How Warner Bros. has sold the much-anticipated prequel to a critically-acclaimed series.
“The Sopranos” retains its status as one of the most acclaimed and influential series of all time even 14 years after its final episode aired. It is still a cultural touchpoint alongside fellow HBO series “The Wire” and a handful of others that have been off the air (so to speak) for over a decade.
This week the world of mob boss Tony Soprano – memorably brought to life by the late James Gandolfini – returns in the form of The Many Saints of Newark. Jumping back to 1967 Newark, the prequel movie is still centered on Tony, whose younger self is now played by Michael Gandolfini, James’ son. At this point, though, he’s just an underachieving teen who idolizes his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who leads the family’s criminal operation. Tony’s ruthlessness grows as time goes on under the influence of Dickie and others, setting the stage for his eventual ascent to power.
Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Bernthal, Corey Stall, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga, Billy Magnussen and others also star, some as wholly new characters who will influence the direction Tony and others take, some as younger incarnations of characters familiar to viewers of the show and who are part of Tony Soprano’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how Warner Bros. has sold what should be a slam-dunk with a built in audience of loyal super fans.
[disclosure statement: I’ve never watched a full episode of “The Sopranos” but I do believe the ambiguous cut-to-black ending is incredible simply because it refuses to neatly tie things up. Watching people freak out was highly enjoyable, even if the next 10 years of endless debate and discussion made me sometimes want to walk into traffic. Let’s move on…]
announcement and casting
Ever since the elder Gandolfini’s passing, series creator David Chase had ruled out telling stories that would take place after the end of the show. His idea of telling a story set earlier in the timeline, though, remained intriguing and it was this idea that New Line and HBO Films finally greenlit in 2018. Alan Taylor, who had directed a number of episodes during the original show’s run, was hired to helm the movie at that time.
Nivola was one of the first to be cast later in 2018, with others added over the course of 2019. That included the younger Gandolfini, who reportedly was hesitant to step into his father’s shoes and who, despite the genetic connection, had to audition for the role.
Originally scheduled for September, 2020, in April of last year the date was pushed to March, 2021 because of pandemic-related theater closures and other delays. This past January release was moved to October at the same time Warner Bros. announced it, like the rest of its slate, would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.
selling the movie
One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo in January touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. But the campaign didn’t really kick off until just this past June.
That’s when the first trailer (9.5m YouTube views) came out in late June. It starts with the older Tony’s voice introducing us to his younger self on screen. After getting into a fight we see his mother being told by a high school teacher that Tony is smart, a born leader, a label she disagrees with since he’s not doing well in school. He eventually gets involved in the “family business,” first as a lark and then as he accumulates more power and influence. But it’s clear there will be hurdles he has to clear on the way up, including lots of violence and betrayal.
The first poster was released at the same time. Using the same stylized typeface and black-and-white photography – albeit with a single pop of color – it shows the primary dynamic of the story with a young Tony looking to Dickie
Van Zandt talked in July about how he had consulted on parts of the movie’s story at the request of Chase, even though he doesn’t appear in the film.
Director Alan Taylor talked about the difficulty he had in taking the story from the small to big screen while keeping Chase’s vision intact. For his part, Chase was interviewed about not only the pressure of returning to a story he’d already left behind but also the difficulty in casting many of the parts.
TV spots/social media promos began running in late August, cutting down the trailer to focus on a few key moments in the criminal development of young Tony Soprano and how that’s enabled by Dickie.
A sprawling feature from early September went in-depth on the making of the film, especially how the actors sought to capture the spirit of well-known characters, making them familiar to those who know them from the show without doing impressions. It also covered the long road the movie took to finally being made all these after the end of the original show.
About about the same time there was an interview with/profile of Chase, who talked about how the original show came to be, the passing of Gandolfini and what eventually convinced him to return to the world of Tony Soprano for this prequel story.
Chase talked more about casting Gandolfini to play a young version of the same character his father brought to life when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Gandolfini himself appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the same thing, including sharing how at times he went a little hard in that direction and had to be pulled back. Bernthal’s appearance on “Late Night” had the actor telling fans of the show they shouldn’t just expect more of that in the movie.
Like many others, Chase was asked for his thoughts on the movie going day-and-date on streaming and theatrical, saying he wasn’t thrilled with that decision and, if he’d thought it was a possibility, he might not have made it at all.
Dickie is looking to make a name for himself as the second trailer (2.9m YouTube views) released in early September, begins. His aspirations have made enemies, of course, but they also overlap with his nephew Tony’s burgeoning interest in the family business. It’s a more fast-paced trailer that has more of an emphasis on Dickie’s story than Tony’s, along with what I’m sure are a few nods to stories from the show that fans will enjoy.
Dickie is all on his own on the next poster, also from early September. The same design aesthetic from the first one-sheet is used here. This time he’s labeled as “Who made Tony Soprano.” That the copy is declarative instead of being framed as a question is intriguing, telling the audience that the movie won’t so much be a journey to find out who it is that made the future mobster the man he would become but that this is the guy, so come along and see what happens.
A series of almost a dozen character posters came out shortly after that, showing off the movie’s impressive cast.
At this point the younger Gandolfini began a substantial media tour that would, in the three or so weeks leading up to the film’s release, include “CBS Sunday Morning,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night” and elsewhere. He was also the subject of a number of feature profiles like this.
Odom Jr., Bernthal, Liotta, Nivola and others from the cast also made appearances on a handful of morning and late night talk shows.
A featurette from later in September had Taylor, Chase and many of the cast members talking about returning to these characters and this world or, in many cases, entering for the first time.
Just a couple weeks ago the movie’s world premiere happened at the first ever Tribeca Fall Preview, an offshoot of the Tribeca Film Festival. At that premiere Chase, Taylor and the rest of the cast hit on similar themes about their experiences with the movie and the franchise as a whole.
Betting site DraftKings ran a free sweepstakes where fans could simply name their favorite “Sopranos” character for a chance at a $5,000 prize.
The focus is more squarely on Dickie in some of the additional TV spots run in the last couple weeks, continuing a shift begun in the second trailer.
AMC Theaters had an exclusive video interview with some of the primary cast members, as did Regal Cinemas.
It’s not terribly surprising that many of the reviews of the movie have been lukewarm, resulting in a 71% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To some extent no movie, whether it was set before or after the series, could live up to the reputation the show developed or the hallowed place it has been elevated to in the intervening years.
WB’s campaign for the movie has been solid, though, designed to give fans exactly what they want, which is more tales of Tony Soprano and his “family.” To that end, much of the marketing has been designed to evoke or outright mimic the key art and other elements of the show. Other elements are more geared to make fans react to an important mention or appearance that’s explicitly tied to the show that has come before.
What’s missing is a message to those (like myself) that haven’t yet explored the show. This could be an excellent on-ramp to that broader experience, allowing us to start with a young Tony and then continue on with his later, more established years. That could leave people in that category feeling shut out for one reason or another and therefore uninterested in checking out the movie.
How Warner Bros. is selling the latest heist film from one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors.
Of the high profile directors working today perhaps none has embraced streaming quite like Steven Soderbergh. After putting out two movies for Netflix in 2019, this week brings his second straight film for HBO Max.
No Sudden Move focuses on a group of small-time criminals in 1955 who are hired by a mysterious party to steal corporate documents. They recruit a reluctant insider to actually nab the goods, with some of the crooks sent to his home to keep his family in check. But when the job goes sideways they set out to find out who it was that hired them and why.
The movie stars Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin, Benicio del Toro and others as the criminals, David Harbour as the executive marked to actually steal the documents, Amy Seimetz as his wife Mary and Jon Hamm as the Detroit city detective assigned to investigate the crime. With a solid 87% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s campaign has been heavy on the kind of stylized filmmaking that Soderbergh is known for.
“Trust is a setup” we’re told on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery). Shown are Goynes and Russo, two of the criminals at the center of the plot played by Cheadle and del Toro. The rest of the notable cast is named at the top of the one-sheet, but the overall design is very simple and moody, setting a dark and shadowy tone for the movie more than anything else.
A brief teaser in late May preceded the first trailer’s release, which didn’t happen until early June.
That trailer (238,000 views on YouTube) is all about selling an attitude and a vibe. It conveys the story of how the criminals are A) convincing a mid-level auto executive to steal company secrets while B) the gang watches over the exec’s family to make sure they don’t do anything stupid and he knows what the consequences for not cooperating are. As usual, everything turns pear-shaped in a flurry of irrational behavior, divided loyalties, law enforcement investigation and other factors, but what’s clear is that this is another stylized Soderbergh production that looks fantastic.
Online and Social
The signed-out landing page for the movie on HBO Max’s site has some very basic information, including a collection of cast headshots, a small gallery of stills and the trailer.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
Casting news dominated much of the press for a while. In late September production, previously delayed because of the pandemic, resumed at the same time the movie was renamed from its original “Kill Switch” to the current title.
HBO Max and Warner Bros. confirmed in May that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. At that premiere the cast was interviewed about the movie itself as well as the uncertain nature of the production.
Harbour promoted the film when he appeared on “Late Night” in June.
A profile of Seimetz focused on how she has bounced between acting and writing/directing her own material over her career, including how she steals the show in this film.
While it’s not actually press for the film, Alissa Wilkinson at Vox explores some of the very real social issues, including housing discrimination, highway construction and more, that inform the movie’s setting, action and characters.
Warner Bros. partnered with Shinola Detroit on a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to Detroit’s Shinola Hotel. The company also created a movie-inspired line of handbags, watches and other apparel.
An interview with screenwriter Ed Solomon emphasized how he and Soderbergh sought to construct a story the audience would have to follow closely if they wanted to get the full experience of the payoff.
Short spots like this were used on social media (and likely elsewhere), presenting a cutdown version of the trailer that continues selling the movie as a high-drama heist story with a great cast.
HBO Max released a featurette with the cast talking about the complex nature of that story and the unique filmmaking aesthetic of Soderbergh.
What I said above really encapsulates the campaign from Warner Bros./HBO Max: Everything about the campaign is focused on presenting it as a dramatic, tense heist film with a great cast portraying characters who are always just one move away from turning on their compatriots.
Adding to that is the brand Soderbergh has for himself as a director who dabbles in seemingly every possible sub-genre and style. If you told me tomorrow he was directing a remake of The Music Man it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The point being that his involvement in and of itself is a big draw for the movie, which is why his name is so prominent throughout the campaign.
How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.
Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.
That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.
Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.
With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.
While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.
A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.
Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.
“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.
The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.
The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.
A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.
Online and Social
In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.
There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.
Advertising, Press and Promotions
Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.
Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.
The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.
Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.
Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.
In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.
A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.
Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie
Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.
Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.
An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.
Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.
Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.
THREAD >> We hope you're ready for JOY. There is nothing that will dampen the light force that is @intheheights. June 11th, join us for the first-ever #LatinxGoldOpen–where the two fastest-growing multicultural communities unite for the first time like we never have before. pic.twitter.com/Fusyk3OHYL
An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.
Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.
IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.
Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.
Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.
Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.
An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.
One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.
Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.
As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.
In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.
How Warner Bros. is selling a drama of a young man and fire.
Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber, a former smokejumper in the forests of Montana. Faber is haunted by the memories of an earlier forest fire that went very badly for the rest of her team. One day while keeping watch she comes across Conner (Finn Little), a young boy who seems to be on the run from something. Turns out he’s being pursued by two hitmen who have just killed his father and who are so desperate to tie up loose ends they will set a forest fire to flush out Faber and the boy.
The movie, directed by Taylor Sheridan, has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and arrives this week in theaters and on HBO Max preceded by a campaign that has emphasized the drama of evading fire but not so much on the story or characters themselves.
The faces of Faber and Conner are the primary elements on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) that came out in April. Both are, of course, bathed in the red light of the fire they are on the run from and both look weary and stressed from that effort. There’s no copy about the story here, and while Sheridan isn’t name-checked exactly a couple of his previous popular credits are called out at the top.
Hannah is working a fire-watching tower and still reeling from the mistakes she made years ago as the first trailer (8.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, begins. One day she encounters a young boy who, she finds, is on the run from some dangerous people who have already killed his father. Those bad men start a forest fire to flush Hannah and the boy out, meaning she not only has to keep the kid safe but deal with the trauma of her own past at the same time.
Online and Social
Not much information on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a brief synopsis and information on either buying tickets or subscribing to HBO Max.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
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.
Warner Bros. announced the May release date in February.
An interview with Jolie and others included a first look still from the film.
Fandango’s MovieClips got an exclusive clip in early May showing a key dramatic moment with Hannah trying to save her young charge from an encroaching fire.
A short featurette came out around the same time with Jolie and other members of the cast and crew discussing the themes of the story and what it was like to shoot the film in some extreme conditions.
Cutdown versions of the trailer – usually around 10 or 15 seconds – were used as TV spots as well as online, including as pre-roll ads on YouTube.
The key art was modified and reused for online ads that included a link to the HBO Max website where people could sign up.
HBO Max released an exclusive “first look” clip featuring a key moment of Faber figuring out why Conner is being pursued and by whom just days before the movie came out.
It’s a mixed bag here.
On the one hand, there’s a lot of drama that’s created in the campaign. We get the tension inherent in the flight of the two main characters from both the hitmen and the fire they start to either kill or find their quarry. And Sheridan has proven himself as a solid director of emotional stories about characters whose future we care about.
On the other, the trailer and other assets don’t give us a lot of opportunity to actually experience any empathy for those characters. There’s not a lot of detail regarding the story and the trailer in particular is somewhat unclear as to what’s happening. Not only that but given the human cost of forest fires over the last few years it’s hard to see that fire without recalling some very recent stories from the real world.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to overlook a few quibbles and give the benefit of the doubt to the campaign, given the talent involved.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 keyfights 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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
They even shared an image from a *very* current meme and got onto the NFT bandwagon with exclusive artwork available there.
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 promospots 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.
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.
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.
See, the guy who tweeted at me twice today that they will not stop until they win the “war” to get more comic book movies from their favorite director may be why there’s some concern about portions of the fanbase.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hashtagaction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.