The Nine Most Compelling Movie Campaigns of 2019’s Second Half

From Once Upon a Time In Hollywood to The Rise of Skywalker and everything in between.

The second half of 2019 ahs seen a number of notable movie releases from some of the biggest names in filmmaking. Downton Abbey was revived for the big screen and new entries in the Zombieland, Rambo and Terminator series hit theaters to varying degrees of success.

Major releases like The Lion King, Frozen 2 and others dominated the mainstream cultural conversation as well as the box office in the last six months thanks to their massive marketing efforts, there are a number of films where the campaigns were even more interesting and noteworthy. Sometimes those campaigns featured a particularly creative execution, sometimes they represented something new being done to reach an interested audience.

So, to follow up on my list of the most compelling movie campaigns from the first half of 2019, here’s the nine that seemed most interesting or innovative to me in the year’s second half.


There have been a number of movies in the last couple years about women determined to exact some pound of flesh from the world that has wronged them. Hustlers is among the most successful of that genre, thanks in part to the lead performance by Jennifer Lopez. What the movie’s marketing campaign did was out Oceans the Oceans movie, especially the recent Ocean’s 8. From the first moment of the campaign, the audience was presented with a neon bright brand that combined women owning their sexuality as exotic dancers with a social message of making the 1% pay for exploiting the poor.

The Hunt

No, the movie has not actually come out. Universal’s curtailed marketing campaign isn’t worth calling out, mostly because it was that campaign that lead to the studio pulling the movie from its release schedule. The planned August release was initially delayed in reaction to the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso following concerns the ads were insensitive to the news at the time. But at about the same time the campaign came to the attention of right wing media, which felt the story of wealthy elites kidnapping poor people for sport was terribly offensive. That conclusion was reached by ignoring the class warfare story and focusing on how the hunted were demographically more likely to be conservative voters than the rich people doing the hunting. To date there have been no updates on the movie’s status.

Ready Or Not

Released at the same time The Hunt was being nixed, Ready Or Not wound up being one of the year’s surprise box office hits. The movie is about a young bride who, on the night she marries into a family that made its fortune making and selling games, finds out that family is going to hunt her. Only if she survives the night will she be deemed worthy of becoming one of them. The marketing sold it as a ridiculously fun horror outing, filled with slapstick humor and more, all while maintaining a brand identity rooted in dark hardwood tones and gothic symbolism.


Warner Bros. seems to have finally found some kind of groove with its DC-related films following the release of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman and, most recently, Joker. The movie, one of the most successful of the year so far, was the subject of some of the most intense pre-release debates and conversations in recent memory. That’s largely because of the campaign, with trailers that seemed to present Joker’s backstory as startlingly similar to that of so many of the mass shooters that have plagued society. Before taking on the Joker persona, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is shown as a marginalized struggling comedian angry at the ways the people in his life have failed him. If the movie weren’t set in the 80s he’s the kind of guy who would frequent men’s rights forums. Post-release, it’s made the Bronx staircase Joker dances down a hot spot for Instagrammers, which itself is a statement about the power of the campaign.

Between Two Ferns

between two ferns posterNetflix has released a number of noteworthy films this year (more on that later), but the revival of Zach Galifinakis’ Funny Or Die celebrity interviews as a feature deserves mention not for the undeniable quality of the movie (though it is very funny) but because of the teaser poster. Designed by marketing agency Works Advertising, there’s so much going on with the one sheet it’s hard to keep track.

  1. All the lines of copy, even those right next to each other, are all at slightly different angles.
  2. The “www” in the URL for Netflix is a style that hasn’t been widely used in 15 years or more.
  3. The typeface for the release date and web address are laughably simple, a default style in Microsoft PowerPoint, and not one meant to convey any sort of impact.
  4. The two ferns are obviously the same fern copied and pasted on each side of Galifinakis’ head.
  5. The photo of Galifinakis still bears the Netflix watermark, like it was pulled from a press site and slapped onto the poster.

Overall it conveys a sense of “sure, fine, whatever,” which is completely on-brand for the Between Two Ferns series. It’s so sloppy and one of the best of the year.

The Lighthouse

How do you sell a black and white movie about two men left alone together on a remote New England lighthouse, isolated from the rest of the world and stuck with their own secrets and baggage? By going completely bonkers. The trailer has singing, dancing, axes, mermaids, terror, and Willem Dafoe repeating “Why don’t you spill your beans?” over and over again. With Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as the leads, it says something when a pelican is the only character that gets its own poster. In a move usually reserved for franchises and sequels, A24 also released an iMessage emoji pack so people could add images of angry lighthouse keepers and various sea creatures to their messages.

Knives Out

I truly believe no one had more fun selling their movie this year than director Rian Johnson. After making The Last Jedi, objectively the best Star Wars movie ever, Johnson assembled an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig and others for Knives Out, an old-fashioned murder mystery. The story is set on a wealthy family’s estate as investigators try to solve the murder of the patriarch, and the campaign not only played up the cast but also the breezy nature of the film. In interviews for the film, Johnson frequently evoked his love of classic movies based on Agatha Christie and other stories. That love was evident in the “A Rian Johnson whodunit” branding featured throughout the campaign and especially in one of the final videos, where the director personally invites audiences to see the movie, a move reminiscent of similar appeals by Hitchcock and other classic filmmakers.

The Irishman

After snagging new films from directors like Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, Tamara Jenkins and other big names, producing a three hour epic from Martin Scorsese represents Netflix’s biggest conquest to date. To celebrate that milestone the studio/streamer ran a campaign that broke new ground for its original releases, including over a dozen featurettes on every aspect of the film, from the cast to hair and makeup to set design and everything in between. Not only were there teasers but there were trailers timed for the movie’s limited theatrical release and then again for just before it became available for streaming. This is very much the moment Netflix adopted tactics similar to how traditional studios sell movies while still supporting its non-traditional business model.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It would be negligent to omit Disney’s massive, 8-month long campaign for what has been sold at every turn as the final installment in the Skywalker saga that began 42 years ago. The movie has been positioned as the conclusion to the story that began the first moment Qui-Gon Jinn laid eyes on a young Anakin Skywalker. Along the way the studio has had to thread various needles, appealing to older audiences that remember seeing the Tantive IV being chased by a Star Destroyer on the big screen in 1977 and those whose first experience might have been Poe landing on Jakku as the Resistance searched for a missing Luke Skywalker. With seven key promotional partners all producing their own commercials and campaigns along with other companies doing their own thing, there’s been no avoiding the idea that this is the ultimate event film, one audiences would be negligent in missing.

Honorable Mention: Every Ryan Reynolds Movie

He went method for the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu campaign earlier this year and then managed to put an ad for Aviation Gin inside an ad for his new movie 6 Underground that was inside an ad for Samsung. He’s already selling upcoming projects with the same knowing humor, showing he’s one of the strongest marketing brands around.

Ready or Not – Marketing Recap

Tracking shows Fox Searchlight’s horror-comedy will bring in over $6 million opening weekend.

ready or not posterThis week’s new release Ready Or Not has a familiar premise: Grace (Samara Weaving) is about to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien), whose family is incredibly rich and powerful, having made their fortune selling games. As is the case in many stories, the members of the Le Domas family have concerns Grace is only marrying Alex because of his money.

With that in mind, the family has the tradition of playing a game whenever someone new joins the family. In this case the game is Hide and Seek, which sounds innocent enough. What Grace finds, though, is that this version involves her being hunted in the massive Le Domas mansion. If she survives the night, she is deemed worthy.

The studio has run a campaign that’s heavy on shocks and laughs to try and bring in an audience looking for something original as the summer winds down.

The Posters

Grace looks ready for action in her bridal gown on the poster, with the members of the family she’s marrying into arrayed around her similarly armed and apparently very hostile and dangerous. The mansion where the action takes place is burning in the background, setting the location of the action while also promising things are going to take a very nasty turn. It’s a dark image but it matches the tone of the trailer.

The Trailers

Things seem fine, if awkward, at the opening of the trailer. Grace is about to marry into Alex’s extremely wealthy family. After the ceremony she finds there’s one more hurdle to clear, she has to play a game of the family’s choosing, a kind of rite of passage. Only this game of Hide & Seek has her hiding from her new in-laws as they chase her around a massive estate with weapons, promising she’ll be welcomed if she manages to stay alive. Seems there’s some sort of ritual she’s meant to be a part of, and the chase is filled with accidental shootings, bloody revenge and more as the movie is shown to be a dark, violent comey.

Online and Social

Unlike many recent movies, Searchlight’s website features a nice design and some unique features. Click on any of the names in the “Cast” section and you get a short video of the character they play interacting with Grace in some manner. Brief information on the “Filmmakers” is available along with a “Story” synopsis, the red-band trailer and links to the social profiles for the film.

Advertising and Publicity

Weaving and the filmmakers brought the movie to Fantasia Fest in late July to reach those fans.

In early August the first clip was released showing an extended look at the scene where the game being played that night is chosen. A second has Grace being found by Daniel but being given a head start by him.

The Midsummer Scream event in Long Beach, CA included a movie-themed “experience” that attendees – largely horror fans – could be part of.

NCM’s Noovie Backlot got an exclusive spot showing Grace being told the rules of the game and realizing there may be more going on here than she initially thought.

A featurette released shortly after that offered a bit of insight into the story while focusing on the wedding dress that Grace wears throughout the movie. Another featurette had Weaving lounging on a couch while explaining the movie’s story, from Grace meeting Alex to the terrible night she endures. The craziness of the movie is shared in another video that includes a focus on Radio Silence, the group that includes the producers and director while Weaving offers tips on wedding dress maintenance in another.

Commercials like this positioned the movie as one of the most shocking things audiences could choose at the tail end of summer, showing it to be filled with bloody and outrageous chases and characters. Others ran a little longer and showed more of the backstory but still ended by selling a movie designed to make audiences gasp in astonishment.

The cast and crew assembled for the movie’s premiere, which featured plenty of marketing branding. That event seemed to include some sort of movie-themed party including creepy waitresses serving drinks and boxes from the games created by the movie’s family out on tables.

There seems to have been a concerted effort – visible if you scroll through Twitter updates using #ReadyOrNotMovie – to reach #Earpers, or fans of the show “Wynnona Earp.” That’s because Melanie Scrofano, the star of that show, is also part of the Le Domas family in the film.

Media and Press

Press activity for the film didn’t really seem to get started until the last few weeks before release. That included a brief profile of Weaving, interviews with the directors and costar Adam Brody. They, along with Andie McDowell and others, also made appearances on various talk shows in recent weeks.


I previously took issue with the idea that this movie has received none of the scrutiny directed toward The Hunt, despite how the two share a “people hunting other people for sport” premise. While reviews have labeled Ready Or Not as being a sadistically fun and engaging horror comedy, the fact is that the two films don’t appear substantively different based on their marketing campaigns. That this one is being reviewed at all shows the importance of judging the final product before calling for boycotts or passing judgement.

That issue aside, the campaign does look like it’s selling a fast-paced good time at the theater. Weaving is really a standout here, bringing significant charisma to not only the clips of the movie that are used but the various featurettes that show more of the story’s sense of humor. It shows that horror – including the more comedic areas of the genre – is among the last bastions of truly original storytelling in modern film.

Picking Up the Spare

Another fun video with Weaving that had her investigating a mysterious “cursed” box.

The actress spoke about the film and her uncanny resemblance to Margot Robbie here and her experiences filming – including injuring her costars – here. She was interviewed along with MacDowell here about the shocking, outrageous story.

While The Hunt Has Been Pulled, Ready Or Not Debuts As Planned

The reasons Universal Pictures ultimately went from suspending the marketing campaign for The Hunt to pulling it from the release schedule entirely have evolved over time. At first it seemed to be because advertising a movie about people being hunted by a group of bored elites looking for a little excitement seemed in bad taste following the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

Reports later emerged the studio was shaken by reactions to test screenings of the class-based satire that had already generated death threats and concerns over a broader cultural backlash. Universal’s primary issue appears to be in the handling of the situation, which has put them in the position of being reactive not proactive.

While I don’t agree with the decision – we deserve to debate the movie itself, not have endless discussions that build off the latest Hot Take until the snake has eaten its own tail several times over – it is understandable to some extent. Stories about people being hunted, even if they are satire in nature, may not be received well in an age where aspiring shooters are making kill lists and arming themselves with hundreds of rounds before beginning their own hunting.

So why, one is forced to wonder, is Fox Searchlight continuing as planned with this week’s release of Ready Or Not? Like The Hunt, Ready Or Not revolves around humans hunting other humans.

That movie stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a woman about to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien), part of a family that has made its fortune selling games. At a dinner at the Le Domas family mansion after the wedding, Grace is asked to participate in the tradition of playing a game anytime someone new joins the family. The game turns out to be Ready or Not. What surprises Grace is that this version involves her being hunted by everyone else. Only if she survives until dawn will she be deemed worthy to actually become one of the Le Domas clan.

If there’s any difference between the public presentations of the two movies, it’s that Ready Or Not is not as overtly about class differences. There are no mentions of “deplorables” or “the one percent” or other keywords that are likely to generate headlines and stir up emotions among people who don’t care to be criticized.

Instead, it’s just about a woman being hunted for who she is. That message, it seems, is still acceptable.

It’s surprising, since real world incidents of liberal elites taking out their frustrations on rednecks by hunting them through the woods of a European estate are surprisingly difficult to come across. Startlingly common, though, are instances of mass shooters sporting a history of abusing women or feeling deep-seated anger over having been rejected by women. The shooter who killed so many people in Dayton recently reportedly had a list of women he wanted to kill or rape, presumably because they had wronged him in some imagined way.

That one movie that seemed to have something at least worth considering about class roles has been spiked because it was seen as offensive while another about hunting a women to keep a family bloodline pure and untainted by interlopers moves forward says something about society that we don’t seem to be addressing. Namely, that you can try and kill as many women as you want, but if you dare put anyone who looks like they may have worn a MAGA hat in the crosshairs, there will be hell to pay.

Universal didn’t spontaneously decide to pull The Hunt, it did so in reaction to some reactions and the concern there would be more. A barrage of criticism from Fox News would have been bad for the studio and bad for its corporate parent Comcast. That a similar outcry hasn’t been directed at Fox Searchlight or its corporate parent Disney – recently said to be concerned over the Hitler satire JoJo Rabbit would be too controversial for its audience – is notable.