Get a 360-Degree View of Seven Recent VR Movie Campaigns

Here’s how a number of recent movie campaign – from The Meg to Star Wars and more – have used 360-degree VR to reach audiences.

The Meg has proven to be a surprise hit in the late days of summer, racking up over $105 million at the box office since it was released in early August. The campaign mounted by Warner Bros. for one of the few non-franchise action/adventure movies of the year was light on story or character and heavy on the threats posed by a massive prehistoric shark – a megalodon – that has survived for millennia and is now emerging to terrorize divers and beachgoers.

With the size and scale of beast being such an important part of the sales pitch and story (it’s said to be over 70 feet long, or almost three of the shark from Jaws) it makes sense WB would want to find a way to help audiences experience that in some way.

Hence The Meg’s VR “Submersible” Experience. The studio took a trailer with VR headsets on tour and allowed fans to stop by for a three-minute experience that put them in the position of being a diver who’s trying to be rescued from an underwater base. A trailer helped to sell that and those who couldn’t attend in-person could still view a video recreation featuring the work of DNEG and Practical Magic.

That’s just the latest in a series of immersive VR and 360-degree video experiences that have been part of several large movie campaigns over the last couple years.

The Nun

To give audiences a sense of the evil the movie would bring into their lives, Warner Bros. created “Escape the Abbey,” a headset-based VR experience. The online version walks you through the abbey the story takes place in, where you’ll encounter a demonic nun that will scare the religion right out of you.

Game Over, Man

There’s nothing hugely integral to the story about the VR experience Netflix created for this Die Hard homage. It actually directly contradicts the movie by showing the three main characters run into a hotel room to escape the bad guys. While we hear gunplay and other destruction happening outside the guys are more interested in getting high and avoiding the danger. There are a few cuts to mark some kind of time lapse, which lets you spin the camera around to see where they’re huddled up at the moment.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

The core message Paramount worked to communicate to audiences in the lead-up to this movie’s release was that Tom Cruise was willing and able to do most all his own stunts. That included learning to fly a helicopter for a key aerial chase sequence. To help sell that the studio released a behind-the-scenes video that offered a perspective just behind that of Cruise in the pilot’s seat, allowing you to move the camera around to see just how close the canyon walls were and how dangerous things really got.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The plot of Rogue One, the first of the “Story” movies in the Star Wars franchise, focused on the Rebel Alliance trying to obtain the plans to the first Death Star so they can find a weakness and destroy it. But how did they even know it existed? That’s the subject of “Rogue One: Recon,” a VR experience created by Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic and Verizon and available at the time exclusively in Verizon stores. The video took you inside the cockpit of an X-Wing whose pilot, along with his wingman, stumbles onto the space station and tries to gather as much information as possible to transmit back to base.


Immersion within the world of the movie was a big part of the campaign for this Stephen King adaptation. That included a real-world recreation of the house where the kids in the story discover Pennywise and a VR execution titled “IT Floats” that pulled you through a sewer grate and let you move around the tunnels, where you eventually came face-to-face with the clown.

King Kong: Skull Island

The team of Legendary VR and ILMxLabs created “Destination: Skull Island,” a short experience that took the viewer inside one of the helicopters headed to the island inhabited by Kong and other giant creatures. That helicopter trip doesn’t last long as it’s knocked out of the sky by those inhabitants and the chopper itself tossed about like plaything.

The Conjuring 2

Those wishing to explore the haunted house featured in the movie on their own were able to “Experience Enfield” and navigate a home filled with spinning crosses, bleeding walls and all sorts of other creepiness, all tied to the story. The video opens with a note that it’s best experienced when sitting in a spinning chair, but why that might be isn’t made clear. It also features an introduction by director James Wan.

The Jungle Book

The Moving Picture Company (which did the effects for the film” and Tangerine Apps created two videos that served as introductions of sorts to the world of the movie. The first has Kaa slithering toward you while the second has King Louie offering to protect Mowgli…for a price. Both are specifically labeled as offering a look “through Mowgli’s eyes,” which reinforced the theme of the campaign as a whole that the story was being given a fresh perspective focusing on his experiences.

Pete’s Dragon

Also coming from Tangerine Apps, there were another two videos to promote this update of the classic story. One took you deep into the woods where Pete finds the mysterious dragon of legend while the other shifts the perspective to one high above the clouds as you ride Elliott through the sky.

Isle of Dogs

Instead of seeking to immerse viewers within the movie, Fox Searchlight took people inside the process of making it. The behind-the-scenes video features Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) as well as the other characters explaining the movie’s story to the audience. If you move the camera around you can see the animation crew crafting the models and making each micro-adjustment. That’s very much in line with the rest of the campaign, which emphasized the craft of the movie as much as it did the story and characters.

There are others as well, of course. Skyscraper, Tomb Raider, Justice League and others have all had some kind of VR execution, sometimes for Samsung, Sony, Oculus or other hardware platforms and sometimes in short games available at select theaters around the country. It’s clear, though, that we’re moving somewhat beyond the experimental phase with the technology and that it’s beginning to be used to not just offer new perspectives on the movie but in some cases to expand the story in new and interesting ways.

If Experiences Go Virtual, San Diego Comic-Con Promotion Could Become Even More Iffy

Virtual reality offers a chance to bring promotional experiences to more people at a fraction of the cost.

Over at The Hollywood Reporter I wrote about how and why some major movie studios were sitting out this year’s iteration of San Diego Comic-Con, currently underway.

As I said there, it’s not as if the event is completely devoid of major movie marketing efforts, nor is there a severe lack of TV shows being pitched to the entertainment-loving audience in attendance. There are some market forces, though, that are making studios and producers reevaluate the massive spending outlay involved in making an impression at SDCC as well as some scheduling oddities that mean a few major franchises are just not in a place to use the event as part of their publicity cycle.

There’s a long history of entertainment brands creating events and experiences for fans to take part in and enjoy, hopefully sharing their excitement both online and off and creating word-of-mouth for upcoming movies and TV shows. This isn’t unique to SDCC as it’s a tactic that’s been utilized at SXSW and other festivals and conventions. The idea is to immerse attendees in the brand to the extent it occupies a significant amount of their awareness.

Here’s a list of the experiences and activations available. Notably, with just a few exceptions they are almost all outside the San Diego Convention Center as it’s too small and crowded to accommodate them. That means the studios and producers are increasing the level of commitment necessary to find them, before even getting into line.

  • Alita: Battle Angel, with a scavenger hunt that leads those successful in gathering all the clues to an off-site event with cast and crew from the movie.
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story, with a lifesize replica of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit people can sit in and take pictures of. This one is actually part of the Star Wars booth on the show floor.
  • “The Good Place,” with a whole recreation of the neighborhood from the show.
  • Ready Player One, with a “World of…” VR experience that takes people inside the OASIS as well as 80s trivia contests and props from the movie.
  • “Jack Ryan,” with a “training experience” that allows attendees to see what it’s like to become an elite intelligence agent
  • “The Purge,” with a “Purge City” shop containing everything you need to survive Purge Night as well as information on the political movement that gave rise to The Purge.
  • “Castle Rock,” with a recreation of a street from the titular town including storefronts and clues as to the story and characters encountered in the show
  • “DC Universe,” with a variety of experiences, props and more to promote the original shows like “Harley Quinn,” “Swamp Thing” and others coming to the new OTT service

Cool. Now explain to me how most all of this couldn’t be recreated in virtual reality in a way that would likely be more cost-efficient and reach more people directly than dragging sets, props and legal waivers to San Diego.

I don’t mean to discount the visceral experience or how tactile connections create stronger attachments. There will always be a place for the physical. But a lot of these – especially ones like the “Harley Quinn” room, the “Jack Ryan” training experience and a few others – seem like they would be relatively easy to port over to VR executions as that technology improves. Either it can be something available via personal headsets like Oculus or spread out to theaters and other hubs as was done for movies like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Justice League.

Also worth noting is that some of these are either the same, or variations on, experiences that were brought to other events earlier. The World of Ready Player One showed up at SXSW a few months ago, as did an immersive experience for Alita: Battle Angel. That and other smaller or more niche events may have better return on investment because the crowds aren’t as big, the space isn’t as crowded and the opportunities to make an impression are greater.

It would be irresponsible of entertainment marketers to not be evaluating how these kinds of executions can be streamlined and broadened. If media companies are indeed reevaluating the ROI of SDCC – and history is littered with properties that went all-in there or elsewhere only to flop in theaters and on TV – this most certainly needs to be part of that thinking.

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