How Warner Bros. has sold movie that’s been as dramatic off-screen as it is on-screen
Don’t Worry Darling, new in theaters this week from Warner Bros., stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as Alice and Jack Chambers, a young couple whose marriage is tested by the mysteries of the town they live in, Victory, CA. Victory is a company town created by Jack’s employer, run by Frank (Chris Pine). Alice becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the enigmatic “Victory Project” her husband works on and her investigation leads to problems throughout the town and its citizens.
Olivia Wilde directed the movie and plays Alice’s friend Bunny, married to Bill (Nick Kroll). Kiki Layne, Kate Berlant, Gemma Chan and others also play members of the Victory community.
There’s lots going on here, some of which even has to do with selling the movie to audiences, so let’s take a stiff drink and get started.
announcement and casting
After reports there were multiple interested parties the script was finally acquired last August by New Line in a deal reported to be unusual in the high “backend” fees the creators can see if/when the movie succeeds.
Wilde shared a first look on Instagram in March but it wasn’t until September that New Line/Warner Bros. set a 2022 release date.
Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.
In other interviews later that year Wilde shared how the films of Adrian Lyne served as inspiration and warned audiences should expect to see more female desire and pleasure than is usually shown in films.
WB finally shared a release date in late April and made the movie part of their CinemaCon presentation to exhibitors and journalists. Things got weird, though, when Wilde was served with legal papers on stage, reportedly custody papers from her ex-husband Jason Sudekis. A back and forth over who knew what when commenced over the next few weeks.
This is no longer the weirdest off-topic anecdote about this film, as we’ll see later.
the marketing campaign
The first trailer (5m YouTube views) was released at the beginning of May. It opens showing a party with all the key characters having a good time before offering us a glimpse of how in love Alice and Jack are. Frank then explains, via voiceover, how important the wives are to the work their husbands are doing for the mysterious “Victory Project”, which the women are encouraged to not ask about. When Alice starts doing just that strange things start happening, including a couple suicides and other incidents. In the end it looks like a slightly trippy drama about the illusory nature of 1950s domestic bliss and all its confines.
A plane flies over the idyllic planned suburb of Victory on the poster released in mid-June, but a trail of smoke comes from the back of the plane. Not only that, but on the motion version of the poster the whole image flips upside down, indicating everything isn’t as it seems.
There’s even more of an overt horror vibe given off by the second trailer (2m YouTube views), which came out in July. We get the same basic premise as the first, but the strange hallucinations and other happenings begin even sooner and are even more disturbing.
Shortly after that confirmation came the film was scheduled to screen at the Venice Film Festival.
Chan was featured in a cover story for Harper’s Bazaar UK. A short while later Pugh got similar treatment on the U.S. version of Harper’s while Styles was profiled in, naturally enough, Rolling Stone.
Another motion poster takes the image of Jack and Alice in a warm embrace and mixes in a few quick glimpses of something terrifying lurking beneath the surface.
At the end of August Wilde was the subject of a Variety cover story in which she praised the other actors, talked about the film’s sexuality and lots more. It also served as the flame striking the tinder of a number of controversial issues and topics, many of which dominated as everyone prepared for Venice. They included:
Wilde’s assertion she fired Shia LaBeouf, who had originally been cast as Jack, in 2020, citing his “combative” on-set energy. LaBeouf subsequently denied he was fired but that he quit, with the truth eventually landing somewhere in the middle.
While Wilde had nothing but nice things to say about Pugh, the latter didn’t offer her own comments for that story, resulting in continued suspicion of on-set tension between the two and a general lack of enthusiasm on Pugh’s part to promote the movie.
Another interview with Wilde later on had her saying that as steamy as some of the shots in the trailers are, the MPA cut out even more explicit clips. She also shared how the lousy experiences she’s had on previous projects has informed her own directing approach and who the real-life inspiration for Pine’s character was.
As Venice approached things continued to get uncomfortable when it was reported Pugh was to be on the red carpet for the screening but not participate in the press conference with the rest of the cast.
That press conference and screening were notable for many reasons, including:
Wilde refusing to comment on her reported conflicts with Pugh
The festival moderator intercepting questions about LaBeouf so Wilde wouldn’t have to answer them again
A massive internet investigation into whether Styles spit on Pine at the screening (he didn’t)
Pine’s many fantastic facial expressions at the press conference that quickly became memes on social media
The first clip offers an extended look at the dinner scene where Alice challenges many of the other attendees, especially Frank, as she looks for deeper answers than she’s been getting about what it is the guys are working on and where everyone else is from.
Another clip shows Alice having a very odd moment in front of some dance studio mirrors, a moment glimpsed in the trailers.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique did what he could to talk about the film’s look and feel in an interview of his own but also had to deny there was any on-set tension between the talent.
Wilde appeared on “The Late Show” to promote the film and talk about her character but also, of course, had to deny Styles spit on Pine and so on.
There’s at least some speculation that, based on tracking, the film could open to a healthy $20 million in its first weekend, either in spite of or because of all the drama and controversy that has enveloped it and seeped out into the public conversation.
The campaign itself is pretty good, dipping occasionally from being a straight drama to elements that are more in the realm of psychological thriller. Pugh is clearly the main attraction here as she’s seemingly asked to carry the burden of the story while all the other actors support her.
It’s a shame, then, that it’s been overwhelmed by all the inside-baseball rumor mills and other pettiness. The press cycle could have been about Wilde’s second directorial outing after the much-acclaimed Booksmart and other more relevant topics, but instead we’re trading gossip like we all just came out of a junior high assembly. If I were a cynically-minded person I’d say that’s been the focus because it gives the press (and public) an opportunity to once again pit one woman against another.
How Amazon has sold a thriller of friendship and betrayal.
Based on the Olen Steinhauer novel of the same name, All The Old Knives is an espionage thriller centered around the relationship between CIA agents Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton). The former couple reunite when Pelham is assigned to investigate Harrison and her suspected connection to an airline hijacking that’s still an open case.
Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce co-star in the movie, directed by Janus Metz and with a screenplay by Steinhauer, opens in a limited theatrical run this weekend at the same time it debuts on Amazon Prime Video.
Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcements and casting
When the movie was first announced in mid-2017, Pine was already attached to star alongside Michelle Williams.
Amazon signed on to produce the film in September of 2020. At that time Newton was cast to replace Williams, who had bowed out because of scheduling conflicts. Metz was also brought on to replace James Marsh as director.
Fishburne and Pryce joined the cast around the same time.
the marketing campaign
The campaign for the movie really began just a little over a month ago, when the first poster was released at the beginning of March. That poster doesn’t offer much in the way of story detail but does attempt to set a mood by showing all four of the main characters arranged in shadows and darkness. At the bottom a mysterious figure runs through a darkened hallway, helping to establish we’re dealing with a story of danger and intrigue.
At the same time the first trailer (4.6m YouTube views) came out. It opens with the reunion of Henry and Celia, but we quickly find that Henry has been tasked with finding out whether a team of hijackers had help from a mole inside the CIA. Specifically, with finding out if Celia was that mole. Their past relationship is both a help and a hindrance in the investigation as it becomes less and less clear who is playing who in the search for the truth.
A bit later in March the studio held a red carpet premiere for the movie in London, with Pine, Newton and others in attendance. At that premiere Pine talked about working with an intimacy coordinator for the love scenes with Newton while the whole cast also discussed what – or in some cases who – attracted them to the project and what they thought of the script and working with each other.
A second poster was released just a few days ago that shifts the focus to the relationship between the two main characters, showing them close together in an intimate moment.
It’s a surprisingly light campaign and the reason why isn’t clear in my mind. But the movie has a positive 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a mark of the generally good reviews it’s been getting.
As for the marketing itself, it seems to be selling an old-fashioned kind of cerebral espionage thriller. There’s not a single explosion or car chase to be seen here. Instead it’s filled with hidden meanings, secrets between former lovers, institutional agendas and more that are less Bond and more le Carré. But it sells all that with two very good looking, popular and relatively young stars at the forefront, making it seem less boring and more steamy, which is the central message being conveyed here.
How Warner Bros. has mounted an oft-delayed and ultimately unusual campaign for its first legit superhero sequel since 2012.
To call Wonder Woman 1984’s trip to an eventual release date “unconventional” would be a severe understatement. Originally scheduled for December 2019, it was later moved to June, 2020, then later and later in the year following the theatrical closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The final release date of December 25, 2020 seemed iffy as late as last month but has finally come to pass because WB – and parent company AT&T – pulled a bold move that has subsequently disrupted the entire film industry, sending the movie to both whatever theaters are open and the HBO Max streaming platform.
Just as the title implies, the movie – directed once more by Patty Jenkins – jumps several decades from the World War I setting of the 2017 installment to the 80s. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, where she meets coworker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s insecurities make her a ripe target for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomaniac businessman who acquires the ability to grant wishes and fulfill desires, an ability he uses to increase his own fortunes. Eventually Barbara wishes for superhuman powers and is transformed into Cheetah, setting the stage for an epic showdown with Diana. Along all that, Diana is confounded by the mysterious return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she believed dead 60 years ago and who doesn’t appear to have aged at all.
Before the HBO Max release was announced, #WW84 had taken Tenet’s position as the movie exhibitors were pinning all their hopes for a moviegoing revival on. The simultaneous distribution may have dashed those hopes (along with the fact that the pandemic is nowhere near controlled in the U.S., meaning most theaters are still closed), so the film is now seen as an example of what could becomeHollywood’s future. At the very least, it set the stage for Warner Bros. announcement its entire 2021 slate was following the same pattern.
In addition to the copious discussions and analysis of what all of the above means for theaters, HBO Max and other studios, initial reviews have praised it as a feel-good sequel to help close out an infection-filled tire fire of a year. Those reviews have been mixed enough to give it a lackluster 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the marketing of the film has struck the same colorful, powerful tone as that of the original.
The first teaser poster, Tweeted out by Jenkins in early June 2019 along with the news the movie would not have a panel at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, shows Diana looking imposing in golden full body armor. She’s set against a colorful backdrop that forms a slight “W” to reinforce the branding. It’s an impressive first image communicating what may be the movie’s brighter tone.
Four character posters – one for Diana, Trevor, Lord and Minerva – retained that colorful background branding while also offering one of the movie’s biggest revelations: that Trevor sports a fanny pack in the film.
In March two more posters came out showing Diana kneeling in her ceremonial armor, a colorful backgroundswirling behind her. Those posters also served as announcements of the new (at the time) June release date.
An exclusive IMAX poster, released in November, shows the armored Diana crouched and ready for battle while promoting the fact some sequences in the film were shot with IMAX cameras, the better to lure in audiences hoping for an immersive experience.
More posters came out earlier this month that took the same kind of visual approach, making sure to include the new selling point of simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max availability.
The “#WeekofWonder” campaign run the first week of December included another poster showing Wonder Woman walking purposefully and powerfully toward the camera. AT&T debuted another showing a more relaxed, though still armored, Diana.
A Dolby-exclusive poster loses some of the colorful background but continues the emphasis on Wonder Woman’s shiny armor, as does one for Cinemark and one for RealD 3D.
Diana is explaining to Barbara that her life has been different than she might imagine as the first trailer (37.3 million views on YouTube), released at the beginning of December 2019, begins. We see momentos from her past before seeing Wonder Woman break up a group of armed criminals in a shopping mall. As that’s happening, a TV commercial features Lord promising people they can achieve all their dreams and have what they want. Somehow Steve Trevor returns, having not aged a day in the 40 years since he apparently died. They set off on a mysterious adventure while we’re shown footage of them in combat mixed with scenes of the Amazons competing in some form of organized games.
All of that is bookended by title graphics and other animation seemingly pulled directly from a 1984 video cassette, including fuzzy static that mimics what would happen when a VHS tape got stretched after too many plays.
In conjunction with DC Fandome in August a new trailer (23.8 million views on YouTube) was released that starts by showing a young Diana in the midst of her training followed by a grown Wonder Woman using her magic lasso to swing between lightning bolts. That gives you an idea of how epic the story is. After that there’s more footage showing Barbara’s quest for power that turns her into Cheetah, Lord’s megalomania that has to be stopped and the mystery surrounding Trevor’s return. At the end there’s a nice flip from a scene in the first movie, with Trevor trying on clothes to fit into the current world while Diana judges his choices.
In mid-November in conjunction with the announcement of the HBO Max release plans the “Official Main Trailer” (4.3 million views on YouTube) came out that is almost exactly the same as the Fandome trailer from August.
Online and Social
Whatever website might have once existed for the movie it’s been replaced by a single page on HBO Max’s site with the trailer and information on either signing up for that service or purchasing theater tickets. It’s really disappointing, though there were still stand-alone social profiles that went more in-depth on promotions and other marketing assets.
Advertising and Promotions
With so much going on, it’s necessary to break all of this up a little bit.
Microsoft, which had a substantial campaign using the movie and character as a way to encourage kids to develop tech skills and learn to code by playing game, engaging in online scavenger hunts and more. There was also a Bing extension that added movie key art to browsers and an Edge browser theme.
Dorito’s, which put movie branding on chip bags, some of which came out earlier this year before various delays, leading to packaging hitting shelves with inaccurate dates.
Hot Topic, which offered all kinds of movie and character merchandise, some exclusive to the retailer.
Reebok, which offered a line of movie- and character-themed footwear. That campaign included an emphasis on highlighting healthcare workers as well as promoting the company’s education initiatives.
The movie also was included in a number of ads for AT&T encouraging people to sign up for the company’s fiber home internet service so they had the bandwidth to fully enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max.
Promotions for the movie kicked off all the way back in June, 2018 in advance of that year’s San Diego Comic-Con as Gadot and Jenkins Tweeted out a handful of first looks at Trevor, Barbara and Diana. That Trevor’s presence in the movie was revealed at the outset of the publicity cycle is notable since the question of whether or not he would show up could have been a significant part of the campaign. Instead, Jenkins – and presumably the studio – felt there was more to gain from getting it out there early and not making everyone endure months of speculation, which is appreciated.
The movie was also part of that year’s CineEurope presentation from the studio.
Jenkins, Gadot and Pine all appeared at SDCC 2018, an appearance that was followed by the launch of an Omaze campaign where people could win a role as an extra on the film.
Warner Bros. sat out Hall H at SDCC 2019 but Jenkins and Gadot did appear at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo in December, talking about the movie and what audiences could expect while giving attendees an early look at the first trailer.
The film was included in WB’s 2019CinemaCon presentation that included footage from the film and comments from Jenkins. It was also featured in that year’s CineEurope presentation.
Gadot appeared as a presenter during the recent Oscars broadcast.
Shortly after that news came the movie would be among those included in DC FanDome, a virtual event planned for August. That panel, which included the debut of another trailer, had Jenkins and others discussing both this and the first film and fielding some questions from fans. There was also a surprise appearance by the original on-screen Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. More promotions for the film, including another appearance by Jenkins, were part of the second part of FanDome a month later.
The news the movie would debut in theaters and on HBO Max was accompanied by a short promo making that point to audiences. It was also prominently included in promos for WB’s later announcement of its 2021 theatrical/HBO Max plans.
Additional longer commercials showed an abridged outline of the story.
A new extended spot was unveiled at this year’s CCXP, one that focuses on the emotional journey Diana goes on over the course of the story.
Immediately leading up to release WB bought Promoted Trends on Twitter.
DC FanDome was reactivated in mid-December for the movie’s virtual premiere, including exclusive looks at the film and more. That premiere supported World Central Kitchen, which has been doing a lot of work to feed hungry people across the world – including the U.S. – during the pandemic.
DC Comics Tie-Ins
There’s been a full-throated promotional effort from DC, not only because that division is home to the Wonder Woman IP but also because the movie’s release roughly coincides with the 80th anniversary of the character’s print debut. That effort has included a number of on-domain “get to know X character” stories and videos as well as insights into the design and creation of Wonder Woman’s golden armor, an interview with Tina Guo, the guitarist behind the now-famous Wonder Woman movie theme and more.
A planned movie tie-in comic with cover art by Nicola Scott, who shared her work on Twitter in March. More details came out in July, including that the book – “Wonder Woman 1984 No. 1” – would debut exclusively in Walmart stores and feature multiple stories, including a direct prequel to the film co-written by Louise Simonson and associate producer Anna Obropta.
A handful of Zoom chat backgrounds, released earlier this year (as many companies were doing) so people could add some film branding to their video calls.
Lilly Aspel, who plays the young Diana, appeared on an episode of DC’s Kids YouTube show to talk about the movie and play games.
#WonderWomanDay was celebrated in October with all sorts of merchandise sales, events at comics retailers and more.
With all the delays and date changes, publicity didn’t truly kick off – outside of a few interviews and comments, including those from Pine and Jenkins from the “I Am The Night” set – until February of this year.
That’s when more photos were released to EW, which also hosted a roundtable conversation with Jenkins and the cast as well as an interview with Gadot about the continuation of Diana’s story as well as that spiffy new armor.
Another interview with Gadot had her talking about this movie as well as her career, public image and more.
New images and comments from Gadot and others emerged in April, as Warner Bros. execs reiterated their commitment to the theatrical model for this movie. At about the same time, Jenkins hinted at the four-film arc she has in mind for the character if she gets the chance and more. She discussed more details and ideas in another interview later on.
As the reality of the pandemic became more clear in May, Gadot surprised a group of Wonder Woman-inspired healthcare workers in Detroit with an appearance to lift them up during difficult times.
Wiig was interviewed about what a career change it was to take a role in a big-budget production like this and how that went.
DC interviewed Magnus Lygdback, Gadot’s trainer on the film, about how he helped her get ready for production, while Jenkins offered more information on how she intended to bring back Trevor.
Pascal was the subject of a feature profile that included comments from Jenkins about working with him and more.
In an interview earlier this month Jenkins said she was essentially ignoring the theatrical cut of Justice League, directed by Joss Whedon, because she felt it contradicted what she had done and had planned, unlike the way she had worked with original JL director Zack Snyder
Gadot spoke in a later interview about returning to the role and what she hoped that meant for the character, feminism and the world as a whole. In another she acknowledged again how rough a year this has been for many people and expressed her hope this movie brings them and everyone else some joy and relief.
Wiig also returned to her “Saturday Night Live” home the weekend before release.
A substantial profile of Jenkins made lots of headlines for including her thoughts on the HBO Max situation, the prolonged negotiations that finally allowed her to return for a sequel, her plans for a third film and more. Another interview had her revealing how studio notes influenced the ending to the first movie.
Let’s face it, the campaign is one of the best of the year, even despite all the delays and awkwardness, because of this single image.
On top of what it’s selling to audiences, the campaign has a strong message for entertainment industry executives who feel threatened by change they’re not in charge of.
Picking Up The Spare
Gadot appeared in a quick video recapping and setting up the movie’s story. She was also interviewed about this movie and state of the industry.
Another DC post covered the process of bringing the film to life.
Connie Nelson was interviewed about the new film and more. There were also additional features and interviews about how the filmmakers customized Cheetah for Wiig, what prompted Wiig to take the role, Pascal’s approach to this film as well as his history with Wonder Woman and more.
More on how Gadot and Wiig bonded was covered in a joint video interview with the two.
The film’s costume designer explained how she created the film’s 1980’s fashion aesthetic.
Chris Pine stars as 14th century Scottish rebel Robert The Bruce in the new Netflix original film Outlaw King. The story follows Robert’s role in the fight for Scottish independence in the wake of an upheaval in the hierarchy of that country.
He leads his people in a fight against the numeric superiority of the English, who they claim are usurpers in their country. Bruce’s story, though, is much more complex, taking him from reluctant warrior to exile to king.
The movie, the poster tells us, is “Based on the untold true story” but doesn’t feature any context as to what that story might be. Instead we just see Pine as Bruce standing stoically in his armor looking slightly away from the camera.
As the first trailer opens Robert is considering revenge while we see soldiers back home questioning his wife and family as to his whereabouts. That search is happening because Robert is out to unite Scotland and the authorities aren’t a fan of that plan, condemning him to death as soon as he’s found. Robert keeps his makeshift army going, though, mounting small attacks on British castles one by one to weaken their resolve instead of trying to face down the massive opposing force.
The second trailer makes it a bit more clear that we’re focusing on Robert’s time in exile and his fight to reclaim his homeland and free his people. The overwhelming odds he and his allies face is something mentioned repeatedly as we’re sold a story that seems very similar to Braveheart, largely because it happens at about the same time.
Online and Social
No website but Netflix did create Twitter and Facebook profiles for the movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Media and Publicity
A first-look still of Pine in character provided the kickoff for the publicity effort following the news the project was greenlit by Netflix.
Quite a bit later it was announced the movie was going to screen at the Toronto Film Festival as the opening night feature, news that around the same time a new still was released.
The buzz around the movie quickly began to focus on a full frontal nude scene featuring Pine, something he expressed surprise at given the high body count and graphic nature of violence on display. Meanwhile the producers and filmmakers praised Netflix for having the courage to make the movie and giving them the freedom to do so.
Mackenzie reportedly cut 20 minutes from the film between Toronto and its later screening at the London Film Festival in response to some of the feedback from critics and others.
I know the Braveheart comparison is a lazy one, but it’s still relevant given the parallel nature of the stories in that movie and this one. Pine looks like he’s just as charming as he usually is in the role of Robert the Bruce, but the nature of what’s happening is a bit muddled at times. That might just be because the movie is too big to encapsulate in a couple short trailers. Whatever the case, there’s some good stuff here but not enough to really sell this as an epic history.
Picking Up The Spare
Chris Pine appeared on “The Late Show” to share anecdotes and promote the movie post-release.
Mackenzie spoke more in this and other interviews about the changes applied to the film between its festival screenings and release and how he wanted to differentiate this movie from Braveheart and other sword-heavy movies and shows.
Costar Florence Pugh finally got a profile that mentioned this as well as a few other recent projects she was involved in.