How Universal is selling the latest in one of cinema’s biggest international franchises.
I may have mentioned this previously, but with the exception of Hobbs & Shaw I’ve never seen a single entry in the Fast & Furious franchise. That’s despite the core series reaching its ninth entry over 20 years with this week’s F9: The Fast Saga. Here’s the official synopsis of the movie, courtesy of IMDb:
Cipher (Charlize Theron) enlists the help of Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s (Vin Diesel) younger brother, to take revenge on Dom and his team.
OK, sure. If you, like me, are largely in the dark as to what is happening in the above sentence, you may not be the audience for this new movie, despite a campaign that has boiled the pitch down to “muscle bound men and women engage in increasingly over-the-top stunts with cars.”
The movie, like many others, was originally scheduled to be released in April of 2020 but has been pushed numerous times because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not wanting to imperil the franchise’s massive international box-office, it has seemingly never even been considered for non-theatrical distribution. That international appeal is evident in how it’s already nearing $300 million in overseas ticket sales before it hits the domestic market, where it’s Fandango’s biggest pre-order title of the year so far.
It finally hits screens this weekend with a projected box-office of $60 million dollars thanks to a flashy campaign but not to the lackluster 62% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s alright because this is for the fans, not the critics.
The teaser poster of Dom with his back turned as he leans against the hood of his car was released all the way back in January, 2020. It’s not much but it doesn’t need to be as it’s simply the announcement that a new movie in the series is coming out and yes, it’s about family.
A series of character posters came out at various points in the campaign that placed each character in front of what I’m assuming is their signature car, or at least one that seems to match the color aesthetic being used. The Photoshopping here is obvious, as the photos look like they’ve been cut out like Joker assembling his scrapbook and then glued to the smoke-filled background.
Dom is at the center of the group of characters featured on the theatrical poster, the rest arrayed around him while at the bottom there are a bunch of cars and a helicopter engaged in some form of racing or chase. I’m not sure the multi-colored plumes of smoke are meant to symbolize or what purpose they serve other than to add something to what would otherwise be a collection of browns and grays. An earlier version of this poster ditched the action and just featured the primary cast leaning against their cars with the same colorful smoke in the background.
Dom and Jakob are engaged in a no-holds-barred race on the IMAX poster, dirt and sparks flying everywhere as they trade paint.
One final poster came out just a few days ago, this one released at the end of a big online promotional day that included the cast answering fan questions. The poster itself was part of the 20th anniversary celebration aspect of the campaign and had Dom standing by himself alongside his car with a collection of memorable quotes from the previous films placed above him.
A teaser trailer was shared by Diesel a couple days before the release of the first trailer. When that trailer (52.5 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of January 2020 it showed that this movie would pick up on the same themes and ideas as the series’ previous entries. It focuses on family both real – Dominic talks about how everything he does is to keep his wife and son safe – and chosen, as he reunites with his colleagues and partners in crime and adventure. This time around they once again face off against Cypher, who has enlisted a criminal who turns out to be Dom’s brother. There are fast cars and over-the-top stunts, including what seems to be Dom catching a car while standing on top of a bus.
Demand for the trailer was so high it recorded over 262 million views across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in the first 72 hours after it was released.
The final trailer (46.5 million views on YouTube) debuted over a year later, in April 2021. Debuting first on “Today” (thanks to some NBCU corporate synergy), the focus is once again on family, whether it’s the found kind or the one you’re born into. Other than that there are of course ridiculous car and other stunts on display, including some sort of scheme involving magnets and, at the very end, a hint that the franchise will finally go into space, just as fans have been clamoring for.
Online and Social
You can find trailers, a photo gallery, story synopsis and more marketing assets on the movie’s official website. It also has information on the entire saga to date including a timeline of events. Links to the movie’s social profiles are also on the page, but that list doesn’t include the Giphy page for an unknown reason.
An Instagram AR lens was available that assigned each user to a character from the movie.
Advertising, Press and Promotions
In advance of the first trailer’s debut during the Super Bowl, a concert was held in Miami featuring Cardi B., Ludacris and other artists, with the stars of the movie on hand to give fans their first full look at what they could expect. That concert was livestreamed so audiences everywhere could experience it as well. Universal announced the event in December, building anticipation over a month out from it happening.
As the promotional concert was happening, Jimmy Fallon called Diesel from “The Tonight Show” to hear how it was going and get important updates.
When the trailer revealed Han from Tokyo Drift was returning for real, it was only natural that Kang would be interviewed about how that is happening and what it means for him and fans.
The movie was among those with commercials airing during the Super Bowl, just a few days after the first trailer was released. That Big Game spot is short on dialogue – that’s not what the audience is interested in – and long on dramatic car chases and other thrilling sequences.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
- Dodge, which released a commercial featuring footage from the movie and other shots of the company’s cars narrated by Diesel that positioned those cars as the ultimate muscle performance machines.
- Cameo, which let fans enter to win a personalized message from one of the cast members.
Diesel talked about the movie and more when he stopped by “Kimmel” in March of 2020. A few months later Rodriguez was interviewed about the important new perspective brought on by a female writer for the movie. While he was promoting other projects, Cena spoke about his trepidation before finally signing on to join the series.
In one of the biggest announcements that came as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, Universal pushed the movie’s release an entire year, apparently wanting to put the maximum possible distance between that virus and the film hitting theaters. Especially important at the time was that while U.S. theaters were (at the time) still open, Chinese theaters had completely shut down, effectively cutting off a major segment of the audience.
The picture hadn’t improved enough by September for Universal to stick with that release date, pushing it out an additional three months.
In October of last year, Universal revealed there would only be two more F&F movies before the series shut down, with Lin attached to direct both of them.
Due to those delays, it was advertised again during the 2021 Super Bowl, the only movie from 2020’s lineup to make a second appearance. The new spot mixes the usual bits about the importance of family with the kind of outsized and ludicrous action the franchise is known for.
EW’s 2021 Movie Preview included more comments about the story (such as it is) and characters.
One more delay, this time from May to June, was announced in March.
Diesel narrates a spot, released in late April, that starts with him talking about the power of going to the theater before cutting to the same movie footage we’ve seen before. His voiceover positions the movie as the perfect time to “come together” in a communal viewing experience with all the involvement and engagement that entails.
That spot was parodied in a late-May episode of “Saturday Night Live,” with Beck Bennett’s Vin Diesel just kind of naming things that exist in a movie theater.
The “Total Car-Nage” video from early May mixed scenes from the finished film with a bit of behind-the-scenes footage showing how some of those scenes were shot. It’s not exactly a featurette, more of a hype reel.
Black was interviewed about coming back to the franchise and the fan-driven legacy of Tokyo Drift.
Universal shared a video of a massive publicity stunt where footage and images from the movie were projected onto the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
A “thank you” video was released with the cast expressing their gratitude to audiences in China, Egypt and elsewhere after it opened to an impressive $162 million in those markets. Unfortunately there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Cena, while being interviewed by a Taiwanese outlet, referred to Taiwan as a country, causing a backlash in China and resulting in him issuing an apology on the social media app Weibo. That backlash was at least in part to blame for the movie’s dramatic drop in its second week in China.
Rodriguez, Theron, Mirren and other women from the cast talk about how the story brings the female perspective to the action genre in a featurette released later that month that also teased the new song “Furiosa” by Anitta.
Diesel narrates a spot broadcast on ESPN that mixes movie footage with shots of NBA stars.
How the filmmakers pulled off a key sequence involving driving around and with the aid of massive magnets was the subject of a feature story.
Dom and Letty swing across a valley in their car in a clip released at the end of May.
To the surprise of many, news came in early June that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition as a way to bring some serious star power and brand juice to the event.
Beginning in early June there were a series of featurettes released regularly. Those included:
- A look at one of the key stunts Dom is involved in
- A spotlight on costar Anna Sawai where she talks about preparing for the physical demands of the production
- A focus on Cardi B, who has a cameo in the film
- Another behind the scenes look, this time at a sequence shot at Peligro Mines
- A look at the technical work done to flip a car in an overly dramatic manner
- Similarly, here’s how they flipped a truck
- And one more on the magnet stunt
Theron hosted an outdoor screening on the Universal Studios lot that raised money for the Africa Outreach Project, a cause that’s very personal to the actress.
Lin and others were interviewed again about finally taking the franchise into space and bringing Han back after the character was killed in Tokyo Drift.
One final promotional reel looked at the 20 years of cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and more from all the previous movies, cementing how this is a long-lived franchise.
What else is there to say other than
It’s about family.
It’s about justice for Han.
It’s about magnets.
But, as I alluded to earlier, there’s little in the campaign for someone unfamiliar with the previous movies to latch on to or be interested in. I get that by branding this “The Fast Saga” that unconverted audience is being encouraged to check out the earlier movies, but if they’re not willing to do so they will likely remain unconvinced this is the movie to see.