2018’s Most Innovative Movie Campaigns

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll likely know 2018 has lasted a remarkable nine years. At least that’s what it’s felt like at times. It’s hard to remember that Black Panther came out just this past February as it seems as if that was roughly forever ago.

The year has seen a number of interesting and memorable movie marketing campaigns for dramas, comedies and everything in between A few months ago I shared what I felt were the best campaigns of the year to date and what it was that made them so special.

There are some campaigns, though, that may not be as memorable or innovative as others but which in some manner perfectly represent the genre the movie was a part of, or are indicative of a larger trend in how studios are selling their films to the general public.

Love, Simon

It’s notable that the year started out (more or less) with what was widely regarded as the first mainstream studio movie with a gay coming-of-age story, directed by powerhouse TV producer Greg Berlanti. It started 2018 on a hopeful and lighthearted note that was much different than the one it ended on. That more sour note was exemplified by releases like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased that dealt with the horrible practice commonly referred to as “gay conversion therapy.”


For the last few years Dwayne Johnson has been the king of the box-office, reliably bringing in sizable audiences for movies he stars in, up to and including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle at the end of last year. So it’s surprising that both his high-profile releases in 2018 – Rampage and Skyscraper – failed to cross the $100 million mark. Both movies’ campaigns went big to sell the large-scale action of the stories, including VR experiences that took audiences inside the world of the movie. That each movie fell short in terms of ticket sales shows that even the biggest stars are still vulnerable when the material is seen as weak.

The Incredibles 2

One of the major changes of the last 10 years is that the term “all-ages movie” has been radically redefined. It used to mean gentle, inoffensive features, either animated or live action. Now, though, PG-13 super hero movies fit that category. The Incredibles 2, though, was the rare example this year of a truly all-ages story breaking through, in this case to massive success. That was helped by a campaign that focused on selling audiences a return to the classic original they loved from over a decade ago.

Leave No Trace

There were a number of high-profile movies this year from female directors, in some cases directors that for whatever reason hadn’t released a new feature in several years or more. Such was the case with Leave No Trace, which had Debra Granik behind the camera. That was her first new movie since 2010, when she introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Also fitting in this category is The Land of Steady Habits from director Nicole Holofcener and Private Life from Tamara Jenkins among others. Granik and her return to feature directing formed a central component of the publicity campaign.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony has had its struggles with the Spider-Man characters it manages, finding its most popular attempt was when it teamed up with Marvel Studios for last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which established the wallcrawler as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The campaign for Into the Spider-Verse, which is not part of that crossover agreement, has generated a lot of positive attention and buzz by highlighting the multi-dimensional story and focusing on Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man who first appeared in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate” line of books.

Set It Up

One of the most pervasive media narratives of the last several months was Netflix’s handful of releases in the romantic comedy genre, one the studios aren’t playing in as much as they used to. Set It Up was one of the first in what the company later labeled “The Summer of Love,” a period that went on to include Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and others. All were sold with light, breezy campaigns that focused on the chemistry between the leads and the chance for the audience to enjoy something a bit lighter on a Friday night.


Netflix started off 2018 by dropping a bomb on the movie industry, releasing The Cloverfield Paradox just hours after it debuted the first TV commercial for the movie during The Super Bowl broadcast. It had picked up the movie from Paramount, which decided it was no longer interested in the title. Paramount did hang on to Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, but sold overseas distribution rights to Netflix when it saw little potential in those markets. It was, in fact, a year of Netflix picking up titles other studios wanted to discard, including Extinction (from Universal), Step Sisters (Broad Green Pictures), Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Warner Bros.) and more.


No movie better encapsulates the tension between Netflix and theater chains than this new, highly-personal story from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It, along with other recent releases like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and others are all titles Netflix feels are worthy of awards consideration, but the rules of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences state a movie must play a certain amount of theaters for a certain amount of time to qualify. So, wanting to continue to attract high-profile filmmakers, the company has essentially rented the requisite screens. Prior to that the movie was given the full prestige treatment, with appearances at film festivals in Toronto, Venice and others, all exactly like any other studio would give an awards contender.

Eighth Grade

There were a number of coming-of-age movies released in 2018, just as there are in most years. You can’t really go wrong with telling emotional stories of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and uncertain of who they are and what their place in the world is. Bo Burnham’s feature directorial debut really got people’s attention, though, with a campaign that focused on the emotional performance from Elsie Fisher and, along with Searching and other movies, showed Hollywood may finally be understanding what the internet really is.

The Hate U Give

There were a handful of movies this year that either directly or indirectly addressed Black Lives Matter and the issue of police violence against black citizens, including Monsters and Men and Blindspotting. The Hate U Give was special, though, in that the campaign highlighted the book it was based on and its message of how the younger generation has a special role in shaping the future of society on all fronts. It was also presented as a showcase for star Amandla Stenberg, who’s earned accolades for her performances in this and other recent movies.


The marketing for Halloween hit all the right notes, striking a balance between selling something new and the return to something old, promising audiences the opportunity to see where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was after all these years. That campaign contained the best elements of Universal’s long-time management of the franchise and Blumhouse’s appeal to the modern day horror fan. Contrast that with another legacy sequel, The Predator, which failed to elicit the same feelings of nostalgia after running a campaign that maybe just a little too tongue-in-cheek for its own good.

A Star Is Born

From the minute A Star Is Born first started screening for critics it had tremendous buzz as a potential awards contender, with much of the conversation focusing on the performance by Lady Gaga as the singer nurtured to stardom by an experienced industry mentor. The promise of new material fro Gaga was among the strongest messaging hooks, so much so that Warner Bros. didn’t release the soundtrack so going to the theater was the only way to hear that music at first. It also set the stage, so to speak, for original songs from popular artists to be used as central components in film campaigns, a tactic used by Vox Lux (Sia), On The Basis of Sex (Kesha), Bumblebee (Hailee Steinfeld) and others.

BONUS – Game Night

The movie is one of the more hilarious in recent years and the campaign reminded us all just how funny Rachel McAdams can be just by including this one line.

game night gif

One Key Measure of Set It Up’s Impact

As I and others have written over the last few weeks, the Netflix original movie Set It Up seems to have struck a particular cultural chord. It’s been heralded as the savior of the romantic comedy, seemingly stealing that title away from last year’s The Big Sick, which was praised for being a fresh and innovative take on a genre that had grown stale. Notably, both of these movies were acquired or produced by streaming companies, a sign of how far it’s fallen out of favor with traditional studios.

One indicator of just how buzzy Set It Up has become how much zeitgeist it generated has been, to my eye, how many Buzzfeed articles have been devoted to different aspects of the movie. Here are some of the headlines from the last couple weeks:

That’s a good dozen articles taking a variety of angles on the movie, from mild disbelief that Netflix could release a rom-com that legit worked to roundups of social media reactions and commentary related to the movie to recommendations on further viewing to a focus on star Zoey Deutch to the patented Buzzfeed personality quiz.

The site obviously knows what audience it has and how that overlaps with the target audience Netflix was trying to reach with the movie and has leaned into content designed to appeal to them. It’s both the editors there trying to drive the culture (“Here’s what’s cool”) and reflect it (“It looks like this is cool”) in what’s published. Keep in mind too that all of that just happened inside a two week period.

There was a similar concentration of stories on that site in advance of and in reaction to Netflix’s The Kissing Booth, which seemed to capture everyone’s attention for a period of time. Both instances are examples of how Buzzfeed is able to adjust quickly to be relevant to conversations around media as well as how its editorial strategy allows it to flood the zone with content geared toward a handful of audience types and interests in a way other publications just can’t.

All of those headlines listed above are organic posts, over and above the handful of paid posts that appear to have been published with sponsorship by Netflix Canada, and I’m sure they’ve played a significant role in the movie’s continued placement at the forefront of many conversations. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if “OK, but how is this going to be received by Buzzfeed” becomes one more criteria weighed by Netflix as it evaluates both what kinds of movies to make and how to promote them.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Superfly, Boundaries and More


Director X has been out there giving more interviews, including how he sought out Future to curate the movie’s soundtrack in part because he wanted to follow in Curtis Mayfield’s footsteps. He also shared the story of how he got involved when the project was kind of a King Lear adaptation but which eventually came back around to being a remake/update of the first Super Fly.


More from director Shana Feste as well as star Vera Farmiga about the genesis of the story, shooting the movie with so many dogs, the relationships each have with their fathers and thoughts on the current conversation around the demographic representation of the film critic community.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

There’s been a wave of opinion pieces about whether or not the 1993 original Jurassic Park needed any sequels at all. That position is exemplified by Matt Singer’s thinking that a scene from the first movie negates any possibility of additional stories and Clara Wardlow’s take that there simply aren’t that many narrative threads in this universe to pull on.

Star Wars

Borys Kit at THR does some digging and gets to the heart of the matter regarding Lucasfilm’s reaction to Solo’s underperformance, offering that while yes, the people there are taking fresh looks at everything there are still non-Saga projects moving forward.

Uncle Drew

Lil Rey Howery has been the subject of more profiles like this as release has drawn closer, which makes sense given the prominence he appears to have in the story but which marks a change from the NBA-heavy emphasis of the campaign to date. Costar Nick Kroll has also made a couple late night talk show appearances.

Set It Up

The writers and other filmmakers have been making the media rounds in the last week, resulting in stories like this feature and this profile of director Claire Scanlon. As I stated before, this level of earned media activity is unusual for Netflix except for prestige releases, a sign it’s both listening and responding to the buzz around this movie and trying to further own the mid-tier movie market.

Woman Walks Ahead

The movie is one of several recent projects that have brought more women into the Western genre.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Netflix (And Other) Capsule Recaps – 6/8/18

Alex Strangelove (Netflix now)

Another movie that aims to make gay coming of age stories more mainstream and normal, this one is about an awkward teenage guy that has a girlfriend but who finds he’s attracted to another guy. The trailer makes it look like a decent , if slight feature with a loose kind of vibe, but it also carries more than a few notes that make it seem like a Disney Channel original movie type take on the subject matter.

The Kissing Booth (Netflix now)

A guy and girl have been best friends for years but things are getting weird now that they’re in high school and getting holder. Things are ramped up when she develops a major crush on the off-limits older brother of her friend, but a school event with a kissing booth, based on the trailer, offers her a chance to seize an opportunity.

I know I didn’t give this movie a full campaign review, but that’s largely because it didn’t get a full campaign from Netflix. That’s too bad since it seems like the story’s origins on story-sharing website Wattpad seems like it would have been a decent hook for the press.

The New York Times goes into why the movie has turned out to be so popular, including how Netflix tried to not overhype it.

Netflix used Halloween to bring the movie back up by releasing a recut trailer making it seems like a horror flick.

Set It Up (Netflix, June 15)

Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are, as we see in the trailer, both assistants to a couple high-powered executives in the same New York firm. They decide the two bosses need to hook up so that they can get a moment to themselves but of course the fact that they spend all kinds of time together handling their scheme means they wind up kind of attracted to each other as well. As usual Deutch looks really good and it’s apparent she can handle any kind of material she’s given.

The writers and other filmmakers have been making the media rounds in the last week, resulting in stories like this feature and this profile of director Claire Scanlon. As I stated before, this level of earned media activity is unusual for Netflix except for prestige releases, a sign it’s both listening and responding to the buzz around this movie and trying to further own the mid-tier movie market.

Ibiza (Netflix now)

Harper (Gillian Jacobs) is sent to Spain by her company to handle some meetings but the trailer shows things get complicated when her two party-centric fans tag along, encouraging her to throw her responsibilities to the wind in the name of having a good time. It looks a bit cliched, but it’s absolutely the kind of story that would have been a major studio release 10 years ago if it starred an all-male cast, so we’ll chalk this one up to inclusivity.

Measure of a Man (Limited release now)

Bobby, as we see in the trailer, is being pushed by his parents to get out of the house during the summer and so, being bullied by a bunch of local tough guys, gets work helping a nearby retired Wall Street executive (Donald Sutherland) who helps him with some self-actualization and confidence. This is not to be confused with other “teen boy in rural setting during summer vacation” movies like the upcoming Hot Summer Nights, All Summers End and a few others.

Little Pink House (Home video now)

I missed out on this one but the trailer looked interesting to me and I just couldn’t get around to writing about it. Catherine Keener stars in a true story as a woman who fights back against the combined government and business efforts to tear down her home and take her property for a corporate expansion. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Keener looks excellent, as always.

Book Club (Theaters now)

Another movie I just couldn’t get around to. That, and the trailer made it look about five years out of date despite the fantastic cast that’s been assembled. Reviews have been much kinder than I was expecting, but I can’t get over what someone pointed out recently, which is that Diane Keaton romancing Andy Garcia means Kay Corleone is making out with her nephew. Also, Keaton was aged up to play a character much older than Garcia’s despite the fact that she’s only 10 years older than him in real life. But hey, sexism.

Who We Are Now (Theaters now)

There’s a lot happening in the trailer for this family drama about a women trying to get her life together after spending a decade in prison. That includes fighting to get her daughter back. The quality cast is the biggest draw to what is otherwise familiar, if still important, material.

The Tale (HBO Now)

We meet Jennifer in the trailer as she bounces between her current life and her younger days as an aspiring riding champion. As an older woman she’s trying to piece together fragments of memories of her childhood that seem to be important and which seem to be focused around her time with Bill and Mrs. G. There are plenty of hints that the relationship there wasn’t entirely that of teacher/student, but nothing is laid out explicitly. Instead it’s all presented as a hurried rush of different elements that are all leading to something. At the end we see the older Jennifer warning the younger one that the consequences of what they’re finding out are more than she may be capable of understanding.

Breath (Limited Release Now)

There’s a touching coming-of-age story that’s being sold in this trailer, one about daring to seize those moments where you can achieve greatness and take a great leap. It’s about danger, both in terms of physical activity and in putting your heart on the line and giving up to live in the moment on both counts.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.