How Netflix has sold a time-traveling character drama
After getting such critical and commercial acclaim for their collaboration on Free Guy a few months ago, director Shawn Levy and star Ryan Reynolds team up once again for The Adam Project, arriving on Netflix this week.
Reynolds plays Adam Reed, a fighter pilot who travels decades back in time and crash lands in 2022 while on a mission to save the world of the future. Stuck in his past, Adam has to work with his much-younger self (Walker Scobell), who is living with his mom Ellie (Jennifer Garner) after his dad Louis (Mark Ruffalo) passed away.
So the movie is a family drama within the trappings of a sci-fi adventure. As such there’s been lots of referencing of classic Spielberg/Amblin movies from the 1980s. So let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcements and casting
It’s been a solid 10 years since the movie first went into development, at one point having Tom Cruise attached to play the lead. But it wasn’t until Netflix acquired the project in 2020 that production actually began.
Various big names, including Ruffalo, Garner, Keener and others, were added to the cast in the months following the June, 2020 announcement by Netflix. Reynolds shared some photos from the film in late November.
When she was promoting Yes Day last year, Garner commented on the film briefly, specifically calling out it being a reunion of her and 13 Going On 30 co-star Ruffalo.
the marketing campaign
The teaser trailer (6.3m YouTube views), released in early February, sets up the premise well and, in particular, shows off Reynolds’ comic stylings. We see that Adam is having trouble after his dad passed away, soon meeting his future self after that self crash lands in the woods near Adam’s house. This teaser is all about setting things up, with few details shared, but it does its job effectively.
“Past meets future” we’re told on the first poster, which came out at the same time. It shows the present and future Adam meeting in the woods, the older one’s ship looming and glowing in the background above the trees. Like the teaser trailer, it works well in setting up the premise without offering much in the way of detail.
Some of the footage from that teaser formed the centerpiece of a Super Bowl commercial from Netflix that touted the company’s 2022 feature film lineup, promising new movies every week of the year.
Reynolds and Scobell, who makes his big-screen debut in the movie, talked about working together and the importance of original stories at a special London West Hollywood screening. They were also both interviewed about the throwback nature of the story and more.
The first clip came out about a week later, offering an extended look at the scene of Old Adam working to patch himself up in his childhood home as Young Adam follows him around trying to figure out what’s going on and who this stranger is.
The cast and Levy all appeared at the red carpet premiere of the movie at the end of February. While there they talked not only about the movie but the war that was at the time just beginning to heat up in Ukraine.
In early March the full trailer (4m YouTube views) was released. As it opens the two Adams and Laura (Zoe Saldaña) are escaping from whoever it is that’s after them. From there on out we get more of the story, that in order to save the future they have to stop time travel from being invented. That leads them to go back and recruit their late father, who contributed to that invention. With lots of hugging and talk about growing up, it’s clear this is an emotional movie as much as it is an action-packed one. Adding to that are all the pull quotes from early reviews that compare it to E.T. and other classic Spielberg films.
Before that trailer came out, Netflix shared a short video that starts with Scobell and Reynolds teasing it before *another* Reynolds appears and warns them not to release it because it’s so good it sets off a series of unintended consequences. It’s funny and contains the requisite ribbing of Reynolds while also singing the praises of Ruffalo and Garner.
A *very* Struzan-inspired poster was released along with the trailer. It has all the earmarks of that artist, most notably an awareness of design and composition basics that is all but lacking in most modern one-sheets, especially those for blockbusters and franchise entries.
A short promo/commercial boiled the trailer down to its essential action/humor elements.
Ruffalo and Garner appeared together in an installment of Netflix’s “Screen Test” series, talking about their favorite movies and generally being charming together, showing they have tons of chemistry.
In a very self-aware move, Reynolds’ ad production shop created a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial tying into the movie that has Scobell as the spokesperson who can’t stick to the script because he’s been tainted by the experience of playing a younger version of Reynolds.
Reynolds and Garner shared some of the personal connections they have to the story in an interview that also included comments from Levy.
I don’t put much stock in all the reviews and other coverage that compare this to 80s Spielberg and similar movies. Those comparisons are made about many films that mix in family drama with sci-fi or other genre elements to the point that I’m beginning to worry people’s reference points are the ripoffs laying claim to that heritage instead of the actual originals.
That being said, there’s a lot to like about the campaign, but your reception to it will likely vary based on your tolerance for Reynolds and his fast-talking antics. That’s why it’s nice that Netflix included generous helpings of Ruffalo and Garner and their reunion, especially at the end, to show there is more to the movie than a constant string of quips and Star Wars references.
picking up the spare
Netflix ran banner ads like the one below on Spotify in the week or so on either side of the movie’s release.
Reynolds and Levy were interviewed about the movie’s premise and what they wanted to accomplish with the story. Those two and others also talked about the movie at the premiere, including joking about a reteaming of Reynolds and Hugh Jackman.
There’s been lots of attention paid to the process of casting Scobell as a young Reynolds, including this featurette from Netflix and lots more videos that include Scobell reciting R-rated dialogue from Deadpool and other movies.