space jam: a new legacy – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the sequel to what might be Hollywood’s cynical pinnacle.

The idea that there might be a sequel to 1996’s Space Jam, which paired the recently retired Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters Warner Bros. was hoping to revitalize, has been swirling around for quite a while.

This week the prophecy is finally fulfilled as Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to HBO Max and theaters. This time around LeBron James is the NBA superstar at the center of the story, forced to play basketball after his son Dom (Cedric Joe) is kidnapped by the evil A.I. Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) that runs Warner Bros.’ computer system. James recruits the Looney Tunes to help him, with hijinks ensuing as they face off against the Goon Squad team of avatars assembled by the A.I.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, which currently has a poor 45% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been heavy on IP, using it as the key selling point for the audience to connect with.

The Posters

Character posters (by marketing agency BOND) were released in late March and featured James as well as many of the more well-known Looney Tunes characters like Bugs, Tweety, Lola, Daffy and others. Each is very simply placed in front of a red/blue background so there’s not a lot of action but you definitely are reminded of who will appear in the film.

The next poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out just a few days later, this one showing James and Bugs standing in front of the title like they’re waiting to head out on the basketball court.

In May more character posters (by Works Adv) came out, this batch focusing on the Goon Squad and taking a much more visually-interesting approach, putting each one against what almost looks like street art.

James – and Tweety, of course – soar above the rest of the Looney Tunes on the next poster, released in June.

The final theatrical poster came out in mid-June and just has James standing in

The Trailers

The first trailer came out in early April, announced by a teaser announcement. It starts with LeBron talking with his son, who is promptly sucked into another dimension, with LeBron following soon after that. An evil AI tells him he has to play basketball in order to get Dom back, resulting in LeBron meeting Bugs and the rest of the team, who assemble to help him out. They’re up against the Goon Squad, but the Tunes have a few tricks up their sleeves.

The same basic message is conveyed in the second trailer from June, though with a few additional or changed details.

Online and Social

You’ll find the basic marketing content as well as some games to play on the movie’s official website. There were also social profiles on the major networks.

Of course you can’t discuss a Space Jam website without noting that, for 25 years, the page for the first movie was oddly and stubbornly still around on the internet, offering a time capsule of what late-90s web design encompassed. That site is no longer at the domain it was for over two decades but has been archived on the updated page.

There were also sticker packs created for Giphy, iMessage and WhatsApp.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After seemingly endless years of speculation, the movie moving into production was finally confirmed in September 2018 along with the primary filmmaking team.

After a long period of speculation, James revealed the movie’s official title in April of last year, sharing a video of him wearing a hat sporting the title treatment.

Differences that emerged during the early stages of production lead to initial director Terence Nance to be replaced by Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee in mid-July 2020.

A few months later in August he previewed the new uniforms that were going to be worn by the Tune Squad in the film.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Moving into 2021, a March cover story in EW offered comments from James, details on the story and first looks at the characters, including a redesigned Lola Bunny.

A small, overblown kerfluffle emerged back in March when reports emerged Pepe Le Pew, a problematic at best character, would not appear in the movie, nor was he part of WB’s future Looney Tunes plans. There were conflicting accounts of whether the skunk was included in early cuts of the movie or not, but costar Santo seemed to confirm he did, offering to pay the studio for the cut footage of their scenes together.

[full disclosure: space jam advertised on GoNoodle, my employer, but I was minimally involved in the promotion of that content.]

News that Zendaya had been cast to voice Lola Bunny came just before the first trailer dropped.

After the first trailer came out a video was released showing some of the hidden (and obvious) references and cameos in that trailer.

Cheadle talked about shooting the movie with James when he appeared on “Kimmel” in May.

Also that month the first commercial, which features some of the funnier moments from the trailer, came out.

We Win” by Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin was released in late May, offering the first song from the movie’s soundtrack.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Microsoft/Xbox, which has been involved since late 2020, offering teachers and students – access to STEM lessons hosted by James, who also appeared in a promotional video for the partnership.
  • I PROMISE School, which is part of James’ personal foundation and which has hosted first look events and more throughout the campaign.
  • Nike, which launched a new line of shoes and other apparel featuring movie branding. That included the LeBron 19
  • Candy Crush, which added a movie character takeover to the game.
  • Skype (part of Microsoft), which added movie-themed backgrounds for your video calls.

And of course all of that doesn’t even cover the various consumer merchandise offered to appeal to consumers of all kinds.

A Cartoon Network promo has the Nerdlucks from the first movie steal the powers of the “Teen Titans Go!” characters to hilarious — and in Robin’s case embarrassing — results. That was part of the promotions for “The Teen Titans Go! See Space Jam”, which had the team offering Pop-Up Video style commentary on the original film.

For ESPN there was a faux mini-documentary produced that had James talking about how he needed to team up with the Looney Tunes characters to save his son. The video is presented straight, just like one of ESPN’s other specials, and is the better for it.

More details about the movie’s soundtrack and what artists were contributing to it were shared in mid-June.

The first official clip was shared with Fandango MovieClips at the end of June, showing Speedy, Granny and others going full Matrix.

Another fake documentary type video had James and Bugs Bunny talking about what kind of teammate the other one is, getting into a debate about who’s the GOAT.

DC got another exclusive clip, this time of James and Bugs entering the world of super heroes, though why they turned into Batman & Robin when they were visiting Metropolis is unclear.

Warner Bros. hosted a screening party for the movie at Six Flags California in late June. Later on there was a fan screening in Los Angeles.

A featurette had James along with Ryan Coogler and others talking about the visual style of the movie and more.

James stopped by “Kimmel” – guest-hosted by Arsenio Hall – and then “Good Morning America” to talk about the movie.

The L.A. premiere earlier this week featured appearances by much of the cast and crew.

James, sporting his Tune Squad uniform, was added as a playable character in Fortnite.

Overall

It’s remarkable that the campaign reminds me less of the original Space Jam and more of Ready Player One from a few years ago. That’s because the focus is less on Bugs, Daffy and the craziness of the Looney Tunes and more on the brand synergy Warner Bros. has brought to the movie, bringing in IP from across the company’s portfolio.

Basketball Tune Squad GIF by Space Jam - Find & Share on GIPHY

That contributes to what is a disappointingly lackluster marketing effort, one that is so busy making sure all the cameo characters and settings are given their due that the core elements don’t get much time in the spotlight. The movie looks like some amount of fun, but you don’t have a very strong brand identity because there are scores of other brands that are more important.

no sudden move – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest heist film from one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors.

Of the high profile directors working today perhaps none has embraced streaming quite like Steven Soderbergh. After putting out two movies for Netflix in 2019, this week brings his second straight film for HBO Max.

No Sudden Move focuses on a group of small-time criminals in 1955 who are hired by a mysterious party to steal corporate documents. They recruit a reluctant insider to actually nab the goods, with some of the crooks sent to his home to keep his family in check. But when the job goes sideways they set out to find out who it was that hired them and why.

The movie stars Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin, Benicio del Toro and others as the criminals, David Harbour as the executive marked to actually steal the documents, Amy Seimetz as his wife Mary and Jon Hamm as the Detroit city detective assigned to investigate the crime. With a solid 87% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s campaign has been heavy on the kind of stylized filmmaking that Soderbergh is known for.

The Posters

“Trust is a setup” we’re told on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery). Shown are Goynes and Russo, two of the criminals at the center of the plot played by Cheadle and del Toro. The rest of the notable cast is named at the top of the one-sheet, but the overall design is very simple and moody, setting a dark and shadowy tone for the movie more than anything else.

The Trailers

A brief teaser in late May preceded the first trailer’s release, which didn’t happen until early June.

That trailer (238,000 views on YouTube) is all about selling an attitude and a vibe. It conveys the story of how the criminals are A) convincing a mid-level auto executive to steal company secrets while B) the gang watches over the exec’s family to make sure they don’t do anything stupid and he knows what the consequences for not cooperating are. As usual, everything turns pear-shaped in a flurry of irrational behavior, divided loyalties, law enforcement investigation and other factors, but what’s clear is that this is another stylized Soderbergh production that looks fantastic.

Online and Social

The signed-out landing page for the movie on HBO Max’s site has some very basic information, including a collection of cast headshots, a small gallery of stills and the trailer.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Casting news dominated much of the press for a while. In late September production, previously delayed because of the pandemic, resumed at the same time the movie was renamed from its original “Kill Switch” to the current title.

HBO Max and Warner Bros. confirmed in May that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. At that premiere the cast was interviewed about the movie itself as well as the uncertain nature of the production.

Harbour promoted the film when he appeared on “Late Night” in June.

A profile of Seimetz focused on how she has bounced between acting and writing/directing her own material over her career, including how she steals the show in this film.

While it’s not actually press for the film, Alissa Wilkinson at Vox explores some of the very real social issues, including housing discrimination, highway construction and more, that inform the movie’s setting, action and characters.

Online ads like the one below were used to drive traffic to the HBO Max landing page for the film.

Warner Bros. partnered with Shinola Detroit on a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to Detroit’s Shinola Hotel. The company also created a movie-inspired line of handbags, watches and other apparel.

An interview with screenwriter Ed Solomon emphasized how he and Soderbergh sought to construct a story the audience would have to follow closely if they wanted to get the full experience of the payoff.

Short spots like this were used on social media (and likely elsewhere), presenting a cutdown version of the trailer that continues selling the movie as a high-drama heist story with a great cast.

HBO Max released a featurette with the cast talking about the complex nature of that story and the unique filmmaking aesthetic of Soderbergh.

Overall

What I said above really encapsulates the campaign from Warner Bros./HBO Max: Everything about the campaign is focused on presenting it as a dramatic, tense heist film with a great cast portraying characters who are always just one move away from turning on their compatriots.

Adding to that is the brand Soderbergh has for himself as a director who dabbles in seemingly every possible sub-genre and style. If you told me tomorrow he was directing a remake of The Music Man it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The point being that his involvement in and of itself is a big draw for the movie, which is why his name is so prominent throughout the campaign.

In The Heights – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.

Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.

That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.

Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.

With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.

The Posters

While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.

A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.

Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.

“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.

The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.

A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.

There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.

Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.

The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.

Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.

In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.

A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.

Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie

Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.

Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.

Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.

Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.

Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.

IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.

In June Smits was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the actor talking about his long love of the stage production and lots more.

Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.

Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Additional interviews included conversations with Chu as well as the movie’s costume designer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production design team.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.

Along with a few more clips, Warner Bros. released the first eight minutes of the movie on YouTube and made the same footage available within HBO Max.

An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.

One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.

Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
  • Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
  • Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
  • Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.

Overall

As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.

In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.

You Got It Salute GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling a drama of a young man and fire.

Those Who Wish Me Dead theatrical poster (by The Refinery)

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber, a former smokejumper in the forests of Montana. Faber is haunted by the memories of an earlier forest fire that went very badly for the rest of her team. One day while keeping watch she comes across Conner (Finn Little), a young boy who seems to be on the run from something. Turns out he’s being pursued by two hitmen who have just killed his father and who are so desperate to tie up loose ends they will set a forest fire to flush out Faber and the boy.

The movie, directed by Taylor Sheridan, has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and arrives this week in theaters and on HBO Max preceded by a campaign that has emphasized the drama of evading fire but not so much on the story or characters themselves.

The Posters

The faces of Faber and Conner are the primary elements on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) that came out in April. Both are, of course, bathed in the red light of the fire they are on the run from and both look weary and stressed from that effort. There’s no copy about the story here, and while Sheridan isn’t name-checked exactly a couple of his previous popular credits are called out at the top.

The Trailers

Hannah is working a fire-watching tower and still reeling from the mistakes she made years ago as the first trailer (8.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, begins. One day she encounters a young boy who, she finds, is on the run from some dangerous people who have already killed his father. Those bad men start a forest fire to flush Hannah and the boy out, meaning she not only has to keep the kid safe but deal with the trauma of her own past at the same time.

Online and Social

Not much information on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a brief synopsis and information on either buying tickets or subscribing to HBO Max.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Warner Bros. announced the May release date in February.

An interview with Jolie and others included a first look still from the film.

Fandango’s MovieClips got an exclusive clip in early May showing a key dramatic moment with Hannah trying to save her young charge from an encroaching fire.

A short featurette came out around the same time with Jolie and other members of the cast and crew discussing the themes of the story and what it was like to shoot the film in some extreme conditions.

Cutdown versions of the trailer – usually around 10 or 15 seconds – were used as TV spots as well as online, including as pre-roll ads on YouTube.

The key art was modified and reused for online ads that included a link to the HBO Max website where people could sign up.

Those Who Wish Me Dead online ad

HBO Max released an exclusive “first look” clip featuring a key moment of Faber figuring out why Conner is being pursued and by whom just days before the movie came out.

Overall

It’s a mixed bag here.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of drama that’s created in the campaign. We get the tension inherent in the flight of the two main characters from both the hitmen and the fire they start to either kill or find their quarry. And Sheridan has proven himself as a solid director of emotional stories about characters whose future we care about.

On the other, the trailer and other assets don’t give us a lot of opportunity to actually experience any empathy for those characters. There’s not a lot of detail regarding the story and the trailer in particular is somewhat unclear as to what’s happening. Not only that but given the human cost of forest fires over the last few years it’s hard to see that fire without recalling some very recent stories from the real world.

Still, it’s not unreasonable to overlook a few quibbles and give the benefit of the doubt to the campaign, given the talent involved.

Mortal Kombat – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling Mortal Kombat.

Outworld. Earthrealm. Netherrealm. Ancient prophecies.

If any of the above ring any sort of bells for you, you’re likely part of the target audience for Mortal Kombat, this week’s adaptation of the popular arcade video game of the same name and a reboot of the film series that ran briefly in the mid-1990s.

Any distillation of the plot will only end in abject confusion and likely more than a few tears, so let me simply share the brief synopsis shared on IMDb: MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

So you get the gist. What Warner Bros. is really selling in the campaign below, though, is an uber-violent fantasy story with fan-favorite characters and the promise of at least one spinal column being removed from a fighter. The lukewarm critical reception to date has earned the movie a 68% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s dive into the marketing and see what’s what.

The Posters

The first teaser image came out in December of last year, showing no characters or anything else, just the recognizable logo and the promise of a release in both theaters and on HBO Max.

Scorpio and Sub-Zero, two of the most popular characters from the games, are featured on the next poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in February. Their two faces are split by a knife in an image that likely became the mobile device lock screen for a great many individuals.

A similar division is made on an IMAX poster that puts the two biggest characters as the most prominent faces on their respective teams. It’s a familiar design, used by many of the biggest recent franchises and is meant to tell audiences that no matter who their preferred fighter is, they’re featured in the film.

The Trailers

A long-running history and cover-up are hinted at in the restricted trailer (3.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February and teased ahead of time by a series of short character previews. We learn this because a paramilitary unit has learned of a secret organization – and their tournament – whose members have enhanced abilities and oh who cares what the actual story is. Sub-Zero, Scorpion and other popular characters are all on-screen here, and someone says “Finish him!” so it’s all good albeit very violent.

Shortly thereafter reporting came out it had become the most-viewed red-band trailer in the first 24 hours ever.

A “fan reaction” video showing people enthusiastically freaking out over the first trailer came out about a week after the trailer did.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has the barest volume of information, with a “Synopsis” and the various trailers along with links to the official social network profiles.

A mobile site allowed people to put an AR-powered version of their favorite character’s mask on their own face.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

A first look at the movie came via EW’s 2021 Movie Preview in January, including comments from the filmmakers and cast along with a handful of photos. Just ahead of the trailer in February an advance look at Sanada as Scorpion was released, with more character photos coming out shortly after that.

Like the rest of WB’s 2021 slate, the movie was among those shifted to a hybrid theatrical/streaming (via HBO Max) release when that announcement was made in November of last year. A January promo showed off a bit of initial footage.

Artwork like this, released in March, shows more of the cast, splitting the characters into teams led by Sub-Zero and Scorpion. That and similar art was used for online ads and likely for outdoor billboards and other units as well.

JoBlo got an exclusive clip at the end of March.

The first TV spot came out about the same time, showing the military unit’s efforts to stop the conflict before it destroys the world. Additional spots hit different aspects of the story and focused on different characters, but all carried the same violent pitch to audiences.

Costar Lewis Tan, who plays Cole Young, an MMA fighter at the center of the story, was interviewed about the evolution of his career from behind-the-scenes to leading man and how he’s working to undo stereotypes of Asian-American actors. The training Tan underwent in preparation for the role was shown in a video from advocacy group GoldHouse.

In early April a “Meet the Kast” featurette was released that had the actors talking about the story, the action and living up to fan expectations with the characters. Another video focused on the combat training the cast underwent to get ready for the film.

The first clip of music from the movie showed off a new techno-remix version of the game’s theme song.

One commercial created for and by Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block featured a “felt-band” trailer mixing movie footage with homemade figures of the characters inflicting one “felt-ality” after another on each other.

Warner Bros. sponsored maker YouTube channel Hacksmith Industries to create a real-life version of Scorpion’s chain attack.

Additional promos included comments from the select critics who were invited to a screening of the movie’s first 13 minutes.

There were additional interviews with costars Ludi Lin (playing Liu Kang) about his career to date and with Joe Taslim (playing Sub-Zero) about his blazingly fast fighting skills.

A premiere event with the stars in attendance was held in Sydney Australia earlier this week.

In the last few days a handful of clips, most of them showing some of the movie’s key fights or action sequences, have been released.

One more featurette from IMAX had the cast and crew sharing how excited they were to see the movie on the biggest possible screen. And Warner Bros. took one more chance to get people excited by releasing the first seven minutes of the film to show more of what people could expect.

Overall

Whatever you think about the individual elements of the campaign, we can likely agree this is the overall message Warner Bros. is sending to the audience and sufficiently summarizes the marketing efforts the studio has put forth.

Come Here Warner Bros GIF by Mortal Kombat Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Release Date Shuffle Shows Streaming Confidence

It’s all about what cards you’re holding.

The state of the theatrical feature film release seems rosier than it has in a good long while following two of the strongest weekends of the pandemic era thanks to Godzilla Vs. Kong. The gross domestic box-office for that movie is now $69.5 million, an impressive total, especially given the film is also available on HBO Max. Adding to that success is that downloads of the HBO Max app hit an all-time high in advance of its release.

It’s a validation, at least for the time being, of WarnerMedia’s 2021 strategy of day-and-date distribution to both theaters and streaming. Things will go back to relative normal in 2022, when big releases will head to theaters exclusively for at least 45 days before becoming available to streaming subscribers.

WarnerMedia’s strategy was uber-controversial several months ago but now seems common, so much so that it wasn’t surprising when Disney announced Black Widow would do likewise on Disney+ but via its Premier Access payment tier.

Some studios aren’t feeling quite as sure about things, though. Just recently Paramount announced a handful of release date changes, notably moving Top Gun: Maverick out to November from July. That has been seen as a sign the studio can’t afford to have a Tom Cruise blockbuster be anything but just that. (Though the shifting of Snake Eyes from October back to July then would say the opposite, right?)

Tom Cruise GIF by Top Gun - Find & Share on GIPHY

The difference in approaches – continuing to play the release date shuffle versus coming up with a streaming/theatrical hybrid model – indicates how good the respective studios are feeling about their streaming positioning.

Reading the tea leaves above, it would seem that:

  • Paramount doesn’t yet think the newly-rebranded and relaunched Paramount+ is a suitable outlet for new releases. That’s understandable given it doesn’t have the market penetration of some of the other players. Still, the studio announced in February that a number of upcoming films will be available there 45 days after theatrical release, so it’s getting there.
  • NBCUniversal doesn’t have a dog in this fight. Peacock is an entirely adequate streaming service, but if there’s a strategy it’s unclear what it might be. And it certainly doesn’t seem to be factoring into conversations about new releases or anything else.
  • Sony knows it hasn’t even anted up. That’s why it just signed a deal that replaced Starz with Netflix as the studio’s first post-theatrical streaming outlet.

Warner and Disney are out in front of this pack, pushing new models and doing what makes the most sense given all the craziness of the last year while also working to build something sustainable for the future. That confidence is borne, to likely a great extent, by the strength of their brand, something the other studios are still struggling with.

Godzilla vs. Kong – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a showdown that has nothing to do with justice dawning.

Hollywood is, if nothing else, certainly an interesting place. Take, for example, this week’s Godzilla vs. Kong, which has a couple things going on.

First, this is the fourth and latest film in Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse franchise, which started in 2014 with Godzilla, continued in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island and most recently was seen in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s notable, though, that GvK was greenlit all the way back in 2015 and moved into production, before Skull Island was released, with the assumption the series would be enormously successful and each installment highly anticipated.

In reality each installment has experienced diminishing returns from the one prior, at least domestically in the U.S. Godzilla’s $200.7m box office has fallen to a mere $110.5 for King of the Monsters. But a ship of this size isn’t easy to stop (though it might get stuck), so we’re just going to keep going because the international box office is still fairly strong.

Angry Mad As Hell GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, the movie is being viewed as the latest test of whether the U.S. audience is ready to return to theaters. Originally scheduled for November 2020, it comes this week to both HBO Max and over 90% of U.S. screens, the highest number available since many closed a year ago. While estimates for opening weekend are relatively paltry at less than $30 million, that would still be the most of any film since the Covid-19 pandemic shut most everything down.

So we find ourselves with the two monsters – known in-universe as “Titans” – finally coming face to face. The reasons why aren’t necessarily important, as the title does double duty as a synopsis of the story, such as it is. Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown return from King of the Monsters, joined this time by Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Kaylee Hottle, Bryan Tyree Henry and others, who will be offering exposition and acting as scale references so we know just how massive the two Titans are.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, helmed by mumblehorror director and noted fetish porn blogger Adam Wingard, is…well…it’s exactly what you might assume it is given the premise.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BOND), came out in January, immediately establishing the campaign’s red and blue color palette while showing Kong standing among the skyscrapers while Kong’s dorsal plates can be seen poking above the ocean surface as he advances toward that same skyline.

Godzilla has made landfall on the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released toward the end of February, as we see him walking through the city toward Kong.

Another poster from early March has the two Titans facing off like boxers, with a design seemingly inspired by Vegas promotional art, their faces close together and seen within the transparent letters of “Vs.”

We get different perspectives on two posters (by agency Little Giant Studios) that came out just a short while later. One shows Kong from Godzilla’s point of view and the other shows Godzilla from Kong’s, each one again emphasizing their massive size as compared to the buildings they’re walking between and through.

One more theatrical poster hit the red/blue Kong/Godzilla clash one more time, with the two shown to be so tall their heads poke above the clouds.

Exhibitor-specific artwork included one-sheets for IMAX, which has the two monsters falling into one another like this is a 90’s erotic thriller from Paul Verhoven, RealD 3D, which offers a variation on the previous imagery of the Titans lunging at each other, and Dolby, which is a bit more original in showing Kong climbing a skyscraper above the cartoonishly round world below.

The Trailers

A series of teasers were released on social media in advance of the first trailer, which was finally released at the end of January. As it begins, someone is talking about how much humanity needs Kong, who is being transported across the ocean. The threat, it turns out, is Godzilla, but no one knows why he’s attacking. Amid all the subsequent fighting it’s revealed this may not be the first time the two – and others like them – have faced off.

A second, shorter trailer came out in mid-February. Whatever story there was in the first spot, it’s excised in this one as it cuts straight to the action as Kong and Godzilla punch each other and rampage through cities, destroying countless buildings as they do so.

Online and Social

There’s not much on the movie’s official website, but you will find a few trailers as well as details on how to watch the film in the way of your choosing, assuming you either subscribe to HBO Max or live near one of the theaters it’s playing at.

AR lenses for Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook allowed people to put themselves in the middle of the showdown between the two titans.

I have to hand it to the WB team on Twitter, which seemingly had the latitude to share fan memes and other fun content via the official account. That’s made scrolling through the account’s updates a lot more interesting as it is less about amplifying only adoration and praise and more about reflecting how the internet really reacts to things. A similar attitude can be found the movie’s official Giphy channel, which has not only straight GIFs but also a bunch of goofier, meme versions.

Youre Too Cute King Kong GIF by Godzilla vs. Kong - Find & Share on GIPHY

They even shared an image from a *very* current meme and got onto the NFT bandwagon with exclusive artwork available there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

While the movie was initially scheduled to open in early 2020, less than a year after King of the Monsters, that title’s lackluster performance at the box office had Warner Bros. pushing this one back to later in the year to tighten things up and perhaps even do some more drastic reworking. Despite that delay, the movie was among those included in the studio’s CineEurope presentation to exhibitors in June of 2109. Another delay moved it from March to November 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic pushed it even farther out to May, 2021.

Rumors last December that Legendary was shopping the film to Netflix or other streaming services came and went but were followed by WB’s official announcement that it like the rest of their 2021 slate would be released to both theaters and HBO Max. Legendary was none too thrilled, threatening some sort of action.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

The release date was later moved up to March, 2021.

Short promo spots were released online in the build up to the movie’s debut.

Warner Bros. signed a deal with exhibition company CineWorld that would make this movie the first to play in CineWorld’s reopening Regal Cinemas.

Featurettes released in the lead-up to release included one that had the cast and crew introducing the idea of #TeamKong vs. #TeamGodzilla and talking about the scale of the action. That match-up was extended to social media, where people were asked to choose sides. Later on a map of the U.S. was shared showing how the majority of people in each state had voted.

More TV spots started coming out just in the last couple weeks and, like this one, largely played like cut-down versions of the trailers, working to set up the conflict. Longer spots went a bit more in-depth, but still focused on the big action of the story.

An IMAX-specific spot was pretty short but got the point across that people should see this huge movie on a huge screen. RealD 3D got a similar promo. For its part, Dolby shared a handful of interviews with the cast talking about the story and their characters.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Snickers, which released a spot tying into the Kong vs. Godzilla fan voting.
  • Roblox, which hosted a movie-themed event in the popular virtual world where players could unlock exclusive rewards.

Legendary also announced a handful of publishing tie-ins just a bit before the movie came out.

Warner Bros. sponsored a TikTok challenge that involved a number of influencers on that platform.

A handful of longer featurettes, originally released on home video editions of the previous movies, were published by WB to YouTube over the last several weeks as a way of making sure the audience was familiar with what had come before. Those included:

Landscape artwork acted as both online ads and likely were used for outdoor ads also.

Media and Publicity

Bichir was interviewed about the movie, saying he enjoys the freedom to take different kinds of parts in movies of various sizes.

An interview with Wingard had the director talking about creating the massive monster battles and more of the action that everyone hopes fans are looking for. Another had him sharing the kinds of showdowns he envisioned and how he wanted to pattern the action after some of his favorite ‘80s action movies.

Overall

There’s a great deal that’s very good about the campaign, even when you overlook how it’s supporting a movie that, based on the shrinking box-office returns for the previous films, may not have a huge audience pool to pull from. It has a very nice visual brand that’s consistent from start to finish and it sells a simple message over and over again, counting on repetition being key to both engagement and interest.

When it comes down to it, that simple message is best summed up in a single GIF that, despite the lack of hyperbole or any other pitch, shows exactly what Warner Bros. hopes the audience will either come out to theaters for or use their parents’ HBO Max login to watch.

Fight Punch GIF by Godzilla vs. Kong - Find & Share on GIPHY

Random Thoughts on Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Let the airing of grievances commence.

Well, it’s here, and it’s been long enough that most people who wanted to have likely already watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the official title for The Film Previously Known As The Snyder Cut.

As such, it’s time to finally share my random thoughts after watching the…film?…just to put it out there for discussion. So, in no particular order:

About the Movie Itself

This is exactly what I would have expected from a movie fans demanded. It plays like a collection of scenes the members of a message board wrote, with no cohesive material making them into a whole.

It’s easy to see most of what’s new compared to the theatrical version, but at no point is there an answer as to “why” things are different.

The one improvement over the theatrical version is Cyborg’s story actually has some sort of point, but even that is sketchy. Still, it’s better than it was.

It once more needs to be noted, especially since we just watched Wonder Woman 1984, how different the Amazons are clothed in this movie compared to Patty Jenkins’ films. The latter look like warriors, the former like the worst stereotype of female video game characters.

While Henry Cavill’s face in the theatrical cut was certainly disturbing, at least it gave us a Superman that occasionally smiled, something completely missing from Snyder’s previous movies.

The Martian Manhunter bits make zero sense.

The Martian Manhunter ending makes less than zero sense.

The Martian Manhunter bits mean Henry Lennix’s previous appearances as General Swanwick make zero sense. Zero.

Mera: “Your mother would have been responsible for following Steppenwolf to the surface, Arthur, but also let’s sit here and have a leisurely conversation about the burden of parental legacy while you stick your hand in the water like a four year old at a shopping mall fountain.”

Can anyone explain to me what the point of all those random supporting character introductions was? I mean, great, that’s Iris West, but it doesn’t go any further. Same with Mera. And Lois Lane. Oh, hey, I think I’m figuring out a connection.

At one point someone is asking Dr. Stone about an item that has gone missing from a high-security lab with multiple government contracts dealing with items of alien origin. Stone says “Oh yeah, we just kind of lost track of that.” and the investigator shrugs and moves on like this wouldn’t bring the entire operation to an immediate halt.

Steppenwolf and Darkseid are idiots. The former came to Earth, lost the Mother Boxes to a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and retreated. Then he comes back looking for the Mother Boxes and fights a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons. When he calls Darkseid he’s like “Hey, I think this is the same place we lost that big battle eons ago…”

On a related note, Darkseid’s inclusion in this cut was a major selling point in the campaign and something folks were super-anxious about. But he’s barely in it, and the one moment that seems as if it might turn into a confrontation with the heroes instead becomes a staring contest.

Does every scene actually require a six-minute establishing shot?

Sure, taking out the Russian family that needs to escape from the battleground is an improvement, it also means there’s no context to the fight, but that’s par for the course.

I’m actually a bit surprised some of the jokes remained, assuming they had been Whedon’s contributions.

How much more objectivist nihilism could you fit into a single movie? None. None more.

The chapter titles are insulting and ludicrous, mostly because they imply the existence of an actual story, which is inaccurate.

Oh, you fridged Lois in the Knightmare epilogue in order to make Superman even more of an angry worldwide terror who apparently is hunting down his former friends and teammates? How original.

Four hours, $70 million dollars and not only are there

  • Scenes in the trailer that didn’t make the final version, including one that seemed to be the main point of one spot in particular, but also
  • Snyder’s already out there complaining about the rules WB put in place regarding what could or couldn’t be included and what additional scenes he shot despite those rules knowing they would be cut. So now there’s even more gristle for conspiracy-minded individuals to chew on.

About the Movement That Birthed It

Of course it took less than a week for “fans” to demand that Snyder now be restored as the captain of the DCEU. Even Neville Chamberlain would have known this appeasement wouldn’t work.

Along those same lines, I’m completely unsurprised by the renewal of the #RestoreTheAyerCut movement, seeking to restore some version of Suicide Squad that might be better than what hit theaters.

A black and white version? Who was asking for that?

If you’re wondering what this means for the future of film, it’s simple: Anything less than exactly what has dominated the fever dreams of angry trolls will not be tolerated. We’ve already seen that in various ways.

“Just let people enjoy things” only seems to be said regarding massive international IP releases and not about movies like Small Axe, Promising Young Woman or others.

It’s remarkable we got through the movie’s entire hype cycle without revisiting Ezra Miller’s filmed assault of a fan from 2020.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Marketing Recap

Our long national nightmare…is now here.

When Justice League arrived in 2017, the term “troubled production” was frequently used to describe it. The critical drubbing received by the preceding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice created tension between Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder, including rewrites by then DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns to the script from David Goyer and Chris Terrio. Confusion was created when different interviews with Snyder, Johns and others seemed to alternate between there being one two-hour movie, two two-hour movies, one four-hour movie in two parts and so on.

Then, as the movie moved into post-production, Snyder stepped away, reportedly to deal with the recent death of his daughter. The narrative at the time was that writer/director Joss Whedon was being brought in to handle a small number of reshoots and other pickups because he had already done even more work on the script.

And then of course there’s the issue of Henry Cavill’s mustache.

Henry Cavill Summer GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

Kicking off at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, the marketing campaign for Justice League was more or less what audiences expected given both BvS and Snyder’s earlier Man of Steel. It was dark and moody, but after Whedon took over there seemed to be a bit more humor. Throughout, though, you couldn’t help but notice the distinct lack of Superman, an omission informed largely by the movie’s story – he dies at the end of BvS – and not wanting to spoil his return here.

When the finished product finally hit theaters the reaction was “mixed,” to say the least. Critics called it a mess and the $229 million it grossed domestically was a disappointment compared both to Wonder Woman earlier that year and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at that point was nearing its eventual conclusion.

No…There Is Another…

Almost immediately, the most fervent adherents to Snyder’s nihilistic artistic view began to believe they’d been duped. Demands to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were soon at full volume online, with those signing petitions and saying “Actually I have more of a comment than a question” at panels believing Warner Bros. had someone in its archives a version of the film free of Whedon’s influence. That version would more fully represent the intent of Snyder, who for years has been referred to in the marketing of his films as a “visionary director.”

WB continually denied such a version existed, pointing out that Snyder left an incomplete movie to Whedon’s stewardship. Snyder himself said much the same thing, that there was only a work print with unfinished effects and some scenes completely missing. There was no Snyder Cut.

Wonder Woman Family GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

That didn’t mean much to those whose very personal brands seemed to depend on the opposite being true. Over the course of the next three years the DCEU was hit or miss, with the same group of toxic fans howling in delight whenever something that wasn’t The Snyder Cut failed to live up to expectations. Not only that, but similar groups made concerted efforts to strangle movies like Captain Marvel and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in their cribs on the grounds that girls are icky and anything that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator of male mob mentality shouldn’t be allowed.

Superman Shrugged

Denials from Warner Bros. were said to be the first and last word on the matter, right up until they weren’t.

Snyder’s tune began changing in early 2019 when he started posting pictures that seemed to confirm his cut of the film did exist in some manner. Members of the cast and others involved in the production made similar comments, with people like Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, who play Wonder Woman and Batman respectively, getting in on the hashtag action.

Finally, in late 2020, as part of WarnerMedia’s hype cycle for the then pending launch of HBO Max, it became official that the streaming service would be the release platform for the reworked movie.

Just as there was confusion in 2017 as to whether there would be one or two movies and how long they would be, reports have differed over the last several months as to what form this one would take. At one point it was said to be four one-hour installments. At another it was back to being two two-hour movies.

The Snyderhead

Despite Snyder’s rejection of any mention of “toxic fandom”, the director himself credits fans using every channel at their disposal, including sliding into the replies of Sesame Street’s Twitter account, with turning dreams into reality by consistently pressuring the studio into action.

It’s almost like a demagogic political figure saying he doesn’t want his supporters to be violent but then buying them all airline tickets to attend an event specifically intended to foment insurrection. And then at the end he tells them they’re very special and he loves them, but only after people have died and others have had their life put in danger.

But what do we expect from Hollywood’s leading objectivist? So many of the stories he’s been part of telling focus on heroes or other characters that can’t find anything in life worth living for until they act on the power they have. Possession of that power in and of itself gives them the right to use it in the manner of their choosing. So it’s no wonder Snyder would be on board with a group of individuals claiming whatever power they could in order to achieve whatever goals they wanted, especially if those goals happen to overlap with his own.

Let me pause here and make a few clarifications.

First, I’m painting with an overly broad brush here. Not all #ReleaseTheSnyderCut adherents are examples of the worst of toxic male fandom. There are some genuine movie fans who feel Snyder is a great filmmaker, so good for them. Like any other art form, people are allowed to like what they like. People might judge me based on my love of Rush or Kenny Rogers, but all art works differently for different people. That being said, this particular group in my experience over-indexes in terms of members likely to verbally assault a woman cosplaying as Power Girl at Comic-Con, labeling her a “fake fangirl” if she doesn’t know who pencilled a random 80’s comic issue she appears in.

Second, Snyder has harnessed this and adjacent groups for good, working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. That effort, clearly borne of the tragedy that befell his family years ago, is a good one, selling t-shirts and other swag to help worthy cause.

Crisis On Infinite Snyderverses

In the months leading up to and following WarnerMedia’s announcement that the movie would finally see the cold, desaturated light of day, the landscape has changed significantly, as has the narrative that framed the release of the theatrical cut of Justice League over three years ago.

Beginning in mid-2020, costar Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg in the film, began making a series of accusations against Whedon and by extension Johns and others at Warner Bros., saying the pinch-director created a hostile work environment for him and others after Whedon took over on set. Fisher’s claims were enough for Warner Bros. to open an investigation, though then it turned into dueling statements over whether Fisher had or hadn’t cooperated with that investigation. Representatives for Whedon and Johns denied those accusations, but Fisher remained adamant and public. Ultimately Warner Bros.’ investigation recommended moderate remediative actions but was light on public details.

Batman Dc GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

As time went on, Fisher received public displays of support from Momoa and other members of the cast and he discussed the talking points WB had given him and the rest regarding Whedon’s involvement, most of which matched up with how things were framed in 2017. All of that acted as prelude to actress Charisma Carpenter, who had worked with Whedon on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” making similar comments, saying he had become hostile and offensive toward her and others. Those accusations, combined with Fisher’s made WB’s lack of overt action odd, especially since Whedon had over the last couple years, been removed from other Warner projects including a planned Batgirl movie and the HBO original series “The Nevers.” Someone, it seemed, knew something.

While Whedon’s reputation was being dismantled, Snyder’s was being enhanced/rehabilitated.

A major feature appeared in Vanity Fair that offered an official version of the events of the last few years. Quoted in the story are Snyder, his wife and producing partner Deborah and a handful of past and present Warner Bros. executives. According to them, the situation around Snyder’s exiting of the original film was much more complicated, including not only the death of his daughter but a new lack of support from studio heads in the wake of Batman v Superman’s critical drubbing. Whedon’s involvement then grew from script doctor to eventually reshooting as much as three-quarters of the film. Similar points were made in a later interview with Snyder.

With that polishing of Snyder’s image, he’s been positioned by himself and the studio at the forefront of the marketing campaign for this new version of the movie, now officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League to emphasize his importance.

The Marketing of Zack Snyder’s Justice League

All of that now brings us to the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max and the marketing of the movie, which Snyder has been at the bleeding edge of.

Darkseid and DC Fandome

That began in May of last year, when Snyder strongly hinted the movie was in the works during a Vero-hosted “watch party” for 2013’s Man of Steel, hints that were quickly confirmed when HBO Max released the first official announcement later that same month, leaving the official release date as a vague “2021” at the time.

Almost immediately Snyder began teasing out what would be new and different, sharing images that confirmed the inclusion of Darkseid in this new cut.

That continued in June, when promotions for the virtual DC Fandome event began. With Snyder and many of the cast scheduled to appear there to answer fan questions and show off more of the upcoming movie, teasers began coming out. In one, Wonder Woman navigates a cave where she discovers ancient wall paintings showing Darkseid.

Cavill spoke briefly about the project in June, saying he was anxious to see the finished product but offering few details.

As a way to prime the pump for the new movie, HBO Max debuted Batman v Superman – Ultimate Edition in July, with this new version containing about a half hour of additional material.

In an interview in July, Snyder hinted that the reworked movie wouldn’t fit in nicely with how the DCEU has evolved – meaning he would not be obligated to acknowledge Shazam or Birds of Prey (both of which have higher Rotten Tomatoes scores than either of Snyder’s previous entries) but work instead as the culmination of the trilogy he began in Man of Steel and continued in Dawn of Justice.

Snyder appeared virtually during a fan convention, discussing his upcoming remade version and making it clear not a single frame of what Whedon had shot would be included. That interview also marked the first shot in the official change in the messaging around the theatrical version’s release, exposing some of the conflicts that emerged between Snyder and the studio and other details.

Additional teasers in advance of Fandome showed more a pre-Cyborg Vic Stone and more.

The full trailer, preceded by a short teaser, then debuted during Fandome in August. How well it and to what extent it delivered on expectations depends greatly on your feelings about the original, Snyder himself and other factors. Set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and sporting a Super 16 aspect ratio, the trailer features a mix of old and new footage. Added are more scenes featuring Barry Allen, including one where he saves Iris West, and Cyborg. The latter in particular is notable as this indicates more of his backstory would be fleshed out, something that’s been anticipated for a while. The scenes carried over from the theatrical edition feature revised color palettes, adhering closer to what was seen in the original trailers back in 2016. Most importantly, this gives fans their first look at Darkseid, who will be the main villain of the story instead of his henchman Steppenwolf.

Video from the DC Fandome panel was also released to the public.

Reshoots, Trailer Confusion and HBO Max’s Evolution

Much like there were different stories about what the theatrical cut would look like – two movies, one super-long movie etc – there was at this point the beginnings of some confusion about what the new version would be packaged as and what it would include. While Snyder said he wouldn’t use a single frame of Whedon’s footage it was unclear whether he was being permitted to shoot anything new himself. Budget estimates have ranged from $20 million – which would seem to just allow for post-production work on existing footage – to $70 million.

Finally, news came out WB had scheduled a short period of reshoots, though who was or wasn’t involved remained unclear. In October news broke that Leto would be reprising his Suicide Squad role of Joker in the film, something that would require new footage being shot.

In a very odd turn of events, that trailer had to be pulled from YouTube in early November, reportedly because Warner Bros. failed to clear the rights to “Hallelujah,” which is something you wouldn’t expect from a major motion picture studio. The trailer was re-released later that month but was once again pulled for unstated reasons, meaning that beat was almost completely lost from the campaign.

This is unquestionably a weird stage of the campaign, one with so many false starts, walkbacks and other problems you kind of can’t believe a major studio is involved. But this may be the result of allowing one person to lead the campaign, with the studio itself being a fast-follower more than a driving force.

It’s also a period where HBO Max started to carve out its own identity. Instead of being “the place where The Snyder Cut would eventually be available,” it gained some momentum thanks to series such as “Lovecraft Country,” “The Undoing,” “The Flight Attendant,” and other buzzed-about hits.

Not only that, but it was in mid-November that Warner Bros. announced Wonder Woman 1984 would debut on HBO Max on Christmas Day, the same day it was released to limited theaters due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. That was just the first step, though, with WB revealing a month later it would do the same for its entire 2021 movie slate.

All of a sudden it’s a very different ballgame. ZSJL now wouldn’t just be competing against catalog titles, a few exclusive series and a handful of original features but with titles like Godzilla Vs. Kong and other big-budget movies.

Finally, a Campaign

After so many twists and turns through the end of 2020, the campaign itself finally kicked into a higher, more substantive gear in January.

Snyder released a series of posters at the end of the month that finally announced the movie’s premiere date on HBO Max. Two of the three just showed the “JL” symbol in some form of disrepair due to battle damage, but one showed a film canister laying on the ground, as if this had finally been unearthed for the public to see.

Additional shared by Snyder on Twitter at the end of January hinted at the appearance of Martian Manhunter and Joker from Suicide Squad. A more complete look at Joker came out shortly after that.

Another trailer (21.5m views on YouTube), teased by Snyder ahead of its release, came out on Valentine’s Day. Though it largely contains footage we’ve seen before, it does have a few notable elements, including:

  • Slightly more Cyborg
  • Actual footage of black-suited Superman
  • Actual footage of Joker, providing a live-action version of the “we live in a society” meme
  • Reinforcement that the movie will be shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Unlike earlier trailers, this one still seems to be available online.

An interview with Lennix had him talking about finally taking on the role of Martian Manhunter, something that drastically changes how his character is seen in the previous movies and a development that’s completely unearned by those appearances.

Clips from the movie’s soundtrack were released by Water Tower Records shortly after that.

DC then announced a series of movie-themed variant covers for Justice League #59, scheduled to hit store shelves the day before the movie became available.

At the end of February IGN debuted a video showing the members of the Justice League as different sides to a Mother Box, with each character and his or her powers and attributes represented as a relief on the cube.

In a later interview Snyder called out Fisher’s Cyborg as the centerpiece of his version of the story, something that runs in marked contrast to the theatrical cut. He also teased what he had in mind for a potential sequel, though he’s also said on multiple occasions this movie ends his involvement with the DCEU.

The theatrical poster showing a black and white photo of the assembled heroes advancing toward the camera came out at the beginning of March.

Short character introduction – or reintroduction as it were – videos for Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman came out earlier this month. There was even one for Darkseid, Steppenwolf and Deathstroke.

Character posters for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Flash, Aquaman and Darkseid also came out around this time using the same black and white aesthetic as the theatrical poster.

The AT&T Discover District in Dallas opened up an exhibit of costumes and props from the film.

At this point it’s worth calling out some of the promotional partners for the movie, including:

  • Wonderland Restaurants, which created a movie-themed menu of items for people to order in while watching the film.
  • Foot Locker, which offered a line of movie-inspired t-shirts.
  • Vero, which hosted a cosplay contest

One final trailer (6.7m views on YouTube) came out earlier this week. While it features a lot of footage seen in previous clips or trailers, there’s a lot more of Darkseid, showing how dangerous he is, or at least claims to be, and how the heroes are holding out hope their combined strength is enough to take him on.

A virtual watch party was scheduled for 3/18, with the movie’s red carpet premiere planned for 3/17. But before that, earlier this week, a screening that was planned that wound up erroring out for everyone involved, leaving them unable to watch the movie and feeling pretty sore about it. That came after a glitch that had this movie playing when HBO Max subscribers pulled up Tom & Jerry, something that caused no small amount of laughter and confusion.

Overall: For the Fans, Not The Literally Anyone Else

Well, let’s see what we have here.

Reviews of the revamp have been generally positive but mixed, citing improvements in some areas while problems either persist or have newly cropped up in others. Almost universally, it’s said to be much more Snyder-esque, right down to the Randian worldview and carry all the positives and negatives that implies.

The same can be said about the marketing itself. As stated earlier, Snyder is frequently referred to as “visionary” in the campaigns for his films, but that only really resonates in the small percentage of the audience that has fully bought into that vision. For the rest, it almost acts as a sort of warning that the film in question contains more nihilism is recommended over the course of an entire year.

What’s on display here is just that.

Batman Dc GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

The theatrical cut of Justice League is an unquestionable mess, the cinematic equivalent of putting peas in your guacamole recipe. But there’s nothing in Snyder’s previous DCEU movies that would have indicated his original cut would have been any more coherent and there’s nothing in this campaign indicating this version will be so either.

Those feelings are compounded by the multiple instances over the course of the marketing where trailers disappeared for one reason or another and confusion reigned as to what the movie would ultimately look like and what it would include.

Also raising eyebrows is how power dynamics within Hollywood are on display here.

While Snyder has been brought back into the light with multiple profiles and interviews that have allowed him to tell his side and come out as the aggrieved party, Fisher in particular still seems to be sidelined. His complaints about how he was treated by Whedon, though vindicated in the court of public opinion, were still largely dismissed and denied by the studio and his involvement in future projects hasn’t been improved. Why might that be?

Justice League Dance Moves GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

For the last three years, fans of the director have been clamoring for this movie, believing it to be the ultimate lost classic, pure bath salts in cinematic form. All art is compromise, though, and the idea that any version would ever be delivered free of influence from outside parties is naivete, and it’s likely the reaction to this when it’s finally available will represent that. If it’s not everything they’ve been dreaming of and speculating about, things will go poorly. More theories will emerge that this *still* isn’t the movie Snyder could have or wanted to make, and those grievances will be taken out the next time a studio casts a woman or person of color in the lead role of a franchise property.

This campaign, though, is meant solely for that group. There’s little to nothing here that might attract someone who isn’t already a charter member of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Even someone who was simply disappointed by the theatrical version and wants to see if this might be an improvement will find no appeal to them has been made.

At least this time we don’t have to sit through the studio pretending like Superman isn’t in the movie.

Is The Box-Office Actually Warming Up?

Maybe, but let’s see if it lasts.

A significant – and significantly delayed – milestone was marked last week when Tenet, initially released last September, finally opened in New York City theaters. Unlike when it played in a handful of theaters elsewhere in the country several months ago, this time the opening was not marked by director Christopher Nolan openly decrying Warner Bros. executives, but the larger narrative in the movie industry couldn’t have made him very pleased given his dislike of anything less than 100% theatrical distribution.

See over the last week or so several studio heads and others have weighed in with their own prognostications on the future of movie release patterns given we’re now a year past when most theaters shut down for most of the rest of 2020.

Jim Gianopulos, Paramount Pictures

Exclaimed Gianopulos at Viacom’s Paramount+ Day today, “We believe in the power of theatrical releases and we have faith that after things get back to normal, audiences will enthusiastically return to theaters. At the same time, consumers have increasingly embraced streaming as another way to enjoy films,” said Gianopulos, “our strategy accounts for both.”

Bob Chapek, Walt Disney Company

“I think the consumer is probably more impatient than they’ve ever been before,” said Chapek. “Particularly since now they’ve had the luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home pretty much when they want them. So I’m not sure there’s going back, but we certainly don’t want to do anything like cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run.”

Jason Kilar, WarnerMedia

“It sure feels like it’s not going to go back to 2015,” Kilar said, adding, “I can only speak for ourselves.”

Bob Bakish, ViacomCBS

“If you look at the curve, the degradations on most film titles, they do very little business on post-Day 30 and certainly post-Day 45,” Bakish, who was the morning’s keynote speaker at the (virtual) 2021 Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference, continued. “So moving to an in-house streaming window at that part we think works, certainly for us, but also for constituents, including consumers.”

Tenet finally coming to New York theaters happened at about the same time San Francisco announced bars, theaters and other public spaces could reopen, though still at reduced capacity. That’s also good news for the movie industry as it is another major market that, with vaccination rates rising due to increased supply and Covid-19 cases dropping, is allowing businesses to get back to business.

If things continue to improve, it should mean that Disney’s decision to keep Black Widow’s May release date makes sense. And we might even see titles like No Time To Die and others this year. Indeed studios are feeling positive, with Paramount recently announcing a Memorial Day release date for The Quiet Place Part II.

[record scratch]

Of course there are still potential monsters lurking around a number of corners.

The CDC reported last week that areas where mask mandates and in-person dining restrictions were lifted wholesale have seen fresh increases in Covid-19 infections.

Over 745,000 Americans signed up for unemployment assistance last week and there are 10 million fewer jobs than there were a year ago. 10% of Americans are estimated to have given up on the job market completely, much more than the official 6.4% unemployment rate.

So not only are there still public health concerns that will impact people’s decisions whether or not to head to a movie theater (assuming one near them is open yet), but there is still the very real situation of tens of millions of people not working and therefore not having disposable income to spend on something as inessential as a movie ticket.

What Should We Watch Elizabeth Olsen GIF by Disney+ - Find & Share on GIPHY

All that is on top of the year of being solidly in the habit of watching new releases via streaming or PVOD.

That’s why it’s likely most, if not all, the studios will adopt some form of hybrid or mix-and-match release strategy for their lineups.

It may not be as ad-hoc as Disney’s approach, where some films are held back entirely while others get full-on Disney+ releases while others are “Premier Access” titles requiring additional payments. Or as one-size-fits-all as WarnerMedia’s day-and-date theatrical/HBO Max releases.

Something fundamental has shifted, though, and it may not be possible to shift it back. While Kilar and others still see a place for theatrical releases, Paramount announcing major title will come to the newly-rebranded Paramount+ just 45 days after they hit theaters shows theaters are no longer the powerhouses they were just a few years ago. Even at the height of DVD sales in the 2000s, studios would never have dared anything less than at least a 90 day window, with 120+ being the tightest it ever really got.

Some theater chains are still trying to exercise some power, though, with Cinemark’s decision to not play Raya and the Last Dragon because of it’s Disney+ availability playing a large role in that movie’s lackluster box-office.

How the theatrical box-office continues to improve after losing essentially an entire 12 month period remains to be seen given how many states are still enacting stricter guidelines and we’re nowhere near “herd immunity” vaccination levels. Adding to the uncertainty is how studios have taken to just not reporting box-office results, afraid those numbers will be taken out of the context of a global pandemic.

That means it could be even longer before we see dollar amounts reflecting wide release patterns. And when those numbers are available, they may not look like what we would expect to see a few years ago because, quite frankly, the results don’t include the number of people who opted to stream it at home now or 45 days in the future.