Mortal Kombat – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling Mortal Kombat.

Outworld. Earthrealm. Netherrealm. Ancient prophecies.

If any of the above ring any sort of bells for you, you’re likely part of the target audience for Mortal Kombat, this week’s adaptation of the popular arcade video game of the same name and a reboot of the film series that ran briefly in the mid-1990s.

Any distillation of the plot will only end in abject confusion and likely more than a few tears, so let me simply share the brief synopsis shared on IMDb: MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

So you get the gist. What Warner Bros. is really selling in the campaign below, though, is an uber-violent fantasy story with fan-favorite characters and the promise of at least one spinal column being removed from a fighter. The lukewarm critical reception to date has earned the movie a 68% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s dive into the marketing and see what’s what.

The Posters

The first teaser image came out in December of last year, showing no characters or anything else, just the recognizable logo and the promise of a release in both theaters and on HBO Max.

Scorpio and Sub-Zero, two of the most popular characters from the games, are featured on the next poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in February. Their two faces are split by a knife in an image that likely became the mobile device lock screen for a great many individuals.

A similar division is made on an IMAX poster that puts the two biggest characters as the most prominent faces on their respective teams. It’s a familiar design, used by many of the biggest recent franchises and is meant to tell audiences that no matter who their preferred fighter is, they’re featured in the film.

The Trailers

A long-running history and cover-up are hinted at in the restricted trailer (3.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February and teased ahead of time by a series of short character previews. We learn this because a paramilitary unit has learned of a secret organization – and their tournament – whose members have enhanced abilities and oh who cares what the actual story is. Sub-Zero, Scorpion and other popular characters are all on-screen here, and someone says “Finish him!” so it’s all good albeit very violent.

Shortly thereafter reporting came out it had become the most-viewed red-band trailer in the first 24 hours ever.

A “fan reaction” video showing people enthusiastically freaking out over the first trailer came out about a week after the trailer did.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has the barest volume of information, with a “Synopsis” and the various trailers along with links to the official social network profiles.

A mobile site allowed people to put an AR-powered version of their favorite character’s mask on their own face.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

A first look at the movie came via EW’s 2021 Movie Preview in January, including comments from the filmmakers and cast along with a handful of photos. Just ahead of the trailer in February an advance look at Sanada as Scorpion was released, with more character photos coming out shortly after that.

Like the rest of WB’s 2021 slate, the movie was among those shifted to a hybrid theatrical/streaming (via HBO Max) release when that announcement was made in November of last year. A January promo showed off a bit of initial footage.

Artwork like this, released in March, shows more of the cast, splitting the characters into teams led by Sub-Zero and Scorpion. That and similar art was used for online ads and likely for outdoor billboards and other units as well.

JoBlo got an exclusive clip at the end of March.

The first TV spot came out about the same time, showing the military unit’s efforts to stop the conflict before it destroys the world. Additional spots hit different aspects of the story and focused on different characters, but all carried the same violent pitch to audiences.

Costar Lewis Tan, who plays Cole Young, an MMA fighter at the center of the story, was interviewed about the evolution of his career from behind-the-scenes to leading man and how he’s working to undo stereotypes of Asian-American actors. The training Tan underwent in preparation for the role was shown in a video from advocacy group GoldHouse.

In early April a “Meet the Kast” featurette was released that had the actors talking about the story, the action and living up to fan expectations with the characters. Another video focused on the combat training the cast underwent to get ready for the film.

The first clip of music from the movie showed off a new techno-remix version of the game’s theme song.

One commercial created for and by Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block featured a “felt-band” trailer mixing movie footage with homemade figures of the characters inflicting one “felt-ality” after another on each other.

Warner Bros. sponsored maker YouTube channel Hacksmith Industries to create a real-life version of Scorpion’s chain attack.

Additional promos included comments from the select critics who were invited to a screening of the movie’s first 13 minutes.

There were additional interviews with costars Ludi Lin (playing Liu Kang) about his career to date and with Joe Taslim (playing Sub-Zero) about his blazingly fast fighting skills.

A premiere event with the stars in attendance was held in Sydney Australia earlier this week.

In the last few days a handful of clips, most of them showing some of the movie’s key fights or action sequences, have been released.

One more featurette from IMAX had the cast and crew sharing how excited they were to see the movie on the biggest possible screen. And Warner Bros. took one more chance to get people excited by releasing the first seven minutes of the film to show more of what people could expect.

Overall

Whatever you think about the individual elements of the campaign, we can likely agree this is the overall message Warner Bros. is sending to the audience and sufficiently summarizes the marketing efforts the studio has put forth.

Come Here Warner Bros GIF by Mortal Kombat Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Godzilla vs. Kong – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a showdown that has nothing to do with justice dawning.

Hollywood is, if nothing else, certainly an interesting place. Take, for example, this week’s Godzilla vs. Kong, which has a couple things going on.

First, this is the fourth and latest film in Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse franchise, which started in 2014 with Godzilla, continued in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island and most recently was seen in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s notable, though, that GvK was greenlit all the way back in 2015 and moved into production, before Skull Island was released, with the assumption the series would be enormously successful and each installment highly anticipated.

In reality each installment has experienced diminishing returns from the one prior, at least domestically in the U.S. Godzilla’s $200.7m box office has fallen to a mere $110.5 for King of the Monsters. But a ship of this size isn’t easy to stop (though it might get stuck), so we’re just going to keep going because the international box office is still fairly strong.

Angry Mad As Hell GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, the movie is being viewed as the latest test of whether the U.S. audience is ready to return to theaters. Originally scheduled for November 2020, it comes this week to both HBO Max and over 90% of U.S. screens, the highest number available since many closed a year ago. While estimates for opening weekend are relatively paltry at less than $30 million, that would still be the most of any film since the Covid-19 pandemic shut most everything down.

So we find ourselves with the two monsters – known in-universe as “Titans” – finally coming face to face. The reasons why aren’t necessarily important, as the title does double duty as a synopsis of the story, such as it is. Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown return from King of the Monsters, joined this time by Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Kaylee Hottle, Bryan Tyree Henry and others, who will be offering exposition and acting as scale references so we know just how massive the two Titans are.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, helmed by mumblehorror director and noted fetish porn blogger Adam Wingard, is…well…it’s exactly what you might assume it is given the premise.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BOND), came out in January, immediately establishing the campaign’s red and blue color palette while showing Kong standing among the skyscrapers while Kong’s dorsal plates can be seen poking above the ocean surface as he advances toward that same skyline.

Godzilla has made landfall on the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released toward the end of February, as we see him walking through the city toward Kong.

Another poster from early March has the two Titans facing off like boxers, with a design seemingly inspired by Vegas promotional art, their faces close together and seen within the transparent letters of “Vs.”

We get different perspectives on two posters (by agency Little Giant Studios) that came out just a short while later. One shows Kong from Godzilla’s point of view and the other shows Godzilla from Kong’s, each one again emphasizing their massive size as compared to the buildings they’re walking between and through.

One more theatrical poster hit the red/blue Kong/Godzilla clash one more time, with the two shown to be so tall their heads poke above the clouds.

Exhibitor-specific artwork included one-sheets for IMAX, which has the two monsters falling into one another like this is a 90’s erotic thriller from Paul Verhoven, RealD 3D, which offers a variation on the previous imagery of the Titans lunging at each other, and Dolby, which is a bit more original in showing Kong climbing a skyscraper above the cartoonishly round world below.

The Trailers

A series of teasers were released on social media in advance of the first trailer, which was finally released at the end of January. As it begins, someone is talking about how much humanity needs Kong, who is being transported across the ocean. The threat, it turns out, is Godzilla, but no one knows why he’s attacking. Amid all the subsequent fighting it’s revealed this may not be the first time the two – and others like them – have faced off.

A second, shorter trailer came out in mid-February. Whatever story there was in the first spot, it’s excised in this one as it cuts straight to the action as Kong and Godzilla punch each other and rampage through cities, destroying countless buildings as they do so.

Online and Social

There’s not much on the movie’s official website, but you will find a few trailers as well as details on how to watch the film in the way of your choosing, assuming you either subscribe to HBO Max or live near one of the theaters it’s playing at.

AR lenses for Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook allowed people to put themselves in the middle of the showdown between the two titans.

I have to hand it to the WB team on Twitter, which seemingly had the latitude to share fan memes and other fun content via the official account. That’s made scrolling through the account’s updates a lot more interesting as it is less about amplifying only adoration and praise and more about reflecting how the internet really reacts to things. A similar attitude can be found the movie’s official Giphy channel, which has not only straight GIFs but also a bunch of goofier, meme versions.

Youre Too Cute King Kong GIF by Godzilla vs. Kong - Find & Share on GIPHY

They even shared an image from a *very* current meme and got onto the NFT bandwagon with exclusive artwork available there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

While the movie was initially scheduled to open in early 2020, less than a year after King of the Monsters, that title’s lackluster performance at the box office had Warner Bros. pushing this one back to later in the year to tighten things up and perhaps even do some more drastic reworking. Despite that delay, the movie was among those included in the studio’s CineEurope presentation to exhibitors in June of 2109. Another delay moved it from March to November 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic pushed it even farther out to May, 2021.

Rumors last December that Legendary was shopping the film to Netflix or other streaming services came and went but were followed by WB’s official announcement that it like the rest of their 2021 slate would be released to both theaters and HBO Max. Legendary was none too thrilled, threatening some sort of action.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

The release date was later moved up to March, 2021.

Short promo spots were released online in the build up to the movie’s debut.

Warner Bros. signed a deal with exhibition company CineWorld that would make this movie the first to play in CineWorld’s reopening Regal Cinemas.

Featurettes released in the lead-up to release included one that had the cast and crew introducing the idea of #TeamKong vs. #TeamGodzilla and talking about the scale of the action. That match-up was extended to social media, where people were asked to choose sides. Later on a map of the U.S. was shared showing how the majority of people in each state had voted.

More TV spots started coming out just in the last couple weeks and, like this one, largely played like cut-down versions of the trailers, working to set up the conflict. Longer spots went a bit more in-depth, but still focused on the big action of the story.

An IMAX-specific spot was pretty short but got the point across that people should see this huge movie on a huge screen. RealD 3D got a similar promo. For its part, Dolby shared a handful of interviews with the cast talking about the story and their characters.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Snickers, which released a spot tying into the Kong vs. Godzilla fan voting.
  • Roblox, which hosted a movie-themed event in the popular virtual world where players could unlock exclusive rewards.

Legendary also announced a handful of publishing tie-ins just a bit before the movie came out.

Warner Bros. sponsored a TikTok challenge that involved a number of influencers on that platform.

A handful of longer featurettes, originally released on home video editions of the previous movies, were published by WB to YouTube over the last several weeks as a way of making sure the audience was familiar with what had come before. Those included:

Landscape artwork acted as both online ads and likely were used for outdoor ads also.

Media and Publicity

Bichir was interviewed about the movie, saying he enjoys the freedom to take different kinds of parts in movies of various sizes.

An interview with Wingard had the director talking about creating the massive monster battles and more of the action that everyone hopes fans are looking for. Another had him sharing the kinds of showdowns he envisioned and how he wanted to pattern the action after some of his favorite ‘80s action movies.

Overall

There’s a great deal that’s very good about the campaign, even when you overlook how it’s supporting a movie that, based on the shrinking box-office returns for the previous films, may not have a huge audience pool to pull from. It has a very nice visual brand that’s consistent from start to finish and it sells a simple message over and over again, counting on repetition being key to both engagement and interest.

When it comes down to it, that simple message is best summed up in a single GIF that, despite the lack of hyperbole or any other pitch, shows exactly what Warner Bros. hopes the audience will either come out to theaters for or use their parents’ HBO Max login to watch.

Fight Punch GIF by Godzilla vs. Kong - Find & Share on GIPHY

Random Thoughts on Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Let the airing of grievances commence.

Well, it’s here, and it’s been long enough that most people who wanted to have likely already watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the official title for The Film Previously Known As The Snyder Cut.

As such, it’s time to finally share my random thoughts after watching the…film?…just to put it out there for discussion. So, in no particular order:

About the Movie Itself

This is exactly what I would have expected from a movie fans demanded. It plays like a collection of scenes the members of a message board wrote, with no cohesive material making them into a whole.

It’s easy to see most of what’s new compared to the theatrical version, but at no point is there an answer as to “why” things are different.

The one improvement over the theatrical version is Cyborg’s story actually has some sort of point, but even that is sketchy. Still, it’s better than it was.

It once more needs to be noted, especially since we just watched Wonder Woman 1984, how different the Amazons are clothed in this movie compared to Patty Jenkins’ films. The latter look like warriors, the former like the worst stereotype of female video game characters.

While Henry Cavill’s face in the theatrical cut was certainly disturbing, at least it gave us a Superman that occasionally smiled, something completely missing from Snyder’s previous movies.

The Martian Manhunter bits make zero sense.

The Martian Manhunter ending makes less than zero sense.

The Martian Manhunter bits mean Henry Lennix’s previous appearances as General Swanwick make zero sense. Zero.

Mera: “Your mother would have been responsible for following Steppenwolf to the surface, Arthur, but also let’s sit here and have a leisurely conversation about the burden of parental legacy while you stick your hand in the water like a four year old at a shopping mall fountain.”

Can anyone explain to me what the point of all those random supporting character introductions was? I mean, great, that’s Iris West, but it doesn’t go any further. Same with Mera. And Lois Lane. Oh, hey, I think I’m figuring out a connection.

At one point someone is asking Dr. Stone about an item that has gone missing from a high-security lab with multiple government contracts dealing with items of alien origin. Stone says “Oh yeah, we just kind of lost track of that.” and the investigator shrugs and moves on like this wouldn’t bring the entire operation to an immediate halt.

Steppenwolf and Darkseid are idiots. The former came to Earth, lost the Mother Boxes to a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and retreated. Then he comes back looking for the Mother Boxes and fights a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons. When he calls Darkseid he’s like “Hey, I think this is the same place we lost that big battle eons ago…”

On a related note, Darkseid’s inclusion in this cut was a major selling point in the campaign and something folks were super-anxious about. But he’s barely in it, and the one moment that seems as if it might turn into a confrontation with the heroes instead becomes a staring contest.

Does every scene actually require a six-minute establishing shot?

Sure, taking out the Russian family that needs to escape from the battleground is an improvement, it also means there’s no context to the fight, but that’s par for the course.

I’m actually a bit surprised some of the jokes remained, assuming they had been Whedon’s contributions.

How much more objectivist nihilism could you fit into a single movie? None. None more.

The chapter titles are insulting and ludicrous, mostly because they imply the existence of an actual story, which is inaccurate.

Oh, you fridged Lois in the Knightmare epilogue in order to make Superman even more of an angry worldwide terror who apparently is hunting down his former friends and teammates? How original.

Four hours, $70 million dollars and not only are there

  • Scenes in the trailer that didn’t make the final version, including one that seemed to be the main point of one spot in particular, but also
  • Snyder’s already out there complaining about the rules WB put in place regarding what could or couldn’t be included and what additional scenes he shot despite those rules knowing they would be cut. So now there’s even more gristle for conspiracy-minded individuals to chew on.

About the Movement That Birthed It

Of course it took less than a week for “fans” to demand that Snyder now be restored as the captain of the DCEU. Even Neville Chamberlain would have known this appeasement wouldn’t work.

Along those same lines, I’m completely unsurprised by the renewal of the #RestoreTheAyerCut movement, seeking to restore some version of Suicide Squad that might be better than what hit theaters.

A black and white version? Who was asking for that?

If you’re wondering what this means for the future of film, it’s simple: Anything less than exactly what has dominated the fever dreams of angry trolls will not be tolerated. We’ve already seen that in various ways.

“Just let people enjoy things” only seems to be said regarding massive international IP releases and not about movies like Small Axe, Promising Young Woman or others.

It’s remarkable we got through the movie’s entire hype cycle without revisiting Ezra Miller’s filmed assault of a fan from 2020.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Marketing Recap

Our long national nightmare…is now here.

When Justice League arrived in 2017, the term “troubled production” was frequently used to describe it. The critical drubbing received by the preceding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice created tension between Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder, including rewrites by then DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns to the script from David Goyer and Chris Terrio. Confusion was created when different interviews with Snyder, Johns and others seemed to alternate between there being one two-hour movie, two two-hour movies, one four-hour movie in two parts and so on.

Then, as the movie moved into post-production, Snyder stepped away, reportedly to deal with the recent death of his daughter. The narrative at the time was that writer/director Joss Whedon was being brought in to handle a small number of reshoots and other pickups because he had already done even more work on the script.

And then of course there’s the issue of Henry Cavill’s mustache.

Henry Cavill Summer GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

Kicking off at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, the marketing campaign for Justice League was more or less what audiences expected given both BvS and Snyder’s earlier Man of Steel. It was dark and moody, but after Whedon took over there seemed to be a bit more humor. Throughout, though, you couldn’t help but notice the distinct lack of Superman, an omission informed largely by the movie’s story – he dies at the end of BvS – and not wanting to spoil his return here.

When the finished product finally hit theaters the reaction was “mixed,” to say the least. Critics called it a mess and the $229 million it grossed domestically was a disappointment compared both to Wonder Woman earlier that year and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at that point was nearing its eventual conclusion.

No…There Is Another…

Almost immediately, the most fervent adherents to Snyder’s nihilistic artistic view began to believe they’d been duped. Demands to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were soon at full volume online, with those signing petitions and saying “Actually I have more of a comment than a question” at panels believing Warner Bros. had someone in its archives a version of the film free of Whedon’s influence. That version would more fully represent the intent of Snyder, who for years has been referred to in the marketing of his films as a “visionary director.”

WB continually denied such a version existed, pointing out that Snyder left an incomplete movie to Whedon’s stewardship. Snyder himself said much the same thing, that there was only a work print with unfinished effects and some scenes completely missing. There was no Snyder Cut.

Wonder Woman Family GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

That didn’t mean much to those whose very personal brands seemed to depend on the opposite being true. Over the course of the next three years the DCEU was hit or miss, with the same group of toxic fans howling in delight whenever something that wasn’t The Snyder Cut failed to live up to expectations. Not only that, but similar groups made concerted efforts to strangle movies like Captain Marvel and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in their cribs on the grounds that girls are icky and anything that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator of male mob mentality shouldn’t be allowed.

Superman Shrugged

Denials from Warner Bros. were said to be the first and last word on the matter, right up until they weren’t.

Snyder’s tune began changing in early 2019 when he started posting pictures that seemed to confirm his cut of the film did exist in some manner. Members of the cast and others involved in the production made similar comments, with people like Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, who play Wonder Woman and Batman respectively, getting in on the hashtag action.

Finally, in late 2020, as part of WarnerMedia’s hype cycle for the then pending launch of HBO Max, it became official that the streaming service would be the release platform for the reworked movie.

Just as there was confusion in 2017 as to whether there would be one or two movies and how long they would be, reports have differed over the last several months as to what form this one would take. At one point it was said to be four one-hour installments. At another it was back to being two two-hour movies.

The Snyderhead

Despite Snyder’s rejection of any mention of “toxic fandom”, the director himself credits fans using every channel at their disposal, including sliding into the replies of Sesame Street’s Twitter account, with turning dreams into reality by consistently pressuring the studio into action.

It’s almost like a demagogic political figure saying he doesn’t want his supporters to be violent but then buying them all airline tickets to attend an event specifically intended to foment insurrection. And then at the end he tells them they’re very special and he loves them, but only after people have died and others have had their life put in danger.

But what do we expect from Hollywood’s leading objectivist? So many of the stories he’s been part of telling focus on heroes or other characters that can’t find anything in life worth living for until they act on the power they have. Possession of that power in and of itself gives them the right to use it in the manner of their choosing. So it’s no wonder Snyder would be on board with a group of individuals claiming whatever power they could in order to achieve whatever goals they wanted, especially if those goals happen to overlap with his own.

Let me pause here and make a few clarifications.

First, I’m painting with an overly broad brush here. Not all #ReleaseTheSnyderCut adherents are examples of the worst of toxic male fandom. There are some genuine movie fans who feel Snyder is a great filmmaker, so good for them. Like any other art form, people are allowed to like what they like. People might judge me based on my love of Rush or Kenny Rogers, but all art works differently for different people. That being said, this particular group in my experience over-indexes in terms of members likely to verbally assault a woman cosplaying as Power Girl at Comic-Con, labeling her a “fake fangirl” if she doesn’t know who pencilled a random 80’s comic issue she appears in.

Second, Snyder has harnessed this and adjacent groups for good, working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. That effort, clearly borne of the tragedy that befell his family years ago, is a good one, selling t-shirts and other swag to help worthy cause.

Crisis On Infinite Snyderverses

In the months leading up to and following WarnerMedia’s announcement that the movie would finally see the cold, desaturated light of day, the landscape has changed significantly, as has the narrative that framed the release of the theatrical cut of Justice League over three years ago.

Beginning in mid-2020, costar Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg in the film, began making a series of accusations against Whedon and by extension Johns and others at Warner Bros., saying the pinch-director created a hostile work environment for him and others after Whedon took over on set. Fisher’s claims were enough for Warner Bros. to open an investigation, though then it turned into dueling statements over whether Fisher had or hadn’t cooperated with that investigation. Representatives for Whedon and Johns denied those accusations, but Fisher remained adamant and public. Ultimately Warner Bros.’ investigation recommended moderate remediative actions but was light on public details.

Batman Dc GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

As time went on, Fisher received public displays of support from Momoa and other members of the cast and he discussed the talking points WB had given him and the rest regarding Whedon’s involvement, most of which matched up with how things were framed in 2017. All of that acted as prelude to actress Charisma Carpenter, who had worked with Whedon on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” making similar comments, saying he had become hostile and offensive toward her and others. Those accusations, combined with Fisher’s made WB’s lack of overt action odd, especially since Whedon had over the last couple years, been removed from other Warner projects including a planned Batgirl movie and the HBO original series “The Nevers.” Someone, it seemed, knew something.

While Whedon’s reputation was being dismantled, Snyder’s was being enhanced/rehabilitated.

A major feature appeared in Vanity Fair that offered an official version of the events of the last few years. Quoted in the story are Snyder, his wife and producing partner Deborah and a handful of past and present Warner Bros. executives. According to them, the situation around Snyder’s exiting of the original film was much more complicated, including not only the death of his daughter but a new lack of support from studio heads in the wake of Batman v Superman’s critical drubbing. Whedon’s involvement then grew from script doctor to eventually reshooting as much as three-quarters of the film. Similar points were made in a later interview with Snyder.

With that polishing of Snyder’s image, he’s been positioned by himself and the studio at the forefront of the marketing campaign for this new version of the movie, now officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League to emphasize his importance.

The Marketing of Zack Snyder’s Justice League

All of that now brings us to the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max and the marketing of the movie, which Snyder has been at the bleeding edge of.

Darkseid and DC Fandome

That began in May of last year, when Snyder strongly hinted the movie was in the works during a Vero-hosted “watch party” for 2013’s Man of Steel, hints that were quickly confirmed when HBO Max released the first official announcement later that same month, leaving the official release date as a vague “2021” at the time.

Almost immediately Snyder began teasing out what would be new and different, sharing images that confirmed the inclusion of Darkseid in this new cut.

That continued in June, when promotions for the virtual DC Fandome event began. With Snyder and many of the cast scheduled to appear there to answer fan questions and show off more of the upcoming movie, teasers began coming out. In one, Wonder Woman navigates a cave where she discovers ancient wall paintings showing Darkseid.

Cavill spoke briefly about the project in June, saying he was anxious to see the finished product but offering few details.

As a way to prime the pump for the new movie, HBO Max debuted Batman v Superman – Ultimate Edition in July, with this new version containing about a half hour of additional material.

In an interview in July, Snyder hinted that the reworked movie wouldn’t fit in nicely with how the DCEU has evolved – meaning he would not be obligated to acknowledge Shazam or Birds of Prey (both of which have higher Rotten Tomatoes scores than either of Snyder’s previous entries) but work instead as the culmination of the trilogy he began in Man of Steel and continued in Dawn of Justice.

Snyder appeared virtually during a fan convention, discussing his upcoming remade version and making it clear not a single frame of what Whedon had shot would be included. That interview also marked the first shot in the official change in the messaging around the theatrical version’s release, exposing some of the conflicts that emerged between Snyder and the studio and other details.

Additional teasers in advance of Fandome showed more a pre-Cyborg Vic Stone and more.

The full trailer, preceded by a short teaser, then debuted during Fandome in August. How well it and to what extent it delivered on expectations depends greatly on your feelings about the original, Snyder himself and other factors. Set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and sporting a Super 16 aspect ratio, the trailer features a mix of old and new footage. Added are more scenes featuring Barry Allen, including one where he saves Iris West, and Cyborg. The latter in particular is notable as this indicates more of his backstory would be fleshed out, something that’s been anticipated for a while. The scenes carried over from the theatrical edition feature revised color palettes, adhering closer to what was seen in the original trailers back in 2016. Most importantly, this gives fans their first look at Darkseid, who will be the main villain of the story instead of his henchman Steppenwolf.

Video from the DC Fandome panel was also released to the public.

Reshoots, Trailer Confusion and HBO Max’s Evolution

Much like there were different stories about what the theatrical cut would look like – two movies, one super-long movie etc – there was at this point the beginnings of some confusion about what the new version would be packaged as and what it would include. While Snyder said he wouldn’t use a single frame of Whedon’s footage it was unclear whether he was being permitted to shoot anything new himself. Budget estimates have ranged from $20 million – which would seem to just allow for post-production work on existing footage – to $70 million.

Finally, news came out WB had scheduled a short period of reshoots, though who was or wasn’t involved remained unclear. In October news broke that Leto would be reprising his Suicide Squad role of Joker in the film, something that would require new footage being shot.

In a very odd turn of events, that trailer had to be pulled from YouTube in early November, reportedly because Warner Bros. failed to clear the rights to “Hallelujah,” which is something you wouldn’t expect from a major motion picture studio. The trailer was re-released later that month but was once again pulled for unstated reasons, meaning that beat was almost completely lost from the campaign.

This is unquestionably a weird stage of the campaign, one with so many false starts, walkbacks and other problems you kind of can’t believe a major studio is involved. But this may be the result of allowing one person to lead the campaign, with the studio itself being a fast-follower more than a driving force.

It’s also a period where HBO Max started to carve out its own identity. Instead of being “the place where The Snyder Cut would eventually be available,” it gained some momentum thanks to series such as “Lovecraft Country,” “The Undoing,” “The Flight Attendant,” and other buzzed-about hits.

Not only that, but it was in mid-November that Warner Bros. announced Wonder Woman 1984 would debut on HBO Max on Christmas Day, the same day it was released to limited theaters due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. That was just the first step, though, with WB revealing a month later it would do the same for its entire 2021 movie slate.

All of a sudden it’s a very different ballgame. ZSJL now wouldn’t just be competing against catalog titles, a few exclusive series and a handful of original features but with titles like Godzilla Vs. Kong and other big-budget movies.

Finally, a Campaign

After so many twists and turns through the end of 2020, the campaign itself finally kicked into a higher, more substantive gear in January.

Snyder released a series of posters at the end of the month that finally announced the movie’s premiere date on HBO Max. Two of the three just showed the “JL” symbol in some form of disrepair due to battle damage, but one showed a film canister laying on the ground, as if this had finally been unearthed for the public to see.

Additional shared by Snyder on Twitter at the end of January hinted at the appearance of Martian Manhunter and Joker from Suicide Squad. A more complete look at Joker came out shortly after that.

Another trailer (21.5m views on YouTube), teased by Snyder ahead of its release, came out on Valentine’s Day. Though it largely contains footage we’ve seen before, it does have a few notable elements, including:

  • Slightly more Cyborg
  • Actual footage of black-suited Superman
  • Actual footage of Joker, providing a live-action version of the “we live in a society” meme
  • Reinforcement that the movie will be shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Unlike earlier trailers, this one still seems to be available online.

An interview with Lennix had him talking about finally taking on the role of Martian Manhunter, something that drastically changes how his character is seen in the previous movies and a development that’s completely unearned by those appearances.

Clips from the movie’s soundtrack were released by Water Tower Records shortly after that.

DC then announced a series of movie-themed variant covers for Justice League #59, scheduled to hit store shelves the day before the movie became available.

At the end of February IGN debuted a video showing the members of the Justice League as different sides to a Mother Box, with each character and his or her powers and attributes represented as a relief on the cube.

In a later interview Snyder called out Fisher’s Cyborg as the centerpiece of his version of the story, something that runs in marked contrast to the theatrical cut. He also teased what he had in mind for a potential sequel, though he’s also said on multiple occasions this movie ends his involvement with the DCEU.

The theatrical poster showing a black and white photo of the assembled heroes advancing toward the camera came out at the beginning of March.

Short character introduction – or reintroduction as it were – videos for Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman came out earlier this month. There was even one for Darkseid, Steppenwolf and Deathstroke.

Character posters for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Flash, Aquaman and Darkseid also came out around this time using the same black and white aesthetic as the theatrical poster.

The AT&T Discover District in Dallas opened up an exhibit of costumes and props from the film.

At this point it’s worth calling out some of the promotional partners for the movie, including:

  • Wonderland Restaurants, which created a movie-themed menu of items for people to order in while watching the film.
  • Foot Locker, which offered a line of movie-inspired t-shirts.
  • Vero, which hosted a cosplay contest

One final trailer (6.7m views on YouTube) came out earlier this week. While it features a lot of footage seen in previous clips or trailers, there’s a lot more of Darkseid, showing how dangerous he is, or at least claims to be, and how the heroes are holding out hope their combined strength is enough to take him on.

A virtual watch party was scheduled for 3/18, with the movie’s red carpet premiere planned for 3/17. But before that, earlier this week, a screening that was planned that wound up erroring out for everyone involved, leaving them unable to watch the movie and feeling pretty sore about it. That came after a glitch that had this movie playing when HBO Max subscribers pulled up Tom & Jerry, something that caused no small amount of laughter and confusion.

Overall: For the Fans, Not The Literally Anyone Else

Well, let’s see what we have here.

Reviews of the revamp have been generally positive but mixed, citing improvements in some areas while problems either persist or have newly cropped up in others. Almost universally, it’s said to be much more Snyder-esque, right down to the Randian worldview and carry all the positives and negatives that implies.

The same can be said about the marketing itself. As stated earlier, Snyder is frequently referred to as “visionary” in the campaigns for his films, but that only really resonates in the small percentage of the audience that has fully bought into that vision. For the rest, it almost acts as a sort of warning that the film in question contains more nihilism is recommended over the course of an entire year.

What’s on display here is just that.

Batman Dc GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

The theatrical cut of Justice League is an unquestionable mess, the cinematic equivalent of putting peas in your guacamole recipe. But there’s nothing in Snyder’s previous DCEU movies that would have indicated his original cut would have been any more coherent and there’s nothing in this campaign indicating this version will be so either.

Those feelings are compounded by the multiple instances over the course of the marketing where trailers disappeared for one reason or another and confusion reigned as to what the movie would ultimately look like and what it would include.

Also raising eyebrows is how power dynamics within Hollywood are on display here.

While Snyder has been brought back into the light with multiple profiles and interviews that have allowed him to tell his side and come out as the aggrieved party, Fisher in particular still seems to be sidelined. His complaints about how he was treated by Whedon, though vindicated in the court of public opinion, were still largely dismissed and denied by the studio and his involvement in future projects hasn’t been improved. Why might that be?

Justice League Dance Moves GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

For the last three years, fans of the director have been clamoring for this movie, believing it to be the ultimate lost classic, pure bath salts in cinematic form. All art is compromise, though, and the idea that any version would ever be delivered free of influence from outside parties is naivete, and it’s likely the reaction to this when it’s finally available will represent that. If it’s not everything they’ve been dreaming of and speculating about, things will go poorly. More theories will emerge that this *still* isn’t the movie Snyder could have or wanted to make, and those grievances will be taken out the next time a studio casts a woman or person of color in the lead role of a franchise property.

This campaign, though, is meant solely for that group. There’s little to nothing here that might attract someone who isn’t already a charter member of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Even someone who was simply disappointed by the theatrical version and wants to see if this might be an improvement will find no appeal to them has been made.

At least this time we don’t have to sit through the studio pretending like Superman isn’t in the movie.

Judas and the Black Messiah – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a story of power, politics and betrayal.

Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King and co-written by him and Will Berson (with the story from Keith and Kennth Lucas), travels back to 1960s Chicago to tell the story of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Specifically, it focuses on Hampton’s betrayal by William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). That betrayal by O’Neal comes after he’s picked up by the FBI and told the only way he can stay out of jail is by informing on Hampton and his organization’s activities at a time when the Black Panther movement was viewed by law enforcement as a terrorist organization.

The movie, which also stars Jermaine Fowler, Martin Sheen, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons and others, is hitting both limited theaters and HBO Max this week as part of Warner Bros.’ day-and-date release strategy. With a 98% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and already either having been nominated or won a number of awards, WB’s campaign has focused on the performances as well as the real-life drama that inspired the story.

The Posters

Last September the first poster (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) came out, showing O’Neal in the foreground with a red-tinged photo of Hampton and the crowds that believed in him in the background. That design, even independent of the copy reading “You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution”, is similar to the look and feel of propaganda posters, with the red usually indicating a socialist or similar message, one that’s appropriate for Hampton’s mission.

The second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in January and pares things down to just Hampton and O’Neal. While it keeps that red shading, it also loses the copy but adds all the festivals the film has appeared at and claim that this is “One of the best films of the year.”

A final poster (by marketing agency GRAVILLIS) came out just last week and takes a different approach but keeps the idea of generally looking like some sort of propaganda poster. This time though it’s a blue and black color scheme and a design that also kind of mimics a paperback book, with the title at the top and the imagery in the bottom two-thirds. This one was designed for artist and former Black Panther member Emory Douglas.

The Trailers

The first trailer (2 million views on YouTube) was released in early August, opening with Hampton introducing himself and then showing how he is ready to lead a revolution. It quickly switches to focus on O’Neal, who is being interrogated by the FBI, who want him to inform on Hampton. Scenes of violent uprising are mixed with shots of Hampton and his organization helping feed and support communities, showing the good and the bad that the FBI was so eager to quash.

The second trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube) came out in January, showing Hampton and the community work he and the Black Panthers are doing. That’s far from the terrorist threat the FBI makes them out to be, something O’Neal comes to realize after he’s already in too deep. There’s an awful lot of powerful emotion here, selling a movie that’s focused on presenting a much more accurate picture of that period than may be taught in many history classes.

Online and Social

You’ll find information on showtimes (where applicable) as well as a synopsis and other very basic information on the film’s website, which uses a variation on the key art at the top.

Advertising and Promotions

As with the rest of the studio’s 2021 slate, it was among the titles named by Warner Bros. as debuting simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

The movie’s profile was raised significantly when it was added as a late entry to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which served as the film’s premiere.

A featurette released during Sundance in early February went into the real people and stories that influence the movie.

Cutdown versions of the trailer were used as preroll ads on YouTube and elsewhere.

The song “What It Feels Like” from Nipsey Hussle and Jay-Z came out earlier this week, one of the tunes on the movie’s “inspired by” soundtrack.

Media and Press

Right about the time the trailer debuted, King was interviewed about the controversial casting of a British actor to play a prominent Black American, something he said he was aware of but had to make the best choice he could regarding. Kaluuya was later interviewed about how the movie follows a path he’s carved out in her career to date along and more.

There was a feature profile covering how long King and others had worked on the project, how there were at times two Hampton-oriented films in development and how a number of studios passed on the film for reasons that seemed based more on “no one wants to see a movie about Black power” than anything else.

How Kaluuya researched his role and what that research exposed him to in terms of American history, as well how he worked with King and others were covered in an interview with the actor.

Stanfield appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film, though the conversation of course spilled over into more of his recent and upcoming projects.

King was interviewed about focusing on Hampton’s story and making it as realistic as possible, while Fishback spoke about how the film is part of her effort to tell important stories.

H.E.R. performed their song from the soundtrack on “The Late Show.”

Overall

WB’s campaign here is very strong, selling a biopic about a public figure that’s too often marginalized in many history books and lessons. Kaluuya and Stanfield are rightly front and center here, but so is King and that’s great to see since, as a filmmaker himself, the opportunity afforded by a higher profile is that he will be able to tell more like this.

The performances by the leads are at the forefront of a marketing push that has a clear and easily recognizable brand identity, one that makes it clear the film does not shy away from addressing sometimes uncomfortable societal issues. It’s not one that will likely drive massive amounts of new subscribers to HBO Max, but it does make the case that it’s a movie that needs to be watched if you can.

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.

Wonder Woman 1984 – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has mounted an oft-delayed and ultimately unusual campaign for its first legit superhero sequel since 2012.

To call Wonder Woman 1984’s trip to an eventual release date “unconventional” would be a severe understatement. Originally scheduled for December 2019, it was later moved to June, 2020, then later and later in the year following the theatrical closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The final release date of December 25, 2020 seemed iffy as late as last month but has finally come to pass because WB – and parent company AT&T – pulled a bold move that has subsequently disrupted the entire film industry, sending the movie to both whatever theaters are open and the HBO Max streaming platform.

Just as the title implies, the movie – directed once more by Patty Jenkins – jumps several decades from the World War I setting of the 2017 installment to the 80s. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, where she meets coworker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s insecurities make her a ripe target for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomaniac businessman who acquires the ability to grant wishes and fulfill desires, an ability he uses to increase his own fortunes. Eventually Barbara wishes for superhuman powers and is transformed into Cheetah, setting the stage for an epic showdown with Diana. Along all that, Diana is confounded by the mysterious return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she believed dead 60 years ago and who doesn’t appear to have aged at all.

Before the HBO Max release was announced, #WW84 had taken Tenet’s position as the movie exhibitors were pinning all their hopes for a moviegoing revival on. The simultaneous distribution may have dashed those hopes (along with the fact that the pandemic is nowhere near controlled in the U.S., meaning most theaters are still closed), so the film is now seen as an example of what could become Hollywood’s future. At the very least, it set the stage for Warner Bros. announcement its entire 2021 slate was following the same pattern.

In addition to the copious discussions and analysis of what all of the above means for theaters, HBO Max and other studios, initial reviews have praised it as a feel-good sequel to help close out an infection-filled tire fire of a year. Those reviews have been mixed enough to give it a lackluster 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the marketing of the film has struck the same colorful, powerful tone as that of the original.

The Posters

The first teaser poster, Tweeted out by Jenkins in early June 2019 along with the news the movie would not have a panel at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, shows Diana looking imposing in golden full body armor. She’s set against a colorful backdrop that forms a slight “W” to reinforce the branding. It’s an impressive first image communicating what may be the movie’s brighter tone.

Four character posters – one for Diana, Trevor, Lord and Minerva – retained that colorful background branding while also offering one of the movie’s biggest revelations: that Trevor sports a fanny pack in the film.

In March two more posters came out showing Diana kneeling in her ceremonial armor, a colorful background swirling behind her. Those posters also served as announcements of the new (at the time) June release date.

An exclusive IMAX poster, released in November, shows the armored Diana crouched and ready for battle while promoting the fact some sequences in the film were shot with IMAX cameras, the better to lure in audiences hoping for an immersive experience.

More posters came out earlier this month that took the same kind of visual approach, making sure to include the new selling point of simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max availability.

The “#WeekofWonder” campaign run the first week of December included another poster showing Wonder Woman walking purposefully and powerfully toward the camera. AT&T debuted another showing a more relaxed, though still armored, Diana.

There were also four new character posters that debuted on IGN.

A Dolby-exclusive poster loses some of the colorful background but continues the emphasis on Wonder Woman’s shiny armor, as does one for Cinemark and one for RealD 3D.

The Trailers

Diana is explaining to Barbara that her life has been different than she might imagine as the first trailer (37.3 million views on YouTube), released at the beginning of December 2019, begins. We see momentos from her past before seeing Wonder Woman break up a group of armed criminals in a shopping mall. As that’s happening, a TV commercial features Lord promising people they can achieve all their dreams and have what they want. Somehow Steve Trevor returns, having not aged a day in the 40 years since he apparently died. They set off on a mysterious adventure while we’re shown footage of them in combat mixed with scenes of the Amazons competing in some form of organized games.

All of that is bookended by title graphics and other animation seemingly pulled directly from a 1984 video cassette, including fuzzy static that mimics what would happen when a VHS tape got stretched after too many plays.

In conjunction with DC Fandome in August a new trailer (23.8 million views on YouTube) was released that starts by showing a young Diana in the midst of her training followed by a grown Wonder Woman using her magic lasso to swing between lightning bolts. That gives you an idea of how epic the story is. After that there’s more footage showing Barbara’s quest for power that turns her into Cheetah, Lord’s megalomania that has to be stopped and the mystery surrounding Trevor’s return. At the end there’s a nice flip from a scene in the first movie, with Trevor trying on clothes to fit into the current world while Diana judges his choices.

In mid-November in conjunction with the announcement of the HBO Max release plans the “Official Main Trailer” (4.3 million views on YouTube) came out that is almost exactly the same as the Fandome trailer from August.

Online and Social

Whatever website might have once existed for the movie it’s been replaced by a single page on HBO Max’s site with the trailer and information on either signing up for that service or purchasing theater tickets. It’s really disappointing, though there were still stand-alone social profiles that went more in-depth on promotions and other marketing assets.

Advertising and Promotions

With so much going on, it’s necessary to break all of this up a little bit.

Advertising and Sponsorships

Snapchat users could add a movie-themed lens and background to their stories and videos.

There was also an exclusive Snap lens on branded Dorito’s bags.

It was one of the first brands to have access to Instagram Reels when that feature was rolled out earlier this year, posting exclusive content there.

An official Spotify playlist featured not only Hans Zimmer’s score but also a solid selection of 80s hits.

IMAX promoted its involvement in the production with a short featurette with Jenkins talking about shooting the movie not just on film but on IMAX.

Fandango offered an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.

The movie sponsored a bit on “Ellen.”

Outdoor ads of all shapes and sizes, from standard billboard units to full-skyscraper projections, were run in the last few weeks before release.

Just last week WB released the first three minutes of the movie, which offer a bit of flashback as well as stage setting for where the story of this film begins.

Cross-Promotions

Promotional partners for the movie included:

Tide, which inserted Wonder Woman into a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl LIV broadcast earlier this year.

The Red Cross, which ran a sweepstakes entering those who donated blood, platelets or plasma in July for a chance to win movie prop replicas of Wonder Woman’s lasso and gauntlets.

Revlon, which created a line of movie-inspired cosmetics.

Microsoft, which had a substantial campaign using the movie and character as a way to encourage kids to develop tech skills and learn to code by playing game, engaging in online scavenger hunts and more. There was also a Bing extension that added movie key art to browsers and an Edge browser theme.

Dorito’s, which put movie branding on chip bags, some of which came out earlier this year before various delays, leading to packaging hitting shelves with inaccurate dates.

Eleven by Venus Williams, which created a “capsule collection” of movie-themed apparel.

Alex and Ani, which created a line of movie- and character-themed jewelry.

Roblox, which added movie themes, settings and costumes to the game that players could unlock and add. New features were added as time went on.

Dairy Queen, which created the Wonder Woman Cookie Collision Blizzard, which was available well before the film was eventually released.

Hot Topic, which offered all kinds of movie and character merchandise, some exclusive to the retailer.

Reebok, which offered a line of movie- and character-themed footwear. That campaign included an emphasis on highlighting healthcare workers as well as promoting the company’s education initiatives.

The movie also was included in a number of ads for AT&T encouraging people to sign up for the company’s fiber home internet service so they had the bandwidth to fully enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max.

Events

Promotions for the movie kicked off all the way back in June, 2018 in advance of that year’s San Diego Comic-Con as Gadot and Jenkins Tweeted out a handful of first looks at Trevor, Barbara and Diana. That Trevor’s presence in the movie was revealed at the outset of the publicity cycle is notable since the question of whether or not he would show up could have been a significant part of the campaign. Instead, Jenkins – and presumably the studio – felt there was more to gain from getting it out there early and not making everyone endure months of speculation, which is appreciated.

The movie was also part of that year’s CineEurope presentation from the studio.

Jenkins, Gadot and Pine all appeared at SDCC 2018, an appearance that was followed by the launch of an Omaze campaign where people could win a role as an extra on the film.

Warner Bros. sat out Hall H at SDCC 2019 but Jenkins and Gadot did appear at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo in December, talking about the movie and what audiences could expect while giving attendees an early look at the first trailer.

The film was included in WB’s 2019CinemaCon presentation that included footage from the film and comments from Jenkins. It was also featured in that year’s CineEurope presentation.

Gadot appeared as a presenter during the recent Oscars broadcast.

A new October release date was announced in June.

Shortly after that news came the movie would be among those included in DC FanDome, a virtual event planned for August. That panel, which included the debut of another trailer, had Jenkins and others discussing both this and the first film and fielding some questions from fans. There was also a surprise appearance by the original on-screen Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. More promotions for the film, including another appearance by Jenkins, were part of the second part of FanDome a month later.

The news the movie would debut in theaters and on HBO Max was accompanied by a short promo making that point to audiences. It was also prominently included in promos for WB’s later announcement of its 2021 theatrical/HBO Max plans.

Additional longer commercials showed an abridged outline of the story.

A new extended spot was unveiled at this year’s CCXP, one that focuses on the emotional journey Diana goes on over the course of the story.

Immediately leading up to release WB bought Promoted Trends on Twitter.

DC FanDome was reactivated in mid-December for the movie’s virtual premiere, including exclusive looks at the film and more. That premiere supported World Central Kitchen, which has been doing a lot of work to feed hungry people across the world – including the U.S. – during the pandemic.

DC Comics Tie-Ins

There’s been a full-throated promotional effort from DC, not only because that division is home to the Wonder Woman IP but also because the movie’s release roughly coincides with the 80th anniversary of the character’s print debut. That effort has included a number of on-domain “get to know X character” stories and videos as well as insights into the design and creation of Wonder Woman’s golden armor, an interview with Tina Guo, the guitarist behind the now-famous Wonder Woman movie theme and more.

A planned movie tie-in comic with cover art by Nicola Scott, who shared her work on Twitter in March. More details came out in July, including that the book – “Wonder Woman 1984 No. 1” – would debut exclusively in Walmart stores and feature multiple stories, including a direct prequel to the film co-written by Louise Simonson and associate producer Anna Obropta.

A handful of Zoom chat backgrounds, released earlier this year (as many companies were doing) so people could add some film branding to their video calls.

Lilly Aspel, who plays the young Diana, appeared on an episode of DC’s Kids YouTube show to talk about the movie and play games.

#WonderWomanDay was celebrated in October with all sorts of merchandise sales, events at comics retailers and more.

A new digital-first comics series featuring stories from established and new creators.

Media and Publicity

With all the delays and date changes, publicity didn’t truly kick off – outside of a few interviews and comments, including those from Pine and Jenkins from the “I Am The Night” set – until February of this year.

That’s when more photos were released to EW, which also hosted a roundtable conversation with Jenkins and the cast as well as an interview with Gadot about the continuation of Diana’s story as well as that spiffy new armor.

Another interview with Gadot had her talking about this movie as well as her career, public image and more.

New images and comments from Gadot and others emerged in April, as Warner Bros. execs reiterated their commitment to the theatrical model for this movie. At about the same time, Jenkins hinted at the four-film arc she has in mind for the character if she gets the chance and more. She discussed more details and ideas in another interview later on.

As the reality of the pandemic became more clear in May, Gadot surprised a group of Wonder Woman-inspired healthcare workers in Detroit with an appearance to lift them up during difficult times.

Wiig was interviewed about what a career change it was to take a role in a big-budget production like this and how that went.

DC interviewed Magnus Lygdback, Gadot’s trainer on the film, about how he helped her get ready for production, while Jenkins offered more information on how she intended to bring back Trevor.

Pascal was the subject of a feature profile that included comments from Jenkins about working with him and more.

In an interview earlier this month Jenkins said she was essentially ignoring the theatrical cut of Justice League, directed by Joss Whedon, because she felt it contradicted what she had done and had planned, unlike the way she had worked with original JL director Zack Snyder

Gadot spoke in a later interview about returning to the role and what she hoped that meant for the character, feminism and the world as a whole. In another she acknowledged again how rough a year this has been for many people and expressed her hope this movie brings them and everyone else some joy and relief.

The late-breaking HBO Max plan didn’t sit quite right with Jenkins, who said as much in a recent interview.

Wiig and Gadot’s on-set friendship and subsequent antics was covered in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight.”

Late night appearances included Gadot, Wiig and Jenkins on “The Tonight Show,” Gadot and Jenkins on “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” Wiig on “Late Night,” Pascal on “The Tonight Show,”

Wiig also returned to her “Saturday Night Live” home the weekend before release.

A substantial profile of Jenkins made lots of headlines for including her thoughts on the HBO Max situation, the prolonged negotiations that finally allowed her to return for a sequel, her plans for a third film and more. Another interview had her revealing how studio notes influenced the ending to the first movie.

Overall

Let’s face it, the campaign is one of the best of the year, even despite all the delays and awkwardness, because of this single image.

Kristen Wiig Ww84 GIF by Wonder Woman Film - Find & Share on GIPHY

On top of what it’s selling to audiences, the campaign has a strong message for entertainment industry executives who feel threatened by change they’re not in charge of.

Kristen Wiig Ww84 GIF by Wonder Woman Film - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up The Spare

Gadot appeared in a quick video recapping and setting up the movie’s story. She was also interviewed about this movie and state of the industry. 

Another DC post covered the process of bringing the film to life. 

Connie Nelson was interviewed about the new film and more. There were also additional features and interviews about how the filmmakers customized Cheetah for Wiig, what prompted Wiig to take the role, Pascal’s approach to this film as well as his history with Wonder Woman and more. 

More on how Gadot and Wiig bonded was covered in a joint video interview with the two. 

The film’s costume designer explained how she created the film’s 1980’s fashion aesthetic.

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.

Let Them All Talk – Marketing Recap

How HBO Max has sold a story of making peace with your past.

Meryl Streep teams for the second time with director Steven Soderbergh in this week’s new HBO Max release Let Them All Talk. Streep plays Alice, a well-known author who decides to reconnect with some old friends by taking a cruise as a group. Joining them is Alice’s nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who is responsible for making sure the ladies get where they need to be and so on. Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest play Roberta and Susan, Alice’s friends and fellow travelers, while Gemma Chan plans Karen, a literary agent who gets involved with Tyler on the trip.

The movie, which has a strong 93% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, has gotten a campaign that sells it as part of the overall Soderbergh brand while also relying heavily on the charisma and talent of the three women in the leading roles.

The Posters

In addition to selling the names of the director and stars, the poster makes sure to label this as a “Max Original,” a different designation given to the titles it has produced as opposed to those it’s acquired after the fact. That’s meant to apply a little cache, but with such a new brand it’s hard to put much weight behind it.

Outside of that the photo of Streep looking pensive and tense pairs nicely with the copy “Write your wrongs,” conveying a good sense of the basic story as well as the emotional tone of the film.

The Trailers

Alice is furiously writing as the trailer (2.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-November, opens, but she hasn’t actually turned in anything. So Karen has booked her and her friends on a cruise to try and shake things loose. Turns out there’s some bad blood between the friends, stemming partly from Alice’s use of them as characters in her past works. The chemistry is still there, though, and the time together brings some laughs and some tears and quite a bit of soul-searching. What the trailer really sells, though, is a bunch of professionals doing their thing on one of Soderbergh’s loose sets, which is a strong message to send.

Online and Social

Nothing here specifically for the movie, but HBO Max’s corporate social profiles did provide some support leading up to release.

Advertising and Promotions

Soderbergh announced the movie in mid-August of last year, revealing he was already well into production at the time. It wasn’t long until it was reported the feature marked the first major acquisition by HBO Max for what at the time was its unlaunched streaming subscription service.

The first very brief look at the film was offered in a sizzle reel promoting HBO Max’s upcoming slate of original material.

A few short promos like this were distributed on social in the last few weeks, offering slightly different looks at some scenes previously shown in the trailer.

Media and Press

A group interview with much of the primary cast had them talking about the story as well as the unconventional nature of Soderbergh’s filming style, including how low-budget, low-tech and low-stress the shoot was. That piece also hinted at a December release for the movie.

Streep appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about both this movie and The Prom, also released this week. She, Bergen and Weist all took part in a “Today” interview.

There was a big profile of Bergen that touched on her role here as well as her life and career overall.

Overall

You won’t go wrong with a certain segment of the audience (myself included) by selling a movie by promising simply a good time watching a bunch of seasoned professionals breeze their way through a simple premise.

That’s exactly what is being communicated here, with the added bonus that it comes from Soderbergh, who has a history of guiding just those sorts of productions. There’s good stuff here specific to the story, but the real hook is simply a few naturalistic performances and a director with a knack for capturing interesting moments on film.

Picking Up The Spare

More from Chan on her role in the film here. Hedges later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie. 

Among the later press was a profile of Bergen and how she prepared for the film.