The best option moviegoers could think of over the weekend was to see IT, either for the first time or again. The Stephen King adaptation took in another $17.3 million, driven by little but word-of-mouth and continued press coverage that’s been trying to dig into every nuance of the movie and its story to unearth new clues and hot takes to get people’s attention.
That meant Tom Cruise’s true-life drug running caper American Made was relegated to the second position. Apparently, audiences weren’t that eager to see Cruise not playing a super spy in a movie featuring a generic title. There may also have been an adverse reaction to the fact that the movie features a rather “down” ending that doesn’t involve Cruise’s character retiring peacefully.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle tied for second place with $17 million, continuing a relative success that seems driven both by positive word-of-mouth and by the continued release of new TV spots like this one that keeps playing up the over-the-top violence of the movie.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie survives in the fourth slot despite poor word of mouth by virtue of it being basically the only family-friendly release in theaters right now.
Taking up the rear of the top five is Flatliners which, despite a campaign that eschewed cheap nostalgic appeals, didn’t resonate with anyone, scoring terrible reviews that kept audiences away.
The original movie was one that was watched by me and, I’m guessing, countless others of my generations, on VHS repeatedly at late-night get togethers with friends. Now Flatliners is returning to the big-screen in a remake starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons.
Page plays Courtney, a medical student who’s obsessed with knowing what lies on the other side of death’s curtain. She enlists a growing number of fellow students to help her in an unauthorized experiment to die and come back. Initially a thrill, the experience winds up causing each of them to have visions and waking nightmares dealing with the sins of their pasts. Convinced the answer lies in going deeper, they die over and over again to find out how to stop these visions.
The first poster goes all-in on the divide between life and death, using a heart beat monitor image to divide the clear photo on the left from the fuzzy, color-separated image on the right. “You haven’t lived until you’ve died,” we’re told. Overall it’s not too spooky but does hint at some mysteries to come.
The second poster kept up the visual idea of distortion, showing three of the leads, Page, Luna and Dobrev, lying prostrate with fuzzy, screaming versions superimposed over them. That’s a cool way to communicate the idea that things are out of sync in some manner. The terror is heightened with the copy “Cross the line. Death will follow you back.”
A series of character posters continued the fuzzy, multi-dimensional theme, showing the faces of each of the cast obscured and distorted to keep selling the idea of out-of-body-experiences.
As the first trailer opens we meet Courtney as she recruits a guy she knows at medical school to help stop her heart so she can experience what’s on the other side of death before coming back. She’s obsessed with knowing what happens after you die but she seems to come back with additional skills that can’t be explained. A whole group gets involved and they all try to one-up each other in terms of how long they can stay dead. But the disturbing experiences that follow them back only get creepier and more frequent, leading to a breakdown in the group and the individuals.
This first spot does more to evoke It Follows and other recent horror movies than anything like the original movie. It’s fine and looks like it might have some interesting things to say about what death is like, but it also seems, by today’s standards at least, kind of generic.
The second trailer ditches all the story, character introductions and other setup elements to focus solely on the incredible experiences those characters have while dead. There are some hints that there’s a dark side to those experiences, but it’s mainly just fast-cut visuals and heartbeats and the promise that you haven’t really lived until you’ve died.
Online and Social
When you load the official website you’re greeted with one of the international trailers. In fact the whole site seems geared more for a non-U.S. audience, notable in the repeated use of “cinemas” instead “theaters,” the more common domestic U.S. terminology.
Links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts are in the top right. Scroll down the site and you’ll see the content is somewhat lackluster, with a brief synopsis in “About,” a handful of stills in the “Gallery” and finally a “Cast & Crew” list with no deeper information on anyone.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spots provided a quick bit of background as to the premise, showed most of the key characters and highlighted the dangers this group of thrillseekers has exposed themselves to by trying to make death a hobby. One TV spot also got quite a bit of press because it included a brief shot of a cameo by one of the original movie’s stars.
In the days leading up to release the social advertising was ramped up, with clips showing Page’s character filming her video confessional used on Twitter with links to buy tickets.
Sony bought a Snapchat Lens for the movie that applied the same blurry effects seen on the posters to your photo. It also created a feature in conjunction with Spotify called “Pick Your Pulse” that allowed you to find a playlist to match your heartbeat.
Media and Publicity
Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview included an interview with Dobrev about the production, including shooting a scene where her character catches fire, which was a bit panic-inducing.
Luna, Dobrev and Page did most of the heavy lifting on the publicity front, talking to the press and appearing on the talk show circuit to varying degrees. The combined effort wasn’t massive but it was geared toward building general audience awareness of the movie. Page talked a bit about the movie here but the interview was oddly focused on two other upcoming movies she’s in while giving only cursory mention of this one.
Of all the remakes, reboots and legacy sequels that have dominated theaters in the last several years, I feel like this campaign does the least to lean on the nostalgia that may exist, particularly in my generation, for the original. It really is a remake and is being sold by and large on its own merits, with just that one TV spot nodding to the 1990 version this updates.
It does that largely by creating a unique brand identity for the movie that ditches the early goth feel of the original’s campaign and goes with something tech-based and relatable to the current audience. The fuzzy, distorted visuals are consistently used across posters, advertising, and other executions, so no matter where you encountered the campaign you saw the same brand message. The appeal is very much to a new, young audience and not the 40-somethings like me. That’s bold on Sony’s part. Now it just remains to be seen if that approach pays off.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.