How Paramount has sold its adaptation of the popular roleplaying game
Does the stigma or stereotype around playing Dungeons & Dragons still exist? The game, popular now for decades, was recently featured in “Stranger Things” as the thing that made certain kids in the neighborhood weird or suspect as media portrayed it as a gateway to Satanism and violence, but that was back when non-conformity to the 1980s Yuppie ideal was a sure sign you were about to go off the deep end.
Things have certainly shifted and the game now more accepted as a harmless way to spend an engaging few hours. At least that’s the assumption one can draw given it’s been adapted into the new feature film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
The movie has a familiar story outline: A ragtag bunch of misfits must get over their problems and issues in order to work together and retrieve a McGuffin before it can be used by evil forces to enslave people/cause damage/end the world.
In this case, that ragtag group of heroes is made up bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) barbarian Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page), sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith) and druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), each one filling the role of a character type frequently used in the game. Hugh Grant also stars as Forge Fitzwilliam, the rogue who has been keeping Darvis’ daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) captive and who seeks a relic for reasons. Finally, Daisy Head plays Sofina, the Red Wizard who’s the ultimate big bad of the story.
Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley directed the film and wrote the screenplay along with Michael Grillo, so let’s roll the dice and set out on our quest of recapping the marketing campaign Paramount Pictures has run.
announcements and casting
A D&D movie has been in the works for about a decade, first at Warner Bros. until rights-holder Hasbro sued to shut them down and set it up at Universal, where it was developed by various folks, including Joe Manganiello and Dwayne Johnson. It was eventually moved over to Paramount, which brought on Daley and Goldstein after they left The Flash at WB.
Pine was named as the lead when the film was officially announced by Paramount in December, 2020. Rodriguez and others joined in early 2021
The studio revealed the official title of the film and a release date in April 2022.
the marketing campaign: 2022
A couple months later Paramount kicked off the marketing in a big way at San Diego Comic-Con 2022, where the cast and crew took part in what turned out to be the first in-person Hall H panel since the convention was canceled or moved online-only two years prior.
There was also an immersive experience set up at SDCC featuring a recreation of a tavern from the movie where attendees could take part in a 20-minute session that included exclusive footage, unique drinks and other opportunities to either take something back home (free or purchased) or create a moment worth sharing online and with others.
After being shown off at the panel the first poster and trailer were released online to the general public.
The poster is pretty basic but also kind of fun, showing silhouettes of the main heroes against the fiery dragon logo.
The trailer (19.1m YouTube plays) starts with Darvis explaining that he and his group of professional thieves made a huge mistake by stealing an item that has now been used to unleash a great evil on the world. So it’s up to them to rally and fix things. That’s about all you need to know as the main purpose here is to communicate the big visuals and fun attitude of the movie.
A look at the SDCC Tavern experience was released as the convention was ending.
Page appeared on “The Tonight Show” to start press promotion of the film while he was on the West Coast.
A short while later Paramount took the trailer to a mass of screens at the Gamers8 eSports tournament in Saudi Arabia to reach the very targeted audience there. Footage and more was also brought to Lucca Comics & Games, a genre convention held in Lucca, Italy and MCM Comic Con in London over the next couple months.
Most of the cast and crew visited Brazil Comic-Con in December 2022 for a Q&A panel and to show off footage and otherwise get attendees excited.
An AR lens for the various Meta social platforms was launched that let you choose your character type and have that costume overlaid on your camera.
At about the same time a new poster was released that arrays the characters in the usual way, all centered and brandishing their weapon or item of choice, the heroes in front and the bad guys toward the back while a dragon flies over a village.
A featurette also came out in conjunction with CCXP that has the cast talking about how big and fun the movie is while showing off some of the story points as well as the practical effects featured in it.
One more poster shows the heroes – as well as Forge – all looking down at the camera as if they’re inspecting a treasure they’ve just uncovered.
the marketing campaign: 2023
As the calendar turned over to 2023, Paramount announced the film’s world premiere was scheduled to happen at SXSW in March as that festival’s opening night feature.
Another trailer (13m YouTube plays) came out in early February, accompanied by a TV spot that aired during the Super Bowl broadcast. After opening by showing how Kilgore is the much better fighter than Darvis we get the same basic story outline as before as well as more of the dynamic between the characters and what drives them to action.
The studio also ran a #superb_owlbearparty in conjunction with several streaming influencers who offered new footage from the film and more, all centered around the owlbear, one of the movie’s magical creatures that had become very popular by this time.
A series of character posters released at the same time show each one in close up, basically just lifting the photo (or one very similar to it) from the theatrical poster.
it’s the owlbear’s world, we’re just living in it
Even the owlbear got its own one-sheet.
The first clip came out later in February showing the team of thieves reviving a corpse in order to ask it some questions and tell them what they need to know for their quest.
We meet the creatures, including our owlbear friend, in a short featurette hosted by the cast.
The owlbear even made it into a Snickers commercial.
back to the marketing…
Pine and Rodriguez promoted the movie in an appearance during the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Rodriguez also stopped by “The Talk” to talk about the film.
A feature profile of Daley and Goldstein focused on how the two have worked together for a decade now and how this movie is a combination of the comedy and other genres they’ve bounced between in that time.
More character posters came out in early March, around the same time Paramount partnered with more online influencers for a cosplay contest, YouTube “corpse Q&A” and other initiatives to reach the audiences of those individuals.
Another short featurette introduces us to the various characters and what they can do.
The heroes are running very quickly away from a massive dragon on the next poster.
Tame Impala released “Wings of Time”, a new song from the film’s soundtrack.
The SXSW premiere generated a huge amount of positive reviews, with many calling out the fun sense of adventure that permeates the story along with the fact that you don’t need to be a hardcore roleplaying aficionado to enjoy it.
As SWSW was winding down news came Paramount was partnering with Amazon to allow Prime members to attend exclusive screenings around the country two weeks prior to the film’s release.
The next clip shows the team as one of many taking part in Forge’s life-or-death games that involve them navigating a maze filled with magical, deadly beasts.
One of those beasts is featured on the IMAX poster. There were also one-sheets for screenx, Dolby and D-Box.
Additional talk show appearances included Page and Grant on “The Late Show”, Pine on “Kimmel”, Grant on “The View” and more.
Smith and Rodriguez appear in character in an Old Spice commercial where the company’s products are the treasure they’ve been questing for.
A partnership with Fortnite let players cast spells and more in a movie-themed adventure.
Lays also ran co-branded TV spots featuring lots of movie footage, apparently taking advantage of potatoes being Kilgore’s favorite food.
The cast provide another overview of the story while assuring audiences you don’t need to be steeped in D&D lore in a short video.
One more short trailer included lots of action and humor along with some positive critics quotes from early reviews of the movie.
The NBA’s Mac MccLung appears in a TV spot where he dodges some of the movie’s magical beasts on the court, inventing what he calls “dunkin’ and dragons.”
The global press tour included stops in Berlin, Paris and London before arriving back in Los Angeles for the U.S. premiere red carpet where the cast and crew talked about the humor of the story, the fun they had while making it and more. Mexico City was also visited later on.
While Daley had frequently talked about his time on “Freaks and Geeks” being what introduced him to the world of D&D, all that came truly full circle in a video posted just the other day where he reunites with his “F&G” castmates Samm Levine and Martin Starr. The three are still playing D&D 23 years later and have let time get away from them before Daley throws out the idea that someone should make a movie about it, something the other two quickly dismiss before he says at the end “It won’t.” It’s perfect.
There are a handful of tactics, themes and messages that become clear looking at the campaign from beginning to end:
That ending is perfect: Having Daley recreate a “F&G” scene with Starr and Levine is [chef’s kiss] because it’s the first thing so many people thought of as soon as they learned he was involved in the movie. And it’s that much better because they saved it to the end so as not to underline the connection too overtly.
Chris Pine plays a lute: I lost track of how many times the marketing team used this GIF, which may wind up being the movie’s single greatest contribution to popular culture.
Hugh Grant goes full Harrison Ford: Every campaign for a franchise should have at least one star who has no idea what he’s taken part in, has no patience to discuss the endless mythology of the brand and is charmingly grumpy to the press yet turns in a fantastic performance and is beloved by the cast. Grant fills that role here and honestly, him making double entendres about D&D terminology increases my desire to see the movie significantly.
Michelle Rodriguez is funny: I’ve never seen her be this loose and fun in interviews and videos and honestly why can’t she be cast in more comedies and why is she always in movies where all she’s asked to do is scowl?
It’s a massive charm offensive: The entire cast – not just Pine, Grant and Page – are out to win us over with their smile and humor and dammit it works, largely because it looks like some of that was actually captured in their performances, not just in the marketing.
Highly targeted: Finally, the number of times the cast and crew took the movie to various genre conventions, the frequent collaborations with geek influencers and other similar tactics show that while the marketing may be working to bring in all audiences regardless of familiarity with the source material it also knows exactly which group’s word of mouth will make or break opening weekend. The projected $35-40 million is good but not great and shows breaking out of that audience subset was moderately successful, though the marketing as a whole is a lot of fun and works hard to not alienate those outside the Comic-Con crowd.