How Focus Features has sold a movie of Viking revenge.
Director Robert Eggers takes a break from filming Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in a lighthouse to bring us The Northman. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a man who since being found after escaping the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) was raised by Vikings as a berserker. Discovering terrible secrets about his mother (Nicole Kidman) and with the help of Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth sets out to exact bloody Nordic revenge against those who assassinated his father and reclaim the kingdom that should have been his.
Dafoe, Björk and others costar as the sorcerers, seers, warlords and others Amleth – widely regarded as the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – encounters on his quest.
So with a story steeped deeply in Norse mythology and folk tales, a director known for making some of the most visually-interesting movies in recent history and a whole bunch of Serious Actors, let’s take a look at how this has been sold to the public that will completely ignore it at the box office.
announcements and casting
The movie was announced in 2020, including most of the main cast. It wasn’t until May of 2021 that Lionsgate added an official release date.
Kidman commented on the weird process of filming the movie while also praising Eggers in an interview from January 2021.
Ineson talked about shooting the film and how he responded to some of the first footage in this interview from later that year. An interview in June with Dafoe had him talking about the larger scale of this film when compared to his previous work with Eggers, saying while it was a bigger story it still wouldn’t lack for detail or nuance.
Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August 2021 a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.
the marketing campaign
“Conquer your fate” declares the first poster, released in December of last year. Amleth stands atop a cliff looking out over the sea and the handful of ships sailing there. It very much establishes the visual tone of the movie and the campaign, offering the audience a fiery and violent experience in theaters.
The first trailer (21.3m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with a young Amleth enjoying the love and company of his parents before his father is brutally murdered, Amleth barely escaping the same fate. Cut to an older Amleth, making his way through the world as he looks for those responsible. When he meets Olga he finds someone with her own agenda as well as abilities that could help him, leading to lots of bloodshed and violence.
In February Skarsgård was interviewed by Kirsten Dunst about his role and what it’s like being part of a big family of actors. There was also a conversation with Eggers about creating the costumes and other design elements of the film as well as the physical transformation Skarsgård underwent for the role. Taylor-Joy spoke about filming in the Irish wilderness and how much she enjoyed getting out in nature for an extended period of time.
More here from Skarsgård about filming such a violent story as well as how he got in Viking-appropriate shape.
TV spots like this began airing in late March focusing on the revenge story and Viking violence, keeping some of Eggers’ more esoteric visual stylings kind of hidden behind quick cuts and heavy music.
The second poster came out shortly after that, this one using the same tagline but now featuring the whole main cast.
A profile of Eggers covered what inspired this story and how the director set out to make an epic that was also an ambitious visual film while being historically accurate. How the movie finally moved into production was also covered in a later profile of Skarsgård that included how he collaborated with Eggers both before filming and during production.
The cast and crew assembled for a special screening of the movie in Rome at the beginning of April. They also appeared for an event in London, which led to first reactions from critics that were overwhelmingly positive.
Eggers and others from in front of and behind the camera contributed to a featurette about the technical aspects of making the movie. Similar ground was covered later on in an exclusive featurette from AMC Artisan Films.
At this point Focus Features announced a movie-themed RPG tie-in with Fortnight featuring locations and costumes from the film.
An exclusive Nerdist clip shows an extended look at the killing of King Aurvandill that sets Amleth on his quest for vengeance.
How this movie fits into his daily life as well as career to date, along with other topics, were covered in another profile of Skarsgård.
All that came just before the film’s Los Angeles black carpet premiere that included a Q&A with the cast and crew. That generated plenty of comments from everyone about the process of making the movie, working with Eggers and more. The director also talked about filming a nude Skarsgård, making the production work despite the location and Covid restrictions and more. Another profile of him included him sharing how he convinced Björk to take on a role in the film.
A short red-band trailer was released right after that, just days ago, that doesn’t break much new ground in terms of the story but does feature even more visceral action.
How Skarsgård got in shape for the role was covered here.
With an impressive 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and some incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated in the last two weeks, tracking projects an opening weekend of $10-15 million, which would be great for a movie of this type.
But really, what matters is that this campaign has been a brutal, bloody good time and that Skarsgård’s glistening abs seem to be the main draw for a substantial portion of the audience. So it’s effectively sold itself to the groups interested in those things, which means this has been a success.