How Netflix has sold the return of everyone’s favorite dashing gentleman detective
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery arrives on Netflix this week, a sequel to 2019’s Knives Out. Once again written and directed by Rian Johnson, the only connection to the first movie is the return of private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc is crashing an invitation-only gathering of friends organized by billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) at his private island estate. Those friends have been assembled for an extended murder mystery party, the twist being they need to solve Bron’s own murder, though he’s not actually dead.
Playing the various friends, whom Bron terms his “fellow disruptors”, are such talented individuals as Kathryn Hahn, Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson and Jessica Henwick.
So with such a high powered cast and a writer/director known for creating intricate yet easily-followed storylines that actually earn emotional moments and payoff their setups, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcements and casting
As the original neared the threshold of bringing in over $300 million worldwide, speculation Johnson was working on a sequel became more frequent. That speculation was confirmed by the writer/director when he was interviewed on the red carpet of the 2020 Academy Awards, where he was nominated for, but didn’t eventually win, Best Original Screenplay.
In March 2021, news came that Netflix had outbid Lionsgate and others for not just this film but an additional sequel as well. Or, as Johnson put it,
Additional details came out later saying Johnson, Craig and producer Ram Bergman would make $100 million each from the deal.
In mid-May of 2021 a slew of casting announcements came, each more exciting than the last. Bautista, Norton, Monae, Hahn and others coming aboard all got people eager for the movie to finally arrive. Bautista was interviewed about being cast and his anticipation over working with Johnson. Odom Jr. and Hudson joined the cast a bit later.
Production began in late June, marked with a photo from Johnson.
Henwick talked briefly about the project while promoting other things in 2021.
Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.
In June 2022 Johnson and Netflix released a video announcing the movie’s official title as well as showing off the impressive cast list.
Netflix *finally* set a release date in late August while also announcing the movie would receive a limited theatrical release in advance of streaming at the end of December.
Empire Magazine talked with Johnson and the cast about what the audience could expect in this new installment in an issue that featured a couple exclusive images as cover photos. There were also more new stills in the story.
the marketing campaign
The first teaser trailer (13.1m YouTube views) was released in early September. Understandably it doesn’t offer much of the story but does promise some kind of murder mystery Benoit Blanc has to solve with an impressive cast all of whom seem to be having a lot of fun wearing outrageous outfits and lounging around magnificent pools.
A poster showing Blanc standing authoritatively above one of those pools came out at the same time.
Also released in early September was a puzzle website where, by solving the puzzles, you could unlock clues and other material about the movie.
The cast and Johnson assembled for the TIFF premiere, which included a Q&A and interviews where Johnson warned against sharing spoilers and teased his enthusiasm for making more Knives Out mysteries with Craig.
Later in September Johnson introduced the first clip while also offering a bit more of an explanation as to what the movie’s story is.
In early October the details of the theatrical release were revealed. Specifically, that the movie would play in theaters for ONE WEEK ONLY, VASILY around Thanksgiving. To the surprise of many industry watchers, all the major exhibitor chains – including those that had steadfastly refused to play any of Netflix’s major titles – agreed to the limited engagement, obviously smelling money.
Tickets for that engagement went on sale accompanied by a TV spot.
Later in October it was named the opening selection of the Miami Film Festival.
At BFI the cast and crew were back together for another screening that only added more positive reviews and buzz to the movie’s publicity
At the end of the month another poster came out that has the entire cast arranged along the side of the pool we saw in the first one-sheet.
The full official trailer (12.2m YouTube views) was released at the beginning of November. After showing all the characters arriving on his island, Miles explains they’ve been invited there to participate in a game where they have to solve his murder. Blanc is the wildcard in the group and when things turn from playful to actually dangerous he gets very serious about finding out who’s responsible. There’s lots of great footage of the various characters acting in outrageous ways both toward each other and the situation in general and, once again, this just looks like a lot of fun.
Netflix then put out a video of the cast reacting to the trailer.
An EW feature story had Johnson sharing how he developed the story and what he wanted to accomplish with a sequel along with comments from Craig about his character and accent and from others in the cast about the experience of shooting the movie, how quickly they signed on to the project and more.
Composer Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) debuted parts of his score for the movie at a Netflix event focused on music. A week or so later snippets of that score were released for public consumption.
The L.A. premiere red carpet was held in mid-November, timed to be just before the movie hit theaters. At the premiere everyone talked more about how much fun they had while filming, the outfits they all sport and lots more.
That was followed by the announcement of the Glass Onion Experience. Set up in L.A. and running through December, people could attend and as a group try and solve a series of mysteries, like an escape room.
A set of character posters once more used the pool setting to show off the beautiful location and cast.
Just before the movie came to theaters another clip of Miles explaining the weekend to his guests – and Blanc being slightly confused as to the point of this all – came out.
a brief digression about the theatrical release…
The success of the theatrical engagement resulted in no small amount of hand-wringing among entertainment insiders and commentators. Had Netflix left tens of millions of dollars on the table by limiting release to just one week? Was it a mistake to have it play in theaters so far in advance of it debuting on streaming?
Those questions are interesting in an academic sense but also tended to overlook the fact that many of the answers went counter to Netflix’s business model.
Asking if Netflix should have kept Glass Onion in theaters longer, or if it should put more of its movies in theaters to begin with, is akin to asking if McDonald’s should sell more frozen hamburgers in grocery stores. Sure, the numbers will likely go up, but the goal of most all advertising by McDonald’s is to get people to visit its restaurants. So the end result is a weakened business.
There’s also the fact that all the prognostications about how this movie could have cleared $100mm at the box office is supported by almost nothing. None of the movies on the list of 2022’s top 10 opening weekends are this weird. They’re all very safe franchise entries, not the next chapter in a loosely-connected anthology series of high-concept murder mysteries.
back to the campaign…
The cast appeared in a video where they guessed what some Southern phrases actually meant in a nod to Craig’s accent. Later on Hudson and Hahn had some fun guessing which of three “facts” about their costars was the lie.
Online ads that began running in early December directed visitors to a site with information about screenings and events along with other press and promotional material.
At Brazil Comic-Con a behind the scenes featurette debuted showing some of the movie being filmed along with comments from the cast and director.
Another set of character posters put each one behind one of the letters in the movie’s title.
Talk show appearances by the cast included
- Monae on “Kimmel,” “Late Night” and, with Norton, “Today”
- Hudson on “Late Night,” “Today”, “the Tonight Show”
- Hahn on “Kimmel”
- Craig on “The Late Show”
- Norton on “The View”
- Cline on “The Tonight Show”
And more, I’m sure.
At a moment when there were lots of profiles of Monae and attention paid to her performance Netflix released a featurette focusing on her role in the film and how much her collaborators enjoyed working with her. Another featurette focused on the production design of the film.
What started out seeming to be a gag turned out to be real when Outback Steakhouse debuted the Bloomin’ Glass Onion, a special version of their signature dish, and supported it with an extended TV spot that kind of has to be seen to be believed.
The movie also got some promotional support from the video game Among Us, which introduced a Benoit Blanc character skin. And ice cream brand Van Leeuwen created a movie-inspired flavor. White Claw did likewise but for their style of drink while Zillow created a listing for Miles’ island house.
Regardless of my feelings about the campaign (I love it, btw) it should be pointed out that the official Knives Out Twitter account remains undefeated.
There also seemed to be some A+ trolling of Twitter Owner, who the character of Miles Bron is based in part on, with photos from the film that seemed to be expert subtweets of current news.
So it’s a win all around. There is no quirkier or more entertaining campaign I’ve seen this year.