fun “lyric video” to promote its rap culture movie Patti Cake$.

Fun Mom Dinner Trailer (Quick Reaction)

Well, the first trailer for Fun Mom Dinner is out and I have some thoughts.

  • There’s a hot take to be written at some point about how we’re supposed to just assume that something is funnier just because it involves mothers, with the comedy derived mainly from putting the person most responsible for everyone in outrageous situations designed to show them acting out.
  • This is being sold in almost exactly the same way as both Bad Moms (and now Bad Moms Christmas) and Rough Night. Girls Trip is a bit different, though.
  • Putting both Adam Scott and Paul Rudd in the movie is almost unfair in how it’s going to appeal to certain subsets of the female audience.
  • Speaking of which, is Rudd playing the same character he did in My Idiot Brother? Has anyone else posited this yet? I feel I’m on solid ground.
  • I’m 100% surprised there isn’t vomiting shown on-screen here.
  • Also, I’m 100% certain at some point I’ve inadvertently referred to watching my own kids as “babysitting.” Let’s just move on.
  • Is it just me or is Rudd not included in the credits at the end? What’s up with that?

Comparing Spider-Man: Homecoming’s and Wonder Woman’s Poster Campaigns

“Marvel vs DC” is an easy narrative that’s picked up both fans and critics. Goodness knows there’s been plenty of opportunity to have that discussion, either in comic shops or theater lobbies, where films based on comic book characters are squaring off against each other.

Today I’m going to focus on something that hasn’t been endlessly debated already but which came into focus in the last month. Namely, the massively different approaches taken on the posters for the two most recent comic book movies, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

If you look at the posters for Wonder Woman, many of which were created by either Concept Arts or BOND, you’ll see a sleek, simplified approach. Each poster went for one specific message while also carrying over some brand consistency. So a series of posters emphasized character traits like “Courage” and “Power” while others conveyed those characteristics simply by posing star Gal Gadot in various ways. They all tied together through the use of red, orange and blue, using visuals that reflected the light, clearly telling the audience the movie would have a brighter tone than previous DCU films. Each one was striking for its minimalism, something that may have been equal parts intentional and simply the result of not having a whole cast of heroes that needed to share the spotlight.

Contrast that with the overly-busy posters for Spider-Man: Homecoming. The designers here seem to have been given the direction to leave nothing off. Every poster, even the early ones, make it clear that Spider-Man is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s done either (relatively) subtly by just putting Avengers Tower in the background of the New York City skyline or overtly by including Iron Man and/or Tony Stark. And it’s not just that the character shows up here and there. Just like with the trailers, Stark/Iron Man is everywhere. By my count, there were eight domestic U.S. posters and six of them feature either Iron Man or Avengers Tower. All sense of understated design thinking is discarded on a couple of the posters that seem to have been created by someone pasting photos from Google Image searches together. It’s a very colorful campaign, but it’s also as subtle as an elephant with a sinus infection.

I’m not going to expect the less artistically-minded approach taken in Spider-Man’s campaign to impact its box office at all. But it’s notable how this is being sold as a movie that literally has *everything* the audience might be looking for, as compared to Wonder Woman’s posters that sold an image of a strong, confident solo woman superhero who stood out on her own. That shows a completely different mindset on the part of the studio, one that’s more committed to selling an attitude and style versus one that just needs to make sure it hits all its contractually-obligated beats.

I know which one I prefer.

Sony Teases Close Encounters Announcement

Sony is hinting at something with the release of a video (I’m not referring to it as a “viral video” as some others are doing because you don’t get to decide that, it’s the result of it being well-received, not a designation that’s assigned) entitled “This Means Something.” The video is in some manner tied to Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind and takes audio from a key sequence in that movie involving an air traffic controller listening to reports of an unidentified object in the skies that’s been seen by some commercial airliners. At the end of the video the URL WeAreStillNotAlone.com is displayed and when you go there you can sign up to “receive updates on UFO sightings.”

So what’s Sony up to? There’s no official news here but it likely has something to do with this December being the 40th anniversary of the movie’s release. It’s almost inconceivable that a sequel of any sort could be in the works, so the simplest explanation is that there’s a theatrical rerelease or new Blu-ray set coming later this year to mark the movie’s fourth decade.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun preferring Close Encounters more than Spielberg’s other early-career science fiction effort, E.T. I enjoy the languid pacing of the story, identify with the struggles of Richard Dreyfuss’ slightly-mad father and feel the full weight of the final act on the top of Devil’s Peak more intensely. It’s just as heartwarming in its own way as anything else the director has helmed, though it comes at that somewhat sideways and takes a long time to get there. Still, I find it rewards multiple viewings more than most other Spielberg movies.

Stay tuned for updates.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle Trailer (Quick Reaction)

The first trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is out and I have thoughts.

  • Why is every franchise adaptation now a variation on The Breakfast Club? First it was the Power Rangers film, now it’s Jumanji that starts out with a group of mis-matched high school students being thrown together in detention. Is this the only way modern screenwriters can think of to bring characters to one place so the plot can kick in?
  • Throwing a flag on flagrant underuse of Marc Evan Jackson as the principal. If this is all Hollywood can think of to do with him, there are bigger issues.
  • Why do they react to the discovery of an old game system with such shock? They’ve never seen something like this before?
  • So…it’s TRON?
  • Karen Gillan’s wardrobe was a controversial point when promotional images started coming out, but the explanations amounted to “well that’s how video game females look,” which isn’t enough. Neither is acknowledging it with dialogue.
  • Still waiting for Kevin Hart to not play Kevin Hart.
  • Oh cool, funny Jack Black is back.
  • Well of course Guns ’n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” was going to be used.