john wick: chapter 4 – marketing recap

How Lionsgate has sold the latest action revenge drama

John Wick Chapter 4 movie poster from Lionsgate showing Keanu Reeves standing in front the Eiffel Tower.
John Wick Chapter 4 movie poster from Lionsgate

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.

Keanu Reeves Enjoy GIF by John Wick: Chapter 4 - Find & Share on GIPHY

Mulan – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling its delayed live-action adaptation of an animated favorite.

Like many movies of late, Disney’s Mulan should have come out much earlier this year were it not for the Covid-19-related theater closures. Now the movie, the latest in the studio’s series of live-action remakes of its animated catalog and the first one to receive a PG-13 rating, is finally coming not to theaters but to Disney+, albeit with a twist.

The story of the film is similar to that of the 1998 movie as well as the Chinese ballad it’s based on. Yifei Liu stars as Mulan, a young woman living with her family in a small village. When the emperor issues a decree that all households must send a son to join the army in order to defend against an invading force. With no brothers, Mulan disguises herself as a man so that her aging father doesn’t have to sign up himself. That begins an epic adventure for Mulan, one that requires her to be more than she ever believed she could be.

Back in March, when its release was originally scheduled, tracking estimated an $85 million plus opening weekend. Now, many months later, it’s about to debut on Disney+, but not as part of the normal streaming subscription plan. Instead a new “Premier Access” tier has been introduced that requires an additional $30 payment. That roughly mirrors the PVOD model established by other studios during the pandemic, but with the addition that subscribers are essentially purchasing early access, which they retain as long as they don’t cancel their Disney+ account. Those subscribers who choose not to will get access to the movie at no additional charge in December.

First reactions to the film, directed by Niki Caro, have been very positive, especially for the performances from Liu as well as costars Donnie Yen and others. Those reviews have earned it an 81 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s look at how the film has been marketed, including the big shift a month or so ago.

The Posters

Mulan holds her sword up in front of her face on the first teaser poster from July. While the main photo shows her in her civilian clothes, the image that appears in the reflection of the sword is that of her in full battle armor, showing the warrior that lies within her waiting to be set free.

On the second poster (by marketing agency Art Machine) released in December, Mulan is put in an action pose, leaping through the battle raging around her while looking confident and deadly.

A series of character posters (by marketing agency Ignition) came out in late January, all of which feature Mulan reflected in the sword or other weapon, continuing the theme of reflection and forming your identity based on who you could become.

As it did for many other upcoming releases, Disney put out a poster tied to the Chinese New Year and designed in the style of a Chinese tapestry.

The RealD 3D poster also takes an artistic approach, showing Mulan in the middle of her training with foggy Chinese hilltops in the background. The same shot of Mulan in the middle of a battle seen elsewhere is used on the IMAX poster. The “Reflection” idea comes back on the Dolby Cinemas poster, which has Mulan in full battle regalia on top while she’s in her standard village garb in the reflection of the lake she’s standing alongside. She stands triumphantly on the battlefield on the ScreenX poster and is guiding her horse into battle on the one-sheet for 4DX showings. All those came out earlier this year when it was still believed the movie would come to theaters.

In August a new poster came out specifically for Disney+ showing Mulan walking up what look like temple or fortress stairs, the shadow of a massive dragon also visible next to. Another has a thin, paper-like dragon form coming out from the background as Mulan holds her sword. Just earlier this week one more poster was released that shows Mulan riding her horse into battle, an image that mimics one of the posters used for the 1998 version’s theatrical release. That batch of posters included reworkings of some of the earlier one-sheets but with new dates and the Disney+ messaging instead of “in theaters.”

The Trailers

The teaser trailer (29.2 million views on YouTube) released in July has Mulan being told a husband has been arranged for her, a situation she seems resigned to but not happy with. We’re then shown images of her practicing moves more martial than marital. She puts those skills to use on the battlefield as she fights with an army and on her own to defend against invaders threatening her country.

Mulan’s job is to bring honor to her family she’s told by her father as the second trailer (18.3 million views on YouTube), released in early December, opens. When an invading army threatens her homeland, Mulan steps up to take her father’s place in the battle to fend them off. Hiding her identity means holding back her true potential, though, and only when she unleashes that can she fight the way she was meant to.

The final trailer (4 million views on YouTube), released in early February, mostly sticks to what’s been seen before, but adds some details on the struggle Mulan’s family faces as she goes to war and more.

Online and Social

Disney’s website for the film (likely a holdover from when it was intended for theaters as it hasn’t created sites for other Disney+ releases) has the standard marketing materials along with family activities like movie-themed snack recipes and a PDF activity packet to download.

Advertising and Publicity

Liu landed in some controversy in August of 2019 when, in the midst of months-long pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong she made comments in support of the region’s police force, the same group that had been cracking down on those protesters. That lead to the grassroots “#BoycottMulan” campaign among Hong Kong residents and others.

Things only got worse, with Disney finding itself in an untenable position – support democracy or the massive Chinese market the studio depends on – as the problems around the protests grew. The controversy lead Liu to skip a planned appearance at the D23 event in August.

TV advertising began in early January with a commercial that recaps the story in condensed form, showing Mulan stepping in to fight in her father’s place and bring honor to her family. Another extended spot came out a bit later that takes a similar approach, only with more footage. It was also among the movies with a commercial airing during the Super Bowl broadcast, but it didn’t offer much in the way of new footage or story elements.

Costar Utkarsh Ambudkar was among those presenting at the recent Oscars ceremony.

An additional wave of TV commercials began in late February with spots that highlighted the secret training Mulan is doing, her power as a warrior and defender of her people, how her gracefulness is part of who she is and more.

How the stunts were choreographed and filmed was covered in a featurette released at the end of February that showed the training Liu underwent to take on the title role and how it all goes into telling the story. A second featurette focused more on the story and how it and the characters represent important elements of Chinese culture.

The movie’s Los Angeles premiere went off as planned, but many of those involved addressed the reality of releasing a movie amid the expanding Covid-19 outbreak, something that first led to the news Disney was scaling back the European premiere.

It wasn’t long after that, though, that the film was delayed, first indefinitely than to July and then to mid-August. In July Disney pulled it from the theatrical release calendar entirely before announcing the new Disney+ plan in August. The decision was understandable given the unpredictable nature of the world around us, but it was still met with disapproval from exhibitors, who felt it was a disrespectful sign of things to come, taking away one of the key titles they were counting on to bring people back to theaters.

It was a few weeks after that a new phase of the publicity campaign began, starting with a spot that focused less on the “honor” elements shown off before and more on the action, including a specific call out that the movie would be available exclusively to “Disney+ subscribers with Premier Access,” the first time that had been specifically noted. Additional spots clarified that even further, saying the movie would be available to “Disney+ subscribers who unlock Premier Access.”

A short featurette from mid-August had Caro talking about the incredible cast she assembled and the physical workout they all got and how massive the scale of the story is. Another featurette included Caro talking about the continued relevance of the story and the effort put into casting just the right actress for the title role, with Liu adding her connection with the character as well.

Online ads using the key art of Mulan holding her sword began appearing in mid- to late-August, including the “Premier Access” language and linking to a Disney+ signup page. Similar promotions were run within Disney+ itself, encouraging current subscribers. Those promos added the caveat that Premier Access gave them early access to the film, before it was available to all subscribers, indicating a windowing strategy for the movie within the service itself.

The #GoldOpen organization/movement that has worked to rally support for films with Asian leads announced in late August it was putting its weight behind this movie, including hosting virtual viewing parties and providing discussion and other resources people could reference and use.

Disney offered a “special look” in early March that featured the song “Loyal Brave True” from Christina Aguilera. The full video for that song came out in mid-August followed by a video for Aguilera’s “Reflection” along with a featurette on the making of that video.

Additional featurettes focused on the stunt work, especially as it relates to the invading army of the general played by Jason Scott Lee, another conversation with Caro on bringing the story to life and her respect for the culture depicted, the look of the costumes each character wears,

A handful of athletes of all kinds appear in this video sharing how they embody Mulan’s attributes of being loyal, brave and true to excel in their sports and overcome adversity.

Beginning earlier this week Disney has released a number of promotional videos encouraging people to purchase/stream the movie. Some like this featured Aguilera’s “Reflection” prominently while showing the journey Mulan embarks on.

The first clip shows Mulan using her incredible skills to take on the warriors of the invading army while the second clip shows the training camp Mulan is part of and the kind of drills they engage in.

Media and Press

An extended feature on the production of the movie covered everything from Liu’s social media misstep to this being Disney’s most expensive live action remake to date to how the Covid-19 outbreak in China has impacted release strategies.

Aguilera appeared on “Kimmel” in March to perform her song from the soundtrack. Just recently she performed “Reflection” on Good Morning, America.

The press campaign took a breather along with everything else until a few weeks ago, when it ramped back up leading to release. That included interviews with the movie’s producer and cinematographer as well as Caro and others discussing the various delays and uncertainty along with the unusual distribution plan put in place. Brief biographies of the main cast were offered here for audiences who may not be familiar with many of them.

A number of news outlets have published comparisons between this movie and the 1998 animated version, especially about the absence of Mushu, the dragon sidekick from the first film.


This is, as stated here, a big experiment, one we may not know the full results of because Disney and other studios aren’t consistent in how they report VOD numbers or when they do so.

There’s been some understandable criticism that Disney is giving the movie short shrift with this experiment, not allowing a movie directed by a woman and featuring a predominantly Chinese cast – both things that are largely missing in the domestic theatrical market – the biggest platform available. Some of that is justified, but the reality is that this *is* the biggest platform available at the moment. At least it was when this plan was announced, a time when theaters might reopen and to what extent was still largely unknown.

Whatever those conversations and realities might be, it still comes down (at least here) to how effective the marketing campaign has been at selling the movie.

From that perspective, it’s a strong effort from Disney, one that remains laser-focused on a handful of themes, reinforcing them time and again across platforms to create a clear and recognizable brand identity for the movie. Those themes are largely pulled from the “loyal, brave, true” character attributes ascribed to Mulan herself as well as “reflection,” which is seen throughout the campaign.

The single misstep made involves the messaging around the Disney+ release. As stated before, it was surprising when new spots and ads weren’t immediately available when the new plans were announced in order to benefit from the coverage of those changed plans. And the messaging itself has evolved, with details coming out over the last month. That they were missing for some time, though, means there was a period of confusion or uncertainty around what Disney had in store.

Picking Up The Spare

Lots more coverage of the #BoycottMulan movement, which has gained steam amid the increased attention of release. There was even mention of it on the U.S. Senate floor. That criticism may have contributed to a media blackout in China that could harm the movie’s prospects there. The controversy was rounded up here

The cast and filmmakers were interviewed about getting ready for such a massive production. 

Dolby released a new featurette with Caro and others offering behind the scenes looks at the making of the film.