the northman – marketing recap

How Focus Features has sold a movie of Viking revenge.

The Northman movie poster
The Northman movie poster

Director Robert Eggers takes a break from filming Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in a lighthouse to bring us The Northman. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a man who since being found after escaping the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) was raised by Vikings as a berserker. Discovering terrible secrets about his mother (Nicole Kidman) and with the help of Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth sets out to exact bloody Nordic revenge against those who assassinated his father and reclaim the kingdom that should have been his.

Dafoe, Björk and others costar as the sorcerers, seers, warlords and others Amleth – widely regarded as the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – encounters on his quest.

So with a story steeped deeply in Norse mythology and folk tales, a director known for making some of the most visually-interesting movies in recent history and a whole bunch of Serious Actors, let’s take a look at how this has been sold to the public that will completely ignore it at the box office.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in 2020, including most of the main cast. It wasn’t until May of 2021 that Lionsgate added an official release date.

Kidman commented on the weird process of filming the movie while also praising Eggers in an interview from January 2021.

Ineson talked about shooting the film and how he responded to some of the first footage in this interview from later that year. An interview in June with Dafoe had him talking about the larger scale of this film when compared to his previous work with Eggers, saying while it was a bigger story it still wouldn’t lack for detail or nuance.

Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August 2021 a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

the marketing campaign

“Conquer your fate” declares the first poster, released in December of last year. Amleth stands atop a cliff looking out over the sea and the handful of ships sailing there. It very much establishes the visual tone of the movie and the campaign, offering the audience a fiery and violent experience in theaters.

The first trailer (21.3m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with a young Amleth enjoying the love and company of his parents before his father is brutally murdered, Amleth barely escaping the same fate. Cut to an older Amleth, making his way through the world as he looks for those responsible. When he meets Olga he finds someone with her own agenda as well as abilities that could help him, leading to lots of bloodshed and violence.

In February Skarsgård was interviewed by Kirsten Dunst about his role and what it’s like being part of a big family of actors. There was also a conversation with Eggers about creating the costumes and other design elements of the film as well as the physical transformation Skarsgård underwent for the role. Taylor-Joy spoke about filming in the Irish wilderness and how much she enjoyed getting out in nature for an extended period of time.

More here from Skarsgård about filming such a violent story as well as how he got in Viking-appropriate shape.

TV spots like this began airing in late March focusing on the revenge story and Viking violence, keeping some of Eggers’ more esoteric visual stylings kind of hidden behind quick cuts and heavy music.

The second poster came out shortly after that, this one using the same tagline but now featuring the whole main cast.

A profile of Eggers covered what inspired this story and how the director set out to make an epic that was also an ambitious visual film while being historically accurate. How the movie finally moved into production was also covered in a later profile of Skarsgård that included how he collaborated with Eggers both before filming and during production.

The cast and crew assembled for a special screening of the movie in Rome at the beginning of April. They also appeared for an event in London, which led to first reactions from critics that were overwhelmingly positive.

Clips began coming out then. One shows Amleth leading his warriors on a raid while another has Amleth getting something of a pep talk from Olga.

A set of three character posters was followed by a Dolby-exclusive poster showing a close up of Amleth on a bloody tear through his enemies. More character one-sheets came out later.

Eggers and others from in front of and behind the camera contributed to a featurette about the technical aspects of making the movie. Similar ground was covered later on in an exclusive featurette from AMC Artisan Films.

At this point Focus Features announced a movie-themed RPG tie-in with Fortnight featuring locations and costumes from the film.

An exclusive Nerdist clip shows an extended look at the killing of King Aurvandill that sets Amleth on his quest for vengeance.

How this movie fits into his daily life as well as career to date, along with other topics, were covered in another profile of Skarsgård.

Last week Skarsgård made a promotional appearance at NASCAR’s Geico 500 in Talladega. He also talked about the movie in an appearance on “Today” and later on when stopped by “The Late Show.”

All that came just before the film’s Los Angeles black carpet premiere that included a Q&A with the cast and crew. That generated plenty of comments from everyone about the process of making the movie, working with Eggers and more. The director also talked about filming a nude Skarsgård, making the production work despite the location and Covid restrictions and more. Another profile of him included him sharing how he convinced Björk to take on a role in the film.

A short red-band trailer was released right after that, just days ago, that doesn’t break much new ground in terms of the story but does feature even more visceral action.

How Skarsgård got in shape for the role was covered here.


With an impressive 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and some incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated in the last two weeks, tracking projects an opening weekend of $10-15 million, which would be great for a movie of this type.

But really, what matters is that this campaign has been a brutal, bloody good time and that Skarsgård’s glistening abs seem to be the main draw for a substantial portion of the audience. So it’s effectively sold itself to the groups interested in those things, which means this has been a success.

Alexander Skarsgard Kill GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

Emma – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling a new version of a classic novel.

emma poster 2Adaptations of Jane Austen’s most famous novels are relatively common on the big screen. Some take a more faithful approach to the source material (see 1995’s Sense and Sensibility) while others update the characters and situations to a more modern setting.

The new version of Emma – directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role – seems to split the difference, keeping the time period of the original while updating some of the sensibilities of the characters. Remaining intact is the premise of the story, that Emma Woodhouse is the undisputed social queen of her town, becoming a matchmaker for those around her. While trying to get everyone married and attached she has trouble setting down herself until she finds a solution has been in front of her the whole time.

Focus has been selling the film, getting a limited release this week with an 88 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a wicked sense of humor behind a story of gender roles and class in 19th century England.

The Posters

Emma is “Handsome, clever and rich” we’re told on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A). She’s shown standing and looking ready to match wits with all comers, perched on a flat rock on the edge of a massive estate garden. The plants in the foreground look deliberately fake while the background looks like a matte painting, giving the poster the look of a stage production of sorts. It’s a great look.

“Love knows best” is the copy used on the second poster, released in mid-January), which adds Mr. Knightly and Mr. Churchill, both of whom play significant roles in the story, to either side of Emma in the same setting.

Just last week a series of character posters came out that shows more of those in Emma’s social sphere, also in the same background. Using the same setting for the entire poster campaign creates a great sense of brand consistency, all while presenting the movie like a stage play.

The Trailers

As the first trailer (4.3 million views on YouTube), released in November, makes clear, this is not a traditional take on Jane Austin’s material. All the story elements might be there – though the trailer doesn’t take pains to communicate them in any sort of linear fashion – but the attitude is much more arch and comedic. It’s a fast-paced trailer that shows the material is every bit as malleable as other classics, even if you keep the time period setting.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website uses the standard Focus Features site template but offers a lot more content than has been seen on other recent efforts. For the most part that takes the form of curated social updates that offer behind the scenes and other looks at the production and stars. There are also profiles on the major social platforms.

Advertising and Promotions

A 60-second commercial was released last week that cuts the story down slightly while retaining everything about the sense of humor the movie contains. Emma is presented as a willful and slightly subversive young woman, seeking to maneuver those in her orbit into marriages, all while oblivious to the romance in front of her.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

PaperSource, which offered a line of stationary and more featuring designs inspired by Emma or by Jane Austen.

BellaCures, which gave movies tickets to those coming to one of their salon locations for a manicure or pedicure.

Vogue Magazine hosted a screening of the film earlier this month.

Media and Press

EW hosted a sweepstakes awarding tickets to the movie’s premiere.

Interviews with the cast included Taylor-Joy and costar Johnny Flynn talking about their experiences with the costumes and others including costars Bill Nighly commenting on the importance of continuing to adapt Austen’s works.

In a nice nod to one of the most popular of those adaptations, Taylor-Joy talked with Clueless director Amy Heckerling about their various approaches to the story and more. Taylor-Joy was the subject of a feature profile about her experiences filming the movie and more.

A group of young women are playing a game of which Emma does *not* approve in an exclusive clip given to Town and Country, the outlet appropriate given the important role real estate and locations play in this and other Austen stories.


To use a term that would fit in with the time the story is set in, the entire campaign features such a wicked sense of humor it’s enough to make one blush.

That sense of humor is apparent in the posters in how everything is staged like the promotional photos from an amateur stage production of the story, with the actors posed on a rock with plants placed around them and a painting of a scenic backdrop behind them.

In the trailers it’s more subtle but still very much there. It takes the form of arched eyebrows and sly, suppressed smiles. And volumes could be written about that moment Emma looks at the woman next to her while delicately putting a strawberry in her mouth.

emma movie gif

It’s a great example of how to sell a movie that retains its period setting while clearly offering something relevant to the audience, showing modern awareness that is still respectful of the original. More than that, it just looks like a lot of fun.

Picking Up The Spare

Costume designer Alexandra Byrne was interviewed about collaborating with de Wilde on the look of the characters and more.

Costumes were also the focus of an interview with Flynn about his character and another about how he wrote an original song for the film and what he felt the core of his character was.

Taylor-Joy was interviewed again about how this movie allowed her to expand her range a bit as well as her experience working with de Wilde. Another had her talking about adding a sense of whimsy to a very dramatic story.

MovieClips got an exclusive clip of a key scene between Emma and her potential suitor.

How de Wilde got her first directorial gig and her approach to the movie was covered in this interview. She also talked about why Emma made sense as her first attempt.

The locations featured in the movie were the subject of the latest installment of Focus Features’ “Reel Destinations” web series. The film’s food was also given the spotlight in another featurette. There were further featurettes where the cast gave etiquette lessons and shared stories from the set.

A later interview with de Wilde had her talking about the movie’s early home video release.

Thoroughbreds – Marketing Recap

thoroughbreds poster 3Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) are friends who have grown apart but find themselves coming back together in the new movie Thoroughbreds. Neither is particularly happy in their suburban Connecticut lives and are often a source of frustration to their parents and family. Lily is upper-crust while Amanda is a social misfit. One thing they have in common is their hatred of Mark (Paul Sparks), Lily’s stepfather.

With a shared goal in mind, the pair begin to consider the possibility of murdering him to rid the world of an odious human being. The idea becomes more and more concrete until they reach out to a small-time local hood named Tim (Anton Yelchin, in his final role) for help. That’s on the beginning, though, as their newfound sociopathy only escalates thanks to the self-reinforcing nature of Lily and Amanda’s friendship.

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