the harder they fall – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a high-octane and star-studded Western.

The Harder They Fall poster

Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Delroy Lindo are just a few of the big names in this week’s new Netflix feature The Harder They Fall.

In the film, labeled as based on a true story, Majors plays Nat Love, a former enslaved person who, once free, moved from Tennessee to Kansas to find work as a cowboy. One day he finds out his nemesis Rufus Buck (Elba) has escaped imprisonment he gathers those loyal to him to set out and find Buck and bring him back to justice, or exact revenge himself. But Buck has his own gang and the two groups are fated to face off against each other.

With a solid cast and the promise of a new-fangled Western, Netflix’s campaign has been slick and action-packed, even if it hasn’t been particularly sizable.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2019 with Majors and first-time director Jeymes Samuel attached at that time. Elba joined later that year with others added over the course of 2019 and into 2020.

Production started in mid-2020 but, like many other films, had to be suspended because of a Covid case in October.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (3.1m YouTube views) came out in late June, starting off with the outlaws robbing a train to free one of their number. But there are those who preferred Buck remain in jail, leading to a good old-fashioned showdown in a small town. It looks like a great, stylized Western with lots of action and humor and a fantastic cast.

Two posters that show the two different sides of the law that are presented in the story also came out in June.

Netflix announced in August that the movie would open the London Film Festival.

It was August when the official trailer (1.1m YouTube views) was released. There’s more footage than was included in the first one but the same message is being sent here: That the film is violent and funny, with a story about warring outlaw gangs each determined to get what they feel is theirs. Most of all it looks like a lot of fun, with some great actors playing Old West for a while.

Short promos like this also began appearing at this time that play up the splashy visuals and high-energy tone of the film.

Another poster came out in September that combines elements from the previous two, bringing the main four characters into a single one-sheet.

At the London Film Festival there were a number of interviews with the cast and crew where they talked about discarding stereotypes of the Western genre, how this film broadens the scope of the kinds of stories that can be told of that era and more.

Similar themes were covered in an interview with Samuel.

Majors stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about this movie as well as other upcoming projects.

At the movie’s L.A. premiere event Majors again pointed out that this isn’t an alternative history of the Old West so much as it was an additional chapter of that era that hasn’t been widely told.


The 83% Fresh rating the film currently has on Rotten Tomatoes represents it’s been received more positively than some of the other recent Netflix titles, and even more positively than many other recent releases regardless of platform.

Aside from that, the marketing has been solidly consistent through what is admittedly its short life span. It sells the movie as being a Western, yes, but one with a more modern sensibility and tone despite the frequent assertions by Samuel and others that this isn’t an alternate history or revisionist take on the genre.

It also puts its all-star cast right at the front with an especially strong focus on Majors, who could use this and a couple other high-profile roles to break out into the big-time.

Da 5 Bloods – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling the latest Spike Lee Joint.

Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo and a host of other talent all star in this week’s Da 5 Bloods, the new film from director Spike Lee debuting on Netflix. The story focuses on a group of Vietnam War veterans who return to that country to search for the remains of one of their fallen comrades as well as the treasure they left buried there decades ago.

Of course this being a Spike Lee Joint, the story is likely only a framework on which to examine issues of race and justice in America and the world as a whole, something he has done throughout his career to great effect. That’s part of the allure of his films, along with the masterful way he crafts narratives and directs actors to some of their all-time best performances.

Netflix’s campaign for the movie culminates at a time when the U.S. might finally be having the hard conversations about race that have been tabled for centuries.

The Posters

A crying black face wearing an Army helmet is depicted on the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.). That poster, released in early May, uses a simple image to convey a great deal of the story’s tone as well as the upcoming release date.

A similar image is changed a bit on the second poster that came out just a short while later. This time the four main characters can be seen raising their fists defiantly from the helmet of the soldier while bombs with the face of Richard Nixon painted on them fall from above and a couple slogans are painted on the wall behind them.

There’s more imagery, some of it variations on what’s been used previously, on the next poster from later in May. New here is a colorful background as well as an illustration of black protesters marching with signs showing the black power fist being raised or declaring “I am a man.”

That same fist is the main element on the final poster, released in early June. This time it, not a face, is seen under the helmet, symbolizing the how the civil rights movement was expected to give way to the more important military effort but still existed within it and as part of that. The “Our fight is not in Vietnam” slogan shown here reinforces that idea while the faux folds in the design make it seem like this was a propaganda poster pulled out from storage for display.

The Trailers

The movie’s one trailer (1 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-May and immediately sets the tone by showing Hanoi Hannah reading a message to black U.S. troops asking them if they know what they’ve been (disproportionally) sent to Vietnam to fight and die for. As “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers plays we see the former soldiers struggling with their return to the country where they experienced so much pain, searching for their fallen comrade along with the hidden gold they left there. There are flashbacks – presented in a different aspect ratio and with the look of different film stock – of them as younger men as well as actual historical footage of protests, politics and more from that period. It’s chaotic but clear and promises yet another masterstroke of filmmaking from Lee.

Online and Social

Nothing here, but Netflix did give the movie a good amount of promotion on its brand profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

Lee announced a June release date just a couple months ago.

More of the movie’s story is on display in a short TV spot-like video released in early June. You get the basic plot outlines and what the mission these men are embarking on is made clear, adding up to a strong spot.

Netflix also seized the cultural moment we’re all living through to offer something that is relatively rare on the service, a curated collection of films. In this case it’s a “Black Lives Matter” list of titles that offer a number of movies, series and documentaries touching on the black experience, by black filmmakers and so on.

In addition to the soundtrack by composer Terence Blanchard being available, Spotify offered a playlist of songs Lee used as inspiration or which were otherwise important to him, with commentary from the director sprinkled in touching on how the songs related to the movie.

Media and Press

Boseman spoke briefly about the movie while promoting other projects late last year.

In May the first look at stills from the film was offered along with comments about the story and more from Lee.

A profile of Lee in late May included a number of tidbits about the film, from the fact he wasn’t using any de-aging technology for the flashbacks to the wide range of political opinions the story’s characters would represent. In another interview with Lee he talked about how this film continues his career-long focus on racial issues and the inequality that pervades throughout society, something that hasn’t improved in the decades since his first film.


If the campaign accomplishes anything – at least anything outside of creating a desire to see the movie – it will likely be to create more awareness of how the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were intertwined and influenced by each other. That, to be transparent, is something I wasn’t fully cognizant of myself until the movie sent me down a research path.

To that end, Netflix’s marketing shows that once again Lee is using the power of the moving image to make sure audiences understand the past isn’t dead but still alive in the present. His mixing of new footage with news clips is something he’s done to great effect in movies like BlackKKKlansman and Malcolm X. It’s even on display in a short video created by Lee – not tied directly to this movie but certainly relevant and consistent with the topics he’s regularly addressed – showing the tragic similarities between the fates of George Floyd and Eric Garner and what happens to the character Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing.

The timing of the film, while entirely coincidental, means it’s inescapable how vitale and relevant the story and the issues it addresses remain. And the elements of the marketing make it a must-see for anyone who’s been a fan of Lee’s previous films.

Picking Up the Spare

More from Lee here on crafting the story, including his inclusion of characters that don’t match preconceived notions and more. Lee was also interviewed via video on “The Tonight Show” and again on “The Daily Show.” 

That political diversity is covered by Lindo in an interview where he talks about working with Lee and more. 

A couple new clips were released just before the movie hit Netflix. 

A featurette on the history of the art used on the posters and how they tie to the civil rights movement came from Netflix that’s super-interesting. That process was also covered in this story

On release date, Netflix bought a Twitter Promoted Trend to raise awareness of the film. 

Composer Terence Blanchard, who also offers commentary on the movie’s Spotify playlist, talks here about creating the film’s musical elements. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel also spoke about working with Lee to create the film’s look and the difficulties of the location shooting. 

The topic of Lee making one of his main characters an overt supporter of Pres. Trump continued to generate feature stories and interviews and was part of a profile of Lindo. 

The movie’s journey to the big screen was not always a straight line. 
Netflix has put out a number of video interviews with the cast where they shared what it’s like to be picked by Lee for a particular role. Majors also talked about how Lee helped him prepare for his character.