prey – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios sold the prequel to an 80s action classic

(Note: Yes, the movie came out last week and while I didn’t get to it then I didn’t want to let it slip by completely.)

Prey movie poster from 20th Century Studios
Prey movie poster from 20th Century Studios

Just a few years ago 20th Century Fox worked with director Shane Black to develop The Predator, the fourth installment in the Predator franchise (not counting the Alien crossovers). That attempt fizzled at the box office and with critics for various reasons, including Black’s hiring of a friend who was a registered sex offender. While the movie wasn’t terrible, it also didn’t add anything new or particularly interesting to the concepts already explored in earlier films.

Now on Hulu is Prey, a prequel in the franchise continuity that takes things back to the early 1700s. Amber Midthunder stars as Naru, a Comanche warrior who encounters the alien Predator on its first visit to Earth. As she alternately hunts and is hunted by the Predator she has to deal with French traders as well as those within her own tribe, including Wasape (Stormee Kipp), a fellow Comanche who has little regard for Naru or her skills.

The movie is on Hulu now, bypassing theaters entirely. It’s directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who developed the story with screenwriter Patrick Aison. So let’s take a look at how the studio sold it.

announcements and casting

Trachtenberg was attached as director when 20th Century Studios announced the movie in November, 2020, though the project had been in development for a number of years, going back to when the studio was working on The Predator.

Midthunder’s casting was announced in May of last year, with the rest of the cast confirmed in September when filming completed.

The film’s title was confirmed along with the setting of the story in November 2021 on Disney+ Day when a first-look still was also released. That all came with the confirmation the movie was headed straight for Hulu, a corporate decision later reported to have been made in part because if Disney had released it to theaters it would have been contractually obligated to give the movie to HBO Max instead of using it to bolster its own streaming service.

the marketing campaign

The movie’s campaign kicked off in May with the release of a short teaser that smartly begins by introducing the film as coming “From the director 10 Cloverfield Lane.” There are just a few shots of Naru that follow, but one has her being targeted by the Predator’s familiar three laser beams, so we quickly get what it is we’re watching.

The full trailer then followed in early June. We meet Naru as she is trying to prove her skills and value to the rest of her tribe, but a bear hunt turns into an encounter with the camouflaged Predator. No one believes her when she says something is out there, not even her own brother, but soon the alien is wreaking havoc as it hunts everyone and everything down, with Naru sure she has what it takes to kill it.

A poster came out at the same time showing an extreme closeup of Naru, her face streaked with the glowing blood of the Predator. The same other appeals are made to the audience here, though no additional copy is offered to fill in context.

A 30-second spot was released right after the trailer offering a bit more footage of the conflict between Naru and the Predator.

Trachtenberg explained some of what attracted him to the project and what kind of story he wanted to tell in an interview.

Another poster came out in mid-July, this one showing the Predator instead of the prey. The alien hunter is seen from behind as it looks out from a cave into the wilderness. One more poster shows the conflict between them as Naru jumps off a cliff toward an oversized Predator to indicate the odds she’s up against.

Additional TV spots/online promos continued to come out at this point, each one offering mostly the same footage but with bits and pieces of new material scattered in.

There was a significant effort by 20th Century Studios at Comic-Con last month. That effort included handing out an exclusive free poster to attendees coming by the Disney Television booth. And significantly, Collider hosted an advance screening Thursday night during the event, resulting in lots of very positive word of mouth and buzz for the film. A scavenger hunt at SDCC had attendees searching for tokens they could redeem for invitations to an exclusive party.

The scale of the battle between Naru and the Predator is more realistic as they face off on a poster that came out later in July. A pair of posters depicts that battle as a cave painting, with one featuring the film’s title in the Comanche language.

A short featurette released at the beginning of August goes back to the beginning of the series to explore the legacy of the franchise, with Trachtenberg talking about adding something new and interesting to that. More background on the characters and setting is offered in another featurette that came out a week or so later.

The cast and crew came out for the Los Angeles premiere event last week. A few days later they appeared again at a screening/Q&A at BeyondFest.

There were multiple profiles and interviews with Midthunder about what was being seen as her breakout role as well as a great step in better representation in action/genre films. She talked about her familiarity with the previous movies, how she auditioned in Comanche as well as in English and more.

Beavers also talked about the issue of representation and how producer Jhane Myers, herself a Comanche, pushed for accurate depiction of indigenous culture. Myers herself along with Trachentberg spoke about the process of making this movie, what inspired the story and what possibilities there are for additional entries in the series.

Dane DiLiegro was interviewed about what it took to play the Predator itself, including having to convey thought and emotion through a rubber suit.

Following the film’s release Hulu/20th Century Studios touted its status as the biggest debut of any TV series or movie on the platform, based on activity in the first three days of availability.

overall

One of the aspects of the film that didn’t get a ton of play in the campaign but was buzzed about by others leading up to release is that a Comanche-language dub was offered on Hulu simultaneously with the English-language version. That was a compromise, it seems, from the original plan to film it in *only* Comanche and is still a massive achievement.

But the campaign itself is quite good. It nods to what’s come before without relying on that legacy too heavily as many sequels/prequels/reboots/sidequels do in their marketing. And because the focus remains on Midthunder and her performance as Naru it’s presented as a good entry point for audiences of all kinds whatever their familiarity with the other movies might be.