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.


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.

Spider-Man: Far From Home – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Spider-Man: Far From Home at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Surprisingly, the movie’s official website is actually pretty basic and a little boring. It just has the standard marketing content along with a “Fan Art” section that’s a nice touch. There are also links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

Before any other formal publicity had started, Holland showed up in a skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to retrieve his mask and let people know the movie was coming out in the summer of 2019. In early December, Gyllenhaal joined Instagram with a post teasing his role as the movie’s big bad.

Gyllenhaal talked about how this was the right time for him to make the move into big productions while he was promoting Velvet Buzzsaw earlier this year and how he was obsessed with his costar Holland.

During the Avengers: Endgame press cycle, Marvel’s Kevin Feige revealed that this, not Endgame, was actually the final entry in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though he was still vague on when the story actually takes place. How that movie impacted this one was the subject of an interview with the creative team. Holland also teased what’s in store for Peter Parker as he tries to be a super hero outside his native New York City.

After the second trailer came out and created all sorts of post-Endgame questions Watts addressed some of them, including how the time jump from that movie might impact the characters in this one.

Much of the primary cast appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about shooting the film and what they thought of it in relation to Endgame. They also made a surprise appearance at Disneyland to the delight of visitors to a stunt show featuring Spider-Man.

An extended bit on a later episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was billed as an “exclusive clip” but was really just a fake scene with Kimmel playing a dry cleaning employee interacting awkwardly with Peter Parker.

Holland appeared on “The Late Show” to share stories of filming the movie and more. He later teased there were rough plans for him to make a brief cameo in Into the Spider-Verse that were spiked early on in the process. Zendaya stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about filming and stunts and more.

Watts talked more about how he worked over the last couple years with the Russo Brothers to make sure his movie worked in connection with theirs and what surprises he’s planted for fans. He also later explained that scenes included in the trailer that were cut in the final film would reappear in a new short on the home video release.

The cast made an appearance in costume at a Los Angeles children’s hospital to visit patients there.

The Gyllenhaal/Holland pairing on the publicity circuit isn’t quite at Gyllenhaal/Reynolds, but it’s close, reinforced by the results of the photo shoot for another EW cover story.


One more point I didn’t fully make in my THR column was that, upon further review, there were almost no story stakes presented the campaign for the movie. Sure, Spidey seems to team up with Mysterio at the behest of Fury, but beyond stopping a handful of ill-defined creatures, what does it matter? Neither that showdown nor Peter’s crush on MJ are shown in any way that the outcomes matters in a tangible way.

That’s remarkable and shows that with these massive event movies you don’t need to make the audience care about the characters or story, just show them that they’re there.

Picking Up the Spare

There have been a lot of conversations with the movie’s writers and directors, including one where the writers discussed *that* Nick Fury line from the trailer. The costume designers also talked about the looks sported by Spidey and Mysterio. 

EW offered lots more on the movie, including reports from an earlier set visit and an exclusive custom Snapchat lens.

The movie reportedly received $288 million worth in media promotions from Sony and its partners.

Gyllenhaal’s appearance on “The Late Show” continued the love fest between him and Holland.  

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Marketing Recap

My full recap of the marketing for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is up at The Hollywood Reporter.

To launch the animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Sony has built a campaign around getting fans talking about its most unusual and unexpected Spider-Man project to date. Screenings, fan Q&A sessions and convention appearances have generated some of the franchise’s most positive reviews to date and has the movie tracking to land in the $30-35 million opening weekend range.

Online and Social

There’s little beyond the usual assortment of trailers, synopses and a photo gallery on the movie’s official website. The most interesting feature is a section offering brief introductions to the characters in the story. Not found there are links to the official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. There was also an official collection of GIFs shared on Tenor.

Media and Publicity

Entertainment Weekly’s San Diego Comic-Con issue had an interview with Moore where he talked about Morales’ journey in the story along with comments from Lord and Miller about how they really wanted to bring a comic book feel to the movie.

Later on a look at some of the classic Spidey costumes that would be seen in the film was released, followed by another new photo and additional comments. Cage spoke briefly about how he approached his version of the character.

The crew, including a Sony executive or two, was interviewed about the efforts to make the movie’s cast and characters more diverse and inclusive and what that means for the story and audience.

At the same time the Spider-Ham clip was released there were a couple stories like this that offered readers more of an introduction to the offbeat character. Moore was interviewed separately about taking on the role, at least in terms of voice, of Morales.

On the movie’s premiere red carpet the cast was interviewed about the movie and how much fun it is.

Mulaney appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about Spider-Ham and share some outtakes from his character.

spider ham spider verse spider man

One last clip showed Morales working up the courage and embracing the support of others before making his first big leap as Spider-Man.

Adweek offered more details on the promotional partnership with Synchrony Bank.


In addition to what I said at THR, the overriding theme of the campaign is that Sony makes the best Spider-Man movies when it ignores all its previous instincts. That’s the only logical conclusion after this and last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, made in conjunction with Marvel Studios, are the best-reviewed movies featuring the character.

Picking Up the Spare

A bunch of new short TV spots came out including mentions of how positively reviewed the movie was and offering an additional promotion at the end for the new PS4 game.

Johnson was interviewed again about the themes of the movie and production while the crew spoke about the emphasis they placed on inclusion and representation among the characters on screen. That was also the focus of an interview with Kimiko Glenn, who voices Peni Parker.

Henry appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie.

Sony finally, about a week after release, made a five-song EP of Christmas songs available on streaming and download services. You can watch the video for one of the tracks here.

General Mills promoted its cobranded packaging with paid posts on Twitter. And the story of how Air Jordan 1s got into the movie was recounted.

The visual look of the film was the subject of a couple profiles with the animators and filmmakers.

Sony Taps Villains to Keep the Spider-Man Franchise Running

It’s a good time to be a bad guy.

There’s an old saying about how Batman is a character defined by his villains. Each bad guy in some way reflects an element of the hero’s character, with Joker chaos representing the limits Batman puts on his own behavior, Riddler’s puzzles representing his analytical mind and so on.

All of that is true, but it’s just as accurate to say Batman is defined by his allies. Nightwing has the kind of optimism and belief in people Batman has lost. Batgirl is the ultimate unifier, bringing together other heroes just as easily as Batman pushes them away. Red Hood is a constant reminder of the price of failure.

Spider-Man has a substantial rogue’s gallery, most of whom have like him adopted some kind of animalistic totem for their identities. Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, Vulture, Scorpion, Rhino, Jackal and others all fit into that category while many of the rest are either some kind of Goblin.

What he lacks, though, is a lineup of regular allies.

Throughout his comics run, Spider-Man has teamed up with just about every other Marvel Comics character at some point or another. He was even the star of a long-running titled called “Marvel Team-Up” where every month he’d work alongside everyone from Captain America to The Thing to Professor X to Daredevil to Man-Thing and Howard the Duck. Spidey was for decades the lynchpin of the Marvel Universe, the representation of the new kind of hero Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were creating in the early 1960s.

Unfortunately that role has left him associate to everyone and yet partner to none. The characters most commonly associated with the hero – Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson and others – are all unpowered. He is defined in large part by his solitude and how closed off he is from other heroes. Even after joining The Avengers in the early 2000s, he struggled to balance his commitment to the team with his responsibilities to others in his life.

Despite Spidey’s history of team-ups, none of those characters are in the portfolio managed by Sony. All the Avengers belong to Disney while the X-Men and Fantastic Four are under Fox’s oversight. That leaves almost no one – at least no one with a heroic alter-ego – for Spider-Man to work with or hand the reins of a movie spin off to.

So, with nowhere to turn to for on-screen partnerships, Sony has instead decided the lineup of villains is its best bet if it wants to keep the Spider-Man franchise operating in between sequels – including the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home – and reboots.

Sinister Six – A movie featuring some combination of Spidey’s most famous bad guys was teased pretty heavily in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and announced shortly after that, but ultimately fell apart. It’s possible there could be another attempt, but nothing official has been announced.

Venom – The character is finally hitting the big-screen later this year with Tom Hardy in the title role after at least two previous attempts, one tied to each of the first two Spider-Man film series. Reports have gone back and forth as to whether or not this is connected to the current Tom Holland-starring movies, but all that seems to be confirmed is that it’s part of what’s being dubbed “Sony’s Marvel Universe.”

Black Cat & Silver Sable – Felicity Jones appeared as Felicia Hardy, Black Cat’s alter ego, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and might have gone on to don the mask if that series had continued. As it stands, the movie pairing up two of the women in Spider-Man’s life, each a criminal or mercenary of some sort, is on hold but may pick back up in 2019.

Morbious, the Living Vampire – The recent announcement the studio was developing a movie starring Jared Leto indicates just how far it’s willing to reach into the bag to find an ancillary character worthy of the big-screen treatment. Morbious began as a villain but went on to be more of a tragic anti-hero, but still counts for the purposes of this list.

There are, notably, only two available exceptions to this rule:

First is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, coming out later this year. The animated feature has Jake Johnson voicing Peter Parker while Shameik Moore plays Miles Morales, introduced in the comics in the alternate “Ultimates” line. The movie does take it one step further, though, by introducing Spider-Gwen, an alternate reality version of Peter’s late girlfriend Gwen Stacy. But what stands out here is that in order to give Spider-Man any other character to play off of, they had to turn mostly to other, alternate-reality versions of Spider-Man himself.

Second is the recently-reported cinematic take on Silk, a Korean-American girl who’s gifted with spider-esque powers in a way very similar to what happened to Peter Parker. The character was introduced by writer Dan Slott in 2014 and caught on to the extent she’s had a couple short-lived ongoing series in the last few years. Based on Sony’s track record, though, I won’t believe this is actually happening until a trailer is released.

As they say, when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. In this case, a reliance on Spider-Man’s villains is the hammer to Sony’s problem of needing to keep putting movies based on the IP it owns in theaters.

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

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review

Spider-Man is back in theaters in this week’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. After an extended cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, this is Tom Holland’s second outing as the web-slinger and his first in the character’s own movie. Well…kind of his own movie. The corporate cooperation that began with Civil War continues here. Sony, which owns the theatrical rights to Spider-Man, is essentially loaning him out to Marvel Studios, which manages the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Sony gets to use the successful platform of that behemoth to help launch their third go-around at Spider-Man, while Marvel gets to incorporate Spidey into their big event movies.

Continuing the story set up in Civil War, Peter Parker is enamored with the tech genius Tony Stark (played again by Robert Downey Jr.). Stark provides him with a high-tech suit to help Parker fight local neighborhood crime as Spider-Man. The stakes get considerably higher when Spidey crosses paths with, and gets on the wrong side of, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). That conflict threatens everything that Peter holds near and dear and could upend the life he leads as a seemingly unremarkable high school student.

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