Those Who Wish Me Dead – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling a drama of a young man and fire.

Those Who Wish Me Dead theatrical poster (by The Refinery)

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber, a former smokejumper in the forests of Montana. Faber is haunted by the memories of an earlier forest fire that went very badly for the rest of her team. One day while keeping watch she comes across Conner (Finn Little), a young boy who seems to be on the run from something. Turns out he’s being pursued by two hitmen who have just killed his father and who are so desperate to tie up loose ends they will set a forest fire to flush out Faber and the boy.

The movie, directed by Taylor Sheridan, has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and arrives this week in theaters and on HBO Max preceded by a campaign that has emphasized the drama of evading fire but not so much on the story or characters themselves.

The Posters

The faces of Faber and Conner are the primary elements on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) that came out in April. Both are, of course, bathed in the red light of the fire they are on the run from and both look weary and stressed from that effort. There’s no copy about the story here, and while Sheridan isn’t name-checked exactly a couple of his previous popular credits are called out at the top.

The Trailers

Hannah is working a fire-watching tower and still reeling from the mistakes she made years ago as the first trailer (8.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, begins. One day she encounters a young boy who, she finds, is on the run from some dangerous people who have already killed his father. Those bad men start a forest fire to flush Hannah and the boy out, meaning she not only has to keep the kid safe but deal with the trauma of her own past at the same time.

Online and Social

Not much information on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a brief synopsis and information on either buying tickets or subscribing to HBO Max.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

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

Warner Bros. announced the May release date in February.

An interview with Jolie and others included a first look still from the film.

Fandango’s MovieClips got an exclusive clip in early May showing a key dramatic moment with Hannah trying to save her young charge from an encroaching fire.

A short featurette came out around the same time with Jolie and other members of the cast and crew discussing the themes of the story and what it was like to shoot the film in some extreme conditions.

Cutdown versions of the trailer – usually around 10 or 15 seconds – were used as TV spots as well as online, including as pre-roll ads on YouTube.

The key art was modified and reused for online ads that included a link to the HBO Max website where people could sign up.

Those Who Wish Me Dead online ad

HBO Max released an exclusive “first look” clip featuring a key moment of Faber figuring out why Conner is being pursued and by whom just days before the movie came out.


It’s a mixed bag here.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of drama that’s created in the campaign. We get the tension inherent in the flight of the two main characters from both the hitmen and the fire they start to either kill or find their quarry. And Sheridan has proven himself as a solid director of emotional stories about characters whose future we care about.

On the other, the trailer and other assets don’t give us a lot of opportunity to actually experience any empathy for those characters. There’s not a lot of detail regarding the story and the trailer in particular is somewhat unclear as to what’s happening. Not only that but given the human cost of forest fires over the last few years it’s hard to see that fire without recalling some very recent stories from the real world.

Still, it’s not unreasonable to overlook a few quibbles and give the benefit of the doubt to the campaign, given the talent involved.

The One and Only Ivan – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a sweet story that adds talking animals to a true story.

The One and Only Ivan, debuting on Disney+ after being shunted from theaters to the streaming platform earlier this year, is based on author K. A. Applegate’s young adult novel of the same name. In the story, a gorilla named Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) teams up with an elephant (voiced by Angela Jolie) and a dog (voiced by Danny DeVito) to figure out where they came from before winding up at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade under the care of Mack (Bryan Cranston).

Their journey to discover their past and leave the Big Top Mall is prompted by the arrival of a baby elephant (voiced by Brooklynn Prince), who has been abused in the past and who the others seek to protect. Together they plan an escape, but to what is unclear.

Disney’s campaign for the film has featured many of the earmarks of a full-fledged theatrical release, the byproduct of those original plans, while selling a generally positive and funny film for all ages.

The Posters

A caravan of animals is seen in silhouette against a paintbrush-hewn sunset sky on the poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in early July. The names of the primary cast are shown against that same sky, with those two elements making up the primary selling points presented to the audience here along with the date of the streaming debut.

That same waterbrush style was used on a series of character posters that came out just last week in mid-August. On each one, a different animal looks out from the frame created by those painted lines, with the character and actor name featured at the top.

The Trailers

As the first trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released in July, begins, Ivan is a playful young gorilla playing with his family in the jungle. But then he’s brought to human civilization by Mack, who makes him the centerpiece of a circus. Ivan is asked to be fearsome but is really peaceful and nostalgic for the family he hasn’t seen for years. When everyone discovers Ivan’s more sensitive – and artistic – side, a journey begins to reunite him with his family.

Online and Social

It doesn’t look like Disney created any standalone sites or profiles for the movie, but it did give it decent promotion on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

Disney announced in mid-June that the movie was being pulled from the theatrical release and instead would debut on Disney+ a week after it was initially planned.

A special behind the scenes featurette came out in early August offering a bit of background on the characters and story.

About the same time a short commercial was released that cuts down the story to make it look fun and silly and heartwarming.

The first clip from the film came out earlier this month, showing Mack getting very excited over the potential of a gorilla who can draw.

Another clip shows the animals in mid-escape, but taking a moment to have a good laugh.

A later commercial continues to present the film as a lighthearted and fun romp involving some goofy talking animals.

The cast gets another opportunity to talk about their excitement about participating in the film in a featurette released this week.

Media and Press

Cranston appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and the story that inspired it.

There were a few other appearances and interviews by Jolie and some of the rest of the cast, but the pre-release publicity cycle seems to have been relatively low-key.


There’s nothing wrong with the campaign, but it comes off a little…trite. That’s mostly because there seems to be something of a disconnect between the movie’s logline – which emphasizes how Ivan and his group of friends seems to be prompted by the arrival of a baby elephant to protect it – and the theme of the campaign, which presents a slightly silly story about goofy animals who talk to each other.

That could create some confusion in the audience when reviews start hitting and when people are able to view it themselves. But honestly the odds are likely low that what’s presented as lighthearted fun gets into territory that’s seriously dark.

Picking Up The Spare

Another featurette focused on the translation of the book to the screen. 

The movie’s VFX team was interviewed about how they made the graphics production as seamless and efficient as possible. 

Ads have been running on YouTube like the one below driving people to Disney+. 

Charlie Puth put out a video for a song written by Diane Warren that’s featured in the movie. 

One more promo for the film now that it’s available for streaming by subscribers.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – Marketing Recap

The fairy tale sequel is tracking for a $50 million opening weekend.

maleficent 2 poster 4Angelina Jolie returns in the title role of this week’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. The Disney release is a sequel to the 2014 original that had her playing the Sleeping Beauty villain in her early, more sympathetic years.

The new movie picks up five years after the events of the first movie. Maleficent has been acting as the protector of Aurora (Elle Fanning) as well as the kingdom her family rules over. An uneasy truce between humans and fairies, which Maleficent leads, is tested when Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes marriage to Aurora and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfieffer) sees it as an opportunity to cause further division.

It’s part of Disney’s trend of breathing new life into classic animated characters by adapting them into live-action, albeit with the twist here that the focus is on the antagonist. That’s something the studio will revisit with next year’s Cruella.

For now, though, the popularity of the original film necessitated a sequel and Disney was happy to oblige. The marketing for the second installment has been full-throated, but the message has been shallow, hoping that sheer spectacle will make up for what seem to be crudely-constructed characters whose motivations remain unclear.

The Posters

The teaser poster (by marketing agency BOND) released in early March offered the first real good look at the movie, showing Jolie as the title character bathed in darkness and looking more than a little evil.

Two months later a triptych was released with Maleficent in the middle while Queen Ingrith and Princess Aurora flank her, each set against a background that’s in keeping with the character. Individual posters breaking out each character were released shortly thereafter.

maleficent 2 poster 2

Another widescreen promotional image was released when the movie was being touted at D23 in August.

maleficent 2 poster 3

In August the theatrical poster was released showing Maleficent looming in the background while all the other characters are off to the side. More character posters (by marketing agency eclipse) followed later in the month offering closer looks at Aurora, Ingrith and Conall.

It’s a very dark, fairy tale image used on the IMAX poster, with Maleficent spreading her wings to their full terrifying breadth as thorny vines spread all around her, a green ring’s glow providing the only source of light. Similarly, the RealD 3D poster has her hovering in the sky as feathers fly from her wings. The Dolby Cinemas poster looks almost like a Rorschach drawing, with Maleficent’s face and headdress appearing as light, feathery, detailed brushstrokes.

The Trailers

The first teaser (6.1 million views on YouTube)from mid-March promises “this is no fairy tale” as we see Maleficent threatening royalty and causing all sorts of other chaos. Her motivations are unclear and not much of the story is offered to viewers as this is all about promising the character is returning and looks fabulous in her various costumes.

There’s more of the story in the second trailer (11.8 million views on YouTube) from early July as we see Aurora has grown and is engaged to be married. That news is going to ruin Maleficent’s morning. Even worse, Queen Ingrith has decided this is the moment to reclaim motherhood of Aurora, prompting Maleficent to declare the wedding will not happen. So begins a battle between the two women for Aurora’s soul and future, one filled with all the creatures and settings you’d expect to find in a fairy tale land.

Online and Social

In addition to trailers and a story synopsis, Disney’s official website for the film has some character descriptions but not much else. I’m surprised to find there aren’t a number of promotional partners listed here.

A movie-themed collection of stickers could be accessed by iMessage users to add some zing to their messages.

Users of the site/app PicsArt could add their own photo and enhance it with Maleficent’s headdress and other paraphernalia, the finished product then available to share with others.

Advertising and Publicity

The first waves for the movie were made when the expanded cast list was confirmed by the cast themselves via social media. Months later in April Disney shared footage from the movie as part of its CinemaCon pitch to exhibitors, promising a spooky story for audiences to enjoy.

A more audience-centric appeal was taken at Essence Fest in early July as a photo booth featuring images from the movie was part of the studio’s presence at that convention.

Early August brought the first TV spot, which shows the kind of fairy tale action and drama audiences can expect from the film.

Later that month the movie was part of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo, with Jolie appearing on stage along with the rest of the cast to promote the film to attendees. Costumes from the movie were on display on the show floor.

Disneyland hosted a sneak preview of the film for guests at the part, with Fanning stopping by to give fans a treat in late September.

Jolie was praised by her costars in a short featurette released in early September that emphasized how incredibly she inhabits the role. Another featurette focused on how time had passed in the story and where all the characters are when we see them again.

Disney released a “Back in Black” time lapse video of Jolie having her makeup applied. The event of advance tickets going on sale was marked with a new TV spot promising the return of everyone’s favorite villain. That was followed by a longer commercial that showed off more of the characters and conflict from the movie. Additional commercials hit similar themes, showing the dark nature of the story and the fantasy-based action it contains.

A new song for the film’s soundtrack was released by Bebe Rexha in mid-September. The official video came out a month or so later.

Promotional partners for the movie include:

  • Kohler, which ran co-branded commercials promoting its high-tech mirrors that come equipped with voice controls, something that’s very on-brand for the movie’s subject matter.

The first clip was released by Disney in late December showing Maleficent confronting the King and Queen about problems in the woods.

Disney shared footage from the movie’s premiere in early October that showed all the cast and others in attendance. That came along with a brief video showing Jolie getting ready for that premiere.

Beginning earlier this month Disney released videos from the movie’s worldwide premiere events, including Japan, Rome, Tokyo and London. There was also a stop in Moscow. A short sizzle reel recapping all those and other global stops came out days before release.

Additional TV and online video spots hit various aspects of the story, always coming back to the visuals of Maleficent exercising her full power to threaten the humans she’s been betrayed by. An extended “Special Look” came out just days before the movie came to theaters that promised audiences a story that may not have a happy ending for all involved.

An LA building wall was transformed into a movie mural thanks to a local artist.

The three leads sat down for a conversation about the story and characters, agreeing that Maleficent isn’t actually evil, just wild and a little misunderstood.

A partnership with YouTube influencer Promise Phan promoted the availability of an augmented reality tool allowing people to add effects that transformed themselves into the title character.

Media and Promotions

In August Jolie wrote an essay on the issue of women’s rights and gender equality that was part of a cover story she was featured in.

A feature on Fanning focused on her fashion choices and how she’s become more comfortable with expressing herself through clothes and more.

The members of the cast showed up on various morning and late night talk shows to promote the film.


Jolie is being positioned here as an almost Beyonce-like figure, someone who immediately dominates any room she enters by virtue of her strange, otherworldly energy. That’s the message conveyed by the videos shared from D23 and the global premieres, including all those spots showing her putting on makeup and preparing for those events. It’s one that’s in line with the character she plays, someone who literally descends from the heavens to inspire or terrify those around her.

But that’s the only message the campaign really has for audiences. The story itself is never more than hinted at or alluded to in the trailers or TV spots. And the interviews with the cast include lots of discussion about how Maleficent isn’t bad, she’s just acting within the confines of her nature when she threatens humanity, making it clear it was humanity that betrayed her first.

In that regard it’s much like many of the other recent campaigns from Disney for their various franchises. It knows the story isn’t what will convince people to pop for IMAX tickets, so it just shows larger-than-life characters in large-scale set pieces to act as the primary value proposition.

Picking Up the Spare

The movie’s costuming and makeup work was the subject of this profile. Meanwhile, the film’s director talked about specific inspirational sources he drew from.

Another fun little video with Pfeiffer and Fanning answering fan questions.

Before Atomic Blonde: Selling Female Action Heroes

Last week Universal Pictures pulled out a number of stops to sell Atomic Blonde, an action-packed spy thriller starring Charlize Theron. Set during the Cold War 1980s, Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an agent of MI6 who must go into Berlin and evade enemies, friends-turned-enemies and other dangers to retrieve some form of Macguffin before it falls into the wrong hands, as these things are apt to do.

A good chunk of the marketing for the movie focused around how Theron was not only willing to do but capable of doing her own stunts. Interviews covered her training regime, featurettes showed her working out the fight choreography and more. While the formal campaign emphasized the sleek, stylized world of spycraft Theron’s Broughton operates in, the rest of it made sure audiences knew it was the actress herself who was doing the punching that’s seen on-screen.

That focus almost made it seem like this was the first time a movie campaign needed to sell the idea of a female action hero. The implied message seemed to be some version of “Women : They’re just like men.” which was…strange for 2017. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to see a woman kicking just as much hinder as a man would in a movie. It’s not even the first time this year (cough, Wonder Woman, cough). And it’s not the first time Theron has been at the center of the action.

To prove that point, let’s look at six other ways female action heroes have been positioned as the main value proposition for audiences.

The Young Adult Chosen One

If you’re not familiar with the name Katniss Everdeen, I’m not sure what to tell you. The Hunger Games made Jennifer Lawrence a household name after she was cast in the film adaptations of the popular young adult novels. While the Divergent series didn’t reach those box office heights (the final novel’s adaptation is rumored to be going to TV), it too positioned a young girl (Tris, played by Shailene Woodley) as the bright light leading the way out of a bleak, dystopian society. The trailers for the movies in both franchises featured the young women at the center of the stories engaging in equal amounts action and inspirational speeches. Both campaigns proved that fighting the good fight wasn’t just about inciting rebellion and disrupting the status quo but also shooting arrows and throwing punches when necessary.

Sci-Fi Queens

Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley weren’t the first actresses to lead their own science-fiction franchises. Before them came Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, who took lead roles in the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises, respectively. The marketing of both these series has heavily featured the stars engaging in all sorts of special effects-driven action, whether it’s taking down Lycans or fighting against the evil Umbrella Corporation.

Angelina Jolie: Action Star

Jolie has become more political and socially-conscious with her films of late but the 2000s had her taking on a number of action roles. Between 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 2010’s Salt, she starred in a number of movies that had her exercising her stunt muscles on-screen. Salt had her on the run after she’s accused of being a Russian spy (which may not even be illegal anymore) and the trailer pulls heavily from the scenes of her evading arrest by running, jumping and more. She’s positioned more as the sexy mentor in the trailer for 2008’s Wanted, but is still capable of curving a bullet if she needs to. She’s deadly and dangerous in the trailer for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where she plays one half of a married couple who don’t know the other one is also a spy.

Unstoppable and Out For Revenge

Anyone compiling a list of cinematic grievance has to put “That we only got one Haywire movie” somewhere near the top. The trailer shows Mallory Kane (MMA star Gina Carano) as a government operative out for revenge after she’s betrayed by those in power. Similarly the trailers for both parts of the Kill Bill films makes it clear The Bride (Uma Thurman) has been wronged and it out to address her grievances with those she formerly called teammates. That quest ends with a confrontation with Bill (Keith Carradine) himself, but not before Thurman has shown herself quite capable at swordplay.

Solo Action Stars

It’s not as if the female action hero is a new innovation. In 1993 Bridget Fonda starred in Point of No Return, the American remake of La Femme Nikita. As the trailer shows, Nina (Fonda) is a force to be reckoned with, even before she received the training to become an assassin. The trailer for the French-language original takes a different tack that’s much more dramatic than action-packed. And we can’t go without mentioning the one-chick hit squad that is Foxy Brown. The trailer features enough jive talk that you might need Barbara Billingsley to translate, but the message that Foxy is not to be trifled with comes through loud and clear. Finally, there’s this year’s Wonder Woman, which had an entire campaign that wasn’t about Gal Gadot’s training regime but about how compassion and love spur the hero to enter the world of men to fight for the helpless.

The Alien Gold Standard

No, the female action star is not exclusive to the years post 1990. Foxy Brown predates it, but the mold of this particular kind of hero was cast in the Alien franchise (pre-Prometheus, of course) with the iconic Sigourney Weaver. The trailer for the 1979 original may not show very much of Ripley as it’s more focused on the general chaos on board the alien-infested space craft. But by 1986 with the trailer for Aliens things had changed and Ripley’s combat skills come to the forefront. She’s more the inspirational leader and the one who warns of danger in the trailer for Alien 3, but that was a very different movie, going back to being more about hidden terror than mech-suit battles. By the time Fox was marketing Alien: Resurrection Ripley was positioned as a creepy artificial construct, not a hero with her own agency.