gunpowder milkshake – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a female-led action thriller.

Karen Gillan plays Sam in Gunpowder Milkshake, this week’s new release from Netflix. Sam is an assassin who finds herself on the run following a job gone wrong. That winds up bringing her back in contact with Scarlet (Lena Headey), Sam’s mother who also happens to be an assassin. Scarlet herself had to disappear years ago, leaving a young Sam alone, and so the two have some issues to work through. Helping them both are former associates of Scarlet’s; Madeline, Florence and Anna May (Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett, respectively).

The movie, which has a middling 69% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has been sold by Netflix as a bright, female-driven take on the action/revenge genre, with Gillan at the forefront, though the rest of the cast isn’t far behind. Let’s take a look.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in May, offers a very literal visual interpretation of the movie’s title, with a bullet taking off the top of a diner milkshake. It’s the title treatment at the top that stands out, though, immediately establishing an identity for the movie with its bright neon lights.

Another poster released at the same time has a similar approach, but this time the bullet is breaking the glass, smeared red lipstick visible at the point of entry.

The main poster came out in mid-June, showing most all of the lead cast as they stand in front of a diner with the title as its brightly-lit sign. All five characters are armed in some manner, the variety of their weapons hinting at how many ways they collectively know to kill someone.

Sam got a poster of her own a bit later.

The Trailers

The trailer (317,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-June and opens with Sam seeking out the help of the librarians who are actually assassins. She needs that help because an assignment has gone sideways and she’s now responsible for protecting eight-year old Emily (Chloe Coleman). That’s just the setup, as the rest of the trailer is solely concerned with selling the over-the-top action of the movie, showing just the kind of butt-kicking audiences can expect.

Online and Social

No website, as is standard for Netflix releases, but StudioCanal, which produced the film, did run some social media accounts like this Twitter profile that helped with promotion, including sharing some promo spots. Netflix did give it some support on its own brand channels, but the focus there has been on its recent Fear Street anthology.

Advertising and Promotions

Distribution rights were picked up by STXFilms in February, 2020, about two years after it was announced during the American Film Market in 2018. A batch of first-look stills came out in mid-November.

Things were quiet until April 2021 when STX sold the movie to Netflix, one of many such sales as studios cleared out some titles as the coronavirus pandemic wound down.

The cast and director assembled via video chat to talk about how they got involved in the project and what the story entails. That video, released as part of Netflix’s “Geeked Week” campaign, also included the first publicly-released footage from the film.

Gillan and writer/director Navot Papushado attended a screening/Q&A at the New Beverly Cinema earlier this week.

A video with Bassett sharing some of her favorite lines from throughout her career, up to and including this movie, was released just the other day.

Another video has Papushado sharing some of the influences he pulled from when making the movie.

Gillan, who had shared a handful of videos from the set, put out what she called the first episode of her new talk show with Headey – kind of – as her guest.

Papushado talked about how and why he cast Gillan, who herself commented on what attracted her to the movie (including the title itself) and more.

Overall

Unlike some other recent releases this campaign has done a solid job of establishing a visual identity for itself, thanks in large part to not only the bright title treatment but also the enthusiasm of Gillan and the rest of the cast.

That’s not to say the movie looks great in and of itself, but it sure is sold to the public as being a lot of fun, and that’s really just fine. The same can be said of many similar movies like John Wick or Nobody, so clearing that bar is really all the campaign needs to do.

Gerald’s Game – Marketing Recap

The third feature adaptation of a Stephen King story to be released inside of two calendar months, Gerald’s Game might be the least well-known of the batch. Coming from director Mike Flanagan, the movie stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as a long-married couple who head to a remote cabin to try and rekindle some passion in their relationship.

Things turn south when, in the middle of a little light bondage, Gerald (Greenwood) suddenly dies, leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed. With no one around for miles, she begins to panic, eventually flashing back to long-repressed memories of a trauma from years past. Those memories may help her survive, but they also may hint at dark secrets hidden in the house where she’s trapped.

The Posters

The poster flips the orientation of the photo that makes up its primary element, rotating it 90 degrees. That means the shot of Jesse and Gerald lying in bed, she handcuffed to the headboard, has her arms extended from top to bottom and not side to side. Doing so throws off the perspective of the audience just a bit to make them think about what’s going on. Gerald isn’t obviously dead, so there’s no real sense of terror here, it just looks like they’re in a kind of a tender moment in bed. The terror is hinted at only in the copy “Some games you play. Some you survive.”

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out as Gerald and Jessie are on a weekend outing. They begin to engage in some marital activities but he has a heart attack, only after he’s already handcuffed her to the bedposts. She’s alone out in a remote cabin and starts struggling to free herself, soon hallucinating from thirst and isolation. We soon get flashbacks and other details that show this isn’t the first time she’s been in a situation like this and has to draw on repressed memories to try and find a way to survive.

This is my favorite kind of thriller, one that bends reality and fantasy into something truly twisted and interesting.

Online and Social

Nope. As is usual, Netflix gave it some attention its brand social channels but that’s about it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Again, nothing I’m aware of.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those screening at this year’s Fantastic Fest, where it picked up pretty good reviews and word of mouth from the critics there.

King did a bit of publicity for the movie, speaking highly of it while also mentioning the other two adaptations he had in theaters. Greenwood and Gugino talked about working with Flanagan and the process of filming a story this insular and difficult as well. Other than that and a few other minor comments, the release of the marketing assets formed the crux of the press coverage for the movie.

Overall

As I said above, this is my favorite kind of “horror.” At least that’s how it’s being sold, as a thriller that pushes the boundaries between reality and fantasy and makes characters question what is or isn’t real. It’s “horror” in the tradition of Hitchcock and others, where the very foundation the characters are operating on is always shifting and changing under their feet.

That’s conveyed mostly in the trailer but also to an extent in the poster. With word-of-mouth pretty positive coming out of festivals and increased attention due to it being just the latest of this fall’s King adaptations (and not even the last one), it looks like it may find an audience on Netflix.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.