morbius – marketing recap

How Sony is selling its latest Spider-Man villain spinoff.

Morbius movie poster
Morbius movie poster

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 marketing campaign: 2020

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.

Sony shared videos from the cast’s publicity tour stops in Mexico City, Berlin, Paris and Madrid.

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.

overall

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.

Angry Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Jared Leto Marvel GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Matt Smith Walking GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Fourth, I forget what this one was.

Scared Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

uncharted – marketing recap

How Sony is selling a big-bet video game adaptation.

uncharted movie poster
uncharted movie poster

Uncharted, based on the popular video game, finally hits theaters this weekend after a journey of several years and lots of talent changes over the last few years.

As it stands, the final product stars Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a young adventurer out to find his fortune and live up to the legacy of his family, specifically Sir Nathan Drake, the 16th century explorer. Drake is on the trail of treasures lost by the crew of the Magellan in the early 1500s. To help him he partners with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who also previously worked with Drake’s missing brother Sam.

The movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, also stars Antonio Banderas and Sophia Ali as competing treasure hunters. Nathan Fillion, who campaigned heavily for the role back around 2009, does not appear.

Let’s take a look at how Sony has sold the film.

announcement and casting

Sony has had an adaptation of the game from Naughty Dog studios in some stage of development since around 2008. At one point David O. Russell was attached to direct and Wahlberg was slated to play the lead role. Joe Carnahan, Shawn Levy and others have also been named as directors over the years.

Holland was officially cast in mid-2017, with the movie pegged as a prequel to the story told in the games. Two years later Wahlberg, who had exited the project, jumped back in, this time in the supporting role as opposed to the lead. Banderas and the others joined in early 2020 as the movie finally moved into production.

All those changes meant the original 2017 release date has changed several times.

the marketing campaign: early phases

While promoting Onward in early 2020, Holland offered a brief update by saying production was just weeks away from beginning. Banderas and Gabrielle joined the cast in early 2020, shortly before Fleischer’s name was floated as the latest director.

The first official look at Holland in character came when he tweeted out a photo in October of 2020.

Nolan North, who provided the voice of Nathan Drake for the video games, was heavily involved in the teaser push, sharing additional photos, participating in online chats and otherwise giving the production his seal of approval, an important part of getting longtime fans on board.

Holland was one of the presenters at the 2020 Game Awards to help burnish his credibility and build awareness.

More official stills were released in January 2021 to prove the movie was still happening.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Its release date was then pushed from July 2021 to February 2022.

the marketing campaign: getting serious

After such a long period of anticipation, the first trailer (15.4m YouTube views) finally came out in late October 2021. It immediately establishes Drake as a hunter of lost treasures before allowing him and Sullivan to team up to look for the one of the biggest unfound hauls in history. It’s the same treasure Drake’s brother was on the trail of when he disappeared. But they’re not the only ones looking for it, meaning there are going to be shootouts, explosions and other man-made dangers in addition to whatever else awaits them.

A behind-the-scenes featurette with Holland and Wahlberg came out shortly after that trailer.

How Holland used the time at home after Covid-related pauses in production to bulk up in an effort to match the muscular look of Wahlberg was covered in this interview.

Drake and Sullivan look out into the middle distance looking very much like they’re on the cover of a video game package on the first poster, which didn’t come out until December. The remnants of old ships loom in the background to make sure the audience understands they’re searching through historical artifacts.

The second trailer (12.9m YouTube views) came out a bit later in December and shows more of how Drake and Sullivan are going to be working together, the conflicts they’ll have with others who are also on the hunt for the Magellan’s lost treasure and more. It’s filled not only with action but also lots of quips and one-liners, especially from Drake, since selling the tone of the film is even more important than selling the story.

In January the first clip was released showing a showdown on a cargo plane that has Drake hanging on for dear life. That clip was also introduced by Holland at Sony’s CES press conference, where he talked about how he learned about the game franchise and how excited he was for the film to come out.

Another poster, this one using the traditional action movie format of everyone being arranged around the star with locations from the story placed in the background.

The scope and complexity of the stunts and action sequences was the focus of a mini-featurette with Holland.

TV spots started running a month out from release that boiled the sales pitch down to the essentials, focusing on the wit and action.

Fandango MovieClips shared an exclusive trailer that offers a bit more of the character dynamics but otherwise covers a lot of the same ground as earlier spots, even if much of the footage is new to the campaign.

The plane sequence is referenced again on the next one-sheet, which uses an image of Drake hanging off the dangling cargo.

Holland and Wahlberg appeared in an announcement for Fandango when tickets went on sale at the end of January.

A series of short “travel vlog” videos were shared from various stops like London, Spain, Rome,

The IMAX-exclusive poster once more uses the plane sequence as its central element. ScreenX has posters that show Drake and Sullivan clutching important artifacts while on their journey. AMC Theaters ran a sweepstakes campaign where fans could unlock exclusive content. The Dolby poster released a bit later takes a more original approach, offering an illustrated take on Drake that looks like it’s been folded like a map.

Hyundai’s cross-promotional campaign kicked off in late January with a spot that features Holland as Drake driving the 2022 Tucson to a convenience store/service station to get repairs after suffering unusual damage.

The two stars show up again to joke with each other and offer their thoughts on the film in an extended spot released at the beginning of February. They did likewise in a spot that references this being an Olympics year and how they’re basically professional athletes in the movie.

Drake puts his bartending skills to violent work in the next clip.

The topic of how Holland used Covid-enforced time off to bulk up and more was covered in another interview with the actor. He then appeared in a featurette with Neil Druckman, who created the game, to talk about adapting it for the screen.

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan appears in a commercial that aired during the recent NBA All Star game. Also on the sports front was a spot (roughly timed with the Super Bowl) with Holland and Wahlberg talking about fandom and commitment. Another, this one Valentine’s Day themed, had the two discussing the bromance between their characters.

How he approached the character of Nathan Drake was covered by Holland in another featurette.

Sony launched an AR lens for Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram allowing people to put themselves in the “dangling from cargo out the back of a plane” sequence.

G Fuel launched a promotional campaign that positioned their nutrition supplement as the perfect fuel for high-energy adventures like those found in the movie.

Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters offered their own exclusive interviews with the stars.

The process of adapting the game into a movie was covered in another sit-down video featuring creatives from both media.

Fleischer talked about how working on Venom helped him approach this project and its action-heavy nature. How the trades departments translated the costumes and visuals of the game for the movie was covered in this profile.

A lyric video for “No Mind” by Milkblood was released earlier this week.

Many of the cast and crew appeared in person at an IMAX fan screening in New York City.

overall

It’s an alright campaign for a big-budget movie projected to open with a $30 million weekend and which could serve as an indicator of Holland’s box-office draw when he’s not wearing the Spider-Man costume. But two major things jump out at me:

First, Sony really honed in on that plane sequence as the central element to help convince audiences to come see the movie in theaters.

Tom Holland Plane GIF by Uncharted - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, every time there’s a shot of Holland as a bartender I think this is a sequel or prequel to Cocktail and my interest in the film increases dramatically.

Tom Holland Bar GIF by Uncharted - Find & Share on GIPHY

spider-man: no way home – marketing recap

How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise

Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster
Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster

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 movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

marketing phase one: spectacular

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.

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.

The next one-sheet came out just a week later, this one showing Spider-Man huddled with Doctor Strange against the encroaching enemies.

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.

Just leaving these here.

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.

overall

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…

Fifth: I forgot what this was going to be.

Sixth: The campaign has a lot going for it but it might actually be too much. While super hero movies tend to be plot-heavy this feels excessively so. Still, it gave us this extremely relatable Doctor Strange GIF so it wins on points.

Benedict Cumberbatch Fire GIF by Spider-Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

ghostbusters: afterlife – marketing recap

How Sony has sold its latest attempt to revive an iconic franchise

Ghostbusters Afterlife poster
Ghostbusters Afterlife poster

Whenever I’m talking about the nostalgia industrial complex that’s built up over the last couple decades, Ghostbusters is usually the example I pull out. Sony/Columbia and its various partners have worked hard to sell 1/8th reproductions of Ecto-1, proton pack-shaped USB chargers and other consumer products and high-end collectibles to a largely male audience who still hold the 1984 comedy as the single most important cultural moment of their lives.

As such it wasn’t wholly surprising when that same crowd came out in force to push back on Paul Fieg’s 2016 reboot of the franchise considering he was letting girls in what was *clearly* a boys-only clubhouse.

And it’s not wholly surprising that, five years later, Sony Pictures has taken a 180-degree turn from that previous effort.

That new take, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, comes out this week. The movie stars Carrie Coon as Callie Spengler, daughter of Egon, played in the originals by the late Harold Ramis. Carrie has moved herself and her two kids – Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Fill Wolfhard) – to Oklahoma and a house her father left her years ago. When strange, supernatural things start happening in town it’s up to the remaining members of the Spengler family, along with their new friends and science teacher Chad Grooberson (Paul Rudd) to save the town and the world.

While the 2016 movie had most of the original cast appearing in small cameos as other characters, this time around they are reprising those original roles. So we get Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barret, Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore, Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz and Dan Ackroyd as Raymond Stantz.

Having all of them return is indicative of a campaign that is steeped in nostalgia, not for what it can tell us about our present or future but for the comforting blanket of familiarity it offers.

announcement and casting

The news that Reitman would be creating his own Ghostbusters film came out of more or less nowhere in mid-January 2019. At that time a brief teaser was released that didn’t offer any footage from the film but set the tone and made sure everyone knew it was in the works.

The early 2019 announcement included the clarification this film would follow the original movie’s timeline, not that of the 2016 Paul Feig movie, a fact the cast of that film wasn’t thrilled with and many questioned, seeing a missed opportunity to expand that story.

Further complicating matters, Reitman commented in February 2019 that he was planning on “giving the movie back to the fans,” talking about the lengths he was going to in order to cater to those who still hold the original to be a sacred pop culture text. Those comments were interpreted as him validating the criticisms of the 2016 film and telling the men who complained about women being allowed near their beloved franchise that he shared their perspective. He clarified things a short while later, expressing his love of Feig’s film and the actors in it, but the message still hung out there.

An interview with Ackroyd allowed him to talk about how the main reason this film was greenlit over a sequel to the 2016 movie was cost, with this one reportedly sporting a much lower budget than that would have necessitated. Around the same time Murray was in Cannes for another film but said during his press appearances there that he’d be open to another Ghostbusters film if the offer came in.

The focus continued to be on the status of the original cast, as mid-2019 kept bringing various comments and updates from Reitman and others that various members had read the script and were interested or had already committed. Paul Rudd revealed in late June that he had taken on a supporting role in the film, with Ackroyd and Hudson confirming they’d be appearing a couple months later. He spoke briefly about it while promoting other things last year.

Rudd’s casting was announced in June, 2019 via a video of him filming outside the New York firehouse that was the team’s original headquarters.

Wolfhard spoke about the audition process during CinemaCon 2019.

marketing phase one

Vanity Fair got things officially started in December 2019, sharing a batch of first look photos along with comments from Reitman and others.

A supernatural storm brews in the distant sky on the first poster, released shortly after those stills came out. Showing the Ecto-1 speeding through a wheat field toward that storm establishes the connections to the past as well as the setting of the current story.

The first trailer (21.1m YouTube views), released at the same time, starts by establishing the setting of the film. Trevor and his family are relocating to a farmhouse in a small town because they’re broke and it’s the only thing still in their name, left to them by their unnamed grandfather. As strange and spooky things begin happening around them, Phoebe uncovers a secret stash of ghostbusting equipment no one but her teacher Mr. Gooberson recognizes it for what it is. It isn’t long before the kids are using that old equipment as more and more supernatural creatures begin appearing.

Wolfhard commented on the movie while he was promoting other things earlier this year.

While speculation had surrounded his involvement, Murray finally revealed he would return as Dr. Peter Venkman in January. That was part of an extended profile that had him talking about the legacy of the franchise and much more.

Several of the movie’s stars joined the original cast and filmmakers in one of Josh Gad’s conference Zoom calls in mid-June.

An interview with Ackroyd allowed him to make it clear that while Ramis wasn’t in the film his spirit would be well-represented.

Coon appeared on “Kimmel” to promote other projects in January but spoke briefly about this film as well.

Later on Murray spoke about his initial reluctance to come on board for the film and how Reitman won him over.

At the end of March last year, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It got pushed a few more months in October, and then again in January to November.

marketing phase two

With that new November 2021 release date set, the campaign started up once again a few months ago.

A mysterious teaser was released in early April, showing Mr. Gooberson doing some shopping only to come across mini versions of an old foe.

Things really started off in early June on #GhostbustersDay, so-called because 6/8 was the day the original movie was released all the way back in 1984.

Related events included:

  • The cast and crew of the movie taking fan questions via Twitter Spaces
  • Merchandise promotions from both Reitmans and others
  • Lots of new consumer products announcements
  • The elder Reitman and Murray discussing whether or not Ghostbusters Day is an official holiday

Reitman Jr. and Sr. were both part of a featurette released in early June that had the two talking about their life long experiences with the franchise as well as how the idea of passing things down from generation to generation is reflected in the story.

The next trailer (2.7m YouTube views) didn’t come out until July 2021. It hits many of the same beats as the first one, showing how Trevor is kind of a loner in a small town where his family has moved into the house his grandfather left them. From there on it’s all building mythology, with Jeanine helping them get settled and hinting that Egon wanted them to come here for a reason. That reason may have something to do with the mysterious happenings in town, which just escalate over time. It ends with Ray picking up the phone in his occult books shop, hinting at his involvement in the story as well.

Videos came out shortly after that showing Grace, O’Connor and others from the cast reacting to that trailer.

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” fame announced in August that he had been on the set of the film and would be offering behind-the-scenes looks at production.

Sony screened the movie in full at CinemaCon in August, giving attendees much more than the usual selection of trailers and clips. Both Reitmans were in attendance to praise the studio and get people excited for the film.

Reitman and the visual effects crew were interviewed about bringing the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man back.

Those Mini-Pufts continued to be at the center of the campaign with a video showing how to make s’mores out of them. A bit later a similar video was released for National Marshmallow Day.

Short teasers like this started coming out at the end of August offering little snippets from the movie.

A second poster was finally released in September that shows Trevor, Phoebe and their friends exiting the Ecto-1 to get a look at a mysterious beam either coming from or reaching up to the gathering clouds.

Wolfhard appeared on “The Tonight Show” around that time as well. He and Grace also talked about the movie on “Today.”

Both Reitmans and others from the cast appeared at New York Comic-Con in October for a panel about the movie. That panel wound up also including a surprise screening of the movie for those in attendance.

While the sizzle reel released after that panel had fans praising the film (the word “amazing” is frequently invoked), overall reviews were far less positive, with many critics panning it as the worst example of empty nostalgia, with objects from previous films shown for no real reason other than to evoke a SQUEE reaction from people who remember it from the original.

VFX producer Kerry Joseph was interviewed about the process of bringing miniature versions of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man to life.

Cinemark released an exclusive poster that simply shows the Ecto-1 speeding down the streets of Summerville.

Reitman was slightly more complimentary toward Feig’s 2016 movie in another interview, saying it opened the doors to additional stories set in the universe of the first films.

The cast and Reitman appeared in a video supporting LGBTQ+ youth on Spirit Day in October. Lots of ghosts and movie branding were part of the Halloween episode of “The Kelly Clarkson Show” with Grace and Hudson stopping by as well.

MovieClips got an exclusive clip at the beginning of November showing Mr. Gooberson helping the kids revive one of the old ghost traps Egon left behind.

Reitman was interviewed by the PlayStation Blog team about taking on the franchise and what he hoped audiences would get out of it. PlayStation also debuted a new clip of Mr. Gooberson encountering a Terror Dog – the big supernatural bear that chased Louis Tully out of his apartment – and more.

An exclusive IMAX poster shows someone sitting in the gunner chair of the Ecto-1 as they blast a spook or specter in the sky.

Regal Cinemas offered a free bag of popcorn to people buying IMAX tickets. Regal also had an exclusive video interview with the cast of the film.

The final trailer (3.2m YouTube views), released just last week, only runs a minute but includes a lot of elements from throughout the campaign, including Phoebe trying to revive her grandfather’s legacy, plenty of antics from the Mini-Pufts and, at the end, the biggest tease to date that the original Ghostbusters are back in action.

Rudd made the talk show rounds to not only promote the movie but also accept his status as the newest Sexiest Man Alive according to People Magazine.

A poster for ScreenX shows the Ecto-1 making crop circles in someone’s field. D-Box put out a commercial promoting the more visceral experience audiences will have seeing it in that format. The Dolby Cinemas poster shows the Ecto-1 racing toward trouble.

Inglewood, CA residents could stop by Randy’s Donuts recently to get movie-themed donuts from the Ecto-1. Also on the food front, Hi-C revived its Ecto Cooler drink as a tie-in promotion.

A premiere red carpet event was held just days ago in New York City with the cast and crew all in attendance.

Murray, Hudson and Ackroyd appeared together on “The Tonight Show” to talk about reuniting for the sequel after so many years.

Costar Logan Kimchi hosted a featurette introducing audiences to the rest of the movie’s cast.

An interview with Coon had her talking about the way the movie depicts science, the family-centric nature of the story and more.

overall

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 66% and projections estimating an opening weekend take of $30 million or less (the 2016 movie – considered to have flopped hard – brought in $46 million) it seems that demand for a direct sequel isn’t as high as those who hold the rights might be hoping.

If that comes to pass it could indicate that pure, single-malt nostalgia is powerful enough to sell high end replicas of 30 year old toys but not enough to actually generate interest in *anything* new for that property.

Such a statement would be a powerful rebuke to those who jumped on the narrative, even free from any misogyny, that the 2016 movie failed because it deviated too far from the norm.

Sony GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

About the marketing campaign for this movie specifically there are a few themes that are apparent:

Mini-Pufts as Minions: Let’s remember that the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the first movie isn’t a comedic element in and of itself. It’s a harbinger of death, with the Ghostbusters reacting comedically to its appearance. But here, they are treated like any sort of recent cute, animated creation. As such they form one of the centerpieces of the campaign.

Paul Rudd GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Ecto-1 as Ark of the Covenant: The central element on all the posters is the converted ambulance that has been pulled out of the garage and fixed up for a new generation. That makes sense, but it also betrays a lack of faith in the new characters, whose faces aren’t even seen on those posters because so much real estate is devoted to a car.

Paul Rudd GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

Recreating the Past: More than anything, the campaign is about including as many easter eggs referencing the original as possible. Just scan the movie’s Twitter feed and you’ll see multiple retweets of others who have pointed out similarities – sometimes shot for shot – between the first movie and what’s seen in the new one’s trailers.

All of that isn’t to say that the campaign isn’t good. It is. But it also relies almost exclusively on creating a sense of nostalgia in an audience that may only be interested in watching the original instead of exploring any new territory lest it tarnish their long-held opinions.

venom: let there be carnage – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a sequel like a…well…you know

To call the first Venom movie a bit of a surprise would be a significant understatement. Part super-anti-hero movie, part romantic comedy, part buddy cop movie and featuring one of the all-time great “he doesn’t even know what movie he’s in” performances from star Tom Hardy, it was at the same time a terrifying misfire and also somehow great, it defied expectations to gross a decent $213 million at the domestic box-office.

Now the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, arrives in theaters. Directed by Andy Serkis and with Hardy returning as Eddie Brock/Venom and Michelle Williams returning as his ex-fiancee Anne Weying, the story picks up a year after the events of the first film. As the title implies, this one delivers on the tease from the end of the 2018 movie with Woody Harrelson appearing as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer Brock attempts to interview and who will have his own symbiote dynamic.

announcement and casting

Hardy was talking about the potential for sequels even before the October 2018 release of the first film. Sony was quick to capitalize on the positive buzz for that movie, though, and announced a release date for the second one in November 2018.

Harrelson had already signed on to the project as part of his agreement to appear as Kassady in the teaser at the end of the original. Rumors and vague reports about what was in store for the sequel were brought into finer focus when, in early August of 2019, Serkis was announced as the director of the film, replacing Ruben Fleischer.

Later that year additional cast members – including Naomie Harris as Frances Barrison / Shriek, a character from the comics that is a love interest of Kassady/Carnage – were announced, with principal photography wrapping up just before the pandemic shut many productions down in early 2020.

In April of last year Paramount both gave the movie an official subtitle and a new June 2021 release date (it was originally scheduled for October 2020) as the studio pushed titles in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. A video announcement confirmed both elements of that.

official marketing gets underway

Things were very quiet for a good long while between that April 2020 announcement and the May 2021 kickoff of the movie’s actual marketing campaign.

That kickoff included the release of the first trailer (34.4m views on YouTube) which quickly catches us up on Eddie and Venom’s relationship, which is that of a weird even more symbiotic Odd Couple that helps protect local bodega owners. But we quickly get to Kasady being cryptic and weird with Eddie, eventually becoming Carnage and wreaking havoc on the city. It’s not much, but it delivers on the promise setup in the first movie, so it’s all good.

At the same time the first poster came out, immediately establishing the conflict in the story as the camera peers out from Venom’s mouth to show Carnage *very* close and clearly on the attack. This is an object lesson in how to not beat around the bush and just send the message the audience wants, in this case that the movie is all about two symbiotes beating each other to a pulp for two hours.

In June Serkis appeared in a video announcing a fan art contest in conjunction with Talenthouse. Some of these submissions would be featured on the movie’s social media profiles throughout the remainder of the campaign.

An interview with screenwriter Kelly Marcel had her talking about developing the script, including collaborating with Hardy, who is getting his first “story by” credit.

Movie-themed stickers featuring both Venom and Carnage were made available for TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Also on the mobile front, a selfie lens that put Venom or Carnage’s head on your own was released for Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

The second trailer (36.8m views on YouTube) came out at the beginning of this past August. It focuses much more on Kassady, from his instance on speaking only to Brock while in prison to how he gets the Carnage symbiote to the kind of mayhem he causes after breaking out. There are a few small appearances from Shriek but Anne Weying doesn’t show up until close to the end for a couple gags about Brock’s ability to control Venom’s actions.

Apple TV+ hosted an exclusive behind the scenes featurette after that trailer came out.

Two more posters then came out in mid-August. One once again features both symbiotes but this time they’re positioned as two halves of the same face instead of squaring off against each other. The other goes back to having Carnage attack Venom

At that point energy drink G-Fuel began promoting its movie-themed collectors cans, with both aliens featured on different can designs.

A much-shared interview with Hardy had the actor commenting on a number of things, including how much he wants to see the Venom/Spider-Man that everyone has been speculating on actually happen and what he already has in mind for a third movie.

The traditional super hero ensemble design is used on the theatrical poster, released at the end of August. The two symbiotes are seen at the top of the “V” shape formed by the assembled heads of the characters, with Carnage shown more fully toward the bottom.

Regal Cinemas released a video promo for its 4DX presentation, which adds motion and other sensations to the viewing experience.

Shorter videos started coming out at about the same time, roughly a month ahead of release, that were used for social media promotions as well as TV spots and pre-roll video ads. Some were just action-based while others delved into the dynamic between Brock and Kassady.

Given all other delays, including one in August that moved the release to mid-October, it was a little surprising when, at the beginning of September, Sony brought it up two weeks to early October.

A “FansFirst” screening was held in mid-September with Hardy and Serkis in attendance to help get those lucky enough to get in hyped up for the movie.

Dolby Cinema’s exclusive poster takes an artistic approach to the fight between Venom and Carnage, using the same sort of pose seen on other posters but with a minimalist design. The IMAX poster takes the opposite approach, still using a painted design but this time so detailed and graphic it looks like literally any comic book cover from 1994. The 4DX poster has the two faces sort of bleeding into and over one another.

A series of character posters followed that put the characters head in a “V” design that had their silhouette then featured at the bottom. The one for Anne Weying is notable for showing her at the bottom as the She-Venom she briefly became in the first movie, hinting that there may be additional transformations in store for her.

NFL star George Kittle appears in an ESPN promo that has him talking about moving in as Venom’s new roommate, which is just as hilarious and problematic as you’d imagine.

Of course, as is now standard, there was a Venom skin offered in Fortnight.

Sony hosted “Venom Day” the Monday prior to release, encouraging fans to contribute to the conversation and share their fandom. It also included videos from a handful of minor celebrities where, in the middle of having a conversation, they actually transform into Venom.

The first clip shows Kassady first transforming into Carnage as he breaks out of prison just as he’s about to be put to death.

Serkis talks about where Brock and Venom are as a couple in this installment and how that forms the foundation of the story in a featurette. In another we meet Shriek, with comments from both Serkis and Harris.

Another FansFirst screening was held just days ago with Serkis in attendance.

One final TV spot, released in the last couple days, uses the new song “Last One Standing” by Skylar Grey ft. Polo G, Mozzy, and Eminem, who had the title song in the original film.

overall

You have to hand it to Sony Pictures, the studio really leaned into the “glorious, psychotic trainwreck” vibe of the first movie and the unexpected way audiences latched onto it when promoting this second installment. Everything here is done with as much of a tongue-in-cheek attitude as a major motion picture studio can allow.

From the outset of the actual campaign, Sony understood the assignment was to show large-scale fights between Venom and Carnage and so included that in as many elements as possible. Most of the posters use that confrontation as their sole visual element while the trailers work through whatever character development is necessary to get to the more action-oriented point.

That means, interestingly, that Hardy’s screen time as the human side of the Brock/Venom duo is somewhat limited, which is a shame since his unhinged performance was widely seen as the highlight of the 2018 film. Still, it’s not as limited as Williams’ time on screen, which is a shame in and of itself.

Broken Hearts Gallery – Marketing Recap

How Sony has sold an offbeat romantic comedy.

The Broken Hearts Gallery, new this week in whatever theaters are available, stars Geraldine Viswanathan as Lucy, a young woman getting over her latest romantic misstep. Lucy has a tendency to memorialize past relationships with some sort of souvenir, something her friends and roommates find odd. After a chance meeting with Nick (Dacre Montgomery) and because of her job as an art gallery assistant, Lucy is inspired to take all those leftovers and open a pop-up space showing them off. With social media driving interest, others begin to bring their own relationship mementos and add them to the display at The Broken Hearts Gallery.

Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky, the movie has received a campaign from Sony that has leaned into Lucy’s emotion-driven need to express herself as well as how her efforts to finally find some closure to those relationships might put her in a better position when her friendship with Nick begins to evolve. Decent, if not glowing, reviews have given it a 75 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Lucy and Nick gaze at each other on the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv), released in mid-June. They’re both sitting on a beat up couch that, for some reason, is placed right in the middle of a New York street. That’s probably meant to help establish the story setting and overall aesthetic, which is very much street-level neighborhood NYC. Further hinting at the story comes from the title treatment, rendered here as a neon sign, and the copy “There’s an art to letting go.”

The Trailers

The first trailer (8.3 million views on YouTube) came out in late June and immediately shows how Lucy is having a hard time getting over her most recent failed relationship, something that has her roommates concerned. When she finally does agree to reenter the world it doesn’t go very well, but she does meet Nick, who we find out has dreams of opening a boutique hotel. Lucy agrees to help him with the art, which turns into a community project of memorabilia from past loves. Things progress from there, of course, as their personal and professional relationships both mature and take form.

A second, short, final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just last week. It hits most of the same big beats as the first one, just without some of the details and other moments. The message is similar, though, that this is about Lucy coming to terms with her past relationships and doing something creative while doing so.

Online and Social

Sony’s official website for the film has a pretty standard collection of the marketing materials, including a synopsis, small photo gallery and trailers.

Advertising and Promotions

Sony’s release date for the film has been a moving target given the uncertain theatrical situation, with an early-August timeframe being the latest move, at least before the movie was pulled from the schedule entirely in July.

In August Sony announced the film would have its premiere as one of its drive-in features hosted and screened on the studio lot. That premiere, sponsored by Porsche and Atom Tickets, was held in early September with the cast and filmmakers among others in attendance.

Clips released over the last few weeks include Lucy meeting Nick, Lucy establishing the idea for her makeshift gallery and her friends trying to get her to let go of the detritus she’s accumulated from past relationships.

There were also a couple short featurettes offering brief backgrounds on both Lucy and Nick.

Both Viswanathan and Montgomery shot a special promo for Regal Cinemas.

Media and Press

There were a couple interviews with Krinsky where she talked about how long she’s been developing this project and the work she’s put into it as well as how she approached creating an unconventional romantic comedy that is coming out in the middle of a pandemic.

Viswanathan was interviewed about taking on a leading role as well as how she feels her career is going so far and more.

Overall

One thing that comes through strongly in the campaign is how it seeks to add something fresh to the rom-com genre by frankly discussing female sexuality without sacrificing emotions. In fact the intersection of the two seems to be the main theme of the campaign as we see Lucy navigate how she’s feeling about her past relationships and the desire for something physical. All of that gets channeled into her art.

What’s being sold here is a character-driven rom-com, one that has the added benefit of featuring characters and individuals that still aren’t commonly represented on-screen. It’s all the fresher for it.

Picking Up The Spare

Additional press coverage included a profile of the crafts departments on the production and more from Krinsky on the real life inspiration for the story and how she felt making her directorial debut. 

The stars appeared in a new interview for Regal Cinemas. 

Greyhound – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling the latest WWII film starring Tom Hanks

As is the case with many recent films, we should have marked the theatrical release of Greyhound a while ago. As it stands, though, the movie is coming to VOD this week via Apple TV+.

Based on “The Good Shepherd” by C S Forester, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Krause, a relatively inexperienced naval commander who is assigned to an Allied convoy crossing the Atlantic in the early days of World War II. Krause, still unsure in his post, faces a number of challenges, from the elements to the crew to the phalanx of Nazi submarines that stalk the convoy. Determined to keep his crew alive, Krause has to dig deep to balance all the problems in need of solving.

The campaign – first from Sony and then Apple – focuses on Hanks and his role as Krause, a no-nonsense commander in a no-nonsense situation. Reviews have been somewhat mixed so far, with the movie scoring 76 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment.

The Posters

In March the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out, showing Krause looking to the side with a colorful sunset – as well as a billowing American flag – behind him. Flying through the sky are warplanes to help establish the military setting. Copy at the top reads “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was getting there,” hinting at how it’s a story of troop transportation logistics we’re in for.

That same text, and the same photo of Krause, is used on the second poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), also from March. But this time the conflict of the story is made a bit more explicit with the inclusion of images from a naval battle between submarines and destroyers. This fixes a key shortcoming of the first poster.

The same design was used on a new poster from June that ditches the copy but adds the Apple TV+ logo to signal the platform the movie will wind up being available on.

The Trailers

Krause is commanding a ship across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic in 1942 as the trailer (12.5 million views on YouTube), released in March, opens. As part of a convoy of Allied ships, that means dodging U-boats and coming to the rescue of other ships. This is his first trip, but the choices he makes keep him and his crew alive from one moment to the next, even as others in the flotilla aren’t as lucky. It’s a tense story of survival being sold here, all told in colors that are just as saturated as the emotions are heightened.

Online and Social

Apple didn’t manage any sort of website for the movie, just a product page that has some rudimentary information and plenty of information on how to try the streaming service. It looks like a Twitter account was setup, but likely just to post the trailer so it could be used as an ad on that network.

Advertising and Promotions

Almost as soon as the marketing campaign kicked off in March the studio announced the release date was being pushed back by a month, but the reasons for doing so were unclear. In May news broke that Sony had offloaded the movie to Apple TV+ with no theatrical release potential in sight because of the Covid-19 situation. Finally in mid-June an early-July Apple TV+ debut date was announced.

At the same time, ads on YouTube and elsewhere promoted its upcoming Apple TV+ availability, using elements of the key art along with the trailer.

Apple released a featurette just a few days ago that had Hanks and others talking about the film’s story, the history behind it and more.

Media and Press

An interview with director Aaron Schneider allowed him to talk about how he approached making the film, especially working with Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay.

Overall

It’s strange to see the release imminent and for there to have been so little press involvement from Hanks, who was reportedly extremely disappointed when the film shifted from theatrical to VOD release. He’s usually been the biggest resource his film’s campaigns can rely on, and while he’s been out talking about Covid-19 testing and mask wearing, he doesn’t seem to have talked much about this film.

Despite that, this is a decent campaign for what looks like a Very Serious Movie. But it remains puzzling why it was ever slated for a summer release when it seems more like an October or November title with its subject matter, tone and visual style. I’m not sure who the summer audience for this would have been, especially if things had gone as planned and Tenet had been sucking up all the Serious Summer Movie air from the room.

Also missing is any mention of the source book or context for the period that would help audiences get their heads around it. So while it’s good, there’s definite areas where it falls short in capturing people’s attention.

Picking Up The Spare

Hanks and Schneider were interviewed here about their goal of authenticity in how the characters and situations were depicted on screen. Similar ground was also covered in an interview with costume designer Julie Weiss. 

Another featurette with Hanks and others offered additional looks at the filming of the movie. Similar ground was covered when Hanks stopped by “The Late Show.”

There was a bit of coverage as awards season started on the behind-the-scenes details of making the film. 

Bloodshot – Marketing Recap

The last movie that will ever open in 2020 comes out this week.

bloodshot poster 2Bloodshot, based on the Valiant Comics series and character of the same name, hits theaters this weekend, just before the world as we know it comes to an end and after other studios have pulled a n number of big-name titles from the release calendar.

Initially expected, via tracking reports, to have an opening weekend of around $10 million, that number is likely to be much lower given the U.S. public is now quickly moving into full self-quarantine/social distancing mode. Heck, it’s not even clear if theaters are still going to be open this weekend.

Despite all that, the movie stars Vin Diesel as Ray Garrison, a soldier killed in battle who is brought back to life by a mysterious organization. Not only is he resurrected, advanced technology gives him incredible powers, including being able to heal himself from injury and massive strength. Given missions by his masters, Garrison – now codenamed Bloodshot – also sets out to find the man he believes murdered his wife. But his memories may not be trustworthy as he finds reality is much more complicated than it seems.

Sony’s campaign has made the most of Diesel’s limited dramatic range, using special effects to fill in the rest in an attempt to appeal to audiences.

The Posters

Garrison is walking purposefully toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in January. You can see the character’s trademark glowing red chest symbol beneath his shirt, especially through what appear to be bullet holes. That symbol is reiterated visually behind him. At the top we’re told “You don’t need a past to have a future,” referencing the gaps in Bloodshot’s memory that fuel a lot of the story.

That same pose is used on the next poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), which adds a couple of the allies Bloodshot surrounds himself with to the background. This time the tagline reads “Being a super hero is in his blood.”, which isn’t quite as good as the first attempt.

Other posters, including one for IMAX, used variations on those themes, either showing Bloodshot on his own and up close or pulling the camera out to allow for the supporting characters and settings to be seen.

Of particular note is how some of the posters – especially the first one – make sure to call out that the movie is “Based on the best-selling comic book.” Many movies rooted in comics aren’t quite as clear in selling the source material, which is a real problem facing the comics industry, so it’s nice to see one that does so.

The Trailers

As many trailers about lone, angry men do, the trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) for this movie, released in October of last year, opens by showing us how much Garrison loves his wife, who of course is a tall, leggy blonde. Cut to him waking up on a table to find out he died and has been brought back by a company that injected him with microscope organisms that make him stronger and heal injuries instantly. He takes off to find the man responsible for killing his wife, something that’s easier thanks to his healing abilities. Turns out, though, that the people who claim to be helping him are actually manipulating his memories to send him on assassination missions. When Garrison starts to put things together he sets his sights on them.

Online and Social

The landing page of the movie’s official website features the key art seen on the first poster, but that’s about as interesting as things get. It’s just the usual marketing materials shared here, lacking even a link or information on the source comic series.

Advertising and Promotions

Footage – and more importantly audio – from the movie was used in a promotional video by Dolby for its Atmos sound experience.

TV advertising began in early March with spots like this that boiled the sales pitch down to some cool special effects and a creepy bad guy. Similar videos were used for online and social media ads.

A first clip was given to Sony’s PlayStation division earlier this month showing the newly revived Garrison learning what he’s become a part of.

Sony announced last week this would be the latest title released in its new ICE immersive format.

The red carpet premiere was held earlier this week (before such events started getting canceled) and had all the stars and filmmakers in attendance. Diesel and others made sure to call out the comics the movie is based on to the audience both in person and online.

Another clip given to Fandango is all about the action, showing how Bloodshot can reconstitute himself after being seemingly injured.

A featurette released at the last minute has Diesel introducing the character to audiences.

Media and Press

The movie’s director and producer were interviewed around the time the first trailer came out, talking about the character and how they think audiences will react to him.

Diesel stopped by “Kimmel” to talk about this film and more. Costars Sam Heugan, Eliza Gonzalez and Lamorne Morris also made some talk show appearances.

An interview with the lead actor had him establishing that not only could there be more Bloodshot movies but that this might act as the launching point for a shared universe of Valiant Comics characters. Another feature profile had him talking about this movie and lots more.

Director David S.F. Wilson was interviewed about how his experience with special effects helped him navigate his first helming effort.

Overall

As it stands, the campaign Sony mounted sells an utterly ridiculous, over-the-top science fiction action movie featuring an actor who makes damp drywall seem overly emotive. He’s very popular, but outside of the Fast Saga that popularity is somewhat questionable.

That’s why, while the star can’t exactly be hidden away in the marketing, he certainly seems to be taking a back seat to the special effects.

The biggest sword hanging over the movie is whether or not there’s any willingness among the public to go to the movies this weekend. On the one hand, this campaign offers some decent escapism from the massive chunks of detritus falling from the sky at the moment. On the other, any public gathering right now seems like asking to become a public health cautionary tale.

So we’ll see how things turn out. Whatever happens, Sony’s campaign is outlandish and ridiculous. Whether it works or not might be up to a tiny little virus.

Bad Boys For Life – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Bad Boys For Life at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual marketing materials, the official website features a Meme Maker feature that lets people upload a photo and then add the movie’s title treatment to it. The result can then be shared on social or sent to friends.

Media and Publicity

The project was one that had gone through many starts and stops over the years, subject to endless speculation on if or when it might happen. It wasn’t until early January that Smith shared a photo confirming production had begun. He later offered a first official look at the movie as well.

Lawrence and Smith appeared jointly on “Good Morning America” while the two made separate stops on “The Tonight Show” over the last week or so. Smith also chatted with Seth Myers on “Late Night.”

How Lawrence has overcome the troubles he’s had both personally and professionally in the last 20 years or so was covered in this interview with the actor.

Why now was the perfect time to bring the Bad Boys back to the big screen and more were covered in comments made by the stars and others on the movie’s premiere red carpet.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

More from Lawrence on his return to acting and what he’s been up to here. There was also finally some attention paid to Hudgens and her supporting role in this feature.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer spoke at the premiere about the movie and why another sequel has been so long in the works.

Will Smith drove a Lyft car in Miami in a promotional stunt for the movie.

Spies in Disguise – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for Spies In Disguise at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Not much of note on the movie’s official website, which is laid out in the usual Fox site template. I would have expected something more like a “turn yourself into a pigeon” photo upload feature or casual game or something else, but none of that is here.

Media and Press

Holland appeared on “Kimmel” in early December to talk about this movie as well as others. Other than that there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push for the film, maybe because both stars have been out promoting other projects very recently and this was deemed not worth the effort.

Overall

I’m honestly not sure who this is meant for or who’s supposed to be enticed by this campaign. It’s a mystery to me.

Picking Up the Spare

Another commercial came out just before Christmas that focused on the “Team Weird” theme that emerged late in the campaign. There were also videos of Smith and Holland experiencing an escape room of sorts and a new clip released as well.

A profile of the movie and its creators focused how it seeks to communicate inventive and non-violent solutions to problems for kids.