The Empty Cynicism of Avengers: Endgame Returning to Theaters

Last week Marvel Studios and Disney announced – at least kinds sorta – Avengers: Endgame would be returning to theaters. The news actually came from producer Kevin Feige, who said in an interview that there were plans being cooked up, and tickets are going on sale tonight according to CNBC for showtimes this coming weekend.

Unless I’ve completely missed something, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of grassroots groundswell demanding an extended version of a movie many thought was, at 3:01 in its original form, overly long and bloated to begin with. Instead this seems to be among the more cynical ploys engaged in by a Hollywood studio in some time.

Barring more information from Marvel itself, there seem to be a few possibilities for why a movie that’s already grossed $2.7 billion worldwide is coming back to drain audience Venmo accounts just a little bit more.

1: It’s a Spider-Man: Far From Home marketing stunt

Coming just a week before the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters seems like interesting timing, and there’s a decent chance the extended version will have some sort of additional tie to the upcoming movie, the first MCU entry to be set after the events of Endgame. Perhaps there’s an additional post-credits scene that shows Peter Parker reintegrating to society after being brought back to life.

spider-man far from home pic

The two movies seem very closely tied already, with Far From Home’s marketing really ramping up after Endgame was in theaters for a couple weeks so the studio could show more footage and explain what position Peter and other characters were in. So this wouldn’t be a surprising development.

2: Someone *Really* Wants to dethrone Avatar

One of the most common headlines as Endgame began winding down its theatrical run – which is still not fully closed – is that for as big as it was it wasn’t going to be enough to unseat James Cameron’s 2008 sci-fi epic. As it stands right now, Avatar outpaces the final Avengers film by about $37 million worldwide.

avatar

If this is the rationale, it’s solely driven by the desire to claim bragging rights for the MCU. Disney, with its acquisition of Fox, now manages Avatar as well as the Marvel films, so the competition is less “our studio is better than yours” than a passive aggressive interoffice memo.

3: Easy weekend to kill smaller movies

With this past week’s Toy Story 4, Disney already owns four of 2019’s top-grossing films, and the year so far has been filled with stories of how with a few notable exceptions non-franchise films just can’t compete with the behemoths coming out of the studio. Even other series entries or planned launches have fallen by the wayside. With The Lion King, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker still on the calendar, there’s little reason to think Disney alone won’t dominate the theatrical landscape.

toy story 4 pic

This weekend is one that has no major blockbuster coming out. Instead there’s a Danny Boyle music drama, a retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective and a horror series sequel. In other words, if an Endgame rerelease can gross more than $20 million it’s almost guaranteed to win the weekend, potentially drawing out people who would otherwise be waiting for Spider-Man.

4: Launching Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 4

Feige and others have made it clear that while Far From Home takes place post-Endgame, the Spider-Man sequel is not a part of the next phase of the MCU. In fact, Marvel’s exact plans for the next phase of the shared universe remain murky. While sequels to Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Doctor Strange are in various stages of development, none has an official release date and all seem at least a year or more out. Meanwhile, Feige has said it’s still running through ideas on how – or if – to integrate the characters from the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties it got from Fox.

There’s a decent chance, then, that as the official end of the first era of the Marvel movies. Perhaps it ends with more clear direction for the three characters mentioned above or introduces someone new that hasn’t been seen in the films to date and sets up what’s coming next, providing more definite release dates and titles. The MCU has thrived so far in part because the studio has told fans well in advance what movies are coming out and used each film to set up *something* that will pay off down the road. If it waits too much longer it risks losing the very momentum that’s carried it for the last decade.

As of this moment there’s no official word on the rerelease plans, at least none that have been shared on either the Avengers or Marvel Studios Twitter profiles, two outlets one could reasonably assume would be keen to share the news with followers. While this is likely to be framed as being “for the fans” there’s a more strategic and calculated rational that probably won’t be part of the announcement, whenever it comes. It’s either because such a release would play a role in other marketing plans, or Marvel is going full Al Capone on any and all competition.

UPDATE: These plans were confirmed, with the poster below being given away at select screenings.

avengers endgame rerelease poster

The Avengers Endgame Spoiler Lid Has Lifted

One of the key elements in the marketing of both last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and the recent Avengers: Endgame has been a massive effort to keep those who have already seen the movie, particularly in the early days of release, from spoiling it for those who hadn’t. Both movies have been steeped in such secrecy that the official campaigns have featured copious amounts of altered footage to throw fans off the scent. The trailers for Endgame precious few actual scenes from the movie, opting instead to set the tone by using clips from previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have been major players in the efforts to keep every element of the story for the two movies secret. In the build up to Infinity War there was the warning that Thanos Demands Your Silence, which became a hashtag on social media and was featured in a PSA with stars from the film. For Endgame it was more explicit, with the message being simply to #DontSpoilTheEndgame, which generated a sponsored emoji on Twitter and which was also accompanied by a video reminding that prison rules apply and snitches get stitches.

The Russos “announced” last week that today would mark the end of the spoiler ban on the assumption that by the end of the movie’s second weekend in theaters most everyone who felt it vital to do so would have seen it already. That’s not an unreasonable assumption given it has already passed the $2 billion mark worldwide, with $620 million in North America alone. A *lot* of people have seen it, many more than once.

Decisions about when it’s alright to to discuss important plot points that may be considered spoilers has traditionally been made collectively by the general public. A month or two always seemed reasonable given that it allows for people to schedule going to the movies around work and other commitments. Some people just can’t make opening weekend. Of course there are outliers, as there are portions of the internet where discussing how Tessio is the traitor who turns on Michael in The Godfather would still be a spoiler 47 years later.

Now it seems it’s the directors and others involved in making the movie who are making those calls. That the lid is being lifted so soon is indicative of a couple things:

First, that spoiler culture is now so pervasive that studios claim power over it as their own. What plot points are discussed and when is something they feel they can dictate given its they that made and control the movie. It’s a symptom and byproduct of the shift by studios from just making movies to being managers of cross-media intellectual property to be monetized. You can’t just go and make your own Captain America movie because they own the copyright on the character, at least not unless you want to go up against Disney’s lawyers with a fair use claim. So the company also sees it as reasonable it can decide when something is or isn’t a spoiler for that cross-media execution because that decision may impact other similar executions. It’s not a far leap to make.

Second, that free and open discussion of spoilers is now a marketing tactic in and of itself. By having the Russos say that all bets were off come Monday, May 5 they were attempting to light a fire under those people who hadn’t yet bought their tickets. “You better see it now before we remove the restrictor plate.” What impact that may have had in such a successful second weekend is almost impossible to quantify but certainly some people opted to see it now before any more time goes by wherein someone else might spoil whether Ilsa chooses life with Rick in Casablanca or stays with Victor and supports his efforts with the Resistance. Or whatever it is that happens in Endgame.

avengers endgame gif 2
Your spoilers made Captain America sad.

What’s important to remember is that all that power is, at least for the moment, illusory. Disney can’t actually sue anyone for posting a spoiler on Twitter on opening day. And the Russos have not been actively smacking people down for discussing whether or not Superman comes back to join the fight against Steppenwolf.

What power does exist is still almost exclusively derived from certain members of the audience who have taken it upon themselves to act as the spoiler police, saving other innocent victims from unwittingly finding out it was really Earth the astronauts were on the whole time, not an alien planet of hyper-intelligent apes. They harass anyone found to be discussing even broad impressions prior to or immediately after release. More than one film critic found themselves being called out simply for saying Endgame was good or lived up to expectations because SPOILER that made the person feel it would be a satisfying conclusion to the story and that was too much to know going in.

Studios have only encouraged this by feeding the spoiler frenzy. Actors and directors are held in such tight control that interviews with them are filled with platitudes about working with the rest of the cast or feeling honored to be part of something that’s been so popular instead of any plot elements no matter how vague. Massive campaigns are run reminding everyone that a *real* fan wouldn’t spoil anything for the rest of the crowd. If the latter seems reminiscent of propaganda campaigns to warn people working at top secret military installations to never discuss what they do or see, you’re not wrong. The same mindset is at work.

Disney and other studios have so much invested in the careful management of these characters and stories they need to run these “loose lips sink ships” efforts lest any potential value go unrealized. That message has been adopted in particular by those identifying as super fans who feel protective of these properties and don’t want to see the sullied, so they become allies, unofficial mobs enforcing their own version of law and order over the unruly masses.

It’s an extension of the emphasis Hollywood has always put on opening weekend as a barometer for a movie’s success. Campaigns encouraging audiences to go see it in theaters as soon as it comes out are now longer sufficient, there now has to be some level of pain associated in the minds of moviegoers with failing to do so. The carrot of being among the first is no longer enough of a message, so the stick of being left behind by your more plugged-in friends and having major twists revealed that will make the movie less enjoyable must now be employed.

This will only get more extreme as time goes by and media habits in the public continue to change. Streaming doesn’t carry with it (at least not yet) that same sort of time sensitivity. Sure, you can be part of the conversation if you watched Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile on Netflix over the weekend, but it will still be right there in six months if you just couldn’t get to it. Netflix may prefer it if you do so sooner, but later works as well, as long as you subscribe. The economics of theatrical release favor quick immediate hits, which is why there’s so much emphasis on seeing the movie *now* unless you want someone to spoil that Endgame ends with Star-Lord discovering Soylent Green is people.

Avengers: Endgame – Marketing Recap

You can read the rest of my recap of the marketing campaign for Avengers: Endgame at The Hollywood Reporter. My coverage of the PSA effort for Stand Up To Cancer also ran on Adweek.

Online and Social

For such a big movie, Marvel’s official website isn’t very informative, perhaps by design. You’ll find both trailers and some basic background on the film, including links to on-site blog posts offering readers a refresher on what’s come before, as well as a list of the promotional partners who helped draft off the movie’s buzz.

Media and Publicity

Of course the movie couldn’t help but come up as the cast was out promoting other projects, as Smulders, Jackson and others were all compelled to comment on it in some manner.

Ruffalo appeared on “The Tonight Show” to help debut the second trailer and answer (or not) questions about the movie. Duke also mentioned the movie while promoting Us last month.

A substantial profile on Evans had the actor talking about not only the future of Captain America and his part in the MCU but also the political stances he’s taken, with him saying staying silent wasn’t an option even if it meant alienating some portion of the audience and potentially costing him work.

The movie’s substantial length became the focus of many conversations in the last month prior to release following the revelation that it was clocking in around three hours, a full 30 minutes longer than Infinity War. The Russos rationalized the expanded time by pointing out the movie wrapped up the story that had been told over 20+ movies and featured dozens and dozens of characters.

A different subset of cast members appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” each night the week of April 8-12, bringing clips and more. That started with Downey, Johannson, Hemsworth and Rudd followed by Renner and Cheadle. Around the same time they showed up on “Good Morning America.”

In the final few weeks of the press cycle, two themes emerged in terms of what the cast and crew were telling interviewers and talk show hosts:

  1. “Let us explain…” That’s what the Russo brothers did to clarify why Captain Marvel is wearing more makeup in this movie than she did in her solo outing (a ridiculous topic).
  2. “We don’t know nothing…” That’s what Hemsworth, Cheadle and others did when asked what they knew about the movie’s story, which isn’t surprising given they’re all just small parts in a very big machine.
  3. “[X] has returned…” That’s what was behind interviews and profiles of Tessa Thompson, who confirmed that she couldn’t confirm anything, and Rudd/Renner, who spoke of how they are finally able to rejoin their comrades.

An EW cover story reunited the original team for a retrospective interview and offered up other photos and details, but not too much.

At the end of the campaign there were profiles of Feige as well as his two long-time aides. The screenwriters were interviewed on how they worked to bring together so many different storylines and characters into something coherent as well as how they reintroduced some of the previously missing heroes. Feige and Downey Jr. reminisced on the beginnings of the MCU, when the idea of a shared cinematic universe was still a “best case scenario” and the bets were much more unsure.

Rudd was announced as the host of an upcoming episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

One final TV spot released the day the movie hit theaters played up the overwhelmingly positive reviews it was getting. A video had a bunch of the stars reminding the audience not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Adding to the movie’s profile was the news from Fandango it now held the record for the most advance tickets sold.

Larson came on “The Tonight Show” and revealed she shot her first appearance with the rest of the Avengers – which appears at the end of her own movie – on a green screen with no one else around and no idea what her one line meant. Rudd also appeared to have some fun with Fallon.

The media agency Kantar estimated that all in, Disney spent close to $14 million on the marketing and advertising campaign, with TV buys making up a little over half of that and a good chunk of the advertising coming the day tickets went on sale a couple weeks ago.

avengers-endgame-kantor-chart

Another profile of Winston Duke mentioned this movie as well as his appearance in Us.

More details revealed here on the partnership with Fortnite.

Overall

avengers endgame gif

Picking Up the Spare

Wayne Friedman at MediaPost points out how the majority of the movie’s campaign – and ad spending – came in the final month leading up to release. Jeff Beer at Fast Company also has his own recap of some of the movie’s cross-promotional campaign. There was also a look at how altered shots in the trailers kept some of the movie’s secrets hidden. 

Google added a fun little tool for those who searched for “Thanos.” 

Additional TV spots promised a “once in a generation event” and played up all the records the movie was breaking. 

Another short promotional video shows how every movie has lead to this one while also reminding audiences not to spoil the ending for anyone. Some of the cast reminisced about their favorite memories as part of the MCU. 

Brolin appeared on “Kimmel,” as did Sebastian Stan. 

IMAX continued promoting the filmmakers use of its large-format cameras with another video. 

Trolls continued to hound Larson, criticizing her junket appearances to the point where costar Don Cheadle felt the need to smack them down. 

The writers and directors of the movie kept talking about various aspects of the story and characters. 

Once the spoiler lid lifted more details about the story started to official come out, including a profile on the effects of Professor Hulk, who was also featured in a clip. 

Gillan was the subject of two profiles focusing on her role in the movie. 

The Three Key Elements of the New Avengers: Endgame Trailer

With just over a month left before the movie hits theaters, Disney has released what is likely the final full trailer for Avengers: Endgame, the fourth and final Avengers film and the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that kicked off with 2008’s surprise hit Iron Man.

While there are plenty of moments in the trailer that have already resulted in copious speculation online, there are a few elements that stand out as being even more notable or interesting that who that girl Hawkeye is training might be, whether it’s the Quantum Realm Ant-Man is jumping around in and why the whole team is wearing armored space suits at the end.

No, Really, This Is The End This Time

For all the commentary that’s been generated by the new footage in the trailer, a fair amount of the 2:27 runtime is devoted to scenes pulled from earlier movies, especially the first Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films. That, along with the dialogue from Tony Stark about how he was hoping to pull off one last surprise, sells this as the final chapter in the first block of MCU movies, the end of the road for audiences have been on a decade-plus ride to date.

That’s an interesting approach considering the entirety of the campaign for last year’s Avengers: Infinity War was centered around how *it* was the final chapter in the first block of MCU movies, the end of the road for audiences that had been on a decade-long ride. It’s not likely Disney is overly worried about disgruntled fans protesting because they feel duped by a marketing push that included class photos and retrospective featurettes. The marketing for Endgame hasn’t included any of that kind of material, despite it more accurately appearing to be the finale of the series.

Oh, There’s Carol

Everyone knew Captain Marvel was going to be in Endgame, but she was absent from the first trailer, released back in December. At that time the marketing of her solo movie, starring Brie Larson, was in full swing. With that movie now in theaters – and a massive hit – it was finally time for the character to join the other Avengers as the heroes search for a way to undo the cataclysm brought about by Thanos when he snapped his fingers.

Still, all we see is her standing alongside Thor. She’s not in costume and has no action other than to not flinch when the demigod summons his hammer and she doesn’t even flinch, an accomplishment that proves her worthiness to the God of Thunder. As some have pointed out, she’s sporting a more glam look than she does in her own movie but why that might be (other than the whims of a different director and stylist) is unclear.

What’s Black, White and Red All Over? These Flashbacks

There’s likely some symbolism and thematic rationale for the footage from previous movies being presented in black and white with hints of red being highlighted on character’s costumes and uniforms, but what that might be isn’t readily apparent. It may simply be that this was an aesthetic chosen simply for the stark contrast it offers.

Whatever the reason, it’s used here to mark what audiences have seen before as being different from what they’re seeing for the first time. Again, the trailer devotes a full 40 seconds – about a quarter of its length – to scenes from previous movies as the marketing team hopes to make the audience completely understand what they’re seeing here is the next and last step. If this were a “Friends” episode (which isn’t too much of a stretch given the episodic nature of the MCU) it would be titled “The One That Ties It All Together.”

Emo Haircut Hawkeye

It can’t go without saying that Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) sports an odd number of hairstyles in the trailer and presumably the movie as a whole.

The Tussled Avenger

Someone’s grandmother just ruined a perfectly good hair day.

hawkeye endgame 1

The Dadcore Avenger

A good respectable haircut for when you have to take the car to Jiffy Lube in the afternoon.

hawkeye endgame 2

The Red Hot Chili Pepper Avenger

For when you’ve got to give it away, give it away, give it away now.

hawkeye endgame 3

Let’s Look At Some of 2019’s Anticipated Movies

With 2018 now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward to what’s coming to audiences by way of feature releases in 2019. Thanks to a number of media and theater-adjacent companies we have a decent idea of what people are looking forward to.

While every news site has published their own lists of films its staff is anxious to see, a few have been released based on survey results and they show a lot of commonalities, both in specific titles and rationales. Let’s take a look at what Atom Tickets, Fandango and IMDb have to tell us about what has gotten people’s attention among the upcoming releases.

  • Avengers: Endgame (Atom #1, IMDb #2, Fandango #1)
  • Captain Marvel (Atom #2, IMDb #1, Fandango #2)
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (Atom #3, Fandango #4)
  • Toy Story 4 (Atom #4, Fandango #5)
  • The Lion King (Atom #5, Fandango #7)
  • Star Wars: Episode IX (Atom #6, Fandango #3)
  • Aladdin (Atom #7, IMDb #9, Fandango #8)
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Atom #8, IMDb #3,
  • Glass (Atom #9, IMDb #7, Fandango #6)
  • Jumanji 2 (Atom #10)
  • Hellboy (IMDb #10)
  • Joker (IMDB #8, Fandango #10)
  • It: Chapter Two (IMDb #6)
  • Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (IMDb #4)
  • Dumbo (Fandango #9)

So what do all those titles and their rankings tell us?

Super Heroes Continue To Be Big Draws

Six movies out of the 15 spread across the three lists feature comic book characters, with Marvel’s Avengers and Captain Marvel releases appearing at or new the top of them all along with the Spider-Man sequel produced in partnership with Sony Pictures. Marvel is also the source for the latest X-Men installment, one of two coming out this year that have been repeatedly pushed down the release calendar by Fox for various reasons. Add to that the new Hellboy movie with David Harbour in the title role and the Joker solo feature and you have lots of comics-based IP in theaters, not to mention the other films not on this list. Given that “critics finally embrace super hero movies” was one of the dominant themes coming out of 2018 and this isn’t at all surprising.

Sequels and Remakes Oh My!

With the exception of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood on IMDb’s list, everything here is either a sequel or remake of an earlier film. I’m including in that category the Joker movie since the character is so well known even if this is a new take independent of previous film incarnations. So studios aren’t going out on many limbs, at least not with the movies that have already begun their hype cycles, instead choosing to remain firmly on familiar ground in an effort to best appeal to the audience that isn’t interested in taking risks with their money and time. Notably, all three non-franchise releases from Disney on the lists are remakes of classic animated features.

Disney Continues to Dominate

Of the 15 films that make up the three lists, Disney is the force behind eight of them. Those releases include not just those remakes but also new installments in the franchises they manage including Star Wars and Marvel. In 2018 Disney accounted for one quarter of total box office receipts and it’s hoping to continue gaining more and more market share even as it enters the year it’s expected to launch its own streaming subscription service. That service will be filled with similar material related to Star Wars, Marvel and other properties, including sequels or remakes of its back catalog.

Earned Media Will Help All These Films

Every title on the list comes with the kind of big press hooks that will ensure whatever paid marketing is done the main job of raising audience awareness and keeping appetites stoked will be done through the press. Cover stories, feature profiles and more have already come out about many of them and will continue to be placed by press teams regularly to offer first look photos, new interviews with the talent involved and more. Corporate synergies will also be exploited to make sure casts enjoy cozy environments on the talk shows airing on networks owned by the same companies producing the films, helping to garner even more attention and earn even more secondary media coverage.

Hey…Where’s Netflix?

It’s surprising to see none of the movies planned by the streaming behemoth on any of the three lists, except it’s actually not. Atom, IMDb and Fandango are all tied closely to the theatrical industry, especially through ticket sales, so not seeing upcoming films from Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and others is largely to be expected. But it’s likely these films will receive significant marketing pushes as their release nears. It’s also possible Netflix pulls out another period like 2018’s “Summer Of Love” where it released a number of romantic comedies and completely dominated the cultural conversation for months.

As usual, how all this turns out remains to be seen. Some of these titles will go on to be massive successes and some will fall by the wayside. But right now, these are the movies people have said they’re willing to check out, which should make studio publicity teams feel pretty good.