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.

Luca – Marketing Recap

How DisneyPixar has sold a coming-of-age story with an underwater twist.

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Luca, directed by Enrico Casarosa, stars Jacob Tremblay as the voice of Luca Paguro, a pre-teen sea creature who dreams of exploring the world above. His best friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) helps him do just that, coming out to visit the small Italian village near their underwater home. They befriend a young girl named Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), who joins the two — who can take human form when out of the water — in all sorts of adventures in her hometown.

The movie is the latest Pixar release coming to Disney+ as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, arriving with mostly positive reviews that have earned the film a 91% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and after a campaign that has emphasized the setting even more than the story.

The Posters

You get a sense of Luca’s dual nature on the first poster (by Legion Creative Group), released in February. Above the water he looks human but very different in the part that’s still submerged.

The same message is conveyed on April’s second poster, but this time Luca is joined by Alberto and Giulia as they sit on the coast of the Italian village where the action takes place, many of the supporting characters in the background. It sells a bright, fun adventure with a cast of young characters on a design that looks like a travel poster.

Three more character posters came out earlier in June that put all three of the kids in the position of being half-submerged, but only Giulia needs a snorkel and looks the same underwater.

The Trailers

Luca and his friends are having a great time on the Italian Riviera when the trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube), released in February, opens. But as they engage in the kind of hijinks not uncommon for kids their age, they are hiding a secret that’s only visible when they are in the water. The trailer sets up the premise succinctly, if somewhat incompletely, but still makes it look quite charming.

More of the story is on display in the first full-length trailer (11.7 million views on YouTube) from late April. We see how Luca explores the surface world with Alberto and how the two of them first get into some trouble but then are rescued by Giulia. She and Luca become friends, getting into adventures all their own together as Luca and his brother try to avoid revealing their true nature to the townspeople.

Online and Social

Only a barebones website for the movie but there were social media profiles that shared regular updates and assets.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Pixar announced the movie in July of last year.

In March of this year Disney announced the movie would skip theaters entirely and be available on Disney+ on its planned release date.

Casarosa was interviewed about the movie’s story as well as its unique visuals and approach to animation.

TV spots like this began running in May that sells the vibrant colors of the movie along with the adventures the characters have throughout the story.

A “Friendship” featurette had Gaffigan, Rudolph, Casarosa and others talking about the magical nature of friendships at a certain age and how the movie captures that magic.

The movie’s production designer Daniela Strijleva was interviewed about drawing inspiration from her own experiences in Italy to create the movie’s look and feel.

Another featurette included comments from Casarosa, Gaffigan and Rudolph about the research that went into creating an authentic Italian coastal town.

The first clip, released in early June, shows the moment Guilia brings Luca and Alberto home to meet her father and have dinner, an event that doesn’t go very well.

Casarosa was part of a publicity tour event in Italy.

Just days before the movie’s release a “blue carpet” premiere was held at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The official website lists a number of companies as promotional partners for the movie, but many of the links from that site don’t work and additional details on most of those weren’t readily accessible. The list includes:

  • Blue Apron (details unavailable)
  • Annie’s (details unavailable)
  • Baubles and Sole (details unavailable but the company did frequently promote the movie on Instagram)
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in Happy Meal boxes and offered downloadable activities online
  • The Watermelon Board, which created a campaign encouraging people to enjoy their summer with some cool refreshing watermelon

Overall

There’s less of an emphasis on the story here than there is on the setting. That’s understandable since it’s an unusual and beautiful location but it means that the actual stakes of the movie and the characters we’re asked to care about are moved to the background.

But it is an enjoyable marketing push, one that positions the movie as a simpler, gentler Pixar release, one that may not reach the emotional heights of other titles but which does promise a good time in a gorgeous location.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate has sold a throwback buddy action comedy sequel.

Reviews haven’t been great for The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, calling it excessive and unnecessary but at least shorter than the first one. The resulting 26% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes reflects that, but projections still have the film hitting around $15 million this long weekend, already bringing in $3.9 million on Wednesday.

The movie reunites Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek from 2017’s first film. As the story opens Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is getting out of the bodyguard business, in part because of the traumatic events of the earlier movie. But he’s sucked back into even more extreme violence when Sonia Kincaid (Hayek) recruits him against his wishes to help find and free her husband Darius (Jackson) after he’s kidnapped by mobsters. That gets all three of them involved in an Interpol mission to stop the terrorist Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas) from doing whatever it is he’s planning to do.

Nothing about the first movie could be mistaken for high art, but it was a fun Midnight Run/Running Scared-esque action comedy with two characters who loathed each other, highlighted mainly by the banter between Jackson and Reynolds. As we’ll see, the marketing of the sequel has tried to sell that same value proposition.

The Posters

All five of the leads — including Morgan Freeman, who plays Reynolds’ step-father — are arrayed on the first poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose), released in mid-May. From the gritty orange as well as the guns in everyone’s hands, it’s clear this is an action comedy. In fact it looks just like one-sheets for a number of other similar movies.

The same background design is used on character motion posters released at the end of May.

There’s even more action as Bryce and the Kincaids ride a motorcycle away from explosions and armed pursuers on the IMAX poster.

The Trailers

The first trailer (9.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, opens with Michael reliving a terrible dream involving Kincaid and deciding to take a sabbatical to recharge and get over his issues. Of course trouble follows him to paradise as he gets mixed up, thanks to Sonia, with Kincaid one more time. Michael’s problems with this are amplified by the fact he’s trying to take a break from killing or protecting people, but circumstances just won’t let him sit on the sidelines.

A red-band version (400,000 views on YouTube) with lots of cursing came out about a week later.

The second trailer (15.2 million views on YouTube) came out a little over a month later. It still focuses on the dynamic between Michael and Kincaid – as well as Kincaid’s wife – but also puts it in the context of a bit more of the story and why they find themselves teaming up again.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the basic marketing assets on the movie’s official website, but the Twitter and other social media profiles were a lot more fun, trying to convey Reynolds’ trademark humor whole offering clips and other assets in the hopes people would share them.

Advertising, Press & Publicity

In early May there were a couple social promos like this timed for Mother’s Day that focused on Sonia’s declarations of what a great mother she’d be.

A Variety cover story on Hayek had her talking about how Hughes reached out to her about a role in the movie and how his wanting to involve her in developing the character helped her sign up enthusiastically.

The first TV spot came out in late May, an extended spot that continues showing the mix of action and humor in the movie, especially courtesy of Hayek.

Snap and Atom Tickets partnered to give Snapchat users access to early screenings to help get them excited for — and talking about — the movie.

The first clip shows Kincaid’s reaction to finding out his wife has brought in Michael despite his explicit instructions. Additional clips show Michael being pulled from sabbatical by Sonia, the three on an awkward drive through the Italian countryside and Michael trying to convince Sonia to take a less violent approach to a situation.

iHeartRadio ran a sweepstakes sending the winner on their own sabbatical earlier this month.

Jackson talked about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” last week. Hayek and Reynolds appeared together on “Good Morning America” and she appeared on her own on “The Tonight Show.”

Regal had a promotional video of interviews with the stars.

Key art was repurposed as outdoor and online ads.

Overall

This whole campaign is like

let’s see these avengers stories come to the mcu

I have some strong opinions on this subject.

With tickets finally going on sale for Black Widow, coming out July 9th, the wait is almost over and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to return to the big screen for the first time in two years. That extended period of time, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, is the longest fans have had to wait since the two years between Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (not counting The Incredible Hulk, which I’m not).

Of course the MCU has not been completely silent, with Disney+ series like “WandaVision”, “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and most recently “Loki” not only trying to quench fan thirst for more stories in this universe but also doing varying amounts of heavy lifting to set up the direction of the MCU’s future.

And that future is about to arrive with a crashing wave, again thanks to consolidated release schedules in part necessitated by pandemic-related delays. Three more movies — Shang-Chi, Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home — will all come out before the end of 2021, with “What If…”, “Ms. Marvel” and “Hawkeye” series also coming to Disney+ in the next six months.

While it seems The Avengers, at least as the team has been traditionally defined, will be less of a priority for the MCU following the conclusion of the last set of films, this coming influx of series and movies has me thinking about a few of my favorite Avengers comics stories that haven’t yet been adapted but really need to be.

Secret War

Not only is this a great spy caper – something that would be welcome in the MCU instead of a constant barrage of bigger, more violent CGI battle sequences – but it uses a solid mix of characters that would bring together a number of elements of the universe. If the movie used the same team as Brian Michael Bendis’ 2004 mini-series, it would provide a great platform through which to bring together some of the disparate elements of Marvel’s multimedia approach prior to the launch of Disney+.

Specifically, the core team from the series could include:

From the Official MCU: Captain America, Black Widow and Spider-Man

Even though Cap is Steve Rogers in the comic, there’s no reason it couldn’t be Sam Wilson. Sony would, of course, have to be open to lending on Spidey one more time. And Widow’s involvement would depend on the setting of the story, unless there’s some big twist coming in her upcoming solo movie.

Also, the comics provided the transition from Nick Fury to Maria Hill as the head of SHIELD, so let’s make that happen.

From the Netflix and ABC Shows: Luke Cage, Daredevil and Quake

We’re still, if I haven’t lost count, in the period where Marvel Studios can’t do anything new with these characters. When that window closes (assuming it hasn’t already) it would be great to bring them back in the same incarnations we saw in the various Marvel Netflix series. The connections between those shows and the MCU was always tenuous to barely existent, but let’s just cut out the dithering and go all-in here.

Similarly, bringing Daisy Johnson/Quake into the fold after being introduced on “Agents of SHIELD” would make a lot of fans happy.

From Fox Properties

What Marvel Studios’ plans for the X-Men after the Disney/Fox merger haven’t been revealed yet, but Wolverine was part of the team in the comic series, so this story would be a good platform for introducing full-on mutants with a fan-favorite character.

“Death and Texas / The Day Death Died”

Let’s be honest and admit that if the MCU has failed in any significant way, it’s in not recognizing that the West Coast Avengers were *actually* the best comics Avengers team. To date, though, that team hasn’t been part of the world-building of the franchise, and we’re the poorer for it.

That being said, the crossover between the west and east coasters in West Coast Avengers Annual #2 and Avengers Annual #16 would make an amazing movie.

The story starts with the two teams playing a softball game, as they began doing in the previous years’ crossover. This time the game is interrupted by The Grandmaster, who forces two Avengers – one from each team – to fight each other. Then they must face off against deceased Avengers, adding even more emotion to the conflict.

Of course to really pull it off, the concept of the West Coast Avengers needs to be introduced, but that should happen anyway. The Grandmaster, as played by Jeff Goldblum, could appear as if he had survived the outcome of Thor: Ragnorak, and it would finally pay off the teasing of “Death herself” from the mid-credits sequence of 2012’s The Avengers.

Avengers Under Siege

Here’s an opportunity to bring some of the villains to the forefront. The story, originally published in 1986, has the Masters of Evil taking over Avengers Mansion, with the heroes dealing with the emotional toil of having their home invaded. It’s not only a very good hero story but also one that explores the idea that the heroes don’t win every time, albeit with lower stakes than something like Endgame.

It’s alright if you want to ignore Dr. Druid, but the rest of the team’s lineup at the time would allow for bringing Monica Rambeau’s Captain Marvel — introduced in the “WandaVision” series — into the fold and having Black Knight make an appearance, adding a fun mystical element to the universe.

(bonus: Both “Under Siege” and the Avengers/WCA crossover mentioned above are included in the Avengers: Under Siege Epic Collection trade, so definitely pick that up.)

Any other suggestions?

Fatherhood – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a drama of single parenting.

Based on the book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matthew Logelin, Fatherhood stars Kevin Hart as Logelin himself, a recently-widowed man whose wife dies and leaves him to raise their infant daughter Maddy (played as a slightly older child by Melody Hurd). Matthew struggles being the only one responsible for his daughter’s emotional, physical and mental well-being, seeking advice and help when it’s needed but determined to be the primary caregiver in her life.

The movie, hitting Netflix this week in time for Father’s Day, has been sold with a campaign emphasizing how unusual it is for a story to focus on a man being a single parent. As we’ll see, that resonates to varying degrees.

The Posters

Designed by marketing agency P+A, the poster from May shows Matthew asleep with Maddy snuggled beside him, the two fitting in the crib in which she still sleeps. The image is clearly meant to be a mix of sweet, showing how close the two are, and a little funny, playing off how Hart can fit in the crib by only bending his knees slightly.

How the copy “In it, together” uses the comma is also very specific. Without the comma the phrase reads as if the two are partners through life’s journey. With the comma, though, it separates the clauses more definitely, so it reads “They are in it. And they are together.” So you lose the “partners” meaning a bit. Interesting choice.

The Trailers

Matt is overwhelmed and looking for help as the first trailer (1 million views on YouTube), released in May, opens. He’s struggling to raise his newborn baby daughter following the death of his wife shortly after the baby was born. Friends and family offer various levels of support and advice, but Matt is determined to do it himself and while there are plenty of mistakes it’s clear he and his daughter are each other’s support system through the ups and downs.

Online and Social

Nope, but Netflix gave the movie some support on its brand social media profiles.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Sony sold the movie to Netflix in conjunction with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions in March, with the streamer setting a June release date.

A set of stills was released by Netflix in late April.

When Hart appeared on “The Tonight Show” in May he talked about the movie and how he wanted to depict a positive representation of black parenting.

A behind-the-scenes featurette from early June had the cast and crew talking about the story, the importance of seeing family movies centered around the emotional journey of fathers and more.

Matthew is dropping Maddy off at daycare in a short promo/TV spot released last week.

Earlier this week a faux focus group video with Hart trying to get feedback from a bunch of preschoolers was released, the primary goal of which being to show how out of control Hart is.

Overall

What we’re sold here is a Kevin Hart movie we’ve seen variations of before — albeit more on the emotional side and not so much on the overt comedy end of the spectrum — wrapped in a parenting drama. If the movie is truly more dramatic than other entries in Hart’s career, it might have been a better choice to not include so much of his usual self-deprecating mugging. I enjoy the schtick, but it’s out of place here if the message is intended to be different than his other movies.

Also, given there are plenty of movies about how single fatherhood is distinct from single motherhood (Sleepless in Seattle, Pursuit of Happyness, Gifted, The Descendants, Jersey Girl and others all come to mind), the message that this is a unicorn of a film that audiences may not have seen or considered before doesn’t ring entirely accurate. It’s still a nice little campaign, but the two core messages don’t land as solidly as they need to.

life lessons from the movies: raiders of the lost ark (40th anniversary)

He’s not the man we knew years ago…

That Raiders of the Lost Ark turns 40 this week feels, as an increasing number of such milestones does recently, like a personal attack. It seems impossible that 40 years have passed since I sat in my grandparents’ basement watching Siskey & Ebert review the movie before going to see it myself a few months later when it came to the local second-run theater.

The anniversary has brought with a number of remembrances and retrospectives, chief among them a very good interview with Karen Allen where she not only talks about the movie, its characters and its legacy but also the personal impact the success of the film had on her mental and emotional health.

Among the many aspects of the film that have made it an enduring classic (it’s perfectly structured to be divided into chapters mirroring the film serials that inspired George Lucas), Lawrence Kasden’s script — elevated by Harrison Ford’s desert dry delivery and great performances from Allen and others — contains a good number of important life lessons we could all benefit from remember.

Harrison Ford Run GIF by Paramount Movies - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

For when your body reminds you you’re a good 10 years older than your brain insists you are and a good 20 years older than how you behave in any public setting, including social media.

Indianajones GIF by CBS - Find & Share on GIPHY

I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.

For when your boss asks how that content strategy presentation is coming along.

Asps… very dangerous. You go first.

For when pandemic-related closures are coming to an end but it’s been a solid 18 months since you last interacted with anyone outside your immediate family.

Indianajones GIF by CBS - Find & Share on GIPHY

You can’t do this to me, I’m an AMERICAN.

For when the barista gets your latte wrong.

Whiskey…

For when you’re asking anyone for literally anything.

Let us hurry. There is nothing to fear here.

For when you throw caution to the wind and decide you’re totally capable of walking from your New York hotel room to the event location without Google Maps.

I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless…

For when you’re justifying keeping a childhood memento everyone else thinks is ugly or weird on display in the living room.

I’m your goddamn partner!

For when the wedding is just days away but you haven’t even started writing your vows.

Indianajones GIF by CBS - Find & Share on GIPHY

Uh… there’s a picture of it right here.

For when you insist on showing someone a picture on your camera and you think it’s in one folder but wait it’s not there did I delete it last time I synced my phone with the hard drive but I swear I was looking at it just the other day hold on I’ll find it.

They’re digging in the wrong place!

For when one half of your group leaves early to get there and get things set up but are nowhere to be found when you get to the destination an hour after they should have been there and no one is answering your texts.

In The Heights – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.

Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.

That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.

Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.

With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.

The Posters

While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.

A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.

Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.

“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.

The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.

A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.

There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.

Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.

The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.

Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.

In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.

A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.

Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie

Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.

Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.

Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.

Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.

Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.

IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.

In June Smits was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the actor talking about his long love of the stage production and lots more.

Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.

Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Additional interviews included conversations with Chu as well as the movie’s costume designer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production design team.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.

Along with a few more clips, Warner Bros. released the first eight minutes of the movie on YouTube and made the same footage available within HBO Max.

An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.

One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.

Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
  • Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
  • Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
  • Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.

Overall

As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.

In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.

You Got It Salute GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Infinite – Marketing Recap

How Paramount+ is selling a time-twisting action movie.

Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua, is the first non-Spongebob movie to make its debut on the Paramount+ streaming service, arriving there later this week. As such it represents something of a statement on the part of Paramount, indicating the platform is for more than kids programming, library content and a few prestige series.

Wahlberg stars as Evan McCauley, a man haunted by recurring visions and confused when he finds he has skills he’s never trained for or practiced. One day he’s tracked down by a mysterious group calling themselves Infinites, who tell him these are memories and skills he’s accumulated in past lives. The group needs his help to track down others like them who are determined to end life on Earth. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson and Jason Mantzoukas among others also star.

The Posters

Just one poster (by marketing agency Bond) for the film. Released in late May, it shows McCauley behind concentric circles that ultimately form an infinity symbol in order to reinforce the title’s branding. There’s no text or other copy to explain the story, so either the studio felt it was too hard to explain on the one-sheet or that Wahlberg’s presence was enough to generate audience interest.

The Trailers

Ted Murray (Ejiofor) is talking with McCauley about the voices McCauley hears and more as the first trailer (10.7 million views on YouTube), released at the end of May, begins. Murray taunts McCauley with a series of random objects until he finally triggers McCauley’s memories. Just as that happens a car bursts through the interrogation room wall and we’re off to the races. We hear about how McCauley is an Infinite and how unlocking his past will offer a guide for his future.

The second trailer (3.6 million views on YouTube) came out just a week later and begins with clips from the same interrogation scene mixed with shots of McCauley’s unremarkable but slightly confusing life. This time it’s Tammy McCauley (Cookson) who provides the backstory exposition before we get to lots more chases and fight sequences in exotic locales around the world. Oh, and we finally see the real draw of the movie, which is Mantzoukas’ unhinged tech guy performance.

Online and Social

Nothing here that was specific to the movie, but it was given some support — though not as much as recent high-profile series and other material — on Paramount+’s brand social profiles.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

In May Paramount announced the movie, originally scheduled for theatrical release August of last year but pushed because of the coronavirus pandemic, would instead bypass theaters and debut exclusively on Paramount Plus. An actual release date was finally revealed in May, just about two weeks before that date.

IGN debuted an exclusive first photo from the movie in late May in conjunction with the release of the first trailer.

A short promo was released at the end of May that presents many of the main characters and sets up the presence of a mystery that spans lifetimes and eons. It’s meant to be serious and important but it comes off a bit silly, like some kind of futuristic wrestling match

Taking a more traditional approach is another TV spot-like video that features an off-screen voice explaining to Evan how he’s lived countless lifetimes and is crucial to the future of the world.

Overall

I’m not sure how much of the marketing materials here were set and ready a while ago when the movie was originally scheduled for late 2020, but the tight timeframe mandated by how it’s been less than two months since a new release strategy was announced doesn’t help the campaign much. Everything feels rushed and breezed over, when a story like this typically benefits from taking a bit longer so some of the more ridiculous plot points can be ironed out and explained.

That extremely-condensed campaign is filled with sci-fi speak in what appears to be an attempt to position it as something similar to Inception, but there’s not enough of the story on display to create those stakes. Fuqua’s directing, then, might be the most engaging element of the marketing.

soc (save our cinemas)?

What a wild [checks calendar] three or four weeks it’s been…

Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II came out this week. F9 hits at the end of June. All are coming to theaters, open in most all parts of the country, and so Hollywood studios as well as the theater industry are feeling optimistic that the Summer 2021 season will be a strong one.

Emma Stone GIF by Walt Disney Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

To help that along, the industry, buoyed by surveys indicating people are ready to head back to the theater and may be willing to pay a premium when doing so, recently launched a “The Big Screen Is Back!” campaign with a massive star-studded event in Los Angeles. A PSA for the campaign debuted during the recent Oscars broadcast, with Matthew McConaughey talking about how great theaters are as some of the employees who have been impacted by shutdowns appeared along with him.

At the Century City event celebrities like J.J. Abrams, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Jason Blum and others all declared their love of moviegoing, talking about how seeing movies on the big screen is an experience like no other. Overall, though, that event seems to have been a bit of a dud, with little new shown to the press and other attendees. If studios were keeping their powder dry and saving bigger moments for other events later in the year, it’s unclear what that campaign is meant to accomplish.

All that comes in advance of the Cinema Week campaign planned to run June 22-27, a period that A) is not a week, and B) I’m sure just coincidentally overlaps with Universal’s release of F9.

Charlize Theron Wink GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

Whether they are independent of these campaigns or part of them, the marketing pushes for both F9 and A Quiet Place Part II have both prominently featured “back to theaters” messaging. In the latter’s case it was a significant message throughout, especially when the marketing restarted earlier this year. With the former, the spectacle is certainly shown to be best experienced on a big screen while individual spots have specifically and clearly called out that the movie will be in theaters exclusively.

Changing the Viewing Experience

I’m glad movie theaters are reopening. There’s a lot that’s great about the theatrical viewing experience, including the sensory deprivation tank you essentially put yourself in for a few hours. You relinquish control for that time to the movie, allowing yourself to be completely immersed in it.

At least in theory.

In practice, going to the local multiplex is a mix of logistical hassle, Frogger-esque evasion of the distractions that are still present and the nagging fear that in the end it won’t be worth all of that. Between the pre-show ads for local car dealerships and herbal spas and the fact that you can’t actually turn off your phone because you have both college-aged children and older parents who might need help at any moment, your attention can still be pulled in quite a number of directions. And while critics love to wax poetic about the “booming sound” and “crisp visuals” in theaters, you have about a 1-in-3 chance of there being some problem with either the audio or video portion of the presentation. Or maybe the house lights never go down. Or maybe masking is off. Or maybe [fill in the blank].

Yes, some types of movies definitely play better on a big screen with deep bass, which is why the titles touted during the “The Big Screen Is Back” event were heavy on super heroes, franchise sequels and other similar releases. The experiential differential between Mortal Kombat on the big screen and the home screen is substantial, whereas the gap for something like I Care A Lot is not nearly as wide.

Let’s also be clear that as some of these “event” movies get longer, they’re harder to sit through because some of us need to go to the bathroom.

For movies in the second category, home viewing is just fine, and should be accepted as such by all involved. And that’s not even getting into the question of actual quality, which can make the $14/ticket you just spent seem very, very wasted. At home, even if you finish a bad movie, it’s just a matter of time spent because the cost is spread out over all the movies/shows you watched on that particular streaming platform.

Oh Hey, An Elephant. In *This* Room

There’s also the fact that most all of the studios praising the power of communal viewing in a shared physical environment are hedging their bets by sending some of their movies to their owned streaming service. Black Widow, In The Heights and others are all getting day-and-date theatrical/streaming releases either because plans were made when pandemic uncertainty was still high and haven’t been changed or because these companies are experimenting with new models to see what works.

Washington Heights Pride GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Recent deals between the studios and exhibitors seem to have solidified a 45-day theatrical window as the new normal, and even then theatrical exclusivity may be on its way out as power shifts in the industry. While consumers may be willing to head back to the movie theater, they’ve also developed habits — and expectations — over the last year that will be hard to break.

While the notion of exclusive theater runs has been flailing in the water recently it got a lifeline when the producers of the James Bond franchise, in the middle of Amazon buying MGM, committed to a worldwide theatrical release for the upcoming No Time To Die. That statement seemed necessary because Amazon’s overall strategy for MGM is to use the studio as an instant catalog of movies and shows either to stream directly or remake, reboot and turn into content properties.

James Bond GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

In short, the purchase continues the overall assault on what had previously been an unshakable paradigm, even if one-off examples continue that tradition. Long-term the trend toward shorter — or non-existent — windows will continue as studios find find some iteration of a hybrid approach where releases are tiered to their distribution points.

Theaters Matter; Or They Should

Eric Kohn at Indiewire makes a good point here:

The driving force of the “Tribeca Festival” is just that: a physical presence with curated experiences. Trust the brand and it might be worth the price of admission.

Studios keep throwing product into theaters, which those theaters are then obligated to run. But the “experience” that everyone references is one that involves frustrating parking lots and the risk that the trailers we saw last month will wind up being better than the full movie.

There’s no curation behind it. The pre-show ads are not specially chosen to match the movie being presented. The experience lacks any sense of being personally arranged, from the lineup of titles at the theater to how you’re greeted by staff when you walk in.

To that point, the importance of a great staff can’t be overlooked here. Pay them well so they actually care about their job, encourage them to interact with customers on a personal level, educate them in film history and other details and then watch them become ambassadors for both theaters and movies. It’s a simple equation, but one that’s frequently overlooked.

Theaters can be a magical place. I’ve been to several and worked at one that worked hard to achieve that level of enjoyment for patrons. But instead of being an egalitarian venue for both escapism and contemplation they’re becoming premium venues for big screen spectacle, one location indistinguishable from any other. That’s the wrong direction to be heading in.