Rambo: Last Blood – Marketing Recap

The embodiment of Reagan-era military machismo returns, but what’s the message 37 years after his debut?

rambo last blood poster 2Rambo: Last Blood is an obvious play on First Blood, the title of the 1982 of grizzled and dangerous Vietnam Vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). It implies that this is the end cap of a story that to date has included four movies, the last one coming out in 2008.

This time around John Rambo (Stallone) is a decade into the kind of peaceful retirement that seemed to elude him. Rambo is living on his family’s farm and trying to avoid violence. When his niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) is kidnapped and attacked by members of a drug cartel while visiting Mexico, he goes after her but finds she’s already dead. The gang follows Rambo back to the states, but find fighting him on his own turf gives him a decided advantage.

Lionsgate is likely hoping the $24 million opening weekend predicted by early tracking is conservative. The studio’s campaign, though, is designed more to evoke nostalgia for an era that is long past and largely ignores a story that seems slightly cringe-worthy.

The Posters

rambo last blood poster 1A blurry Rambo is shown on the first poster (by marketing agency LA) from late May, obscured by the smoke rising from a line of flames in the foreground but clearly taking aim at something with his signature bow and arrow. It’s a solid opening statement for the movie.

The second poster, released in early August, makes things more explicit with a grainy black and white photo of Rambo looking grim and determined while clutching his trusty bow and arrow.

The Trailers

Rambo is seemingly retired and living a solitary life on his farm as the first teaser trailer (19.7 million views on YouTube) opens. He wants to remain on his own but is also ready for the day his past comes to haunt him again. That day finally comes and he sets about raining death and destruction down on those who are out to get him. There’s no story details offered here about who it is that’s after him or why they’ve targeted him, it’s just Rambo doing what he does best.

A second short trailer (5.9 million views on YouTube) was released in August that starts out by showing why he’s returned to the violence he thought he’d left behind: An attack on his niece by some local thugs. From there on out it’s all about Rambo setting the traps that will be used against the men coming to attack him, much of which is interspersed with footage from the first movies to show the parallels between the stories.

Online and Social

Nothing of real note on the ticket-centric official website for the movie.

Advertising and Publicity

In early May Stallone announced he would bring a preview of this movie to the Cannes Film Festival while also planning to screen a newly restored version of the original that kicked off the series.

A very strange video was released by Lionsgate in late August that was so tonally different from the rest of the campaign it seems the people who created it weren’t even aware something new was coming out. “Rambo’s Greatest Hits” is presented like a TV commercial for a band’s greatest hits, promising to collect all the best violence from the previous films in one place and giving each sequence a funny, song-like title. It ends with the promise of more to come in the new movie.

Alamo Drafthouse announced in September it would screen all the Rambo movies to date in theaters around the country, culminating in the new film being shown.

TV spots began running in early September that sold the movie as Rambo’s last violent outing, the latest in a lifetime of action. These commercials liberally sprinkled in footage from the earlier films to remind audiences of the characters legacy, promising to live up to those standards.

The studio held press events in Mexico and the U.S., and early screenings were held for select audiences – including the Texas A&M Football team – to try and start building some buzz.

Lionsgate, along with the City of Los Angeles, declared September 18th – this past Wednesday – to be “Rambo Day,” a day for fans to share their love of the Rambo franchise as a whole. People who posted pictures and other updates about their Rambo collections or appreciation used #RamboDay on Twitter and elsewhere, with some posts shared by the movie’s official profile.

A short behind the scenes featurette was released just days ago that had Stallone and others talking (vaguely) about the story and where the character of John Rambo is when the movie opens.

Media and Press

Some of the first real news outside of casting came when it was reported Stallone liked some early key art concepts so much he immediately bought it to put on t-shirts and other merchandise.

Closer to release, Stallone was interviewed about why he chose to revive a character that has lain dormant for over a decade and was unseen for 20 years prior to that. He used a line that is seen throughout the campaign, that “the warrior can never find peace.” It’s an interesting concept, one that is more than a little nihilistic in its worldview, as if once you go to war you’re haunted by real, physical violence for the rest of your life.

Overall

A lot of my feelings about this campaign are summed up by Mike Ryan, who said:

That’s been my thought throughout the campaign: What’s the point here? What is it that is new and interesting that can be communicated through the persona of John Rambo and what commentary can be offered on the world of 2019 as a result?

The answer seems to be “nothing.” Instead of anything that’s relevant to today’s world, the marketing promises only more violence in service of a story focused on a man seeking revenge when a woman in his life is harmed. That’s a wholly unoriginal take, one that is so common it warrants its own snigglet. In an era where black filmmakers are telling stories of urban gentrification, women directors are focusing on the exploitation of sex workers and so on, toxic, hate-filled, violent masculinity seems massively dated and out of touch.

Then again, it could be seen as a response to Hollywood’s supposed hatred of men.

Aside from all that, I’m not sure I’ve seen a campaign recently filled with so little self-awareness. Not only does half the marketing ignore the new movie in favor of showing footage or images from one of the previous four, but it plays as a parody of itself and the genre the original Rambo helped define. While it started off incredibly seriously, the “Greatest Hits” and “Rambo Day” videos seem to be selling a Hot Shots!-like spoof.

As a whole the campaign is so over the top it’s hard to imagine the movie achieving a box office victory this weekend. Stallone may be driven to revisit the classic characters of his past, but the years of pining for Oscar glory appear to be behind him as daylight fades. He’s mentioned interest in a sequel should this film succeed, so it likely ends on a cliffhanger. Lionsgate should hope it has an escape plan for when it tanks, in no small part because of a campaign that’s expendable in every way.

Picking Up the Spare

Stallone finally hit the talk show circuit closer to release.

Despite Stallone’s earlier comments about the potential for another movie later on, director Gruberg was interviewed about helming the final chapter in the story.

A report shows how a desperate publicist emailed suggested pull quotes to critics in the hopes of generating some positive word of mouth started.

Creed II – Marketing Recap

creed 2 poster 52015’s Creed was better than it really had any right to be, taking the continued story of Rocky Balboa and providing a fresh perspective by introducing us to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed. Apollo (Carl Weathers), of course was killed in the ring by the Russian propaganda machine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in an exhibition bout back in the 80s.

This week’s Creed II hopes to build off that good will and tie this new chapter even more closely to the Rocky legacy. After Adonis, in the first movie, worked so hard to live up to his late father’s name now he faces an even more stark reminder of the past. That comes in the person of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed his father all those years ago. Adonis is called out by Viktor and, with the support of his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), sets out to do what he needs to.

The Posters

Adonis stands defiantly and stubbornly on the first poster, a giant Roman numeral II in the background. It’s stark and powerful and does its job, which is tell the audience the character is coming back this Thanksgiving. A second poster put Rocky in the same position. Another set showed Adonis in a moment of angst as he kneels on the canvas and Rocky looking on from the other side of the ropes.

Finally all the characters, including both Dragos, are included on the next poster, each set looking defiantly at their counterpart.

The Trailers

Rocky narrates the opening of the first trailer as we see Adonis dealing with the effects of his fight from the last movie. The older fighter is warning him that the unnamed challenger coming after Adonis is dangerous and not to be taken lightly. That’s not stopping the young man, who’s still driven to live up to the name of his father and so we see him training hard to right the wrong done all those years ago. It’s not until the very end that we see the challenger come into frame, the name “Drago” on the back of his robe.

Adonis is ready for the next challenge in the first full trailer, even if that includes getting in the ring with the son of the man who killed his father. That’s something Rocky wants to discourage him from for personal reasons. The main theme of the trailer, though, is that Adonis is stepping back into the ring to help and and support the people he loves and can only do so because of that love and support.

Online and Social

Not much of interest on the movie’s official website, just the skimpiest of information.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot, released in mid-October, cut the story down to the basic elements by showing how Drago was calling out Creed, who can’t resist rising to it. Promoted Tweets like this were run in the days leading up to release to drive last-minute ticket sales. Online ads used key art and other images of Jordan to drive traffic to the official site so people can buy tickets.

The website didn’t offer much background on any promotional partners, so the only one that popped up was Nke, which launched the “Adonis Creed Collection” of apparel and gear inspired by the movie and character.

Media and Publicity

The press portion of the campaign kicked off in early August with some stills showing Adonis and Rocky back in action.

In mid-August a video was released showing Jordan surprising a super-fan with a special experience. The actor later spoke about how Stallone pushed for there to be a more specific antagonist in the sequel and how one with ties to the Creed character was seen as a natural fit in that role.

Around the time of the second trailer, Caple spoke about how he was encouraged to take on directorial duties for this movie and the advice he got from both Coogler and Stallone.

A featurette had Jordan talking about how this was his first sequel and how everyone involved wanted to make the story more intense and personal, while everyone praised Caple and his directorial efforts. Another connects this story to the first movie, emphasizing the themes of the past coming back to haunt Rocky and Adonis while a third had the cast and crew talking about the evolution of the characters and how the story focuses on family connections and responsibilities.

A series of featurettes was released in the early part of November, each exploring the background of the main characters in the movie. There were videos for Viktor Drago, his father Ivan, Adonis and Bianca.

Thompson showed up on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about the movie a couple weeks before release. At about the same time Lundgren appeared on “The Late Show” in character to have some fun with Russian stereotypes.

An interview with Jordan, Thompson and Caple allowed them to continue talking about how the story focused on the importance of family but also explain how it shows a young professional black couple, something not often seen on screen. Caple was interviewed on his own again, mentioning how he almost passed on the film until Coogler, Stallone and others made him feel comfortable he’d be able to make it his own. He also spoke about the inspirations behind Thompson’s character’s music and performance.

Lundgren was interviewed about how he went about returning to the character after so many years and what went into updating the elder Drago. Jordan and Thompson then spoke about the story and how they enjoyed working together once again, all while Jordan was named GQ’s Man of the Year.

A video for “Shea Butter Baby” from Ari Lennox, one of the news songs on the film’s soundtrack, was released just a few days ago.

Overall

After a bit of a shaky start things really kicked into gear when the cast, as well as Caple, got more fully involved and started speaking about the characters and the story. Their personalities and their passion for the project all started coming through more clearly.

That was an even more powerful message than the connections of the story to the rest of the Rocky history. Those elements were still on display, but allowing Jordan, Thompson and the others to get out there and apply their personalities to the publicity campaign.

Picking Up The Spare

Jordan hit “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Thompson “The Daily Show” to talk about making the sequel.

Cable Jr. also spoke more about how he and the cast wanted to more than just create a nod to nostalgia for the original Rocky movies.

A Dobly-specific poster was finally released shortly after the movie hit theaters.