f9: the fast saga – marketing recap

How Universal is selling the latest in one of cinema’s biggest international franchises.

I may have mentioned this previously, but with the exception of Hobbs & Shaw I’ve never seen a single entry in the Fast & Furious franchise. That’s despite the core series reaching its ninth entry over 20 years with this week’s F9: The Fast Saga. Here’s the official synopsis of the movie, courtesy of IMDb:

Cipher (Charlize Theron) enlists the help of Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s (Vin Diesel) younger brother, to take revenge on Dom and his team.

OK, sure. If you, like me, are largely in the dark as to what is happening in the above sentence, you may not be the audience for this new movie, despite a campaign that has boiled the pitch down to “muscle bound men and women engage in increasingly over-the-top stunts with cars.”

The movie, like many others, was originally scheduled to be released in April of 2020 but has been pushed numerous times because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not wanting to imperil the franchise’s massive international box-office, it has seemingly never even been considered for non-theatrical distribution. That international appeal is evident in how it’s already nearing $300 million in overseas ticket sales before it hits the domestic market, where it’s Fandango’s biggest pre-order title of the year so far.

It finally hits screens this weekend with a projected box-office of $60 million dollars thanks to a flashy campaign but not to the lackluster 62% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s alright because this is for the fans, not the critics.

The Posters

The teaser poster of Dom with his back turned as he leans against the hood of his car was released all the way back in January, 2020. It’s not much but it doesn’t need to be as it’s simply the announcement that a new movie in the series is coming out and yes, it’s about family.

A series of character posters came out at various points in the campaign that placed each character in front of what I’m assuming is their signature car, or at least one that seems to match the color aesthetic being used. The Photoshopping here is obvious, as the photos look like they’ve been cut out like Joker assembling his scrapbook and then glued to the smoke-filled background.

Dom is at the center of the group of characters featured on the theatrical poster, the rest arrayed around him while at the bottom there are a bunch of cars and a helicopter engaged in some form of racing or chase. I’m not sure the multi-colored plumes of smoke are meant to symbolize or what purpose they serve other than to add something to what would otherwise be a collection of browns and grays. An earlier version of this poster ditched the action and just featured the primary cast leaning against their cars with the same colorful smoke in the background.

Dom and Jakob are engaged in a no-holds-barred race on the IMAX poster, dirt and sparks flying everywhere as they trade paint.

One final poster came out just a few days ago, this one released at the end of a big online promotional day that included the cast answering fan questions. The poster itself was part of the 20th anniversary celebration aspect of the campaign and had Dom standing by himself alongside his car with a collection of memorable quotes from the previous films placed above him.

The Trailers

A teaser trailer was shared by Diesel a couple days before the release of the first trailer. When that trailer (52.5 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of January 2020 it showed that this movie would pick up on the same themes and ideas as the series’ previous entries. It focuses on family both real – Dominic talks about how everything he does is to keep his wife and son safe – and chosen, as he reunites with his colleagues and partners in crime and adventure. This time around they once again face off against Cypher, who has enlisted a criminal who turns out to be Dom’s brother. There are fast cars and over-the-top stunts, including what seems to be Dom catching a car while standing on top of a bus.

Demand for the trailer was so high it recorded over 262 million views across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in the first 72 hours after it was released.

The final trailer (46.5 million views on YouTube) debuted over a year later, in April 2021. Debuting first on “Today” (thanks to some NBCU corporate synergy), the focus is once again on family, whether it’s the found kind or the one you’re born into. Other than that there are of course ridiculous car and other stunts on display, including some sort of scheme involving magnets and, at the very end, a hint that the franchise will finally go into space, just as fans have been clamoring for.

Online and Social

You can find trailers, a photo gallery, story synopsis and more marketing assets on the movie’s official website. It also has information on the entire saga to date including a timeline of events. Links to the movie’s social profiles are also on the page, but that list doesn’t include the Giphy page for an unknown reason.

An Instagram AR lens was available that assigned each user to a character from the movie.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

In advance of the first trailer’s debut during the Super Bowl, a concert was held in Miami featuring Cardi B., Ludacris and other artists, with the stars of the movie on hand to give fans their first full look at what they could expect. That concert was livestreamed so audiences everywhere could experience it as well. Universal announced the event in December, building anticipation over a month out from it happening.

As the promotional concert was happening, Jimmy Fallon called Diesel from “The Tonight Show” to hear how it was going and get important updates.

When the trailer revealed Han from Tokyo Drift was returning for real, it was only natural that Kang would be interviewed about how that is happening and what it means for him and fans.

The movie was among those with commercials airing during the Super Bowl, just a few days after the first trailer was released. That Big Game spot is short on dialogue – that’s not what the audience is interested in – and long on dramatic car chases and other thrilling sequences.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Dodge, which released a commercial featuring footage from the movie and other shots of the company’s cars narrated by Diesel that positioned those cars as the ultimate muscle performance machines.
  • Cameo, which let fans enter to win a personalized message from one of the cast members.

Diesel talked about the movie and more when he stopped by “Kimmel” in March of 2020. A few months later Rodriguez was interviewed about the important new perspective brought on by a female writer for the movie. While he was promoting other projects, Cena spoke about his trepidation before finally signing on to join the series.

In one of the biggest announcements that came as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, Universal pushed the movie’s release an entire year, apparently wanting to put the maximum possible distance between that virus and the film hitting theaters. Especially important at the time was that while U.S. theaters were (at the time) still open, Chinese theaters had completely shut down, effectively cutting off a major segment of the audience.

The picture hadn’t improved enough by September for Universal to stick with that release date, pushing it out an additional three months.

In October of last year, Universal revealed there would only be two more F&F movies before the series shut down, with Lin attached to direct both of them.

Due to those delays, it was advertised again during the 2021 Super Bowl, the only movie from 2020’s lineup to make a second appearance. The new spot mixes the usual bits about the importance of family with the kind of outsized and ludicrous action the franchise is known for.

EW’s 2021 Movie Preview included more comments about the story (such as it is) and characters.

One more delay, this time from May to June, was announced in March.

Diesel narrates a spot, released in late April, that starts with him talking about the power of going to the theater before cutting to the same movie footage we’ve seen before. His voiceover positions the movie as the perfect time to “come together” in a communal viewing experience with all the involvement and engagement that entails.

That spot was parodied in a late-May episode of “Saturday Night Live,” with Beck Bennett’s Vin Diesel just kind of naming things that exist in a movie theater.

The “Total Car-Nage” video from early May mixed scenes from the finished film with a bit of behind-the-scenes footage showing how some of those scenes were shot. It’s not exactly a featurette, more of a hype reel.

Black was interviewed about coming back to the franchise and the fan-driven legacy of Tokyo Drift.

Universal shared a video of a massive publicity stunt where footage and images from the movie were projected onto the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

A “thank you” video was released with the cast expressing their gratitude to audiences in China, Egypt and elsewhere after it opened to an impressive $162 million in those markets. Unfortunately there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Cena, while being interviewed by a Taiwanese outlet, referred to Taiwan as a country, causing a backlash in China and resulting in him issuing an apology on the social media app Weibo. That backlash was at least in part to blame for the movie’s dramatic drop in its second week in China.

Rodriguez, Theron, Mirren and other women from the cast talk about how the story brings the female perspective to the action genre in a featurette released later that month that also teased the new song “Furiosa” by Anitta.

Diesel narrates a spot broadcast on ESPN that mixes movie footage with shots of NBA stars.

How the filmmakers pulled off a key sequence involving driving around and with the aid of massive magnets was the subject of a feature story.

Dom and Letty swing across a valley in their car in a clip released at the end of May.

To the surprise of many, news came in early June that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition as a way to bring some serious star power and brand juice to the event.

Beginning in early June there were a series of featurettes released regularly. Those included:

  • A look at one of the key stunts Dom is involved in
  • A spotlight on costar Anna Sawai where she talks about preparing for the physical demands of the production
  • A focus on Cardi B, who has a cameo in the film
  • Another behind the scenes look, this time at a sequence shot at Peligro Mines
  • A look at the technical work done to flip a car in an overly dramatic manner
  • Similarly, here’s how they flipped a truck
  • And one more on the magnet stunt

Theron hosted an outdoor screening on the Universal Studios lot that raised money for the Africa Outreach Project, a cause that’s very personal to the actress.

Lin and others were interviewed again about finally taking the franchise into space and bringing Han back after the character was killed in Tokyo Drift.

Regal Cinemas shared video interviews with the cast as well as Diesel on his own. Cinemark Theaters gave control of its Instagram Stories to the cast to post and answer questions from the fans.

Diesel also appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie while costar Jordana Brewster was interviewed about some of her favorite memories and moments from the franchise so far.

One final promotional reel looked at the 20 years of cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and more from all the previous movies, cementing how this is a long-lived franchise.

Overall

What else is there to say other than

It’s about family.

Fast And Furious F9 GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s about justice for Han.

Fast And Furious F9 GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s about magnets.

Fast And Furious Magnets GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

But, as I alluded to earlier, there’s little in the campaign for someone unfamiliar with the previous movies to latch on to or be interested in. I get that by branding this “The Fast Saga” that unconverted audience is being encouraged to check out the earlier movies, but if they’re not willing to do so they will likely remain unconvinced this is the movie to see.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Marketing Recap

nutcracker four realms poster3The classic story most famous for its turn as the one ballet everyone has heard of gets another adaptation in this week’s The Nutcracker and The Four Realms. Mackenzie Foy stars as Clara, a young woman who’s still missing her late mother. She’s been searching for a key to unlock a mysterious box left to her by her mother and when she finally finds it she loses it.

The search to find it leads her into a world of magic and mystery as she discovers four fantastic realms, each with its own benevolent ruler save for the Fourth, whose leader Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) is out to take the others by force. It’s up to Clara, then, to restore peace and harmony to the whole of creation.

The Posters

A teaser poster released around the same as the first trailer just shows the movie’s title along with a key that presumably unlocks the four realms. The second poster shows Claire standing on the path leading to a magical-looking castle, the path flanked by guards and an owl looking on from the forefront. “Unlock the mystery” we’re told at the top, inviting audiences in to the world of the movie.

The poster that came out in mid-August seems to be modeled after the one-sheets for the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, putting Clara in the middle of an array that includes locations from the story and a number of the supporting characters, all of which are placed around her. There’s no supporting copy or other tagline here, which is strange. Seems the studio feels the imagery should be enough to get and keep people interested.

A series of character posters put the spotlight on each of the main characters, each in a setting appropriate to their realm and their powers.

nutcracker four realms poster dolbyA Dolby-exclusive poster breaks the design up into four sections, with a primary character in the forefront and supporting characters in the background, each set in one of the four realms. The Real3D poster was a motion poster showing Clara in a music box that’s slowly illuminated as snow falls around her.

It wasn’t clear what they were used or meant for, but a series of “exclusive posters inspired by” the movie were shared on Twitter that were much more creative and artistic than the official versions meant for wide release.

The Trailers

It’s Christmas Eve, we’re told as the first trailer opens, a time of mystery when anything might happen. Anything *does* happen as Clara follows a golden thread from the elegant ball being thrown in her home down hallways and eventually out to a fantastical wooden and snowy landscape. From there we see her encounter tin soldiers, wildly-outfitted characters and more than a little danger.

There’s a more than a little of an Alice In Wonderland vibe here, meaning Tim Burton’s wildly-colored adaptation from a few years ago. The trailer offers on a brief glimpse of Knightly as the Sugar Plum Fairy but promises that we’re going to see the dark side of the legend we all know already.

A short second trailer offers a bit more of the story, showing Clara finding out she’s destined for something greater, part of the path laid out by her inventor mother, though there are obstacles in her way and plenty who don’t want to see her succeed.

The final trailer explains to us – and Clara – there are “troubled realms” out there that she can unlock the secrets of. It’s the first of the series to introduce us to the conflict that lies at the heart of the story, that there’s some sort of war that’s been started in one of the four realms that residents are hopeful Clara will be able to finish.

Online and Social

Disney didn’t create a very robust website for the movie, offering just the trailer, a synopsis, the posters and a small photo gallery. The only other item there is an “Activity Packet” you can download and give to the kids if you’re so interested. There are also Instagram,, Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this began running in late September. They continued playing up, just as the trailer did, how important Claire is and how she had the potential to change the world as well as how this version of the story would be something unexpected for the audience. Another simply presented it as a massive spectacle people wouldn’t want to miss in theaters.

Disney purchased a sponsored Twitter emoji for #DisneysNutcracker showing Clara in her military outfit.

Glade sponsored a pop-up experience recreating the four realms from the movie at The Oculus in New York City that was open to the public and visited by the movie’s stars.

Regal Cinemas offered an exclusive featurette with the cast talking about the movie and its production.

Media and Publicity

EW had the first look still from the movie alongside comments from Foy, Mirren and others in the cast. The movie was also part of the 2018 CineEurope presentation from the studio.

In a significant development the Director’s Guild of America announced that both Lasse Hallstrom, who handled primary production, and Joe Johnston, brought in for reshoots when Hallstrom wasn’t available, would share credit, the first time that’s happened when directors weren’t part of a creative team.

Disney promoted the appearance of some of the movie’s elaborate costumes at Essence Fest in July. A month later EW offered a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The costumes came back into the spotlight in an interview with designer Jenny Beavan, who talked about how she created the movie’s elaborate fashions. The set design work of Guy Dyas was the subject of this story, which included a clip.

A featurette released in late September had the whole cast talking about the story and how the extensive costume and set work plays into telling that story, as well as how this movie differs from the ballet and other versions people might know. Additional videos focused on Misty Copeland, who plays the ballerina princess and the long time connections the cast has with the Nutcracker ballet and story and all the details contained in the amazing visuals.

Mirren and Freeman both hit the publicity circuit a bit in the days leading up to release to talk about their experience shooting the film and so on.

Overall

I don’t mean to sound regressive in my sexual politics, but this seems like Disney is trying too hard to cling to a time when girls just want to be fairy princesses. That may still be true in many cases, but haven’t we moved beyond that in many ways? The campaign tries to update the story and present it as a mix of what we’re already familiar with and The Hunger Games, where a young woman is the sole hope of taking down an oppressive regime, but that only goes so far.

The way the marketing focuses less on the story and more on the visuals – the costumes, the sets and so on – seems to acknowledge one or both of two realities: 1) That audiences are simply looking for spectacle in their film entertainment, and 2) That audiences aren’t going to be motivated by the story itself, so best not to dwell on that.

Picking Up The Spare

The cast talks here about the way the production paid special attention to creating an inclusive film. And Knightly details how she developed the high-pitched voice she uses in the movie. Copeland also explained how she used her movie debut to bring ballet to a broader audience.

The Leisure Seeker – Marketing Recap

leisure seeker poster 1Two Hollywood giants coming together on the big screen is always a treat and that’s what we’re getting this week with the release of The Leisure Seeker. Helen Mirren plays Ella Spencer, a woman dealng with a lot of issues in her advanced years, including her own terminal cancer and the dementia and forgetfulness of her long-time husband John (Donald Sutherland). The two have been together forever and Ella is feeling confined by the reality of their circumstances and so decides to do something about it.

Defying the advice and wishes of both medical professionals and concerned grown adult children, the two set off on one last trip in their RV, nicknamed The Leisure Seeker. Their destination is Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, FL, chosen because of John’s love of literature. Along the way, they get into awkward situations and have to deal with problems that come up, but the trip is a final act of stubborn freedom before Ella is gone physically and John is gone mentally.

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Winchester – Marketing Recap

winchester poster 2The great Helen Mirren takes a break from playing either royalty or assassins to take on the real-life role of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester, a member of the family responsible for the Winchester rifle, in the new movie (of course) Winchester. In the story Sarah is still grieving after the death of her husband, channeling that grief into the endless construction of her San Jose mansion, which she believes is occupied by the ghosts of those killed by the weapons manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

While most think her mad for her obsessive work on the house sans direction or overall vision, she believes its hundreds of rooms are necessary. Alongside her are her niece (Sarah Snook) and Eric Price (Jason Clarke), the doctor looking after Sarah as she seems to descend deeper into madness. The movie takes Sarah’s conviction she’s being haunted and makes it literal, turning the story into one of a massive, imposing, chaotic haunted house that was built to house ghosts who are no longer content being locked up.

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