How Lionsgate has sold the latest action revenge drama
Keanu Reeves returns as the baddest assassin around in this week’s John Wick: Chapter 4. Continuing the story where it left off at the end of 2019’s Chapter 3, John is still on the run from the High Table, the oversight board of professional killers that John has defied since returning to the trade after his wife and dog were killed. Wanting to end his exile, John sets out to kill the members of the High Table, a quest that takes him to Osaka, Berlin and other locations where he’s helped by old friends, hunted by fellow assassins and generally still in all sorts of trouble.
Ian McShane and the late Lance Reddick are also back as the manager and concierge, respectively, of The Continental, the hotel catering to professional killers, as is Laurence Fishburne as an underworld figure that occasionally helps John out of a jam. Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Rina Sawayama and others join as well, rounding out the cast of characters that John will encounter and sometimes have to kill to stay alive.
With Chad Stahelski also back as director it’s time to take a look at the campaign Lionsgate put together for the film.
announcement and casting
The project was announced by Lionsgate in May, 2019, just as the third film was opening in theaters. At first the studio’s plan was to shoot Part 4 and Part 5 back-to-back, but it eventually dropped that due to lots of reasons.
Originally scheduled for release in May, 2021, the movie was pushed out a year. A few months later an announcement video was released revealing a further delay to March 2023.
With Reeves and Stahelski already on board, most of the rest of the cast – including McShane, Reddick, Yen, Clancy Brown, Scott Adkins and everyone else – came on board or confirmed they had signed on to return for another installment.
Both the star and director appeared at Lionsgate’s CinemaCon presentation in April, 2022 to show off the first footage from the movie to exhibitors and other insiders and press. While there they both talked a bit about what they wanted to do in this movie that was different from what had come before.
the marketing campaign
In July 2022 Lionsgate released the first official still from the film. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get people excited.
That was followed by the first teaser, which might be the same footage shown at CinemaCon a few months earlier. It establishes the primary conflict of the story: That John is taking on the entire High Table as he tries to get his life back, facing what for anyone else would be overwhelming odds in doing so. We see some familiar faces along with some new ones and it’s all very on-brand and therefore exciting for the audience.
Things really kicked off in November of last year with the release of the first full trailer (42m YouTube plays). It starts with John talking with Caine (Yen) about what the future holds before we see that John’s only way out is to kill a high-ranking member of the High Table, but to even get to him he needs the help of his estranged adopted sister. Then, amidst all the other plot details offered, we get the kind of highly-stylized action sequences and dry humor we’ve all come to expect from the series.
In December of last year Reeves appeared at Brazil Comic-Con to ramp up fan anticipation. That’s also where the first poster, which shows Wick dressed sharply and staring at out at the camera, was revealed.
The fate of a fifth movie was a little more iffy in an interview with Reeves where he also talked about the couple of spinoff projects that are expanding the world first glimpsed in the Wick movies.
Beginning in mid-February Lionsgate ran what it dubbed “Wick Week,” promising new and exclusive material each day for seven days.
Monday: A new poster, this time showing Wick standing and looking very serious in front of The Eiffel Tower.
Tuesday: A bunch of movie-themed Valentine’s Day cards featuring stills from the film and some phrase related to dialogue or plot points.
Wednesday: Character posters for Charon (Reddick) and Killa (Adkins).
Thursday: The next trailer (23m YouTube plays), which offers a bunch of new footage with only the very basics of the plot shared while it focuses on the intense action featured in the movie.
Friday: Two exclusive videos shared from IGN’s Fan Fest event, one with Reeves answering questions and teasing what the audience can expect and the other a featurette on the stunts in the movie.
At the end of February another event week was held, this time debuting new posters each day. Those included a bunch by artists from different countries along with exhibitor exclusives from IMAX, Cinemark and others.
Fandango shared a couple exclusive interviews with the cast and director at the beginning of March while Reeves participated in a Reddit AMA.
In a much-shared interview, Yen talked about joining the series in general but specifically called out how he worked with Stahelski to not only change his character’s name but also adjust wardrobe and other aspects of the role to be less stereotypically Asian.
Most of the leading cast along with Stahelski then walked the soggy red carpet for the U.K. premiere of the movie followed by another event in Berlin and then later in Paris.
News then broke that the movie would be the “secret screening” selection at SXSW, with the star and director both appearing for a Q&A after that screening to soak in the accolades from those in attendance.
The Hard Rock Cafe announced a partnership with Lionsgate to bring movie-themed food, drinks and exclusive merchandise to its locations. The studio also worked with the website Community to let fans sign up for early screenings of the film.
Dolby finally released its exclusive poster at this time, a bit later than some of the others.
A feature interview with the director had him talking about getting actors ready for stunt work, the potential for a fifth movie and lots more.
Sawayama has appeared on “GMA,” “The Tonight Show” and elsewhere to promote the film and talk about her first experiences on a movie set. Reeves’ talk show stops also included “The Tonight Show” and more, all of which featured him being very charming and trying to share as many details as possible without going too far. Adkins stopped by “GMA” a little bit later as well while Yen chatted on “Kimmel”
Most of those happened around the time everyone was in New York for the movie’s official U.S. red carpet premiere in New York City followed by another in Los Angeles days later.
Just before the L.A. premiere, Reddick passed away, creating an outpouring of appreciation for both his acting and friendship from the cast of this movie as well as just about everything else he appeared in.
Things obviously ended on a far different note than was anticipated with the passing of Reddick, but the campaign up to that point hit on all cylinders and continually delivered exactly the kind of messages the audience was likely to react positively to. That’s part of the reason tracking projections anticipate an opening weekend box office of at least $70 million,
Most of those positive vibes come directly from Reeves, who continually put himself front and center to sell the movie directly to fans in a variety of ways.