How Sony is selling its latest Spider-Man villain spinoff.
Morbius should have come out two years ago. But, of course, a lot has happened in that time.
Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist suffering from a rare blood-based disease. When he takes what he believes to be a cure for his condition he finds the side effects include a form of vampirism that gives him a taste for human blood. It’s then up to him to decide to put the powers that come with it to use for good or evil.
The movie is (maybe?) part of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man Universe, which interestingly contains no Spider-Man movies but does have the two Venom movies to date. Matt Smith also stars as Michael’s brother Milo, who has the same condition and who also develops powers as a result of the experimental cure. Adria Arjona plays Michael’s coworker and fiancée Martine Bancroft while Tyrese Gibson plays FBI agent Simon Stroud, who’s hot on the trail of Morbius.
With all the delays and a general lack of focus, it’s sometimes been difficult to get a firm handle on the campaign, but let’s dive in and see what has transpired.
announcement and casting
Leto’s casting in the title role was announced in mid-2018, as was the involvement of director Daniel Espinosa. Arjona joined the cast in late 2018, as did Smith and others.
Leto shared a first teaser look at himself as the title character in early March of 2019 and another a month or so later.
The teaser trailer (21.3m YouTube views)released in early January 2020 presents a slightly ridiculous take on the comic hero genre. Morbious, we see, suffers from a chronic blood disease without a cure and his time is running short. So he tests an experimental cure on himself. It works, but with substantial side effects that have turned him into something not quite human, faster and stronger and with the abilities of a bat to fly and see things through echolocation. Oh, and he is driven to consume blood.
Two notable components make it clear that unlike Venom, this movie clearly takes place in the Holland-verse of Spider-Man movies, making it also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 1) Morbious walks past a Spider-Man poster with “Murderer” spraypainted on it, and 2) Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes from Homecoming appears at the end, seeming to team up with Morbious on some new villainous endeavor.
At the end of March 2020, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another delay was announced in January 2021, with the movie shifting from March to October and then, just days later, to January 2022 to stay out of James Bond’s way.
the marketing campaign: 2021
With little conversation or acknowledgement, there was then a pause in the campaign of over a year, spanning a solid year, restarting only slightly in January 2021.
In an interview, Leto talked about how it was difficult to play a character who’s a little closer to how he is in real life.
Claims went back and forth between Sony and Disney executives and stars about whether or not this was part of the Holland universe of films until Sony issued a statement in late June 2021 saying definitively that the movie does *not* connect with the MCU in any way.
Leto appeared in a Fandango-exclusive featurette released at the beginning of November, one meant to set the stage for a new trailer the next day.
That new trailer (17m YouTube views) touted the January release while hitting many of the same beats as the spots that had come out earlier.
In early December a new poster came out showing the two halves of Morbius’ personality while proclaiming “A new Marvel legend arrives”, which seems a bit hyperbolic as well as duplicative since it’s very similar to the tagline used for Shang-Chi last year.
An extended clip was released in early December of last year showing Morbius’ transformation into the vampiric beast aboard a ship and going on to decimate most of the crew.
A short while later Leto appeared at the red carpet premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home, furthering speculation that the two movies were in some way connected though it’s more likely this was just a publicity moment for the studio.
the marketing campaign: 2022
Another delay – this time to April 2022 – was announced in early January, reportedly to give Spider-Man: No Way Home some additional breathing room in theaters. That announcement came nearly two years to the day after the first trailer was released.
A short featurette was released in late February that had Leto introducing the character and explaining the super natural origins from the comics and how that’s being translated on-screen.
The final final final trailer (4.1m YouTube views) came out at the end of February. It starts with the same “hunt aboard the ship” scene that’s been featured several times previously. After that we see Michael fretting over the moral choice he now has to make in order to live followed by some advice from Adrian Toomes and a bit of posturing from Michael’s brother Milo. Overall it doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen repeatedly in previous trailers and clips.
In a first (at least as far as I’ve noticed), a Discord community was created for the movie involving a series of message boards and chat rooms where updates and other information was shared.
TV spots like this began airing in early March, each one offering a slightly different cutdown of the trailer footage focusing on Michael’s search for a cure and the resulting mayhem when he takes that cure.
Arjona and Leto appeared together at a fan screening of the movie in Mexico.
An interview with Leto had him talking about why he decided to take on this role, including how being the first to portray Morbius was attractive to him since he didn’t have to worry about comparisons to other actor’s performances.
Morbius’ head forms the outline for a spooky cave and dissolves into a swarm of bats on the IMAX poster. The character’s demonic side gets a very artistic representation on the Regal Cinemas poster, with a similar approach taken on the D Box poster.
Another featurette has Leto talking more about the history of the character, specifically calling out how this is part of the Marvel Multiverse, something that opens up lots of opportunities for new stories. In one more he expanded on being the first to play Morbius and why the character was interesting to him.
He talked about the movie and playing another comic character on “The Tonight Show.”
An AR app for various platforms let users transform themselves into the sinister Morbius.
G Fuel created a movie-branded package containing a themed energy drink as well as a collector’s cup.
NFL player Von Miller appeared in a TV commercial where his trainers, concerned he’s showing superhuman abilities, consult Dr. Morbius, who tells them not to worry about it.
Arjona finally got a profile of her own, talking about joining a big Marvel movie as a Latina actress, STEM representation and lots more.
Phew. A few thoughts in summary:
First, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a campaign that is so stop-and-start. Other campaigns over the last few years have had big gaps, but this one comes and goes with little acknowledgement of time having passed, essentially running the same handful of beats from the top each time a new phase starts.
Second, the gymnastics Sony has to jump through to try and explain whether or not this movie is connected to Venom much less the MCU-partnering Spider-Man films is worthy of solid Olympics judges consideration.
Third, this is being sold entirely as an anti-hero character study. The villain played by Matt Smith appears briefly in the first trailer and briefly in the final trailer and is otherwise completely absent. That’s an odd choice that may have been driven largely by how big a personality Leto is as well as the desire to introduce the character on his own.
Fourth, I forget what this one was.
Finally, Leto’s repeated insistence that this character was more like him personally so he didn’t have to go full method as he has on other films is just funny on, by my rough count, at least nine levels.
How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise
Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this week at the end of what can easily and legitimately be described as a weird year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. At the beginning of 2021, Covid-19 vaccines were only just beginning to become widely available and many new movies were still going straight to streaming or VOD if they weren’t being delayed indefinitely.
Now the theatrical release picture has gone back to something approaching pre-2020 normal, including how only franchise blockbusters seem to score any level of success at the box office. But there are headwinds building, including new Covid variants, that could skew things going forward.
Into all this comes the third film in Sony’s third (or fourth depending on if you count Into The Spider-Verse) Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, as does Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson and Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds.
The story revolves around Parker turning to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo the revealing of his identity as Spider-Man that occurred at the end of the last movie. But when the spell goes wrong a rift in the fabric of the universe occurs, leading to intrusions on the MCU Spider-Verse by characters from Sony’s previous two Spider-Man series.
announcement and casting
In late summer of 2019, well before the movie actually moved into production, the press was dominated by reports that the tenuous partnership between Sony and Disney that had allowed Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had fallen apart. Both sides blamed the other, saying parts of the deal had been reneged on and a new agreement was impossible to reach that would allow the crossover to continue.
Things seemed destined to go back to their pre-2016 status quo, with Spidey unconnected from the MCU until Holland himself exerted pressure on the heads of both studios, making the fan outpouring clear to them, resulting in a new deal that would at the very least allow for a resolution to the character’s arc within the MCU instead of an abrupt, unexplained exit.
In October reports emerged that Cumberbatch would be reprising his role as Doctor Strange in the film.
Sony moved the movie by a month on the release schedule in July of last year while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing massive disruptions. In September it raised a lots of eyebrows with the news Jamie Foxx was returning as Electro, a role he played in 2014’s Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield,
Production was underway, as marked by Holland in a timely mask-related post, in November of 2020.
Additional casting news came fast and furious in December of last year, when Molina, Stone, Garfield, Dunst and Maguire were all reported to be coming back, lending credence to the rumors this movie was going full multiverse.
Zendaya spoke briefly about the movie late last year when doing publicity for other projects.
In February speculation as to the movie’s official title came to head when Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all shared a few new stills along with totally fake-out title cards, a planned stunt to get fans talking and sharing. It all culminated when Sony shared a video featuring the three leaving Watts’ office frustrated by his refusal to share the title of the film, only to walk past a white board with that title written on it along with a handful of rejected contenders.
Molina confirmed in April he was returning as Doctor Octopus, but Andrew Garfield in May denied he was involved saying he hadn’t been contacted by anyone about the project.
The first good look at the characters, including hints as to what the story may involve, came when Marvel released photos of some of the toys and collectibles in early July.
The trailer leaked in mid-August, causing Sony to go through the paces to try and have it taken down from the various places it popped up.
When it was finally released by both Marvel and Sony (107.5m combined views on YouTube), it shows Peter is still dealing with the fallout of the last movie, including police suspicion he killed Mysterio. With his secret identity now public, he goes to see Doctor Strange to see if anything can be done about that. But Strange’s spell to reverse what happened goes awry – in part because of Peter’s nervous meddling – it opens up a portal to the multiverse. That means there are glimpses of characters like Green Goblin, Electro and, dramatically at the end, Doctor Octopus.
Sony addressed that leak as it showed off the trailer and other footage to attendees of CinemaCon in August.
A first TV spot from the day after the trailer came out touted how successful it had been as measured by both video views and social media conversations generated.
— Spider-Man: No Way Home says NO SPOILERS 🚫 (@SpiderManMovie) August 25, 2021
Cumberbatch talked about what the story has in store for Peter and Stephen when he appeared at the Telluride Film Festival to promote some of the other films he had being screened there.
As Garfield was doing the media rounds for his other projects he kept being asked whether or not he was appearing in this movie, consistently denying any cameos had been filmed.
The release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in September included conversation about this movie because of a mid-credits sequence that hinted at Eddie Brock/Venom, played by Tom Hardy, finally meeting Spider-Man in this film because of multiverse craziness.
Holland talked more here about what it was like to finish the trilogy with Watts as well as how he was super-excited to work with Molina. Around the same time a profile of Zendaya covered her experience on this franchise as well as her other recent work. More stills were released in an Empire cover story that had Watts talking about overcoming the seemingly impossible task of assembling so much of the talent from all the previous films.
marketing phase two: amazing
The first poster wasn’t released until early November, over two months after the trailer came out. It’s surprisingly restrained for this franchise but still shows a lot, including Spider-Man balancing on one of Doc Ock’s arms while Green Goblin is seen in the background along with hints of Sandman and Electro’s involvement.
More small hints and comments came from Cumberbatch on “Kimmel” in November during the press cycle for The Power of the Dog.
The official trailer (58m YouTube views from Sony) came out in mid-November. This one skips some of the setup about Peter wanting to make everyone forget his super hero identity and gets straight to the incoming threats from the multiverse. After the challenges become clear, Peter learns that all these villains die in their home universe, something he’s determined to prevent before closing the rifts and sending everyone back. Doctor Strange isn’t on board with that, but Peter and his friends won’t be stopped.
Sony held events screening that trailer in various cities, with Holland showing up at a couple of them to get fans even more excited.
The star was profiled in GQ, sharing some thoughts about this movie as well as what he sees for the future of Spider-Man on film.
At this time Liberty Mutual began running a cross-promotional campaign that worked the idea of Spider-Man saving the city into the company’s commercials about saving people money and hassle. There were also commercials from Hyundai that showed Peter getting picked up by Ned in the middle of nowhere as he tries to clear his name.
More TV spots were released that cut down the message of the second trailer to a shorter runtime while still conveying the multiverse nature of the story and the attendant villains.
Tickets going on sale was announced by the cast in a Fandango video on what was called “Spider Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. Another video had Foxx joining Holland. AMC Theaters promised those buying advance tickets a free “eco-friendly” Spider-Man NFT.
An interview with producer Amy Pascal, who’s been involved with the franchise since she was the head of Sony Pictures, had her confirming there will be future Spider-Man movies, that those will be made in cooperation with Marvel Studios and that Holland wasn’t quite done with the suit yet.
The IMAX poster released at the end of November shows Spidey swinging through a distorted cityscape, hinting at how the universe is unraveling because of what’s happened. The Dolby poster shows him swinging through the city, this time upside down.
Lots of different elements are brought together on the theatrical poster, which has Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and MJ at the center of a twisted reality vortex as the various villains swirl around them. Electro, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus all got individual posters as well.
Two movie-inspired costumes were added to the Spider-Man video game from Insomniac.
At CCXP in early December there were a couple promotional moments, including a video of Molina, Dafoe and Foxx together talking about the legacy of their characters and working together for the first time, at least in this series, and how production technology has changed since the last time they suited up.
G Fuel released a commercial for its cross-promotional campaign, including new drink flavors and movie-branded cans and packaging.
Holland talked about the movie on “Late Night.” In another interview he cast more doubt on his future in the series while also reflecting on his involvement as being one of growth and enjoyment.
Liberty Mutual came back to the campaign to sponsor Daily Bugle newsstands in New York City filled with newspapers that had Spider-Man pictures and news.
A video of the Paris kickoff to the cast’s press tour was released.
An ESPN commercial that had fun with some of the rumors circulating around the movie and its cast was part of a larger element of the campaign focused on what was or wasn’t known. That included the cast discussing fan theories amongst themselves and then later asking those who had begun seeing the movie not to spoil anything for those who hadn’t yet.
Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all appeared on “GMA” to promote the movie while those three were joined by Cumberbatch for an appearance on “Kimmel.” Marisa Tomei showed up on “Late Night” by herself, though.
Literally everyone, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige and costars Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Jon Favreau, turned out for the red carpet world premiere. Even Jared Leto, who stars in the upcoming Morbius, was there. That event was sponsored by Hyundai and TikTok, which had been a major promotional platform for the movie to date, offering clips, filters, stickers and more. It even released its own commercial touting the features.
PlayStation put out a clip showing the disagreement between Peter and Strange that causes some of the story’s conflict.
One more video of the cast warning against spoiling the movie came out right at the end of the campaign.
First: We have to address the very last part of the campaign, the one where the cast of the film was enlisted in the War Against Spoilers. While I get that there are a lot of plot twists and surprising characters, the entire premise of the story is that the multiverse is coming together, which means that anything is possible. So learning that X has been cast as a character they played previously isn’t exactly an outlandish statement that can upend one’s enjoyment of the film.
Second: You have to love how the three leads – Holland, Zendaya and Batalon – have seemingly formed this tight knit group over the course of three movies. Putting them all together in various components of the campaign, from the title announcement to press appearances and other videos, only works because they’ve clearly bonded and are now a family, with an easy rapport that makes the banter believable.
Third: Everyone needs to get their stories straight regarding Tom Holland’s future in the Spider-Man series. He seems to be pulling a Daniel Craig-esque “Yeah, I had a good run but I’m done” move while Pascal and Fiege are trying to pull him back in. The latter may just be marketing positioning by the executives who don’t want to blow up audience expectations, but then someone needs better media training.
Fourth: If you are brining back Willem Dafoe but also still putting him behind a mask that doesn’t allow for his natural expressiveness to come through, you’re doing it wrong. But am I right in understanding that the one villain from the Holland movies still alive – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – isn’t in this while almost all the villains from the other series are? OK I guess…
Finally: While the reviews have been generally positive and anticipation for the movie seems high, it’s hard to believe the $150m opening weekend projections will wind up being accurate. We’re fully in the midst of a Covid-19 surge (thanks, everyone refusing to get vaccinated!) that is already causing Broadway shows to close, sports teams to cancel games and more. It might be big, but it won’t be that big. And if it is, it might be the last one to reach that mark for a little while here, at least until the spring.
How Marvel Studios has made its weirdest, most esoteric super hero pitch to date…
There have been a few times when Marvel Studios, with the help of the entertainment press and its love of a good narrative, has made the case that an upcoming release is truly a departure from what’s come before in its long-running Cinematic Universe. This is in part a reaction to complaints that emerged after several years that many of the movies were mostly the same five themes and plot points. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have been sold as far-out departures from the established formula, though to what extent they were actually unique is up for debate.
This week’s Eternals has also been presented to the audience as something brand new. In this case it’s not that it’s more of a comedy than previous films but instead that it’s so much more epic, spanning not only the entire galaxy but also thousands of years.
The movie focuses on a team of 10 eternal beings created by The Celestials and sent to Earth 7,000 years ago to protect its native inhabitants from evil creatures called Deviants. So the Eternals stand in the shadows, pledged to not interfere with humanity’s progress except to protect against the Deviants. They are called back to do just that when the Deviants are awakened by the sudden return of half the population, as seen at the end of Avengers: Endgame.
So you can see there’s a lot going on. And the Eternals are not characters that Marvel Comics has prioritized over the years, with fewer than 50 issues of their own title published in total prior to a new series launched earlier this year. Even hardcore fans are likely to be somewhat confused by their various retcons, reintroductions and so on. They’re not on anyone’s lunchbox, all of which has made this one of the harder pitches Marvel Studios has had to make since 2008.
Those Eternals are played by Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Selma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Richard Madden, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Barry Keoghan and Don Lee. So it’s an impressive cast that’s been assembled under director Chloé Zhao.
All that being said, let’s take a look at just what that pitch has entailed.
announcement and casting
Rumors and speculation were common between the time Marvel announced the movie as part of its future plans and San Diego Comic-Con 2019, where the full cast and release date were announced. The cast also appeared at Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August to show off the first looks at themselves in costume, talk about how excited they were and more.
In December of 2019 Feige appeared at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo to talk about the movie and share a first look at early footage. Later that month Nanjiani started the thirst by posting a picture of his new, toned body to Instagram.
Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2019.
The release date was changed by Disney, moving out several months, when in September of last year it announced several other delays because of the Covid-19 pandemic and related theater closures.
Marvel launched a new “The Eternals” comic series in January, 2021, one that wasn’t intended to tie into the movie but reintroduce the characters and prime the pump. Around that same time it posted a video offering an overview of the property for those unfamiliar with the characters.
In the wake of D23, Feige made the media rounds to hype the upcoming film and tease that one of the main characters – he didn’t specify which – would be openly gay on screen, a big change for the MCU.
Nanjiani talked about the sci-fi nature of the movie in January, at about the same time he appeared on “Late Night” to discuss the diet and fitness regime he was on to get in shape.
As has been common with movies starring doughy comedians who got jacked for a role, a profile of Nanjiani focused on his workout routine along with what sources of inspiration he pulled from for his character. He kept talking about his fitness routine during interviews for The Lovebirds earlier this year.
Zhao was profiled late last year about this and other projects, with the director talking about how she assembled her cast and crew and Feige weighing in on why she was a good fit for the film. Another profile later on covered similar ground, talking about her shift from small- to big-budget features.
In an interview from late last year Chan spoke about how she was approached to play this role after playing someone different in the first Captain Marvel.
Hayek spoke briefly about her role in the film while promoting Bliss earlier this year.
the marketing campaign phase one: this is a movie that’s happening
The first trailer (26.8m YouTube views), released in late May, begins as the Eternals arrive on Earth in the early days of human civilization. They’re treated as benevolent gods, helping humans progress in their development but mostly staying out of the way. Something is about to bring them out of the shadows, but what that is isn’t made clear. It’s a decent first look at the vibe of the movie, but there isn’t much in the way of actual story.
A similarly vague but kind of powerful tone is struck on the first poster, which shows the group off in the distance as they walk toward the camera, their faces obscured. The only copy aside from the title and names of the actors reads “In the beginning” as we see what looks like a massive ship hovering in the sky above everyone.
Hayek received a Variety cover story in May that had her talking about how unexpected being cast in a lead role in a Marvel movie was and how excited she was at the prospect. She also commented on the diverse cast and how she thought that would help lots of people finally see themselves as heroes on screen.
Hayek talked about keeping the secrets of production when she appeared on “Late Night” during the The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife publicity cycle.
Fiege revealed a few more character details in an interview where he also praised Zhao’s filmmaking approach and style, though his comments about how amazed he was that natural settings could be as glorious as GGI were widely mocked.
The movie got a full EW cover story package in August that included lots of photos, interviews and other comments from the cast and crew and lots more. Everyone praised Zhao’s filmmaking style while also teasing the kind of story audiences could expect later.
the marketing campaign phase two: mcu connections
The next poster pulls the camera in closer than on the first one-sheet so we can see everyone’s faces, but we still have no idea who these characters are.
As the second trailer (33.1m YouTube views)begins we’re given a recap of how half the population was wiped out by Thanos but then brought back, apparently creating enough energy to begin something called “The Emergence,” which will begin in just seven days. After that comes an explanation of how The Eternals arrived on Earth 7,000 years ago to protect people from The Deviants. They haven’t gotten involved in human wars because they were ordered not to unless Deviants were involved, but now they’re being activated to help save the planet. It’s a *lot* of exposition, but still little in the way of character introductions or anything like that.
Nanjiani was part of a joint interview with Awkwafina about not only making their first MCU appearances but also bringing more Asian representation to the super hero movie genre.
Zhao shared how she presented her vision for the movie to Disney execs in this interview.
TV advertising began in early October with spots that cut down the trailer but feature the same mix of action and humor.
The first cross-promotional campaign from Lexus also started with a commercial for its Lexus IS 500 model that has Kingo driving his car to where the other Eternals are engaged in battle but he’s running late because he can’t find a parking spot. That spot was part of a bigger tie-in push from Lexus that ran across digital and other media.
Additional TV spots expanded on previously seen footage a bit but kept the same basic themes and ideas going.
A very open and honest Nanjiani was interviewed about the movie, sharing how his life has changed since he first showed off his more muscular physique. That change, he said, has led to people treating him differently, sometimes in very aggressive ways since they now want to challenge him after seeing him all buff.
the marketing campaign phase three: the characters finally get their due
Each character got their own poster in a series of color-coded one-sheets released later in October. There were also new exclusive posters for Dolby, IMAX, 4DX and RealD 3D.
The backstory of who the Eternals are and what their mission is gets explained a bit in a featurette that starts to introduce the characters and how they operate as kind of a family unit more than a super hero team.
Hayek and Nanjiani appeared together on “Kimmel” to talk about joining the MCU and tease what fans could expect in the film.
The first clip released in mid-October shows the team fighting one of the Deviants who is attacking a human.
The movie was selected as the closing night feature of the Rome Film Festival in late October.
LotsmoreTVcommercials continued to come out that included mention of the Deviants, how long the Eternals have been on Earth and more.
The world premiere event took place in Los Angeles in mid-October, with the cast and crew along with others who have been, are or will be part of the MCU in attendance. Lexus’ partnership with the film was represented by the unveiling of 10 character- and movie-themed cars on the red carpet.
Ridloff was interviewed about how she felt not only joining the MCU but her status as the franchise’s first deaf hero. Another later interview covered similar territory.
Around this time the studio couldn’t hold back the flood of reports that music star Harry Styles made an appearance in a post-credits sequence and so went ahead and admitted that yes, it was happening, at the premiere.
Another event hosted by Elle was held shortly after the premiere and featured much of the cast and crew save for a few who skipped it because of possible Covid-19 exposure.
A featurette released at this point finally took the time to introduce the characters, with each actor explaining who their character is, what their powers are and what the group relationships and dynamics are. Another featurette focused on Zhao, with Feige talking about how she was the perfect fit for the story the studio wanted to tell and the director sharing what challenged and excited her.
Marvel put out another ”101” video to help explain who the Eternals are and what they’re doing on Earth. Along those same lines a series of videos like this one for Sersi came out that introduced each individual character and how they fit into the group. Another explainer came later specifically for The Deviants.
More seriously there was a featurette with the cast once more introducing their characters and praising not only their costars but also Zhao and the others involved behind the scenes.
There was also coverage of how Henry’s Phastos is the first gay superhero in an MCU-produced show or movie, openly so and married to Ben (Haaz Sleiman). Harrington was interviewed later about moving from “Game Of Thrones” to the world of superheroes.
A new AR app allowed those who downloaded it to see the Eternals and Deviants in their own home or wherever they were.
Another red carpet premiere was held in Rome, a suitable location given its designation as “The Eternal City.” Additional events took place in London and Paris.
Because of the multicultural cast and especially because of Zhao’s involvement Gold House and CAPE got involved to coordinate the One Open campaign to try and turn out relevant audiences and make opening weekend a big event.
The cast appeared in video interviews from Regal Cinemas while Ridloff introduced an AMC promo touting “open captions” available at select locations for hearing-impaired audiences.
Early screenings were scheduled for tonight, the day before the official release.
Another clip focused on Kingo as he’s brought into the new mission by others, who find him performing in a Bollywood musical. That kind of portrayal was hailed by Nanjiani on social media and when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”
Ridloff talked about the movie on “Good Morning America” a few days after others from the cast did likewise.
Another extended commercial once again spent considerable time revisiting the earlier phases of the MCU, positioning this as the evolution of what’s come before.
Before looking at anything else, there are two things going on.
First, the reviews to date have not been overly kind. At present Rotten Tomatoes has it as just 53%. That’s resulted in a number of secondary stories about how this is the lowest-rated entry in the MCU series. At the same time there’s been widespread review-bombing of the film’s IMDb entry by non-critics upset by an openly gay super hero in their comic book movie.
Second, those reviews don’t seem to be tamping down audience interest given tracking estimates project a $75 million opening weekend. That’s about what Shang Chi brought in when it opened, solidly in the middle of the field since theaters reopened a few months ago.
If that estimate comes to pass it would indicate that audience interest in the MCU is strong enough to overcome what has at times been a…difficult…campaign. There’s been so much that’s been unclear, overwhelming and even confusing. So many characters with so dense a backstory and that’s not surprising. And, as stated previously, these aren’t heroes that have a lot of existing foundational awareness in the general audience.
That’s why the most effective part of the push has been the effort to tie this movie into the events of the last phase of the MCU. By reminding people of how much they loved Iron Man and Thor and everyone and saying this is what happens next they made this something akin to essential viewing instead of something wholly new and unfamiliar.
How Marvel Studios has sold an expansion of its character roster with another origin story
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives as the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe a scant two months after the last entry, Black Widow. The movie stars Simu Liu, the first Asian lead in a major superhero film, as Shang-Chi, a man who leaves his past behind as he sets out to define his own destiny. But his connections to a mysterious organization known as The Ten Rings and to his family may be things he can’t shake and has to confront.
The movie also stars Tony Leung as Wenwu, Shang Chi’s father who has his own secrets, Fala Chen as Shang’s mother Jiang Li, Awkwafina as Katy, a friend he makes in his time away and more. Notably, Benedict Wong reprises his Doctor Strange role as Wong and Ben Kingsley makes another appearance as Trevor, a character last seen in Iron Man 3 who was hired to pose as The Mandarin.
It’s directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who cowrote the screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham.
announcement and casting
While the movie had been announced as “upcoming” well before that, the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con panel with Marvel Studios was where announcements regarding official release dates, cast and full title were revealed.
A couple months after SDCC 2019 Cretton was interviewed about his hesitancy to take on the project as well as what he hoped to accomplish with the movie.
In March of 2020 production was halted when Cretton self-isolated out of concern surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. He later announced he was fine.
Several months later Disney pushed its release back at the same time it moved a number of other titles because of coronavirus closures.
In December of last year additional details, including cast members, were revealed during Disney’s investors presentation which coincided with the wrapping of production.
Production has just wrapped for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and we are excited to share the fantastic cast bringing the film to life.#ShangChi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters July 9th, 2021. pic.twitter.com/fnmNP94nrA
The formal marketing campaign kicked off this past February when Marvel put out a video overview of the character to help introduce him to audiences who may not be familiar, which is nearly everyone, including long-time comics readers.
The first teaser (22.3m views on YouTube), released in April, introduces us to Shang-Chi and shows he is reluctant to embrace the destiny his father and others trained him for. But that reluctance isn’t stopping a variety of bad guys from coming after him, meaning he needs to put that training to use to survive. No one’s motivations are explained, but it sure does look cool, and that’s the goal of this first spot.
Shang stands in front of the 10 rings – all of them seemingly inscribed with runes – on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), also released in April.
The first real good look at Liu in costume as the title character came in May as part of an interview with him where they talked about getting involved with the movie and what the character meant to them. Later that month Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run. That put it in stark contrast to Black Widow, which recently had a simultaneous Disney+/theatrical debut.
More of the history of the power of the 10 rings and the connection they have to Shang-Chi’s family is explained in the second trailer, released in June. The trials – both physical and emotional – the hero is put through are shown, including how he wants to be his own man. Toward the end there are surprise appearances by not just Abomination but also Fin Fang Foom, of all things.
An EW cover story from July had Liu talking about the audition process along with lots more about getting to know the character and so on.
Advertising for the film essentially kicked off with an extended TV spot released in July that offers more details on how Shang attempts to reject his family’s legacy and entanglements but finds himself ultimately needing to confront things in order to become his own man.
A featurette released around that same time has the cast and crew talking about the characters and story as well as producer/overlord Kevin Feige making the first overt connection with the 10 Rings organization that was introduced all the way back in the original Iron Man, The Mandarin being a long-time adversary of that character in the comics.
The cast introduced their characters in another featurette where they also answered questions about themselves.
Shang-Chi is in the same pose on the second poster, released in July, that he was on the first. This time, though, he’s surrounded by the other characters, from Kate to his father, the latter looming in the background in the traditional “villain” position.
a marvel legend will rise
More TV commercials – also run as preroll on YouTube and as social promoted posts – continued to come out beginning in early August. As is the norm, each focused on a slightly different aspect of the story, from the action to the family drama to the humor and more. Some also included slightly better looks at characters like Wong and even Abomination.
Those spots also began positioning the film and the character of Shang-Chi as “a Marvel legend” that is finally getting the spotlight. That’s interesting branding in that it gives the character a little more importance, but it also makes you wonder why that debut is only happening now if the character is such a legend.
Additional posters came out that broke out each of the main characters onto their own one-sheet in early August. Shang-Chi is finally in an action pose on another poster that came out a week later.
Liu took issue with comments from Disney CEO Bob Chapek about this movie being “an experiment”, pointing out that Asian-American representation on film is necessary and good, not something to play around with to see if it works.
At the premiere, Feige responded to Liu’s comments, attempting to clarify that the “experiment” was in the 45-day theatrical exclusivity, but that feels like it only addressed part of the issue. There were also interviews with Liu, who espoused his opinion that the movie would be world-changing, and others at the premiere as well.
“Run It” by DJ Snake, Rick Ross, Rich Brian from the movie’s soundtrack was also released in the middle of last month. That song was featured in another commercial.
Fandango MovieClips had the first clip, which shows Shang-Chi and Kate escaping a bunch of ninjas.
That “legend” branding was continued with a TV spot that starts out showing clips of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, positioning Shang-Chi as a hero in the same vein, one who stands at the same level.
Tickets went on sale in mid-August, announced with another TV spot.
Around that time a special IMAX advance screening in select markets was announced with just about 24 hours notice, an attempt to create some buzz for the film by showing it off to more people.
Awkwafina talked about the movie and filming action sequences when she appeared on “Kimmel”. Liu also appeared on that show a few days later.
Another song from the soundtrack, “In The Dark” by Swae Lee feat. Jhené Aiko, came out later in August.
A scene from the trailers of Shang-Chi and Kate being attacked by assassins on a bus was expanded on in another clip.
An interview with Feige had the producer discussing some of the issues that had complicated or delayed the movie’s release in China, an important market for Marvel but one that is up for grabs here given the subject matter.
Cap, Thor and Iron Man make another appearance in a later TV commercial that hints at the 10 Rings themselves being not only powerful but also not from this universe.
The action sequences of the movie were covered in another featurette, with Liu talking about the choreography and filming.
How Awkwafina not only got involved in the project but also found herself leading the chemistry read sessions looking for the lead were covered in an interview with her. Liu expanded on the process that resulted in him being cast and how life-changing the opportunity is.
Similar to other films with Asian and Asian-American leads, the Gold House initiative organized a campaign to get people to theaters, partnering with GoFundMe for this one. The topic of Asian-American representation on film was also the subject of a joint interview with Awkwafina and Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the upcoming Marvel Studios film The Eternals.
The “Rise” portion of the campaign came to an ending (more or less) with the release of a featurette with that exact name and about the debut of a character who is being set up as very important to the future of the MCU.
Leung finally got a profile of his own late last month, the emphasis being on the amount of preparation he did before filming his scenes and how he paid attention to what was happening even if he wasn’t involved on a particular day.
Format-specific posters were released in mid- to late-August for 4DX, ReadD 3D, Dolby Cinemas and IMAX.
Considering everything that’s going on in the world right now – continued pandemic spikes, wildfires that are engulfing much of the western U.S., hurricane aftermath that has much of the southern U.S. underwater or utterly destroyed – the $50 million projection for opening weekend isn’t bad.
The “Rise of a legend” theme really tried to make Shang-Chi into something he isn’t in the comics, but is a good sign for what he might mean to the movies. It’s also an attempt by Marvel Studios to overdo it a bit in making the first Asian character to lead an MCU movie a big deal without earning it at all in previous entries.
It’s a bit surprising to me that there wasn’t much said or done to address how problematic and drenched in racist stereotypes Shang-Chi, The Mandarin and other supporting characters were in the comics. If you’re wondering why there aren’t new collected editions of old comics on sale right now, that’s why. But there could have been more acknowledging the past here.
How Marvel Studios has sold a long-awaited – on multiple levels – super hero solo film.
Over a decade after being first introduced in Iron Man 2 and following several supporting appearances in other MCU movies, Scarlett Johansson strikes out on her own in this week’s Black Widow.
Set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, which gets around the fact that Natasha Romanoff sacrificed herself in Avengers: Endgame, the story follows Natasha as she’s on the run from the authorities. A series of events lead her to reunite with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a fellow agent of Russia’s Red Room who shares a sister-like bond with Natasha, as well as former Black Widow Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian (David Harbour), the Russian equivalent of Captain America. All four, a surrogate family of sorts, face off against Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), a villain who can copy anyone’s movements and who is after the same MacGuffin sought by Natasha and Yelena.
Originally scheduled for May of last year but delayed multiple times because of Covid, the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ Premier Access this week. It’s notable for a number of reasons:
It is, of course, the first solo movie Marvel Studios has released with a female lead character, the only founding Avenger other than Hawkeye to not get a standalone story (and his turn is coming via a Disney+ series later this year).
It’s the first MCU release in two years, the longest the franchise has been absent from audiences since the gap between the first two Iron Man movies.
It’s the first MCU feature film to be released on Disney+ day-and-date with theatrical, a circumstance brought on because plans made during the worst of the pandemic were hard to adjust on short notice.
First reactions have been largely positive, with critics calling out the movie’s spy genre heritage as well as the strong performances, particularly Pugh’s. That’s resulted in an 81% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a film that’s received a full court press campaign from Disney that’s focused on Johansson finally getting her own turn in the spotlight. This confluence of events has led to speculation the movie could score a pandemic-high opening weekend box office of $80 million or more.
In November 2019 the first teaser poster (by artist Andy Park) came out offering a look at Natasha as she stands at the forefront of an arrangement of the other characters, the red “X” that will dominate the film’s branding from here on out in the background.
The second poster (by marketing agency LA) from December of that year brings that branding even more to the surface as the solid red “X” dominates the design, Natasha shown at the bottom walking toward the camera ready for action. It’s inspired by a cover from the character’s 2016 comics series.
An exclusive poster handed out at CCXP in early December 2019 features an artistic drawing of Natasha’s face looking weary and tired, as if she’s come through a difficult battle.
Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.
The four major heroes received character posters released in February 2020, each standing in front of a background made up of heavily-redacted documents, the kind a bunch of spies would be very interested in.
Everyone’s brought together on the initial theatrical poster, which came out in March of last year, including a handful of faceless women at the bottom who look very much Black Widow and are walking away from the Kremlin, establishing them as part of the same program that trained Natasha.
The first trailer, released in early December 2019, opens with Natasha’s lines from Endgame about how the Avengers gave her a home and a family. At this point she’s ready to confront her past and so heads home, leading to an interesting reunion with her sister. The two set out to investigate the organization that made them what they are, but why is unclear. What is shown are brief looks at Taskmaster and his goons along with an extended introduction to Natasha’s father, who can still fit into his Red Guardian costume.
One thing that’s not clear is the movie’s time period. Natasha’s comments and narration are vague, so you have to have some foreknowledge that the story takes place before the events of Infinity War.
A “Special Look” trailer came out in mid-January 2020 that introduced a key premise of the film, that there is a new generation of Widows being trained that Natasha and her family must confront before they’re loosed upon the world.
The bond between Natasha and her chosen family is the focus of the next trailer, released in early March. It starts with her and her sister reconnecting and sharing the lies they’ve told and ends with everyone gathered around the table as we see the same kind of dynamic that might be found in any family. In between we’re shown Natasha has found some of the mistakes she made before becoming an Avenger have caught up with her. The Taskmaster is introduced as the new head of the Russian training facility she came out of, but he’s more cruel and so she sets out to stop him and free the girls that have been sent to kill her.
The final trailer, released in early April, is all about secrets and dealing with the sins of the past. It’s the same basic message being sold here about family and such, but with a few new shots and the promise of a lot of action and a lot of drama.
Online and Social
Marvel’s page for the film featured some videos, posters and other background information, but not much details on other aspects of the marketing campaign. There were also social profiles that offered a bit more.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
After years of speculation, rumors, comments by Marvel Studios execs about how they’d “love to” make a Black Widow movie (as if they were subject to someone else’s whims), it finally moved into the realm of reality when Cate Shortland was hired to direct the feature. Many people pointed out as the synopsis was released that the story sounded more or less just like 2018’s Jennifer Lawrence-starring Red Sparrow about a female Russian agent trained to seduce and spy at all costs in the service of the Motherland.
The topic of the movie’s existence came up during the Avengers: Endgame press tour, but Johansson remained mum on whether it was happening or not, part of Marvel’s strategy of not officially announcing any future projects.
Plans became much more official when the movie was part of Marvel’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2019. That event featured revelations about the cast, characters and story, including Johansson commenting on her desire to keep playing Natasha over the last decade. Marvel put out a video of footage from the panel that included insights from the cast.
There were more comments from Johansson about the timing of the project and what it means for her and the character. She kept teasing the movie while promoting other projects in 2019.
In addition to the trailer shown, attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of 2019 were able to see costumes from the movie on the show floor.
The first paid promotion came via a commercial aired during the College Football Playoffs on ESPN in January, 2020, when the movie was still expected to be just a few months away.
A featurette released in mid-January 2020 had Johansson talking about the potential for future stories the character has while also reflecting on the fact she’s been playing Natasha for 10 years now, with this movie offering audiences something new as well.
Marvel had three Black Widow comics already on the schedule for May, all of them focusing on characters that would be seen in the movie, when it announced in January the launch – also in May – of a new ongoing series for the character. Later on the publisher showed off movie-themed variant covers for some issues of those titles.
Marvel Comics showcases new Marvel Cinematic Universe variant covers featuring artwork inspired by Marvel Studios’ #BlackWidow!
Widow has unfinished family business in the Super Bowl commercial that shows the drama and action of the story, including some of the threats she’ll face off against.
An explanation of who Red Guardian is was the subject of a video released by Marvel in mid-February.
The movie was a major part of Marvel’s promotional presence at two major conventions earlier this year. Toys based on the film were shown off at ToyFair in February, while C2E2 in March included Black Widow merchandise for sale.
A profile of Johansson had her talking about her long history with the character and what it means to finally have her stand on her own in a film. Another piece had her sharing what she felt were the character’s best scenes from over the years.
An Omaze campaign was launched in March with a video featuring Johansson telling people they could win a trip to the movie’s premiere. That was followed by an International Women’s Day greeting from Johansson and Pugh.
At that point – early April 2020, about a month after Disney pulled it from the schedule – the first date change happened as the movie was pushed to November, when we thought things would be back to normal again.
Harbor spoke about his character of Red Guardian and what it means in the context of the story.
In an interview from last July, Shortland revealed the film essentially puts a cap on Johansson’s time in the MCU and lets Pough’s character pick up the baton going forward. Another feature package in Empire came out in September that had more comments from Johansson and others along with exclusive new images. Shortland also commented on how the story, which mixes super heroics and family drama, evolved during development and production.
Another interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two talking about production of this movie, the pandemic-related delays and what future plans there might be for both of their characters.
In November Black Widow, sporting the same white uniform she’s wearing in many of the trailers, was added to Fortnite.
The question of release seemed to be settled in December of last year, when Disney made it clear during its investors presentation that the movie was still planned as a theatrical-only title. It reiterated that commitment in February during the company’s earnings announcement, which also included the news Disney+ had grown to 94 million subscribers.
A few months later, in March, that commitment was (unsurprisingly) called into question when Disney announced A) one last date shift – from May to July – as well as B) that the movie would get a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.
Johannson presented the movie as being a chance for audiences to finally get to know Natasha’s true story in a video released on National Super Hero Day in early May.
Additional footage was included in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video also from early May. It’s not a lot, but it puts this film in the context of the previous MCU entries while also playing up the communal experience of theatrical viewing.
The first clip came in mid-May during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” broadcast, where Johansson accepted the “Generation Award.”. It shows Natasha and Yelena bickering like the sisters they are while trying to get away from a bad guy.
A “special look” came out in early June telling fans the wait is over, though technically there was still another month or so to wait.
Weisz talked about the movie when she appeared on “Kimmel” in June, as did Pugh when she appeared a week or so later.
Tickets going on sale in early June unlocked a host of content, almost like a tide that’s been held back for a year and was suddenly unleashed. That included:
A featurette that took audiences behind the scenes of some of the big action sequences
Around that same time, Shortland was interviewed about what movies and other stories she drew inspiration from.
Harbour talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in June of last year
In a much-shared interview, Johansson talked about how her character has evolved since being introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 where, she said, Natasha was overly-sexualized and objectified, underestimated because of that by almost all the other characters at some point or another.
Harbour had some fun speculating on his character’s backstory and what potential there might be in that unexplored territory while the rest of the cast talked about working with Shortland.
In a video released on Father’s Day Harbour read some corny “dad jokes” much to the embarrassment of his costars.
Johansson appeared on “The Tonight Show” to hype the movie, convince people to see it in theaters and tease some revelations.
A ton of commercials and other promospots started running in early June, each taking a slightly different take on the story but all selling the movie as a fast-paced action romp with the Romanov family.
Weisz answered a handful of questions about the production like the person most likely to pull a prank on set in a video from mid-June. Later on Johansson, Harbour and Pugh answered their own sets of fan questions.
A joint interview with Johansson and Pugh had the two of them sharing anecdotes over how they bonded on set, particularly over the ridiculousness of some of the fighting poses they were expected to perform and more.
A fan screening event was held in Los Angeles recently with some of the cast in attendance and some appearing virtually. Similar events, each with some subset of the cast and crew, were held in major cities around the world.
Another interview with Shortland had her talking about the multiple times she declined taking on the project, only to eventually be worn down/won over by the persistence of her agent and Marvel.
Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive video interview with the cast.
More background on Taskmaster was shared by Marvel in a featurette released just a week or so ago. There was also a recap of Widow’s character journey through the 10+ years since her introduction to the MCU.
The last wave of commercials like this explicitly called out this being Marvel’s return to theater screens after a two year absence.
Natasha and Yelena are breaking Alexei out of prison in the last official clip released before the movie was made available.
One last featurette had the cast talking about the makeshift family the characters have formed.
Additional interviews with Shortland like this had her talking about the opportunity that exists for more female directors to be brought into the MCU. Meanwhile Feige talked about how this story takes place during the third phase of the MCU arc but sets the stage for things that will happen moving forward.
Disney+ released a movie-themed episode of the “Legends” series, offering more background on the character and her history.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
Geico, which has the company’s spokesgecko imagining what it would be like to ride along with Natasha and Yelena.
BMW, which released exclusive interviews with the cast in support of a campaign that shows the company’s cars executing some of the movie’s big driving stunts.
Synchrony Bank, which launched a campaign encouraging people to learn about its savings tools.
This is probably the biggest campaign in terms of sheer volume of elements in quite a while, even bigger than F9 and other recent releases. As such it’s hard to judge on an objective level. But what’s impressive is how Marvel Studios has maintained a sense of brand consistency despite the unexpectedly long period of time the marketing has been forced to stretch over. Add to that a very professionally enthusiastic push from Johansson and a focus on Pugh that sets her up as the future of this part of the franchise’s future and you have a solid campaign that hopes audiences are ready for more of the series after a prolonged break.
How Disney is selling the much-delayed mutant thriller.
Of all the movies to become the first major studio release to hit theaters since mid-March, The New Mutants seems the most unlikely, for a number of reasons.
First, there is of course the fact that so many others – including titles like Mulan and Tenet that have been held up as saviors of the theatrical industry – have been delayed anywhere from a few months to a year to indefinitely.
Second, The New Mutants itself has a long history of having its release delayed. Fox, prior to its acquisition by Disney, originally slated the film for August 2018, it’s also been on the calendar for early 2019, late 2019 and, finally, March of this year. Some of those delays were efforts to avoid other releases like Deadpool 2, some reportedly to allow writer/director Josh Boone to reshoot portions of the film to make it more like his original horror-centric vision instead of the YA story the studio requested.
When the Covid-19 pandemic closed theaters in March, right as the film was about to open, it seemed the movie’s fate was sealed and that Disney would finally punt it to Hulu (a move that had long been speculated on) or PVOD.
But no, that was not to be, as The New Mutants was moved to August, meaning it’s about to hit theaters amid a wave of questions about whether going to the theater, even with the protocols put in place by NATO, is a safe activity to participate in.
With the main X-Men film series now complete and the fate of Deadpool up in the air, The New Mutants is now the sole mutant-based film franchise at Disney. This isn’t the first time the characters have been in that situation, since their 1982 Marvel Comics debut was a spinoff from the successful X-Men comics, an attempt to introduce younger characters to the series.
In this case, the characters and premise are slightly different than what appeared in the comics. Maisie Williams plays Rahne Sinclair, a young woman who wakes up in a strange hospital with no memory of how she got there. Mysterious and unexplained things keep happening as she meets some of the other patients/inmates, including Illyana Rasputin (Anna Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) and Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga), each of which has special powers just like Rahne. They slowly come to understand they’re being studied, not helped, and seek to unlock the secrets of the institution and free themselves from it.
It shouldn’t be surprising, given everything laid out above, that the marketing campaign has zigged and zagged over the years, starting and stopping and shifting tone with some frequency. At times it’s been sold as a straightforward horror film, with the characters’ super hero identities conspicuously missing. More recently, it’s those super powers have come more to the forefront, though the thriller aspects of the story have still been prominently featured.
The movie was tracking for an opening weekend of $15-25 million tracking, the lowest in the X-Men franchise, but that was in advance of the March release date, and no updated estimates have been made because so much is in flux. Likewise, there are no reviews to date on the film.
The first poster (by marketing agency Ignition) came out a lifetime ago, in December, 2017. It takes an image from the trailer, specifically a photo of various faces trying to poke through an unexpectedly flexible wall, and makes it the central focus. This would be part of the horror-centric angle that was initially presented to audiences in the early days of the campaign.
Over two years passed before the next poster was released. In this case, Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year in January of this year.
Later that month another poster was released that began to more clearly display the characters. This time they’re all shown standing together, but with the movie’s title scratched across the picture, revealing the skulls of each character in a slightly creepy way. Another poster from February has them all huddled in a dark and scary hallway, their eyes all lit up, conveying both the eerie setting and they are all slightly unusual in their own ways.
An IMAX-specific poster has the nascent team standing outside the institution they’re being kept in, with Magick (Illyana) at the front with her sword at the ready. For Dolby Cinemas, they’re arranged like fingers in a bloody handprint on a concrete wall. The Cinemark XD poster arranges their faces in a darkly contrasted photo that’s reminiscent of a teen drama from the 1980s. Finally, the Fandango one-sheet, released about two weeks prior to the movie hitting theaters, takes the concepts back to something more simple, showing all the main characters standing in what’s clearly some sort of cell, with the shadow of wire grates appearing on their faces and the wall behind them.
It’s hard to overstate how odd the first trailer (12 million views on YouTube) from October, 2017, is. There are no character introductions, no sense of what the story might be or anything else. Just a slowed down version of “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” sung by a children’s choir and footage that sells it as a horror movie. There are even standard horror cliches like strange-colored IV bags, faces that try to protrude from walls and more. It mentions mutants a couple times, but other than that this isn’t notable at all and could easily be selling any of a dozen generic horror films featuring a young cast that are released every year.
In early January of 2020, over two years after that initial spot, the second official trailer (8.2 million views on YouTube) was released as Disney finally gave the movie a locked-in release date. It starts out by showing Dani is the audience’s entry point into the story, having been sent to a mysterious facility after surviving a tragedy that killed the rest of her family. She’s there with other mutants like her, most of whom we meet during a group therapy session. The hospital isn’t what it appears to be, though, and seems to be more interested in torture than healing.
Where the first trailer seemed to be selling the movie as something like The Ring, this is more of a traditional super hero movie, albeit with an apparent focus on psychological torture being conducted on adolescent mutants. That’s a stronger message and allows the trailer to present a more coherent and intriguing story to the audience. But, strangely, it was the last full trailer released.
Online and Social
Very odd that the official site for the movie is so stark and bare, featuring only the most basic of information about the film. It’s not like there hasn’t been time to work on it, but there are no character introductions or anything else to be found here.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
It was surprising, given the ups and downs the movie has experienced, when it was among those Disney showed off to exhibitors and press at CinemaCon 2019, two years after it was first included by Fox at the show in 2017. The studio maintained it would be getting a theatrical release – dispelling rumors it was being shunted to Hulu or another streaming service – and was still on track to hit theaters this year.
Things went quiet for a good long while then until March of this year, about a month before the planned April release date. At that point a TV campaign began that included spots focusing on Dani’s story as she’s taken to the mysterious facility and slowly learns the truth of what’s happening to her and the others, as well as how dangerous mutants are and how they need to work together to escape and survive.
That last spot in particular seemed to mark a new approach to the campaign, one that leaned more fully into the idea of super heroes instead of just positioning the movie as a horror film with gifted individuals.
A roundtable with the cast was released on The CW, an attempt to reach that network’s young audience.
Just as things seemed to finally be rolling, another delay – this time because of Covid-19 related theater closures and disruptions – happened, putting the movie’s future once more in doubt. In May a new August release date was announced, but that date was taken as aspirational more than anything else, and our collective breath was not being held. Still, a new phase of the campaign kicked off shortly after that.
In June released one of their “101” videos that gave viewers an overview of the team’s history and members in comics.
A short teaser introducing the characters and some of their powers was released in early July, also announcing the cast and crew would participate in a remote panel as part of Comic-Con @ Home later in the month. That panel ended by showing off the movie’s opening sequence, which certainly sets a chaotic tone as we see Dani in the middle of some kind of attack that ends with her father’s death and her being taken to the institute.
In mid-August the advertising campaign picked back up with spots that showcased the mystery the characters find themselves in the middle of along with the powers each possesses. Further spots teased more of the action and then, 10 days out, began counting down to the movie hitting theaters.
A featurette hosted by the cast allowed them to introduce their characters and their powers along with the basic outline of the story, shown here to be a mix of psychological horror and super hero action. More detailed introduction videos went a bit in depth on Rahne, Roberto, Dani, Sam and the rest of the characters.
On Spotify, Disney has created a “Young and Powerful Playlist,” a collection of songs “inspired by” the movie and curated by both Boone and the cast.
Media and Publicity
There were certainly conversations about the movie before this but the first major press for the movie came when it was announced it was being pushed by several months to 2019. Shortly after that Boone talked about the tone of the movie and how it was going to push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, as well as how the characters in the story were too messed up to associate with the more “normal” X-Men.
News broke in late 2017 that the movie’s release date was being pushed well past what it was originally scheduled for, with it later coming out that the delay was at least in part to do reshoots that would introduce a whole new character to the story. That initial delay, which moved it from 4/13/18 to 2/22/19, was followed by another one to 8/2/19, almost a year and a half after its original release date. That’s a *huge* shift and one that, a report later claimed, was due to nearly half the movie needing to be reworked to bring it in line with studio expectations.
Further insights into the delay said Fox was in part reacting to the success of It with a trailer that was very horror-oriented and the reshoots were designed to bring the movie more in line with that expectation, which was different than what was originally filmed. Interestingly, that gave Boone a chance to do what he originally wanted to, since he had to curb his horror-leaning instincts during the initial filming.
While promoting other projects the cast would occasionally talk about this movie as well. Heaton talked about playing Cannonball while on the press circuit for Marrowbone,
Producer Lauren Shuler Donner commented back in February on the movie’s frequent delays and uncertain future with the Fox/Disney merger, saying she hoped the movie still got a theatrical, not streaming, release. The question release date came up when Williams was out promoting the final season of “Game of Thrones,” with the actor saying reshoots had yet to happen – a year after they were reported to be in the works – and she had no idea when the film might finally come out.
Producer Simon Kinberg dismissed concerns over the reshoots and subsequent delays, saying it was all due to some simple “pick up shots” being needed while actor schedules were difficult to wrangle.
Unsurprisingly, the movie’s fate seemed to be even more in doubt following the severe underperformance of Dark Phoenix at the box office. Disney execs reportedly saw little potential in a theatrical release of the film, fueling renewed speculation it would be dumped to Hulu or killed outright.
With all the reports of reshoots – which were never confirmed to have happened – that had circulated, Boone stated in January that the movie slated for release represented his version of the story.
A new batch of photos and character descriptions were released in mid-February to familiarize audiences with who would be in the movie.
During the Emma media tour, Taylor-Joy spoke about this movie and how she’s handled the delays between production and release. A profile of Heaton included him talking about his hesitancy in joining the movie over concerns he would be typecast.
Boone confirmed the story would feature a full-out LGBTQ love story between two main characters in an interview, setting it apart from other franchise films that promote such elements but then wind up allocating it to blink-and-you-miss them situations and characters. At the time of the Comic-Con @ Home panel, Boone hinted that this could be just the first of a planned trilogy of films that ends with a massive crossover story pulled from a key X-Men comics event from the 80s. He also was interviewed about the long time between production and release and what factors might have influenced that, along with how the movie fits into his overall career.
Williams appeared to talk about this movie and more on “The Tonight Show.” She was interviewed again about the film finally being released and what got her involved in the project.
The shift in tone that the movie’s campaign has undergone isn’t completely surprising given it’s been spread out over almost three years. In that time there have been substantial changes not only in the structure of the studio behind the film, but also in the fate of the X-Men franchise this is part of and, of course, the world in general.
So much time has passed there’s a good chance that the false starts between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2020 have fallen out of many people’s memories. For all intents and purposes, then, the campaign started fresh around April with the August release date in place.
Using that as the yardstick, this has been a relatively successful campaign, presenting an interesting mix of comic book action and psychological terror. Those themes are consistent through the posters, TV spots and other elements, putting Williams’ Rahne at the forefront but promising lots of other characters with unique powers and backstories to offer audiences.
That there’s no real connection to the X-Men cinematic series to date is obvious but it’s unclear how much that really matters since it’s not what’s being sold here. If the goal was, as has been reported at various points, to present something different along the lines of Deadpool or Logan, the marketing here achieved that goal.
The question then becomes whether the campaign was effective enough to convince people to come out of their homes at a time when public health officials are saying they really shouldn’t do so to see a movie that doesn’t flaunt its connections to a popular franchise and features all-new characters the audience doesn’t already know.
Those are high hurdles to clear, and without more recent tracking or other data it’s hard to tell if it did so. While there may be enough theaters open to support a release like this, there may not be enough people who have been convinced by this campaign to make it a success.
Picking Up The Spare
Two more character introduction videos came out after the movie was in theaters, on for Sam and one for Illyana.
More stories about the movie’s backstory and history, including reports that Fox was massively unhappy with the first script from Boone and almost spiked the project entirely. Meanwhile, Bob McLeod, who created the characters for Marvel, took issue with not only how they appeared on screen – though he praised the actors – but also with the fact that Fox/Disney couldn’t even spell his name right in the credits.
Boone took a potshot at Disney by claiming the gay love story in the film was much more substantial than the one barely seen in The Rise of Skywalker.
Another clip/commercial came out that shows Illyana confronting something creepy happening in the hospital. Additional spots encouraged audiences to “find yourself” and more. IMAX also put out a promotional spot for the big screen format and released a brief exclusive interview with Boone.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that the movie news and trailers that came out of San Diego Comic-Con were lackluster at best. Sure, a few surprises were dropped like the Walking Dead movie announcement, but in general there weren’t too many jaw-dropping headlines generated. That’s not surprising given Sony, Warner Bros. and Disney (with a notable exception) all sat out the convention.
An exception to that rule was Saturday night’s Marvel Studios panel in Hall H. It was there that the studio finally provided a number of insights into what they have in store now that Avengers: Endgame has put a cap on the first 11 years of stories that have spanned two dozen films. In addition to a number of series for the Disney+ streaming service, those plans include the following films:
Black Widow (2020)
The Eternals (2020)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Thor: Love and Thunder (2021)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021)
Unlike announcements from other comics publishers/movie studios, this lineup will likely turn out to be entirely legit and be close to what actually hits theaters. Something may slip by a week or two here or there, but with full casts and creative teams largely locked in it would be a safe bet that all five of these movies come out in the next 30 months.
Of course there are a few notable things about that lineup that need to be considered.
It’s So Weird
Like really weird.
Doctor Strange dealing in some manner with the Multiverse isn’t actually the weirdest of the bunch. That honor goes to The Eternals, a mysterious ancient race created by Jack Kirby after he returned to Marvel following his sting at DC, where he created The New Gods (also being developed for an upcoming film). Some recent stories have tried to retcon aspects of the characters through memory issues and other tricks, but the premise of them being hundreds of thousands or millions of years old and having incredible powers seems to remain largely intact.
Even the titles seem more playful and eccentric than what we’ve seen in the past. Not how Doctor Strange and Shang-Chi don’t actually have subtitles but instead have long, crazy titles that serve as plot summaries. They both sound like the kinds of titles given to film serials in the 40s. And Thor’s subtitle along with the supporting title treatment look like either a PC video game from 1986 or a hard rock album from the same year.
It’s great that Natalie Portman is finally getting her own Black Widow movie 10 years after Natasha was introduced in Iron Man 2. That’s a win.
Also good is that Marvel cast an inclusive group of actors for The Eternals. And Shang-Chi features an ethnically appropriate cast, perhaps in part because of the blowback the studio encountered when it cast Vague White Guy #4,382 in the lead role on “Iron Fist” for Netflix and didn’t want to replicate that mistake.
Of course what got the most headlines was that Tessa Thompson hinted – and Kevin Feige later confirmed – that her Valkyrie character was actually LGBTQ and would be more explicitly so in the upcoming Thor movie.
It’s all a far cry from the “Oh look, another white dude named ‘Chris’” approach taken in the casting for the first decade of films.
It’s Got Natalie Portman
Portman hasn’t been seen in the MCU since the second Thor movie, at least in part because she reportedly wasn’t thrilled with how little her character Jane Foster was being given to do. Her not being in Ragnarok was explained away by Feige when he pointed out the movie’s cosmic setting wouldn’t allow Foster to be part of the story but Portman has made other comments about being done.
You have to think, though, that she watched Ragnarok and, like the rest of us, thought that looked like a lot more fun than the previous Thor movies. The prospect of working with director Taika Waititi combined with the story seemingly being inspired by Jason Aaron’s recent comics run that had Foster taking up the mantle of Thor and it’s easy to see why she would make a much heralded return.
It’s Got An Easy Out
What jumps out from the lineup of films here is the lack of connective tissue. There’s no Avengers-like central point that everything seems naturally inclined to come back to and connect with. While there are two sequels and one character spinoff, the rest are essentially one-offs that, to my knowledge, haven’t been setup in previous stories.
That means that if any of these experiments with the absurd don’t pan out, it’s easy for Marvel Studios to say “Well that didn’t work out. We’re going back to the drawing board.” before Phase 5 – which could include the not-announced Fantastic Four, “Mutants” or other sequels for Captain Marvel and Black Panther – kicks off.
Surprisingly, the movie’s official website is actually pretty basic and a little boring. It just has the standard marketing content along with a “Fan Art” section that’s a nice touch. There are also links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.
Media and Publicity
Before any other formal publicity had started, Holland showed up in a skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to retrieve his mask and let people know the movie was coming out in the summer of 2019. In early December, Gyllenhaal joined Instagram with a post teasing his role as the movie’s big bad.
Gyllenhaal talked about how this was the right time for him to make the move into big productions while he was promoting Velvet Buzzsaw earlier this year and how he was obsessed with his costar Holland.
During the Avengers: Endgame press cycle, Marvel’s Kevin Feige revealed that this, not Endgame, was actually the final entry in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though he was still vague on when the story actually takes place. How that movie impacted this one was the subject of an interview with the creative team. Holland also teased what’s in store for Peter Parker as he tries to be a super hero outside his native New York City.
After the second trailer came out and created all sorts of post-Endgame questions Watts addressed some of them, including how the time jump from that movie might impact the characters in this one.
Much of the primary cast appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about shooting the film and what they thought of it in relation toEndgame. They also made a surprise appearance at Disneyland to the delight of visitors to a stunt show featuring Spider-Man.
An extended bit on a later episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was billed as an “exclusive clip” but was really just a fake scene with Kimmel playing a dry cleaning employee interacting awkwardly with Peter Parker.
Holland appeared on “The Late Show” to share stories of filming the movie and more. He later teased there were rough plans for him to make a brief cameo in Into the Spider-Verse that were spiked early on in the process. Zendaya stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about filming and stunts and more.
Watts talked more about how he worked over the last couple years with the Russo Brothers to make sure his movie worked in connection with theirs and what surprises he’s planted for fans. He also later explained that scenes included in the trailer that were cut in the final film would reappear in a new short on the home video release.
The cast made an appearance in costume at a Los Angeles children’s hospital to visit patients there.
One more point I didn’t fully make in my THR column was that, upon further review, there were almost no story stakes presented the campaign for the movie. Sure, Spidey seems to team up with Mysterio at the behest of Fury, but beyond stopping a handful of ill-defined creatures, what does it matter? Neither that showdown nor Peter’s crush on MJ are shown in any way that the outcomes matters in a tangible way.
That’s remarkable and shows that with these massive event movies you don’t need to make the audience care about the characters or story, just show them that they’re there.
Picking Up the Spare
There have been a lot of conversations with the movie’s writers and directors, including one where the writers discussed *that* Nick Fury line from the trailer. The costume designers also talked about the looks sported by Spidey and Mysterio.
Last week Marvel Studios and Disney announced – at least kinds sorta – Avengers: Endgame would be returning to theaters. The news actually came from producer Kevin Feige, who said in an interview that there were plans being cooked up, and tickets are going on sale tonight according to CNBC for showtimes this coming weekend.
Unless I’ve completely missed something, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of grassroots groundswell demanding an extended version of a movie many thought was, at 3:01 in its original form, overly long and bloated to begin with. Instead this seems to be among the more cynical ploys engaged in by a Hollywood studio in some time.
Barring more information from Marvel itself, there seem to be a few possibilities for why a movie that’s already grossed $2.7 billion worldwide is coming back to drain audience Venmo accounts just a little bit more.
1: It’s a Spider-Man: Far From Home marketing stunt
Coming just a week before the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters seems like interesting timing, and there’s a decent chance the extended version will have some sort of additional tie to the upcoming movie, the first MCU entry to be set after the events of Endgame. Perhaps there’s an additional post-credits scene that shows Peter Parker reintegrating to society after being brought back to life.
The two movies seem very closely tied already, with Far From Home’s marketing really ramping up after Endgame was in theaters for a couple weeks so the studio could show more footage and explain what position Peter and other characters were in. So this wouldn’t be a surprising development.
2: Someone *Really* Wants to dethrone Avatar
One of the most common headlines as Endgame began winding down its theatrical run – which is still not fully closed – is that for as big as it was it wasn’t going to be enough to unseat James Cameron’s 2008 sci-fi epic. As it stands right now, Avatar outpaces the final Avengers film by about $37 million worldwide.
If this is the rationale, it’s solely driven by the desire to claim bragging rights for the MCU. Disney, with its acquisition of Fox, now manages Avatar as well as the Marvel films, so the competition is less “our studio is better than yours” than a passive aggressive interoffice memo.
3: Easy weekend to kill smaller movies
With this past week’s Toy Story 4, Disney already owns four of 2019’s top-grossing films, and the year so far has been filled with stories of how with a few notable exceptions non-franchise films just can’t compete with the behemoths coming out of the studio. Even other series entries or planned launches have fallen by the wayside. With The Lion King, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker still on the calendar, there’s little reason to think Disney alone won’t dominate the theatrical landscape.
This weekend is one that has no major blockbuster coming out. Instead there’s a Danny Boyle music drama, a retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective and a horror series sequel. In other words, if an Endgame rerelease can gross more than $20 million it’s almost guaranteed to win the weekend, potentially drawing out people who would otherwise be waiting for Spider-Man.
4: Launching Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 4
Feige and others have made it clear that while Far From Home takes place post-Endgame, the Spider-Man sequel is not a part of the next phase of the MCU. In fact, Marvel’s exact plans for the next phase of the shared universe remain murky. While sequels to Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Doctor Strange are in various stages of development, none has an official release date and all seem at least a year or more out. Meanwhile, Feige has said it’s still running through ideas on how – or if – to integrate the characters from the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties it got from Fox.
There’s a decent chance, then, that as the official end of the first era of the Marvel movies. Perhaps it ends with more clear direction for the three characters mentioned above or introduces someone new that hasn’t been seen in the films to date and sets up what’s coming next, providing more definite release dates and titles. The MCU has thrived so far in part because the studio has told fans well in advance what movies are coming out and used each film to set up *something* that will pay off down the road. If it waits too much longer it risks losing the very momentum that’s carried it for the last decade.
As of this moment there’s no official word on the rerelease plans, at least none that have been shared on either the Avengers or Marvel Studios Twitter profiles, two outlets one could reasonably assume would be keen to share the news with followers. While this is likely to be framed as being “for the fans” there’s a more strategic and calculated rational that probably won’t be part of the announcement, whenever it comes. It’s either because such a release would play a role in other marketing plans, or Marvel is going full Al Capone on any and all competition.
UPDATE: These plans were confirmed, with the poster below being given away at select screenings.
You can read the rest of my recap of the marketing campaign for Avengers: Endgameat The Hollywood Reporter. My coverage of the PSA effort for Stand Up To Cancer also ran on Adweek.
Online and Social
For such a big movie, Marvel’s official website isn’t very informative, perhaps by design. You’ll find both trailers and some basic background on the film, including links to on-site blog posts offering readers a refresher on what’s come before, as well as a list of the promotional partners who helped draft off the movie’s buzz.
Media and Publicity
Of course the movie couldn’t help but come up as the cast was out promoting other projects, as Smulders, Jackson and others were all compelled to comment on it in some manner.
Ruffalo appeared on “The Tonight Show” to help debut the second trailer and answer (or not) questions about the movie. Duke also mentioned the movie while promoting Us last month.
A substantial profile on Evans had the actor talking about not only the future of Captain America and his part in the MCU but also the political stances he’s taken, with him saying staying silent wasn’t an option even if it meant alienating some portion of the audience and potentially costing him work.
The movie’s substantial length became the focus of many conversations in the last month prior to release following the revelation that it was clocking in around three hours, a full 30 minutes longer than Infinity War. The Russos rationalized the expanded time by pointing out the movie wrapped up the story that had been told over 20+ movies and featured dozens and dozens of characters.
“We don’t know nothing…” That’s what Hemsworth, Cheadle and others did when asked what they knew about the movie’s story, which isn’t surprising given they’re all just small parts in a very big machine.
“[X] has returned…” That’s what was behind interviews and profiles of Tessa Thompson, who confirmed that she couldn’t confirm anything, and Rudd/Renner, who spoke of how they are finally able to rejoin their comrades.
An EW cover story reunited the original team for a retrospective interview and offered up other photos and details, but not too much.
At the end of the campaign there were profiles of Feige as well as his two long-time aides. The screenwriters were interviewed on how they worked to bring together so many different storylines and characters into something coherent as well as how they reintroduced some of the previously missing heroes. Feige and Downey Jr. reminisced on the beginnings of the MCU, when the idea of a shared cinematic universe was still a “best case scenario” and the bets were much more unsure.
Rudd was announced as the host of an upcoming episode of “Saturday Night Live.”
One final TV spot released the day the movie hit theaters played up the overwhelmingly positive reviews it was getting. A video had a bunch of the stars reminding the audience not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it yet.
Adding to the movie’s profile was the news from Fandango it now held the record for the most advance tickets sold.
Larson came on “The Tonight Show” and revealed she shot her first appearance with the rest of the Avengers – which appears at the end of her own movie – on a green screen with no one else around and no idea what her one line meant. Rudd also appeared to have some fun with Fallon.
The media agency Kantar estimated that all in, Disney spent close to $14 million on the marketing and advertising campaign, with TV buys making up a little over half of that and a good chunk of the advertising coming the day tickets went on sale a couple weeks ago.
Another profile of Winston Duke mentioned this movie as well as his appearance in Us.
More details revealed here on the partnership with Fortnite.
Picking Up the Spare
Wayne Friedman at MediaPost points out how the majority of the movie’s campaign – and ad spending – came in the final month leading up to release. Jeff Beer at Fast Company also has his own recap of some of the movie’s cross-promotional campaign. There was also a look at how altered shots in the trailers kept some of the movie’s secrets hidden.
Google added a fun little tool for those who searched for “Thanos.”
Another short promotional video shows how every movie has lead to this one while also reminding audiences not to spoil the ending for anyone. Some of the cast reminisced about their favorite memories as part of the MCU.