free guy – marketing recap

how Fox Disney has sold an action-comedy about life inside a video game

Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer star in this week’s Free Guy, directed by Shawn Levy. Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC (non-playable character, i.e. background cannon fodder) in an open-world video game created by Antwan (Taika Waititi). When two of Antwan’s developers insert new code into the game, Guy becomes self-aware, realizing he lives in a video game. Millie (Comer), one of those developers, uses her avatar to explore the game and help Guy save the game before Antwan, who doesn’t care for the updates or the attention Guy’s self-directed actions has attracted.

The movie, which has a solid 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was one of the last developed by 20th Century Fox before it was acquired by Disney a couple years ago. It finally hits theaters this week after a number of delays and a marketing campaign that has acknowledged those delays with winking humor.

announcement and casting

The movie had been in various stages of development at Fox for a few years, with Levy and Reynolds signing on in 2018/19, finally moving things forward. Comer joined in 2019, leading to production getting fully underway.

comic-con and the first marketing attempts

As the movie had its official coming out with a well-received panel at New York Comic-Con in October, Fox released a “Meet the Cast” video that had everyone talking about how excited they were to work with the others. It included Reynolds and Waititi claiming they have never worked together before, while Comer and Keery try to correct the record, a nice bit of fun that’s in line with the public personas of both actors.

Unfinished footage from the film was also shown off to NYCC attendees, while a sizzle reel of the panel and press activities from the convention was released shortly after it ended.

Guy takes on a traditional super hero pose on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), standing with his shirt opened to show what’s underneath, which in this case is just another shirt and tie. It’s meant to communicate his ordinary nature, that he’s not a hero and doesn’t have hidden abilities and thanks to Reynolds’ expression that comes off as genuine.

Reynolds and others traveled to Brazil in December to appear at CCXP, where they showed off the trailer and other footage while working to get the audience there excited for the film.

December 2019’s first trailer (14.4m views on YouTube) starts off very dramatically, identifying the film as coming from the same studio that brought audiences Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King (twice) before showing someone skydiving into an epic action sequence. It’s then that we meet Guy, a normal guy who takes all the violence and chaos around him in stride until he starts wondering if there’s more to life than constantly being held up at the bank where he works and being shot at all the time. Putting on a pair of glasses shows him the reality of the world around him and leads him to the realization he’s in a video game, but has the freedom to be the hero his world needs.

There’s more going on the second poster, released in December, as we see Guy strolling blindly down a city street that’s filled with the chaos of bombs being dropped, cars exploding and more. It conveys nicely the idea that he’s a character incapable of recognizing, much less impacting the events happening around him.

Another entry in the self-deprecating part of the campaign came in January with a video of Reynolds and Comer talking about the craft of acting, with Reynolds increasingly frustrated by how Comer is consistently referred to in the context of the awards she’s won.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

delays, delays and more delays

Originally scheduled for summer of 2020, it was among the titles Disney delayed in a big announcement last April as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere was becoming clear.

When that announcement was made, Reynolds and others took it upon themselves to release an unfinished, watermarked clip of Guy in his apartment watching the news, all of which is horrible. The clip was meant to be both relatable given reality at the moment and to just keep the movie in everyone’s mind and includes the new date followed by a 🤞, which is a nice touch.

While there was a Total Film feature story on the film that included comments from Levy, Comer and Reynolds and a steady stream of new photos and other minor updates, things were quiet until October of last year.

That’s when the second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out, teased ahead of time in a video with the cast covering their bases by throwing out a number of potential release dates. It differs from the first trailer in a couple areas. First, it frames Guy’s epiphany that he and everyone he knows is living in a video game as a result of his crush on Milly. Second, it shows the chaos a free-range Guy has within the game and how it affects the real world, especially on the company that makes the game.

That second trailer gained more headlines for racking up over 55 million views in the first 24 hours following its release.

Another poster, this one showing Guy standing on a rooftop above the chaos of the city, came out at the same time.

At that point Disney was aiming for a mid-December release date, hopeful the pandemic would be receding into the background by then. The studio’s optimism was short-lived, though, and in November the movie was taken off the 2020 release calendar, with no new date announced until a month later.

ok for real this time

Fast forward to March 2021, when another video came out with Reynolds announcing a new (and eventually final) release date, though still in a way that played into the ridiculousness that had come before.

In May Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run.

There’s a bit more of the non-video game world that is impacting Guy’s existence in the next trailer (4.8m views on YouTube, released in early June. Other than that it hits many of the same beats as previous spots.

The whole cast shows up in a very typical action ensemble design on the poster released at that time. Differentiating it from something like an MCU entry is the upbeat and naive look on Guy’s face as he stands over everyone in the hero spot.

An interview with Comer in June had her talking about entering the world of action movies, working with Reynolds and more.

Lil Rey Howery, who plays Guy’s best friend in the game world, appeared at Essence Fest to promote the movie.

News came in late June that the movie would screen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August.

In mid-July Reynolds released a video that has Deadpool and Korg from the MCU reacting to the latest trailer. The mashup makes sense given Disney and Fox are now a single entity and that the movie stars both Reynolds and Waititi, who plays Korg.

Traditional 30-second spots began airing in mid-July that recapped the story and its visuals. Longer commercials obviously had more room to breathe but stuck to the same basic message.

Later spots expanded on what had come before while also pulling primarily from footage the audience has already seen. Of note, it was being positioned as the movie event of the summer, which may be a bit hyperbolic but what else are you going to do…

The first clip shows Guy and Millie pulling off a big fight in a nightclub. That clip really shows off the interplay between the two leads as well as the basic level of humor audiences can expect. Another has Guy being confronted by the police for breaking many of the game’s rules.

All the main characters got posters of their own (by marketing agency BLT Communications).

Guy and Millie have a meet cute over a Mariah Carey song in another clip. How important that song is to the movie and its story (it’s featured in nearly all the trailers and TV spots) was shared by Reynolds in an interview at the movie’s premiere.

Just how much Waititi riffed while on set was covered in a short featurette that had Levy, Comer and others praising his performance.

the comer and reynolds show

While it had been part of the campaign since the very beginning, the last few weeks featured a focus on Comer and Reynolds’ chemistry with a series of videos that had them playing off each other, often at Reynolds’ expense.

First, the two appeared in a promo video debating whether or not this qualified as a “date movie” especially in light of the social distancing of the last year and a half.

They then squared off in a test of their Canadian knowledge, the joke being that Comer is British.

These were fun largely because this is Reynolds’ brand in particular. For the last several years he’s consistently broken the fourth wall in his movie campaigns, so this makes a lot of sense and delivers what audiences have come to expect when he has a new movie coming out.

Individual videos had Comer and then Reynolds introducing their respective characters and having some fun with international translations of the movie’s title.

wrapping up the campaign

In early August Reynolds shared a video that had him showing off the massively bulked up physique he achieved in just a week, one that means he can no longer fit into the Deadpool suit but which allows him to appear as Dude in the movie.

A TV spot released just after that video came out showed off Dude and how he’s used by the game’s designers to try and reign in Guy.

Dolby and IMAX posters offered slightly different takes on what had come before, but they both still communicate how Guy is the lone calm in the center of endless chaos.

The movie’s premiere was held in Los Angeles last week, with Reynolds, Comer, Levy and others in attendance. At that premiere the cast and crew spoke about the unique approach they took to construct the world of the movie and more.

Comer made an appearance at the London premiere event as well.

Levy was the subject of a much-shared profile that dove into how he’s one of the most successful and hard-working comedy directors in Hollywood but has at the same time flown largely under the radar in terms of outsized press and attention. Many of the cast and crew praise Levy and his work ethic in that piece.

Overall

There have been so many campaigns over the last few months that have tried to be the end-all-be-all in jumpstarting theatrical moviegoing. Some have been more effective than others depending on where in the latest sub-cycle of the Covid-19 pandemic we are and what the audience’s appetite for breaking out of their new view-from-home norm might be.

The Free Guy campaign doesn’t make that kind of statement as explicit as the push for, say F9, but it’s still there lurking beneath the surface.

What may set this apart from what’s come before is that most of those earlier releases have been either thrillers or franchise action films while this one is clearly a comedy. That’s a different kind of communicable experience than just watching super heroes beat up bad guys or cars be pulled around by giant magnets. The campaign has played into that with its frequent tweaking of Reynolds’ and the focus on Waititi’s improv antics.

While the $15-18 million that’s predicted for the film’s opening weekend box-office may not be all that impressive compared to some other recent movies, it may actually represent a much more accurate look at how people are feeling about theaters since this one isn’t available for streaming simultaneously.

jungle cruise – marketing recap

How Disney has sold an action-comedy brand extension.

Jungle Cruise, based on the Disney Parks attraction of the same name, has been in development for nearly two decades. Finally hitting theaters – and Disney+ Premier Access – the movie stars Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, a scientist in the first decades of the 20th century who’s determined to find the Tree of Life somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. With German competition on the same trail, Houghton enlists the aid of Frank “Skipper” Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). Wolff captains a steamboat selling naive tourists an embellished adventure down the river. Along the way the two have to survive not only their German competitors but all the dangers the Amazon has to offer on its own.

With a story that meshes the Disney ride with a bit of both Heart of Darkness and The African Queen, Disney has mounted a campaign that sells the movie – projected to earn $25-30 million at the box office – as an adventure comedy with two charming stars. Initial reviews have been middling, earning the film a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s take a look at the details.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in October 2019, shows what the movie is all about, with Lily and Frank standing at the front of his rickety boat as it travels up the river and through the jungle setting. Arrows sticking out of the hull show how dangerous the trip is, as do the skulls floating in the water and piranha leaping out to try and get a bite.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

There’s a definite The Mummy-esque vibe on the next poster, released in March 2020. Houghton and Wolff are shown in the center swinging on a vine, the boat that is carrying them below as it makes its way up the river. Surrounding the pair in a vine-covered frame are some of the supporting characters as well as the other threats they’ll face along the way.

Same goes for the next poster from May of this year as the campaign ramped back up after a year off. Both this and the previous one-sheet look like someone aiming for a Drew Struzan style, though not quite hitting the mark.

A series of character posters featuring a fun design reminiscent of promotions for an expedition came out at the end of June.

Similar approaches were taken on the posters for IMAX, Dolby and RealD 3D, all of which try to evoke a feeling of nostalgia with their painted approaches and designs that are filled with all kinds of story detail.

The final theatrical poster was released just a couple weeks ago, accompanied by two more character posters for Houghton and Wolff.

The Trailers

The first trailer (5.3m views on YouTube), released in early October 2019, immediately presents Lily as a take charge explorer on the trail of a hidden plant rumored to have incredible healing properties. To help she enlists the services of Frank, a tour boat captain who engages in a bit of showmanship to keep his customers entertained on their travels. This trip is going to bring both of them into contact with threats that are much more real, we see.

The same basic premise is laid out in the second trailer (7.2m views on YouTube) from March 2020. Frank is skeptical of Lily’s claims since he’s been on the same hunt for the great healing power in the jungle. They’re going to face a number of threats on their journey, whether it’s from the animals around them, mysterious submarines tracking their movements, or supernatural forces that protect what they’re seeking. It’s all positioned as a big adventure.

Lots of CGI-heavy action and adventure is on display in the trailer (2.4m views on YouTube released over a year after the last one in May 2021. We get the same message of how Frank and Lily are somewhat reluctant partners who have to protect each other when the jungle turns dangerous and more threats present themselves. It’s fun and silly and works.

Two trailers – one featuring Frank’s perspective and the other featuring Lily’s – came out in late June. Each has an introduction from the appropriate star, with Lily’s coming out second so Blunt can label her’s as the “real trailer” unlike the fake one Johnson put out earlier.

Online and Social

Not much to the movie’s official website, just information how to buy tickets or sign up for Disney+ and basic marketing content.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

Fun little set videos were shared at the beginning and wrap of production in 2018, immediately establishing that the campaign would be centered on the interplay between Blunt and Johnson.

Attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August 2019 were treated to an appearance by Blunt and Johnson along with other details revealed at the event.

Like many movies, its release date was pushed – in this case by a whole year – as a result of theater closures in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Eventually, in May of this year, Disney announced the film would receive a joint theatrical/Disney+ Premier Access release, with it becoming available to other streaming subscribers later on.

Disney announced in June it was reviving the “Behind The Attraction” series on Disney+ that would take viewers behind the scenes of popular rides and other locations at its parks, including Jungle Cruise.

Johnson made an appearance at Essence Fest in June, bringing with him exclusive footage from the movie.

TV spots like this began airing at that time, once more highlighting not only the adventure but also the chemistry between the two stars.

A featurette from early July has the stars talking about the story and its origins in the Disney World attraction. Another short featurette has the stars and director talking about the stunts and action of the movie.

At this point Blunt and Johnson began making TV appearances, either together or solo, including on “GMA,” “The Late Show,” “The Tonight Show,” NPR’s “Morning Edition” and elsewhere.

Speaking of that attraction, it got a makeover in early July that removed some of the more dated elements, many of which were much more overtly offensive than they were when the ride was first introduced.

Ramirez talked about shooting the film when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.” Johnson did likewise when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Both he and Blunt talked about working together on “Access Hollywood.”

One of Lily’s daring escapes was featured in the first clip, given exclusively to Fandango MovieClips. Other clips showed more of the supernatural and very natural threats they face as they make their way along the Amazon.

Additional videos showed off the fun the cast, including costar Jack Whitehall, had during the production, playing a game of “mystery crate” with props from the movie,

A recent THR cover story focused on the pairing of Johnson and Blunt, including how he worked to overcome her reluctance to sign on to the project because he wanted to work with her and thought she’d be brilliant. It also covered some of the initial screening reactions, which led Disney to emphasize the dynamic between the leads.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra was also interviewed about why he signed on to the project, how it fits into his career so far and more. Whitehall also spoke about his character being openly gay.

The world premiere event was held at Disneyland (natch) earlier this week with the cast and crew in attendance and talking about how much fun the film is.

A few additional clips like this showing another harrowing escape of Houghton’s came out in the last few days.

Promotional partners:

  • Applebee’s, which offered a free movie ticket for those spending $25 on food. The promotion was supported by online and other ads.
  • Echelon, which gave members a look at exclusive behind the scenes footage during scheduled themed exercise sessions.
  • GetMyBoat, which ran a sweepstakes awarding either a grand prize of a boat outing for six or tickets to see the movie.

Overall

This moment, seen in many of the trailers, TV spots and other videos, perfectly sums up Disney’s marketing of the movie.

Sorry The Rock GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

Instead of selling it *just* as an adventure comedy, the campaign has sold the movie as a buddy adventure comedy, with Blunt and Johnson offering clear point/counterpoint dynamics that are emphasized by their very different characters and statures. That’s why they’ve frequently appeared together in TV and other interviews and why there were two or three instances of them being on opposite sides as they introduced trailers, announced production was starting and so on.

It’s a common tactic used for many movies with Johnson but it’s great to see Blunt able to show off her comedic chops a bit and have some fun, with Johnson acting as a perfectly earnest if exaggerated foil.

Now we just have to see if it’s enough to bring people to theaters.

black widow – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios has sold a long-awaited – on multiple levels – super hero solo film.

Over a decade after being first introduced in Iron Man 2 and following several supporting appearances in other MCU movies, Scarlett Johansson strikes out on her own in this week’s Black Widow.

Set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, which gets around the fact that Natasha Romanoff sacrificed herself in Avengers: Endgame, the story follows Natasha as she’s on the run from the authorities. A series of events lead her to reunite with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a fellow agent of Russia’s Red Room who shares a sister-like bond with Natasha, as well as former Black Widow Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian (David Harbour), the Russian equivalent of Captain America. All four, a surrogate family of sorts, face off against Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), a villain who can copy anyone’s movements and who is after the same MacGuffin sought by Natasha and Yelena.

Originally scheduled for May of last year but delayed multiple times because of Covid, the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ Premier Access this week. It’s notable for a number of reasons:

  • It is, of course, the first solo movie Marvel Studios has released with a female lead character, the only founding Avenger other than Hawkeye to not get a standalone story (and his turn is coming via a Disney+ series later this year).
  • It’s the first MCU release in two years, the longest the franchise has been absent from audiences since the gap between the first two Iron Man movies.
  • It’s the first MCU feature film to be released on Disney+ day-and-date with theatrical, a circumstance brought on because plans made during the worst of the pandemic were hard to adjust on short notice.

First reactions have been largely positive, with critics calling out the movie’s spy genre heritage as well as the strong performances, particularly Pugh’s. That’s resulted in an 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a film that’s received a full court press campaign from Disney that’s focused on Johansson finally getting her own turn in the spotlight. This confluence of events has led to speculation the movie could score a pandemic-high opening weekend box office of $80 million or more.

The Posters

In November 2019 the first teaser poster (by artist Andy Park) came out offering a look at Natasha as she stands at the forefront of an arrangement of the other characters, the red “X” that will dominate the film’s branding from here on out in the background.

The second poster (by marketing agency LA) from December of that year brings that branding even more to the surface as the solid red “X” dominates the design, Natasha shown at the bottom walking toward the camera ready for action. It’s inspired by a cover from the character’s 2016 comics series.

An exclusive poster handed out at CCXP in early December 2019 features an artistic drawing of Natasha’s face looking weary and tired, as if she’s come through a difficult battle.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

The four major heroes received character posters released in February 2020, each standing in front of a background made up of heavily-redacted documents, the kind a bunch of spies would be very interested in.

Everyone’s brought together on the initial theatrical poster, which came out in March of last year, including a handful of faceless women at the bottom who look very much Black Widow and are walking away from the Kremlin, establishing them as part of the same program that trained Natasha.

Another poster came out in March of this year that shows Natasha in her white uniform.

More character posters, including ones for Taskmaster and the agent played by O-T Fagbenle, came out in May.

A similar approach from the character posters is taken on the final one-sheet, with Natasha at the center of her surrogate family, with other supporting characters scattered around as well.

Additional posters for RealD 3D, Dolby Cinemas, ScreenxUSA and IMAX offered their own takes on the character and settings.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released in early December 2019, opens with Natasha’s lines from Endgame about how the Avengers gave her a home and a family. At this point she’s ready to confront her past and so heads home, leading to an interesting reunion with her sister. The two set out to investigate the organization that made them what they are, but why is unclear. What is shown are brief looks at Taskmaster and his goons along with an extended introduction to Natasha’s father, who can still fit into his Red Guardian costume.

One thing that’s not clear is the movie’s time period. Natasha’s comments and narration are vague, so you have to have some foreknowledge that the story takes place before the events of Infinity War.

A “Special Look” trailer came out in mid-January 2020 that introduced a key premise of the film, that there is a new generation of Widows being trained that Natasha and her family must confront before they’re loosed upon the world.

The bond between Natasha and her chosen family is the focus of the next trailer, released in early March. It starts with her and her sister reconnecting and sharing the lies they’ve told and ends with everyone gathered around the table as we see the same kind of dynamic that might be found in any family. In between we’re shown Natasha has found some of the mistakes she made before becoming an Avenger have caught up with her. The Taskmaster is introduced as the new head of the Russian training facility she came out of, but he’s more cruel and so she sets out to stop him and free the girls that have been sent to kill her.

The final trailer, released in early April, is all about secrets and dealing with the sins of the past. It’s the same basic message being sold here about family and such, but with a few new shots and the promise of a lot of action and a lot of drama.

Online and Social

Marvel’s page for the film featured some videos, posters and other background information, but not much details on other aspects of the marketing campaign. There were also social profiles that offered a bit more.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After years of speculation, rumors, comments by Marvel Studios execs about how they’d “love to” make a Black Widow movie (as if they were subject to someone else’s whims), it finally moved into the realm of reality when Cate Shortland was hired to direct the feature. Many people pointed out as the synopsis was released that the story sounded more or less just like 2018’s Jennifer Lawrence-starring Red Sparrow about a female Russian agent trained to seduce and spy at all costs in the service of the Motherland.

The topic of the movie’s existence came up during the Avengers: Endgame press tour, but Johansson remained mum on whether it was happening or not, part of Marvel’s strategy of not officially announcing any future projects.

Plans became much more official when the movie was part of Marvel’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2019. That event featured revelations about the cast, characters and story, including Johansson commenting on her desire to keep playing Natasha over the last decade. Marvel put out a video of footage from the panel that included insights from the cast.

There were more comments from Johansson about the timing of the project and what it means for her and the character. She kept teasing the movie while promoting other projects in 2019.

In addition to the trailer shown, attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of 2019 were able to see costumes from the movie on the show floor.

The first paid promotion came via a commercial aired during the College Football Playoffs on ESPN in January, 2020, when the movie was still expected to be just a few months away.

A featurette released in mid-January 2020 had Johansson talking about the potential for future stories the character has while also reflecting on the fact she’s been playing Natasha for 10 years now, with this movie offering audiences something new as well.

Marvel had three Black Widow comics already on the schedule for May, all of them focusing on characters that would be seen in the movie, when it announced in January the launch – also in May – of a new ongoing series for the character. Later on the publisher showed off movie-themed variant covers for some issues of those titles.

Widow has unfinished family business in the Super Bowl commercial that shows the drama and action of the story, including some of the threats she’ll face off against.

An explanation of who Red Guardian is was the subject of a video released by Marvel in mid-February.

The movie was a major part of Marvel’s promotional presence at two major conventions earlier this year. Toys based on the film were shown off at ToyFair in February, while C2E2 in March included Black Widow merchandise for sale.

A profile of Johansson had her talking about her long history with the character and what it means to finally have her stand on her own in a film. Another piece had her sharing what she felt were the character’s best scenes from over the years.

An Omaze campaign was launched in March with a video featuring Johansson telling people they could win a trip to the movie’s premiere. That was followed by an International Women’s Day greeting from Johansson and Pugh.

At that point – early April 2020, about a month after Disney pulled it from the schedule – the first date change happened as the movie was pushed to November, when we thought things would be back to normal again.

Harbor spoke about his character of Red Guardian and what it means in the context of the story.

In an interview from last July, Shortland revealed the film essentially puts a cap on Johansson’s time in the MCU and lets Pough’s character pick up the baton going forward. Another feature package in Empire came out in September that had more comments from Johansson and others along with exclusive new images. Shortland also commented on how the story, which mixes super heroics and family drama, evolved during development and production.

Another interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two talking about production of this movie, the pandemic-related delays and what future plans there might be for both of their characters.

In November Black Widow, sporting the same white uniform she’s wearing in many of the trailers, was added to Fortnite.

The question of release seemed to be settled in December of last year, when Disney made it clear during its investors presentation that the movie was still planned as a theatrical-only title. It reiterated that commitment in February during the company’s earnings announcement, which also included the news Disney+ had grown to 94 million subscribers.

A few months later, in March, that commitment was (unsurprisingly) called into question when Disney announced A) one last date shift – from May to July – as well as B) that the movie would get a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

Johannson presented the movie as being a chance for audiences to finally get to know Natasha’s true story in a video released on National Super Hero Day in early May.

Additional footage was included in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video also from early May. It’s not a lot, but it puts this film in the context of the previous MCU entries while also playing up the communal experience of theatrical viewing.

The first clip came in mid-May during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” broadcast, where Johansson accepted the “Generation Award.”. It shows Natasha and Yelena bickering like the sisters they are while trying to get away from a bad guy.

A “special look” came out in early June telling fans the wait is over, though technically there was still another month or so to wait.

Weisz talked about the movie when she appeared on “Kimmel” in June, as did Pugh when she appeared a week or so later.

Tickets going on sale in early June unlocked a host of content, almost like a tide that’s been held back for a year and was suddenly unleashed. That included:

Around that same time, Shortland was interviewed about what movies and other stories she drew inspiration from.

Harbour talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in June of last year

In a much-shared interview, Johansson talked about how her character has evolved since being introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 where, she said, Natasha was overly-sexualized and objectified, underestimated because of that by almost all the other characters at some point or another.

Harbour had some fun speculating on his character’s backstory and what potential there might be in that unexplored territory while the rest of the cast talked about working with Shortland.

In a video released on Father’s Day Harbour read some corny “dad jokes” much to the embarrassment of his costars.

Johansson appeared on “The Tonight Show” to hype the movie, convince people to see it in theaters and tease some revelations.

A ton of commercials and other promo spots started running in early June, each taking a slightly different take on the story but all selling the movie as a fast-paced action romp with the Romanov family.

Weisz answered a handful of questions about the production like the person most likely to pull a prank on set in a video from mid-June. Later on Johansson, Harbour and Pugh answered their own sets of fan questions.

A joint interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two of them sharing anecdotes over how they bonded on set, particularly over the ridiculousness of some of the fighting poses they were expected to perform and more.

A fan screening event was held in Los Angeles recently with some of the cast in attendance and some appearing virtually. Similar events, each with some subset of the cast and crew, were held in major cities around the world.

Another interview with Shortland had her talking about the multiple times she declined taking on the project, only to eventually be worn down/won over by the persistence of her agent and Marvel.

Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive video interview with the cast.

More background on Taskmaster was shared by Marvel in a featurette released just a week or so ago. There was also a recap of Widow’s character journey through the 10+ years since her introduction to the MCU.

The last wave of commercials like this explicitly called out this being Marvel’s return to theater screens after a two year absence.

Natasha and Yelena are breaking Alexei out of prison in the last official clip released before the movie was made available.

One last featurette had the cast talking about the makeshift family the characters have formed.

Additional interviews with Shortland like this had her talking about the opportunity that exists for more female directors to be brought into the MCU. Meanwhile Feige talked about how this story takes place during the third phase of the MCU arc but sets the stage for things that will happen moving forward.

Disney+ released a movie-themed episode of the “Legends” series, offering more background on the character and her history.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Geico, which has the company’s spokesgecko imagining what it would be like to ride along with Natasha and Yelena.
  • BMW, which released exclusive interviews with the cast in support of a campaign that shows the company’s cars executing some of the movie’s big driving stunts.
  • Synchrony Bank, which launched a campaign encouraging people to learn about its savings tools.

Overall

This is probably the biggest campaign in terms of sheer volume of elements in quite a while, even bigger than F9 and other recent releases. As such it’s hard to judge on an objective level. But what’s impressive is how Marvel Studios has maintained a sense of brand consistency despite the unexpectedly long period of time the marketing has been forced to stretch over. Add to that a very professionally enthusiastic push from Johansson and a focus on Pugh that sets her up as the future of this part of the franchise’s future and you have a solid campaign that hopes audiences are ready for more of the series after a prolonged break.

Now we just see if it can stick the landing.

Scarlett Johansson GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Luca – Marketing Recap

How DisneyPixar has sold a coming-of-age story with an underwater twist.

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Luca, directed by Enrico Casarosa, stars Jacob Tremblay as the voice of Luca Paguro, a pre-teen sea creature who dreams of exploring the world above. His best friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) helps him do just that, coming out to visit the small Italian village near their underwater home. They befriend a young girl named Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), who joins the two — who can take human form when out of the water — in all sorts of adventures in her hometown.

The movie is the latest Pixar release coming to Disney+ as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, arriving with mostly positive reviews that have earned the film a 91% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and after a campaign that has emphasized the setting even more than the story.

The Posters

You get a sense of Luca’s dual nature on the first poster (by Legion Creative Group), released in February. Above the water he looks human but very different in the part that’s still submerged.

The same message is conveyed on April’s second poster, but this time Luca is joined by Alberto and Giulia as they sit on the coast of the Italian village where the action takes place, many of the supporting characters in the background. It sells a bright, fun adventure with a cast of young characters on a design that looks like a travel poster.

Three more character posters came out earlier in June that put all three of the kids in the position of being half-submerged, but only Giulia needs a snorkel and looks the same underwater.

The Trailers

Luca and his friends are having a great time on the Italian Riviera when the trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube), released in February, opens. But as they engage in the kind of hijinks not uncommon for kids their age, they are hiding a secret that’s only visible when they are in the water. The trailer sets up the premise succinctly, if somewhat incompletely, but still makes it look quite charming.

More of the story is on display in the first full-length trailer (11.7 million views on YouTube) from late April. We see how Luca explores the surface world with Alberto and how the two of them first get into some trouble but then are rescued by Giulia. She and Luca become friends, getting into adventures all their own together as Luca and his brother try to avoid revealing their true nature to the townspeople.

Online and Social

Only a barebones website for the movie but there were social media profiles that shared regular updates and assets.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Pixar announced the movie in July of last year.

In March of this year Disney announced the movie would skip theaters entirely and be available on Disney+ on its planned release date.

Casarosa was interviewed about the movie’s story as well as its unique visuals and approach to animation.

TV spots like this began running in May that sells the vibrant colors of the movie along with the adventures the characters have throughout the story.

A “Friendship” featurette had Gaffigan, Rudolph, Casarosa and others talking about the magical nature of friendships at a certain age and how the movie captures that magic.

The movie’s production designer Daniela Strijleva was interviewed about drawing inspiration from her own experiences in Italy to create the movie’s look and feel.

Another featurette included comments from Casarosa, Gaffigan and Rudolph about the research that went into creating an authentic Italian coastal town.

The first clip, released in early June, shows the moment Guilia brings Luca and Alberto home to meet her father and have dinner, an event that doesn’t go very well.

Casarosa was part of a publicity tour event in Italy.

Just days before the movie’s release a “blue carpet” premiere was held at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The official website lists a number of companies as promotional partners for the movie, but many of the links from that site don’t work and additional details on most of those weren’t readily accessible. The list includes:

  • Blue Apron (details unavailable)
  • Annie’s (details unavailable)
  • Baubles and Sole (details unavailable but the company did frequently promote the movie on Instagram)
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in Happy Meal boxes and offered downloadable activities online
  • The Watermelon Board, which created a campaign encouraging people to enjoy their summer with some cool refreshing watermelon

Overall

There’s less of an emphasis on the story here than there is on the setting. That’s understandable since it’s an unusual and beautiful location but it means that the actual stakes of the movie and the characters we’re asked to care about are moved to the background.

But it is an enjoyable marketing push, one that positions the movie as a simpler, gentler Pixar release, one that may not reach the emotional heights of other titles but which does promise a good time in a gorgeous location.

Cruella – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a villain’s origin story.

Emma Stone daring you to say something on the Cruella movie poster

Giving cinematic antagonists a feature-length backstory that makes their later actions if not reasonable at least understandable has been a trend in Hollywood for a decade or more now. Disney, which has been down this road before with movies like the two Maleficent entries, is back with another with this week’s Cruella.

Emma Stone stars as Estella, an aspiring fashion designer in the punk London of the 1970’s, whose dreams never seem to come true. When she finally manages to land a position with the powerful Baroness (Emma Thompson), Estella’s talent becomes apparent as does her penchant for mayhem and cruelty. Eventually she succumbs fully to that side of her personality and becomes Cruella de Vil.

After a campaign that has run in the relatively concise period starting earlier this year the movie arrives this week both in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.

The Posters

When the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in February it immediately established not only Stone’s appearance as the title character but also the overall look and feel of the film. Specifically, a look and feel rooted in the design aesthetics of the 70s punk scene, with its title treatment that seems to be written in lipstick and more.

A similar set of messages is conveyed on the second poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released just a few days later.

The next one-sheet from early April pulls the camera out to show more of a full-body shot of Cruella.

In early May a series of character posters came out with Cruella and Baroness along with Cruella’s henchman Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and her childhood friend turned journalistic nemesis Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Another set that adds Jasper (Joel Fry), Cruella’s other assistant, to the mix came out a bit later in May.

The Dolby Cinemas poster looks exactly like the cover to a punk album, with Cruella, Horace and Jasper standing against a white brick wall, a dalmatian blurred in front of them as it runs past the camera. The Regal Cinemas poster has Cruella hovering the background as the other characters are arranged in front of her along with her signature town car.

The Trailers

It’s clear from the first trailer (13 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February, that we will be watching an origin story of a villain. That’s communicated through the handful of narrated lines about how she was “destined to be a psycho” and such, all of which sets up a twisted personality. Thankfully there’s no reason for that shown here, it just is what it is. Also unclear is what Cruella is acting out toward specifically in the story, as we just see scenes of general mayhem and craziness, not a unified goal or target. That’s fine since really it’s Stone’s performance that’s the main draw as she wears outlandish wigs and dresses and chews all available scenery.

A final trailer (6.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early April that continues selling it as a villain origin story, but one where Estella’s transformation is in large part triggered by the workplace abuse she suffers at the hands of Baroness von Hellman. It’s actually a lot more interesting for the backstory that’s offered as well as because more Thompson is always a good thing.

Online and Social

No website but there were social pages like this Twitter profile where updates were shared.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

The first big coming out party for the movie was at Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of last year. Costumes from the film were on display and the first still showing Stone in character was released.

More stills offering additional looks at Cruella and The Baroness came out in late February following the release of the trailer.

A new “sneak peek” video was released in mid-March during the Grammy Awards ceremony showing the indignities Cruella suffers on her way up as well as how she makes her own opportunities along the way to her eventual fate.

Unsurprisingly, Disney announced in March that the movie would receive a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

It’s notable that one of the first big interviews with director Craig Gillespie came in British Vogue given the campaign’s focus on fashion and lewks.

TV spots like this began to come out toward the end of April, some focusing on the story’s fashion industry setting, others on how Cruella grew into the villain she would eventually become.

The first clip, also released at the end of April, shares the moment when Cruella comes into her own by making a big entrance at a party hosted by her boss.

A short featurette that came out around the same time has Stone talking about taking on the character and more.

Additional spots and promos in the weeks leading up to release include a “Meet the Villain” extended look at Cruella’s hijinks, a “Call Me Cruella” promo that focuses on the rivalry between her and The Baroness, a clip of The Baroness’ chilling entry, a commercial showing the event audiences can expect in theaters or online, another clip showing Cruella commandeering what would become her signature car, a featurette on the fashion of the characters, a commercial showing Cruella making plans for her big coming out and the music.

In mid-May the movie became one of the first major releases to hold an actual red carpet premiere event in Los Angeles, a sign that nature was indeed healing. Stone, Howell-Baptiste, Gillespie and others were in attendance while costumes and other props were on display for attendees to check out.

Just days before the movie came out Disney released Florence Welch’s “Call Me Cruella” from the film’s soundtrack, which also included a number of songs appropriate to the era and setting of the story.

cruella online ad

Online ads used various incarnations of the key art to send clicks to the Disney+ sign-up/sign-in page.

Stone talked more about taking on such a well-known character when she appeared on “GMA.” She and Thompson both talked here about the looks of their respective characters while Glenn Close, who of course previously played Cruella on-screen and was a producer on this movie, shared her ideas for a sequel.

Promotional partners for the movie include:

Overall

It’s an interesting choice made by Disney to sell this as a glam fashion period piece in addition to a villain origin story. Everything about the campaign, from the interviews in Vogue to the featurettes on the costumes to the posters that go big on the hair and feather-strewn dresses, conveys a black and white fierceness to the audience.

While you can take issue with how accurate those attempts are to the era portrayed, it certainly works to create a strong visual identity for the movie. Everything is black and white and red all over, lipstick scrawled on a photo and dangerous attitudes conveyed through determined looks.

Release Date Shuffle Shows Streaming Confidence

It’s all about what cards you’re holding.

The state of the theatrical feature film release seems rosier than it has in a good long while following two of the strongest weekends of the pandemic era thanks to Godzilla Vs. Kong. The gross domestic box-office for that movie is now $69.5 million, an impressive total, especially given the film is also available on HBO Max. Adding to that success is that downloads of the HBO Max app hit an all-time high in advance of its release.

It’s a validation, at least for the time being, of WarnerMedia’s 2021 strategy of day-and-date distribution to both theaters and streaming. Things will go back to relative normal in 2022, when big releases will head to theaters exclusively for at least 45 days before becoming available to streaming subscribers.

WarnerMedia’s strategy was uber-controversial several months ago but now seems common, so much so that it wasn’t surprising when Disney announced Black Widow would do likewise on Disney+ but via its Premier Access payment tier.

Some studios aren’t feeling quite as sure about things, though. Just recently Paramount announced a handful of release date changes, notably moving Top Gun: Maverick out to November from July. That has been seen as a sign the studio can’t afford to have a Tom Cruise blockbuster be anything but just that. (Though the shifting of Snake Eyes from October back to July then would say the opposite, right?)

Tom Cruise GIF by Top Gun - Find & Share on GIPHY

The difference in approaches – continuing to play the release date shuffle versus coming up with a streaming/theatrical hybrid model – indicates how good the respective studios are feeling about their streaming positioning.

Reading the tea leaves above, it would seem that:

  • Paramount doesn’t yet think the newly-rebranded and relaunched Paramount+ is a suitable outlet for new releases. That’s understandable given it doesn’t have the market penetration of some of the other players. Still, the studio announced in February that a number of upcoming films will be available there 45 days after theatrical release, so it’s getting there.
  • NBCUniversal doesn’t have a dog in this fight. Peacock is an entirely adequate streaming service, but if there’s a strategy it’s unclear what it might be. And it certainly doesn’t seem to be factoring into conversations about new releases or anything else.
  • Sony knows it hasn’t even anted up. That’s why it just signed a deal that replaced Starz with Netflix as the studio’s first post-theatrical streaming outlet.

Warner and Disney are out in front of this pack, pushing new models and doing what makes the most sense given all the craziness of the last year while also working to build something sustainable for the future. That confidence is borne, to likely a great extent, by the strength of their brand, something the other studios are still struggling with.

Is The Box-Office Actually Warming Up?

Maybe, but let’s see if it lasts.

A significant – and significantly delayed – milestone was marked last week when Tenet, initially released last September, finally opened in New York City theaters. Unlike when it played in a handful of theaters elsewhere in the country several months ago, this time the opening was not marked by director Christopher Nolan openly decrying Warner Bros. executives, but the larger narrative in the movie industry couldn’t have made him very pleased given his dislike of anything less than 100% theatrical distribution.

See over the last week or so several studio heads and others have weighed in with their own prognostications on the future of movie release patterns given we’re now a year past when most theaters shut down for most of the rest of 2020.

Jim Gianopulos, Paramount Pictures

Exclaimed Gianopulos at Viacom’s Paramount+ Day today, “We believe in the power of theatrical releases and we have faith that after things get back to normal, audiences will enthusiastically return to theaters. At the same time, consumers have increasingly embraced streaming as another way to enjoy films,” said Gianopulos, “our strategy accounts for both.”

Bob Chapek, Walt Disney Company

“I think the consumer is probably more impatient than they’ve ever been before,” said Chapek. “Particularly since now they’ve had the luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home pretty much when they want them. So I’m not sure there’s going back, but we certainly don’t want to do anything like cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run.”

Jason Kilar, WarnerMedia

“It sure feels like it’s not going to go back to 2015,” Kilar said, adding, “I can only speak for ourselves.”

Bob Bakish, ViacomCBS

“If you look at the curve, the degradations on most film titles, they do very little business on post-Day 30 and certainly post-Day 45,” Bakish, who was the morning’s keynote speaker at the (virtual) 2021 Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference, continued. “So moving to an in-house streaming window at that part we think works, certainly for us, but also for constituents, including consumers.”

Tenet finally coming to New York theaters happened at about the same time San Francisco announced bars, theaters and other public spaces could reopen, though still at reduced capacity. That’s also good news for the movie industry as it is another major market that, with vaccination rates rising due to increased supply and Covid-19 cases dropping, is allowing businesses to get back to business.

If things continue to improve, it should mean that Disney’s decision to keep Black Widow’s May release date makes sense. And we might even see titles like No Time To Die and others this year. Indeed studios are feeling positive, with Paramount recently announcing a Memorial Day release date for The Quiet Place Part II.

[record scratch]

Of course there are still potential monsters lurking around a number of corners.

The CDC reported last week that areas where mask mandates and in-person dining restrictions were lifted wholesale have seen fresh increases in Covid-19 infections.

Over 745,000 Americans signed up for unemployment assistance last week and there are 10 million fewer jobs than there were a year ago. 10% of Americans are estimated to have given up on the job market completely, much more than the official 6.4% unemployment rate.

So not only are there still public health concerns that will impact people’s decisions whether or not to head to a movie theater (assuming one near them is open yet), but there is still the very real situation of tens of millions of people not working and therefore not having disposable income to spend on something as inessential as a movie ticket.

What Should We Watch Elizabeth Olsen GIF by Disney+ - Find & Share on GIPHY

All that is on top of the year of being solidly in the habit of watching new releases via streaming or PVOD.

That’s why it’s likely most, if not all, the studios will adopt some form of hybrid or mix-and-match release strategy for their lineups.

It may not be as ad-hoc as Disney’s approach, where some films are held back entirely while others get full-on Disney+ releases while others are “Premier Access” titles requiring additional payments. Or as one-size-fits-all as WarnerMedia’s day-and-date theatrical/HBO Max releases.

Something fundamental has shifted, though, and it may not be possible to shift it back. While Kilar and others still see a place for theatrical releases, Paramount announcing major title will come to the newly-rebranded Paramount+ just 45 days after they hit theaters shows theaters are no longer the powerhouses they were just a few years ago. Even at the height of DVD sales in the 2000s, studios would never have dared anything less than at least a 90 day window, with 120+ being the tightest it ever really got.

Some theater chains are still trying to exercise some power, though, with Cinemark’s decision to not play Raya and the Last Dragon because of it’s Disney+ availability playing a large role in that movie’s lackluster box-office.

How the theatrical box-office continues to improve after losing essentially an entire 12 month period remains to be seen given how many states are still enacting stricter guidelines and we’re nowhere near “herd immunity” vaccination levels. Adding to the uncertainty is how studios have taken to just not reporting box-office results, afraid those numbers will be taken out of the context of a global pandemic.

That means it could be even longer before we see dollar amounts reflecting wide release patterns. And when those numbers are available, they may not look like what we would expect to see a few years ago because, quite frankly, the results don’t include the number of people who opted to stream it at home now or 45 days in the future.

Raya and the Last Dragon – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling its latest animated feature with an all-star cast.

Raya and the Last Dragon is, like many of Disney’s animated films, about a character defying the odds to embrace and fulfill her destiny. In this case, the people of Kumandra have long ago splintered into various tribes and lost most of what they once shared. When an ancient threat emerges, it’s up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a skilled warrior, to seek out the dragons that helped defend them centuries ago. When she finds the only remaining dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), she has to bring the young dragon back, facing different threats along the way.

Originally scheduled for release last November, this week the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ under the same “Premier Access” tier Disney previously used for Mulan. It arrives with an impressive 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has received a campaign that’s emphasized the action and adventure in the story.

The Posters

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2020.

The first real poster for the film (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) came out in October of last year and shows Raya, her face partially obscured by her hat but holding a substantial sword. A motion version of that poster came out a short while later.

Raya is seen more fully on the second poster, also from October. The camera here pulls back to show her standing defiantly in a tropic setting, the cloudy outline of a dragon visible in the background.

The next poster (by marketing agency Ten30 Studios) came out in December. Here Raya and Sisu are seen running side by side, seemingly into battle or toward some other form of danger or adventure. Both have a fun, excited look on their face that communicates their lack of fear toward whatever they’re facing.

In February what seems to be the theatrical poster came out, showing Raya at the center of all the action, with the supporting characters and some of the story’s locations placed around her. The design is wonderful, using elements that seem to be pulled from traditional Asian artwork to display everything the audience may need to know about the movie.

Additional posters continued to come out after that, including one that simplifies the design to show Raya, Sisu and others ready for a fight, one that shows them enjoying a feast together and one that shows the kind of food the characters enjoy, part of a late-campaign push focusing on food and snacks.

The Trailers

The first trailer (14.1m views on YoutTube) was finally released in mid-October. In an extended sequence we see how Raya is a sort of spy/defender, sworn to defend an important artifact. The splintering of the tribes of the world has thrown the world into chaos, prompting her to embark on a mission that could once again unite them and restore peace. The story here seems secondary, though, to simply showing how powerful Raya is.

In late January the next trailer (12m views on YouTube) came out, starting out with Raya meeting – and ultimately recruiting – a “con baby.” After that she’s on a quest to find the last dragon in order to restore peace among her home’s divided people. She’s successful in the first part but has to then contend with others who are on the same mission for their own purposes, encountering danger and adventure along the way. It presents a much more comprehensive overview of the story along with all the action and humor the movie has to offer.

Online and Social

Visitors to the movie’s official website will find the basic marketing information like trailers and a synopsis along with a downloadable movie-themed activity packet as well as links to buy tickets or find out more about Disney+ Premier Access. There were also stand-alone social media profiles for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced by Disney at the 2019 D23 Fan Expo, when the cast was brought out to share the story and show off the first early footage as a way to get fans excited.

A first look still from the film was released in August 2020 at the same time as the news Tran was joining the cast.

In December Disney announced the movie would not go to theaters but would instead debut on Disney+ with the same Premier Access paid tier previously used for Mulan.

After the second trailer came out Disney released a video showing Tran and Awkwafina reacting to it.

A Super Bowl spot aired in early February that takes a slightly more serious take on the story than was seen in the recent full trailer, but still looks very entertaining, with plenty of humor and adventure for fans. Additional spots came out later that took the same action/humor tone.

Disney Parks shared an exclusive clip of Raya and Sisu enlisting some help in their journey home.

In late February Disney released a featurette focused on the casting of the voice roles. There was also a lyric video for “Lead The Way” by Jhené Aiko.

A condensed version of Tran’s video diaries from the studio and other production locations was shared along with a brief tutorial on how to draw Tuk Tuk, one of Raya’s adorable sidekicks.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Fitness company Obe, which offered movie-inspired workout classes as well as a discussion of some of the film’s more athletic action sequences.
  • Omson, which created special Southeast Asian sampler packages of prepared spices, offered in movie-branded packaging.
  • Raddish Kids, which created movie-inspired recipes for its meal delivery service.
  • Sanzo, which offered a 20% off coupon for those wanting to try its Asian-inspired flavored drinks.
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in its Happy Meal packages.
  • Kellogg’s, but details on their promotion were unavailable.

Media and Press

The filmmakers, including director Don Hall, revealed Tran’s casting in the lead role and discussed the importance of this being the first Disney animated film to be inspired by Southeast Asian legends and culture.

Tran appeared on “Good Morning, America” in October to debut the trailer and talk about the film.

Tran spoke during a group interview about the unjustified pressure she’s being made to feel about playing the first Southeast Asian Disney Princess.

Closer to release Tran appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about being a crazy Disney fan and now being in a (non-Star Wars) Disney movie. Awkwafina then appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

There were a few more interviews like this with Tran where she shared her excitement at being part of such a monumental production. She also got a cover story in THR about how this film marks a big moment for her, coming after the toxic backlash she received as a result of her Star Wars role.

Producer Osnat Shurer and others were quoted in a story about how the filmmakers found inspiration in the art and culture of Southeast Asia and how that’s represented in the movie.

Overall

In addition to the campaign’s commitment to communicating the Southeast Asian influence felt by the filmmakers, which is admirable, the main thing that comes through here is the redemption of Tran. Her treatment in the wake of The Last Jedi in particular was horrendous, and she’s made no bones about how difficult that period was for her to live through. So to see her standing tall here and taking part in a project that allowed her to pull from her own heritage and background is admirable and inspiring in and of itself.

Aside from that, Disney is making a concerted effort here to sell the movie as a funny, adventure-filled good time for audiences. There’s nothing too dark here, as even the threats faced by the protagonists don’t seem overwhelming or scary, a likely attempt to position the movie as a safe choice for younger viewers at home.

What will be interesting to see is how the movie fares as part of the Disney+ Premier Access experiment. Mulan was more or less a known quantity given it was a remake of a previously popular film. But this is an original property, so how willing people are to shell out the additional fee to watch it remains to be seen.

2020’s Nine Most Intriguing Movie Campaigns

Even a dumpster fire can yield some interesting results.

If compiled, the articles, think-pieces and hot takes written between March and December of 2020 on the present and future of movies and theater-going would fill volumes rivaling the collected works of Marcel Proust, though they would be far easier to summarize.

A year unlike any other certainly proved even more disruptive to aspects of the film industry – production, distribution and exhibition alike – than anything like MoviePass or other threats once held to be dire could have dreamed. No one could have engineered a scenario where over 90 percent of the nation’s movie theaters would close for months at a time, studios would shut down filming on major motion pictures and so on ad infinitum because of a virus outbreak around the globe.

All of that, as well as the pivot by studios and media owners to streaming, upended, delayed or otherwise altered a great many movie marketing efforts. That doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have plenty of interesting campaigns, though. It just means in some cases what made them “interesting” or otherwise notable was a little different than what would have qualified in prior years.

More than anything else, 2020 was a year of unexpected firsts. WarnerMedia finally launched HBO Max and offered a number of original films before announcing it would be home to its entire 2021 theatrical release slate. Disney rushed Onward over to Disney+ before later using it for titles like Hamilton and Soul that otherwise would have gone to theaters and for Mulan as a test for a new pricing model. Paramount sold off many of its titles to Netflix or Amazon. Apple released a handful of original features while trying to provide Apple TV+ with some momentum. Universal essentially reinvented and reinvigorated PVOD.

So, with all that said, these are some of the most intriguing movie marketing campaigns of a year for which “intriguing” is such an understatement as to almost be irresponsible.

Mank

Why It Made The Cut: Many campaigns for period films include some element or another meant to evoke the era the story takes place in. No movie takes that as far as Netflix’s Mank, where the whole campaign was designed to seem as if the film were being released in the late 1930s/early 1940s, just like Citizen Kane. Trailers were cut and narrated in the style of that period, posters were designed to look similar to the kinds of one-sheets seen then and more. It shows something unique can be created if the marketing team goes all-in on a concept.

Mulan

Why It Made The Cut: The campaigns for many movies that had their release plans changed dramatically saw subsequent alterations made to their marketing campaigns. Few were as innovative as Disney’s shift of Mulan. Not only was the film sent directly to Disney+ (as well as limited theaters), but the introduction of a “Premier Access” PVOD tier to that streaming platform set this one apart from the others. By all accounts this experiment was a success, one that may be replicated with other titles in the future. It also essentially set the stage for what Warner Bros. would wind up doing with HBO Max beginning with Wonder Woman 1984, though Disney remains committed to sending its Marvel Studios titles exclusively to theaters.

Yifei Liu GIF by Walt Disney Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Assistant

Why It Made The Cut: Few films felt as timely as The Assistant, which came out at the same time Hollywood was dealing with not only the continued fallout of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual harassment and assault but also the burgeoning protests by assistants in the industry over lack of adequate pays and other mistreatment. While other campaigns made big, flashy statements to audiences, this one played it so quiet and understated it sometimes fell off the radar, but kept coming back to show how powerful the story and performances were.

Birds of Prey

Why It Made The Cut: Before May of last year, Warner Bros. and DC Films seemed to be actively apologizing for the dark, dystopian tone (not to mention storytelling shortcomings) of earlier films from Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was part of that, presenting a new take on the best character to come out of Suicide Squad that freed Harley Quinn from the male gaze and other traps. In contrast to some of those earlier movies, this campaign was funny, bright and full of women taking their power back. It was also one of the last major fully-theatrical campaigns of the year before things got weird.

Harley Quinn Smile GIF by Birds Of Prey - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Invisible Man

Why It Made The Cut: Universal’s unsuccessful effort to launch its Dark Universe film franchise on the back of 2017’s The Mummy is legendary as a case study in corporate hubris. That made the campaign for The Invisible Man so notable as it not only looked like a powerful and compelling story in its own right but also was the first example of the studio’s new approach of making smaller movies driven by creative filmmakers, not the dictates of a shared cinematic universe.

Universal GIF by The Invisible Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Trolls World Tour/Scoob!

Why It Made The Cut: These two kid-targeted movies were some of the earliest efforts by their respective studios into the burgeoning world of premium video-on-demand, an avenue theater owners had kept off-limits for a decade. Most notably, each represented early adoption of the studio-hosted watch party, encouraging fans to engage in a communal but remote viewing experience anchored by Twitter chats. While Trolls World Tour was a first-mover, Scoob! in particular went all-out for its watch party with downloadable party packs, recipes and other items for those at home to use as part of the event.

Zac Efron Animation GIF by SCOOB! - Find & Share on GIPHY

The New Mutants

Why It Made The Cut: The New Mutants is included here simply because it actually came out after years of delays, rumors of extensive reshoots and other issues. Not only was it finally released – after a campaign that shifted over time from a horror-centric push to one that was more of a conventional super hero message – but it came out theatrically instead of, as many expected, via streaming.

Angry X-Men GIF by 20th Century Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Tenet

Why It Made The Cut: With so many movies coming out on PVOD or streaming, Tenet’s theatrical release is a bright shining example of a powerful stakeholder intentionally not reading the room. The film’s massively disappointing box-office performance shows there was no audience in September willing to brave theater-going in sufficient numbers, a lesson so well-learned by Warner Bros. it’s cited as being a major reason for the studio’s decision to send #WW84 and eventually all its 2021 releases to HBO Max. It would rather anger directors, agents, production partners and others than go through that again, and with good reason.

Coming Robert Pattinson GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Happiest Season

Why It Made The Cut: Few films of late have tried so hard – and to a great extent so successfully – to redefine an entire genre as The Happiest Season. Its holiday-centric campaign was perfectly in keeping with the movie’s story, and the emphasis on providing a new take on the Christmas movie category was felt throughout the marketing by Hulu.

Christmas GIF by HULU - Find & Share on GIPHY

HONORABLE MENTION – Emma

Just for this GIF.

Quick Takes on Disney, Warner Bros. and More Recent Movie News

A few thoughts while pondering whether James Corden’s denial a “butthole cut” of Cats exists is proof it totally exists.

Just like the rest of 2020, the last week has contained eight months worth of news. And that’s just in the entertainment world and doesn’t even take into account the attempted coup taking place or the fact that an entire political party has pulled away the mask to show off its anti-democratic nature.

Warner Bros. Uses HBO Max To Plan For The Future

Yes, the news that Warner Bros. plans to release its entire 2021 movie slate to both theaters (at least any that are open) and HBO Max is a huge deal.

No, this is not WB offering up theaters as a sacrifice. I don’t think Jason Kilar or anyone else actively wants to destroy the theatrical exhibition industry, but they *do* want to maintain their own business and for the foreseeable future going direct-to-consumer is the best way to do that.

To that point, a survey from Deloitte reports most people aren’t going to feel comfortable going to a theater until at least the middle of next year. That means the theater industry isn’t likely to move upward significantly until the second half – or later – of 2021, a window that roughly lines up with when enough of the U.S. population has received the pending Covid-19 vaccines to impact communal spread.

Despite that, WB’s announcement seems to have unlocked the rare achievement of honking off almost everyone within the movie industry.

  • Theater chains were angered because they thought the Wonder Woman 1984 shift to HBO Max was a one-off. Their stock prices dropped just as you would expect them to and AMC Theaters has once again said it will have to secure an influx of cash to survive past early 2021. Independent cinemas weren’t thrilled either.
  • Directors Denis Villeneuve and Patty Jenkins, who helmed Dune and WW84 respectively, have blasted the move, with Villeneuve specially calling out how it betrays a lack of respect for the art of cinema and instead is about the debt management of a telecom behemoth.
  • There’s also, of course, director Christopher Nolan, who said it showed WB panicking and “dismantling” a great studio. Whether or not he’s self-aware to realize the theatrical release of Tenet he insisted upon despite the pandemic helped lead to this change remains up in the air.
  • In fact the Director’s Guild of America is pretty upset as well.
  • Legendary, the production company behind Godzilla vs. Kong and more, which reportedly had less than an hour’s notice before the announcement was made and is upset because it had Netflix on the line for GvK but still wanted a theatrical release.

Disney Announces [checks notes] Literally Everything

On the heels of Warner Bros. grabbing a hammer and walking over to the “Break glass in case of once-in-a-generation-pandemic” box where it kept HBO Max, Disney took its Investors Day presentation to announce scores of projects and changes. Those announcements were, depending on who you talk to, either A) the greatest things ever, of B) soulless exploitation of beloved characters with no respect for the individuals who created them decades prior.

Those announcements included lots of Star Wars series and films and lots of Marvel series and films along with plenty of Disney, Pixar and other projects. Of note:

  • The timing of Jenkins being announced as the director of an upcoming Star Wars movie is coincidental to that of the WW84 HBO Max news. The former has likely been in the works for a long time while the latter just broke a week ago, so I’m not reading too much into that.
  • 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures, the remnants of 20th Century Fox, are becoming producers of content for Hulu, which is kind of a sad fate for a once major movie studio.
  • Disney is doing what WB didn’t and clearly laying out tiers for feature film distribution. Tier One (Theatrical): MCU, including Black Widow, and Star Wars; Tier Two (Windowed): Raya and the Last Dragon etc will get the same Disney+ Premier Access Mulan did; Tier Three (Disney+): Live action remakes like Pinochio and others or legacy sequels like Sister Act 3.

What all of this means to my eye is that the battle lines for the second phase of the Streaming Wars have just been laid out.

Companies like Netflix and even Amazon Video have long felt that the key to expanding on existing success was the development or acquisition of some major blockbuster movie franchises all their own. Netflix might have something brewing if the Russo Bros. can build on the success of Extraction, which they said they have plans to. Recent hits like The Old Guard and Enola Holmes could also easily be turned into ongoing series if the creators are on board. And Amazon might be hoping it can do something with Without Remorse, which it acquired from Paramount.

Warner Bros. could do that with their own properties on HBO Max, but how it handled the recent news means they’re now working from a deficit in terms of goodwill among agents, directors and others.

Right now Disney is the only player actually executing on that strategy, counting on the impressive portfolio of brands and properties it manages to keep people coming back to Disney+ for spinoffs, sequels, prequels and other expansions.

If I were a betting man, I’d say that a year from now we’re having a very different conversation. Platforms have realigned, studios have altered their strategies and at least one studio has been purchased by a tech company, probably either Apple or Alibaba.

Whatever happens, this last week has been a very, very interesting two months.