With Movies Paused, Super Bowl Ads In Question

Big Game, But What Movies Will Be Advertised?

Here’s how Jason Lynch opens his Adweek article on where CBS is in its attempts to sell commercial time during next year’s Super Bowl:

As the NFL regular season nears its halfway point, the clock is ticking for marketers to decide whether they want to be a part of Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled to air Feb. 7 on CBS.

The clock is indeed ticking. Surely some movie studios are considering whether or not to participate and air spots for their upcoming films during the broadcast. But with the Hollywood release calendar constantly in flux – including Disney’s recent removal of Free Guy and Death on the Nile from this December – and coronavirus cases hitting new highs every day, it’s nearly impossible to even guess what movies might make the cut. Heck, it’s even legitimate to ask if the game itself will happen as scheduled.

Of course that won’t stop me from engaging in a little largely unfounded speculation, broken down by studio below.

Disney et al

The King’s Man: This one has been moved around quite a bit by the studio so far, originally scheduled for November, 2019 but is now planned for February 15, 2021. If, at the end of January, that date is still locked then Disney may hope to get a bit of last-minute awareness and attention with a commercial during the game.

Raya and the Last Dragon: The game being a month out from Raya’s current release date means a spot would be hitting right as the marketing campaign was ramping up in earnest.

Black Widow: Of all of Disney’s releases in the first half of 2021 this one seems the most likely, assuming that the current 5/7/21 date holds. The game would provide a big platform for Marvel Studios to essentially relaunch the MCU, which has now been on hold since the middle of 2019.

Cruella: Disney has only stumbled once or twice with its live action remakes/adaptations in recent years, and it’s probably hoping the charm of Emma Stone in the title role makes this one a success. Those titles seem to appeal to all age groups and a Super Bowl spot would reach a broad range of demographics.


Tomb Raider 2: The first movie wasn’t a massive blockbuster, but Paramount is in desperate need of a franchise so it was good enough to warrant a sequel. Some of the first advertising for the original happened in the 2018 NFL playoffs, so the studio might hope to tap into the audience one more time.

A Quiet Place 2: Similarly, the 2018 Super Bowl was the launching pad for TV advertising for the original movie, spots that instantly generated massive amounts of buzz for what everyone agreed looked like an intriguing concept and story.

Warner Bros.

Tom and Jerry: Even if movie theaters are still closed, it’s at least a somewhat safe bet WB keeps this on its 3/5/21 date, meaning Super Bowl spots could run that promote a Scoob!-like PVOD release.

Godzilla vs King Kong: This movie has been sporadically promoted since it was announced in late 2015, with several delays happening even before the pandemic. Assuming it’s actually happening, a commercial here would come three months before release, which isn’t unheard of for bigger titles.

In The Heights: Advertising a musical in the highest profile sporting event of the year might seem odd, but WB might hope that audiences are as enamored by musicals – especially those with a connection with Lin-Manuel Miranda – to give it a shot.


Morbius: This is just a reminder that Morbius is a movie that’s actually happening, so unless Sony decides to dump it somewhere it will likely want to promote it.

No Time To Die: This is the rare instance where the constant pushing of release dates may actually be advantageous, providing an opportunity to put commercials for it in front of a sizable audience.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: As above, moving this to June means Sony could give this release a big platform. Such a platform might help it reach an audience that needs to be convinced to come back to the Ghostbusters franchise after the disappointing results of 2016’s Paul Feig-directed installment.

Universal Pictures

F9: If the movie is still coming out in June, it will get a Super Bowl spot. End of story. It’s not even a question.

Amazon Studios

Without Remorse: The streaming companies have for years been talking about how they want and need an blockbuster action franchise of their own but so far that’s eluded them. After grabbing this from Paramount, Amazon could want to make a huge deal about a high-profile release with a big-name star debuting on Prime Video with a commercial during the game.

Still…That’s a Lot of Money

CBS is charging $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to Lynch. While the studios might not have to pay that full amount, advertising during the Super Bowl would still be a big and expensive bet to make.

To make that bet worth it, the theatrical picture would have to not only be more secure it would almost have to be a mortal lock. And considering they would be making that bet at least a month or so out from release it becomes even more uncertain. Even if a vaccine is available by February, its distribution won’t be anywhere near universal, meaning there could still be closures and other restrictions in place.

A more complete picture of what studios are placing that bet and what movies they’re choosing to advertise will hopefully be more clear in the coming months.

Welcome to Marwen – Marketing Recap

The marketing of WELCOME TO MARWEN.

welcome to marwen poster 9Steve Carell stars in this week’s Welcome to Marwen, the new movie from director Robert Zemeckis. Based on a true story, Carell plays Mark Hogancamp, an artist who one day experiences a violent attack by a bunch of ignorant rednecks in a bar and suffers injuries requiring surgery and later physical therapy.

The attack also leaves Mark with few memories of his pre-attack life. To try and regain those memories Mark channels his artistic tendencies into creating a miniature town named Marwen. Populating the town are figures representing himself as well as the various women in his life, including his new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann). The fantastic stories he concocts for these characters channel his feelings, which come to a climax when he’s asked to testify against those who beat him.

The Posters

Hoagie, Mark’s figurine alter-ego, is shown on the first poster but nothing else about the story is shared. Instead the main value proposition offered here is that the movie comes from the director of Forrest Gump and that he’s inviting you “to a most unexpected place.”

A series of posters uses the action figure incarnations of each character to introduce them to the audience, offering their name and their status in the story as as “The new recruit,” The leader” and so on.

The final theatrical poster puts Mark and Hoagie next to each other on adjoining seats, the audience being told that “You can’t put this hero in a box.”

The Trailers

The trailer gives us a good look at the fantastical world created by Mark. It follows him as we hear about who he is – a well-respected artist – and see him meet the lovely new neighbor from across the street. When he’s jumped by a gang of Nazis, his injuries limit how much he can do so he finds inspiration to go on from the characters in the art he makes, including the determination to testify against his attackers.

It shows a movie where reality and fantasy are going to bleed into one another but features what looks to be a strong performance from Carell and yet another tragic underuse of Mann.

The second trailer focuses more firmly on how Mark was attacked and how his injuries left him with no memories of his life before, meaning he lives out the stories in his head through the figures he’s created. He explains how every one of them represents someone from his life and are part of his healing process.

It’s a much stronger trailer because it’s more clearly about the story of Mark dealing with the repercussions of what’s happened to him, without getting too bogged down in the relationship with Nicol.

After introducing us to the main characters that live in Mark’s stories, the third and final trailer offers the same explanation of the story we’ve seen before, but with a slightly stronger emphasis on how he’s created this fantasy world to deal with being the victim of a hate crime.

Online and Social

It’s only the basic information about the movie offered on its official website, including prompts to buy tickets and links to profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Short videos like this were used as Promoted Posts on Twitter starting in mid-November.

An augmented reality experience was promoted, offering users the chance to not only view 360-degree versions of a scene from the movie but put themselves in that scene and share pictures elsewhere online.

Media and Publicity

The movie was part of the CineEurope presentation from the studio. Carell was named as a host for a mid-November episode of “Saturday Night Live” to help promote the movie closer to release.

Things were pretty dark on the promotional front until the movie’s red carpet premiere a couple weeks prior to release, where the cast and crew talked about the true story and the process of creating the world of the film.

Mann stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and everything else, with Kruger appearing there a couple days later. Other members of the cast, including Janelle Monae, did their own media rounds, as did Zemeckis himself. Carell also did “The Late Show” to chat with his old buddy Colbert.

A short featurette released just before the movie came out included Zemeckis talking about the inspiring true story and more. A bunch of clips offered expanded looks at scenes glimpsed in the trailers.

The release of the movie also brought new attention to the documentary that tells Hogancamp’s story and which is available to stream or download on a few platforms.


For a movie that seems to be so focused on emotions there’s an odd coldness to the campaign. It’s so concerned with the idea of watching Mark’s figures act out his stories that it doesn’t offer audiences much in the way of empathy toward what he as a person is actually going through.

It makes sense as those sequences are interesting and, most importantly, part of Zemeckis’ brand that’s focused on innovative visual effects. But the campaign fails to connect those visuals to anything meaningful no matter how many times we see Carell struggling.

Picking Up the Spare

Kruger was interviewed about the movie and the roles she’s tired of taking.

Pacific Rim: Uprising – Marketing Recap

pacific rim uprising poster 10It seems like critics and audiences were genuinely surprised when 2013’s Pacific Rim was as good as it wound up being. But really, what did we expect from a movie about giant machines fighting giant monsters that was directed by Guillermo del Toro? It’s on us that we didn’t see a movie that combined large-scale action with lots of heart and impressive character development. At a time when “visionary” is tossed around all-too-often, del Toro deserves it more than most others.

That the first movie was a financial success made it inevitable a sequel would happen. After a few false starts and commitments to other projects, del Toro bowed out of directing but stays on as a producer for this week’s Pacific Rim Uprising. Set 10 years after the events of the first movie, John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Alba’s Stacker Pentecost in the original. Jake is reluctant to follow in his father’s military footsteps but when a new threat arises he, along with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and a batch of new recruits to the Jaeger program have to once more fight to cancel the apocalypse.

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Pitch Perfect 3 – Marketing Recap

pitch perfect 3 poster“We’re getting the band back together” seems to be the main focus of Pitch Perfect 3. After going their separate ways, the members of the Barden Bellas find that adulting is hard and nothing makes them feel as good as singing in a college a cappella group did. Not only that, but a new generation has come along and taken the group’s title, reminding them of how old they’re getting and how their lives aren’t turning out as expected.

At a get together with Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Aubrey (Anna Camp) and the others, Chloe (Brittany Snow) suggests they try to get aboard a USO tour of Europe, bringing their vocal stylings to the troops. Heading overseas presents an opportunity to not only recapture former glory but also get into a whole new set of hijinks and outrageous situations.

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American Made – Marketing Recap

The “action/adventure” phase of Tom Cruise’s career continues in this week’s American Made. Directed by Doug Liman, the movie casts Cruise in the true story of Barry Seal, an everyday guy who’s recruited by the CIA to run drugs on behalf of a cartel as part of a covert operation.

Seal, a natural hustler and fast-talker, is a perfect fit for this assignment, able to talk his way out of any situation, while alternatively relying on the resources of either the cartel or CIA, depending on the situation. So he’s living the high life while acting as both patriot and criminal, able to enjoy the benefits of both employers.

The Posters

Cruise walks toward the camera with a bag spilling out money in his hand and a cocky smile on his face. “It’s not a felony if you’re doing it for the good guys” reads the copy at the top, building the expectation that the story will live right on the edge of legality. A cool red-striped design behind him shows the criminals his actions bring him in contact with, the plane he’s going to be flying and his worried-looking wife. It’s a cool design that, because there’s even a bit of attention being paid to how art works, sells a pretty appealing movie.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens by showing Seal being accosted mid-air by the DEA and forced to land on a suburban street before beating a hasty getaway. We then flashback to see him as a regular airline pilot who’s recruited by the CIA to run some very questionable shipments into some rough areas. He’s really good at this and so operations expand, but so does the scrutiny given to him and the stakes of what he’s doing. That not only causes tension with his wife but also leads to him being at the wrong end of a rifle more times than he might be comfortable with.

It’s a fast, loose and fun trailer that shows how much style director Doug Liman has when he wants to. Cruise is more appealing here than he has been in at least a few years because he’s not trying to be all brow-furrowing serious but because he’s given a chance to bring his natural charisma and charm to bear. It’s not just about him running, it’s about a character that lives on the edge of danger and that’s a Cruise we don’t see too often these days.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you’re promised “The sky is never the limit.” In the upper left is a prompt to buy tickets while in the bottom right there’s a small video player just above links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

In the upper right of the main page is a button encouraging you to “Fly With Barry.” That opens up an interactive map where you can explore the routes he took and the missions he was engaged in. It’s a cool way to dive into the real story that inspired the movie.

Back to the main page, scroll down and after a few images and graphics you get to the “About” section that has a brief synopsis along with a cast and crew list. The “Characters” section just has a still along with who the actor playing the real-life character is.

“Photos” has some production stills and the poster you can scroll through, while “Videos” has the trailer and a couple featurettes that take you inside the production or offer insights into the real Barry Seal.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The trailer, or at least parts of it, were used as pre-roll ads on YouTube that play out the unbelievable nature of the story, which is presented as fast and loose. Other pre-roll spots included a featurette that focused on Cruise’s enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Social media ads used clips from the trailer as well.

Media and Publicity

Liman apparently sought Gleeson out for the movie, citing the actor’s work ethic as a big reason for casting him. The director also spoke about how Cruise did all his own flying, a variation on the “does many/all of his own stunts” theme that often accompanies his movies, meant to prove the actor’s continued youth and vitality despite the fact that he’s 55.

Oddly, at least at this point, there’s no major presence by Cruise himself in the publicity campaign. Instead his role has been limited to featurettes and official media like this one, which keep him on-script and don’t open him up to unpredictable questions or audience interactions. That might be because of the increased scrutiny Scientology is under at the moment or because of a lawsuit over the deaths of two pilots during production that he’s named in. Whatever the reason, it’s odd to have a star of his magnitude confined to the sidelines.


As we’ve seen a few times in the last month, this is being sold as a middle-of-the-road adventure-filled comedic drama featuring a huge star. It promises the audience a rollicking good time following the story of someone few are likely to be already familiar with but which promises exotic locations, drugs and a lavish lifestyle courtesy of illegal activity. It’s positioned as escapist entertainment.

The combination of a limited marketing campaign – just one poster and just one trailer for a Tom Cruise movie! – and a publicity push that didn’t include the star almost at all make it a lackluster overall effort, though, and one that the public might see through. There’s some good stuff here to be sure but I can’t escape the notion there’s a lack of faith betrayed by the marketing. Clearly being in the Tom Cruise business is still a good call, but for some reason the studio is a bit gun-shy it seems.

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

Atomic Blonde – Marketing Recap

It’s not always fair when we compare new movies to James Bond. Nothing can truly measure up the legacy of 50+ years that the British spy has established. Nevertheless “It’s like Bond, but…” is a convenient narrative shorthand and has been used plentifully in the lead up to the release of Atomic Blonde. In the new movie, based on a series of graphic novels, Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a long-standing MI6 agent with a history of getting results, no matter what it takes.

Things turn personal (as they are apt to in spy stories) when a former partner/lover turns up dead. Not only that but she’s sent on a dangerous mission into Cold War Berlin to retrieve and extract a dossier containing highly-sensitive information. To that end she teams with local station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), albeit reluctantly. The deeper she gets, though, the more she finds enemies lurking behind every corner, including those she once considered allies.

The Posters

The first poster made quite the impression, showing Theron standing and facing the camera, a blonde wig showing up white in the monochromatic image, sunglasses obscuring her eyes and a gun at her side. it’s stylish and mysterious and pretty amazing.

The second poster uses an image from a key scene in the trailer of Theron kicking butt in a hallway full of goons as its centerpiece. The title is below that and at the top are a bunch of positive quotes from early reviews. This one is very much about selling this as an action movie, not just a sexy action movie, which is clear since Theron is fully dressed in this image.

Another poster featured a close-up (though from the side) of Theron, her bright hair standing out in the black and white photo and a gun shown against her shoulder.

One final poster was released at Comic-Con, where the movie had various other promotional efforts going on. This one features original artwork and not just a photo, as it basically mashes up Theron’s poses from the previous one-sheets, the one with her sporting shades and the one with a gun draped across her arm. In the background you can see a sea of umbrellas opened just as in the trailers. There are a few other smaller images thrown in there to add some texture and details. There’s an appeal at the bottom to see it in Dolby Cinema at AMC, promising “Atomic sounds. Brighter blondes.”

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with Broughton suiting up for action before cutting to her taking on a group of bad guys single handedly in what may already be one of the best action sequences of 2017. We then get a bit more of her backstory finding out she’s an MI6 operative with a strong and violent skill set. She’s tasked with retrieving a document from Berlin and finding out who’s killing intelligence operatives, which involves seducing a female source and causing all kinds of damage in the process.

It’s a really good trailer and I’m absolutely here for Theron and other female stars in more action roles like this, even if I do have some issues with both how it’s being sold and how the press framed the debut of the trailer.

The second trailer starts off with Broughton narrating how how she chose this dangerous life before taking out a room full of bad guys single handedly. We get her background and find out with her what her mission is. Her trip to Berlin doesn’t start off as expected, though, until she meets her contact in the city. From there it’s’ more sexy outfits and her doing some sexy meeting of a French intelligence agent. She talks about how someone on the inside has set her up and she’s going to take it very personally. All that happens along with footage of her beating up even more various henchmen and other baddies.

The part that works best here is that it presents a more linear, cohesive story for the movie. We get a better sense of the stakes and the relationships and that all works to sell even more effectively what already looks like a fun, if violent, movie.

Online and Social

The official website opens by playing the second trailer. After that you see the key art of a cold, seductive, deadly assassin wearing shades, a bleach blond wig and ready for action. There’s a button on the bottom of the page encouraging you to Get Tickets. Also down there, just before the links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles, is a link to the “It Gets Better Project” that helps support LGBTQ kids. There’s also a link to “Make Your Own I Am Atomic” image, which lets you upload a picture and choose your own word, then download the result as a GIF to share on the social network of your choice.

Back to the main site, in the drop-down menu on the left the first choice is another chance to buy tickets. That’s followed by “Videos,” which is where you can watch both the trailers as well as the short teasers for them.

Next up are the “Chapters” the studio released over time. These amounted to extended clips from the movie that served the purpose of introducing us to the characters and the world they operate in, as well as continuing to give fans something to talk about.

This is the first time I’ve seen a “Gallery” that is just GIFs. There don’t appear to be any stills here, just three GIFs of footage pulled from the trailers. Finally the “About” section has a story synopsis and the cast and crew list.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A bit of TV advertising was done. This commercial, in particular, pulled directly from the scene used in the trailers of Broughton beating up the police in the apartment but added video game-like hit counters to the action. More readily seen was the plentiful online advertising that’s been done using the key art and the social advertising that used the trailers on Twitter and Facebook.

Media and Publicity

Before the trailer was released we got a glimpse at Theron and the movie as a whole with some first look photos that included comments from the actress about her training program for the role. More new photos and comments from the director appeared in EW’s summer movie preview. Theron also talked about the same-sex love scene that’s featured heavily in the trailers and how the decision to go down that road came about.

The movie was announced as having a substantial presence at San Diego Comic-Con, signaling it’s going hard after the geek audience. Not only was Theron scheduled to appear on an unrelated “Women Who Kick Ass” panel but she graced the special issue of EW that was distributed throughout San Diego. Oh, and the movie was screened for select attendees, given them an advance look so they can go home and online to talk about it to their friends and hopefully drive more ticket sales. At one of the panels Theron talked about how the story was designed to upend expectations and would be more than a little surprising to the audience.

New stills appeared in EW’s Comic-Con preview issue showing off more of Theron’s international woman of mystery along with an interview with the actress.

Both McAvoy and Theron did the press rounds to talk about the movie, with him recounting doing some “sexy fighting” and her engaging in crazy dance competitions and lots more.


It’s hard not to get on board with Theron as a hard-fighting spy in Cold War Berlin. She certainly has more action film credibility in the wake of Mad Max: Fury Road but was always a capable physical actress, even before that. It’s no more a stretch to see her in a role like this than it was in 2002 as Matt Damon, primarily a dramatic and comedic actor, prepared to storm the box office in The Bourne Identity. To hammer home the point that she can absolutely play a tough woman of mystery a good chunk of the campaign was devoted to showing Theron shoulder-deep in stunt training, working out fight choreography and talking about the physical demands of the role. That emphasis may be an attempt to cut short some old-fashioned thinking involving the phrase “the weaker sex” and related topics.

With that aside, the marketing has a wonderfully visual style. It’s all glammed up in neon, dark blues and grays that evoke the bleak conditions that are synonymous with mid-80s Berlin, which was still divided and which has often been portrayed as the turf warring spies met each other on. That permeates the campaign, starting with the posters and going through the trailers and everything else. It’s sleek and stylized, just like the movie it’s supporting.

Jaws (Flashback Movie Marketing)

Discovery Channel last night kicked off their 29th annual edition of Shark Week, a solid seven days of programming devoted to creatures that occupy a unique place in the public consciousness. While most species of shark are relatively harmless to people, one type has excited the imagination and provoked fear unlike most other modern animals: The great white. So with this week being all about the hunters of the open water, it’s a good chance to look back a whopping 42 years at the marketing of Steven Spielberg’s classic thriller Jaws.

The story, based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, follows Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), the new police chief in Amityville, a small seaside town that relies on tourist travel to its beaches. It’s not long after Brody’s arrival that strange deaths start occurring out in the water, deaths the town’s mayor is quick to dismiss as accidental. Brody’s skeptical though and brings in shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to confirm his fears something is hunting the local waters. To take out the threat the two enlist Quint (Robert Shaw), one of the town’s more colorful fishermen, to go out and find the beast once and for all.

The movie was coming out just three years after the bestselling book hit shelves so it was still enjoying sizable public awareness. That’s why, just as with many many adaptations, the source material is the top value proposition on the theatrical poster. In fact the poster’s design features a similar image to that of the first hardcover printing of the book. Both show a shark coming up toward the surface of the water where a lone swimmer is blissfully unaware of the danger that lurks beneath. Where the book’s cover was more subdued, using a monochromatic color scheme, the movie’s poster goes all-in on the terror. The woman swimming at the top is still there but now the shark isn’t a vague shape, it’s fearsome monster with sharp teeth exposed as it prepares to take her.

It’s always so interesting for me to look back at movies like this because it presents an opportunity to see how reputations and awareness of certain things have changed over time. This was Spielberg’s first major feature and so he’s given no more credit here than any other first-time director over the years. He wasn’t heralded, the trumpets weren’t announcing his arrival. Señor Spielbergo was just another kid who convinced a couple producers to take a chance on him. With the first trailer for Ready Player One referring to him as a “Cinematic game changer,” it’s notable that it was just four decades ago that he was an unknown.

The theatrical trailer starts out by setting out just how dangerous the shark in question is, explaining that it’s an unthinking eating machine that may very well be the physical incarnation of the devil. We hear about the warnings that are given about the danger lurking along the beaches and what it means for the town that relies on people feeling like this is a good place to swim and relax. There are shots from the various attacks the killer shark commits before we switch over to the hunt for the beast involving Brody, Hooper and Quint. Their efforts are intense as they face an opponent that seems more massive than they believed and doesn’t appear stoppable. At the end, we get the cast alongside the key poster art and the narrator warns us to “See it…before you go swimming.”

Once more, it has to be noted that Spielberg is completely omitted from the campaign here. That it’s based on Benchley’s popular novel is mentioned at least once but the director isn’t even given a nod. It’s also interesting how most of the trailer doesn’t show the titular shark. The audience then didn’t have the context we do now about the troubles the practical special effect gave the filmmakers, which led to it being hinted at in the movie more than shown.

With that in mind, the effect is the same, though. The audience is asked to invest in the plight of the characters that are impacted by the shark attacks and the ensuing hunt more than shown the shark that’s causing all this trouble. It creates the impression of the movie being a psychological thriller, which is actually pretty close to what it winds up being, more than a B-grade monster movie. Compare that to the trailers for more recent shark movies like 47 Meters Down or The Shallows, where one or more sharks are shown in stark close-up that emphasizes the size of the danger the protagonists face. For Jaws it wasn’t about what’s out there, it’s about what *could* be out there, which is often more dangerous and intimidating.

Girls Trip – Marketing Recap

We’ve seen groups of female friends learn How To Be Single. We’ve seen them embrace the dark side and become Bad Moms. We’ve seen them have a Rough Night. Now we’re going to see them take a Girls Trip. This latest installment in the “ladies behaving badly” genre follows four longtime friends as they travel to New Orleans for Essence Festival, a weekend of music, eating and inspirational speakers hosted by the magazine of the same name.

The four friends in question are Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), all of who are, of course, at different places in their lives. They all agree to get together for a long-overdue road trip, though. Despite the reservations of some of the group, they all wind up getting loose once in town as they enjoy all the spirits and men New Orleans has to offer.

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Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (Flashback Movie Marketing)

mst3k movie posterToday Shout! Factory is doing something that, were I still 18 years old with nothing to do for hours on end on a summer day, I’d be totally down for: Streaming 38 episodes of the original incarnation of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” it has the rights to on its Twitch channel. The stunt has a couple goals seemingly in mind: First, i wants to show off its Twitch channel and reach the powerful, incredibly sticky audience that site has, especially around gamers and others who like to watch live broadcasts from others. Second, Shout! wants to draft off the renewed buzz for MST3K, which recently relaunched on Netflix with new episodes starring Jonah Ray and others.

So because I can, today I’m going to take this flimsy excuse and look back at the marketing of 1996’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

The movie was the product of what turned out to be a tumultuous time for the show. Shot between the sixth and seventh seasons, its production wound up shortening that seventh season. That meant it was just a season-and-a-half after the departure of original host Joel Hodgson, when fans were still kind of getting used to the slightly different style of Mike Nelson. In fact Hodgson’s departure was at least in part due to producer Jim Mallon’s desire to produce a theatrical feature. That abridged seventh season – it was just six episodes long – would be its last on Comedy Central, which no longer felt this sci-fi themed show fit into its more hip, political brand identity. So at the same time MST3K was never more popular, the result of a rabid tape-trading fanbase, and never on shakier ground.

In the midst of all that the talent and creators of the show signed up with Universal to bring MST3K to theaters. To do so they picked This Island Earth, a Universal-owned science fiction classic that unlike many films riffed by the team actually had a pretty good reputation. There’s no big conceit that’s added to the basic show formula: Mike, Tom Servo and Crow are sent a movie by Dr. Clayton Forester that is meant to drive them mad as part of his plan to rule the world. Instead, they wind up wisecracking their way through it to retain their sanity. In between movie segments the residents of the Satellite of Love engage in various hijinks, including trying to dig a tunnel through space back to Earth, attempting to repair the Hubble space telescope and more.

That’s a stark contrast to many TV-to-movie adaptations, where there’s some bigger plot that’s shoehorned onto the basic idea. This is the show writ-large, though its 75-minute runtime means it actually comes in at least 20 minutes under what a normal TV broadcast would be. Perhaps this retention of the low-concept outline was part of the reason the movie got a *very* limited release by Universal (my friends and I had to go to the one theater in Chicago it was playing at and it wouldn’t stick around long enough to expand) and has languished with barebones and infrequent releases on home video.

this_island_earth_ver2_xlgWhile Universal was anxious to release the movie at first, the marketing push perhaps showed that the “the show, but on the big screen” approach was a difficult one to sell. That starts on the poster, which is a direct appeal to the show’s existing fanbase with almost nothing to attract anyone not already familiar with this not-too-distant future. Mike and the Bots are shown in their familiar silhouette at the bottom of the image, looking up at the screen. On that screen are images from This Island Earth, though that movie isn’t mentioned at all. In addition to those images, which are pulled straight from the one-sheet for the original movie, we see the giant MST3K logo hanging in space, with “The Movie” added to it. A word balloon coming from Mike’s mouth declares “Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them.”

That’s an OK tagline in that it evokes the often dry sense of humor of the show. But it’s less than compelling and seems a bit half-hearted in the end, like no one could think of anything better so they just went with something that was mildly self-deprecating and called it a day.

The trailer opens with that same copy, which is shown and narrated as Mike and the Bots are shown entering the theater and taking their seats. The narration continues as it sells the idea of the show but this time without a censor. From there on out we get a mishmash of clips from the host segments as well as a few riffs from inside the theater itself.

It’s…weak. Again, there’s no surprise the movie didn’t find a mass audience as there’s nothing here that’s going to appeal to anyone who wasn’t already likely to have been watching the show. If you don’t know who Mike and the Bots are and what that guy in the green lab coat is doing spanking himself with the clipboard, there’s nothing for you here. There’s no decryption code offered for non-fans. Sure, you get a sense of what’s going on, but it fails to sell the audience on anything but watching a movie about watching a movie.

Perhaps that’s why the concept behind MST3K worked so well on the small screen but failed to translate to the larger one, where it takes a lot more intentional effort on the part of the audience to accept the meta nature of the idea.

MST3K: The Movie is a pretty good episode of the show, which is not an insult in any way. But the campaign, which seems to have been tossed off by Universal/Gramercy after it realized it had no idea how to sell such a low-concept movie.