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 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.
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.
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.
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 keyfights 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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
They even shared an image from a *very* current meme and got onto the NFT bandwagon with exclusive artwork available there.
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 promospots 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.
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.
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.
See, the guy who tweeted at me twice today that they will not stop until they win the “war” to get more comic book movies from their favorite director may be why there’s some concern about portions of the fanbase.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hashtagaction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
How Warner Bros. has sold a dramatic procedural with some big stars.
A good number of early reviews and write-ups of The Little Things, the new movie from writer/director John Lee Hancock, have called it out as a throwback to the kind of mid-grade drama with an all-star cast that was commonplace in the 80s and 90s but which lately has fallen out of favor with studios.
As we’ll see in the campaign for the movie, which has an unfortunate 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, those descriptions are pretty spot-on.
Denzel Washington plays Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, a former LAPD detective and now county sheriff who is asked to come back to the department by new guy Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to find a serial killer before he strikes again. When Deacon becomes convinced he’s found the guy in Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), his propensity for cutting corners becomes a problem that might outweigh his ability to notice small details that often uncover important clues.
Let’s see how it was sold.
It’s a split image on the first poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose), released in mid-December, one designed to represent the good at the top and bad at the bottom. To that end, Deacon and Baxter are seen on top and Sparma on the bottom. But the way they’re all shown on the same bridge but with different backgrounds, it seems like they’re standing across the street from each other.
The second poster came out at the same time and uses the “horizontal stripes” format to show the three leads as well as a shot of Baxter confronting Sparma in a remote location. Both one-sheets feature the same “Some things never let us go” copy that hints at how the story will be driven by the obsessions of different characters as well as a great blue/red color scheme that creates a strong visual identity here.
As the first trailer (11 million views on YouTube), released in late December, opens, Deacon is being reluctantly brought into an ongoing murder investigation by a police department that he’s not exactly on good terms with. He’s determined to do his job, though, despite the tension. When he becomes convinced he’s found a good suspect he doesn’t let the lack of evidence deter him as he continues pursuing his leads, trying to teach Baxter the value of not always playing within the rules to do what’s right.
Online and Social
As has been the case with other HBO Max premieres, there doesn’t seem to have been a standalone website or social profiles for the movie, but it did get some support on HBO Max’s brand channels.
Advertising and Promotions
Warner Bros. announced a date for the movie in March of last year. It was later among the titles WB said in December of last year would premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max because of continued pandemic-related theater closures.
Preroll ads for the film were placed before videos on YouTube and other streaming services.
A featurette released earlier this week had the cast and filmmakers introducing the story and talking about their characters.
Media and Press
Hancock reflected on the decades-long process of getting the film made, having first completed a script in the early 90s and shared his thoughts on the movie’s unexpected release strategy. He also praised Washington as a collaborator in fleshing out the characters and story.
An interview with Leto veered too often into Joker territory but also had him talking about this film and why the character seemed attractive to him. Leto later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and otherwise be his own quirky self.
Washington and Malek showed off their mutual admiration society in an interview where they talked about making the movie, its release pattern and more. Another interview with Hancock had him talking about the state of the film industry and how he went about shooting the movie from a technical standpoint.
Malek also stopped by “The Tonight Show” to share his insights on the film.
Leto talked about his reputation for going overboard with some of his roles and how that worked out on this film.
The reviews may not be great, but the campaign sells a movie that has a lot of allure. Outside of the story details, the promise made to the audience is that they will spend a couple hours watching a handful of very good actors actually play off each other as opposed to reacting to CGI sky beams. That’s something special in this day and age, and so it’s a movie that seems worth checking out based solely on that point.
What’s notable about the campaign is that it seems to be the first time we’re officially acknowledging that Washington is an elder-statesman in Hollywood. That status is something he’s earned over the decades, but yeah we see that happening here.
Picking Up The Spare
More interviews with Leto on why he opted to play a villain again. A featurette that came out after the movie was available for streaming had the cast and crew talking about the suspenseful nature of the story and more.
Even a dumpster fire can yield some interesting results.
If compiled, the articles, think-pieces and hot takes written between March and December of 2020 on the present and future of movies and theater-going would fill volumes rivaling the collected works of Marcel Proust, though they would be far easier to summarize.
A year unlike any other certainly proved even more disruptive to aspects of the film industry – production, distribution and exhibition alike – than anything like MoviePass or other threats once held to be dire could have dreamed. No one could have engineered a scenario where over 90 percent of the nation’s movie theaters would close for months at a time, studios would shut down filming on major motion pictures and so on ad infinitum because of a virus outbreak around the globe.
All of that, as well as the pivot by studios and media owners to streaming, upended, delayed or otherwise altered a great many movie marketing efforts. That doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have plenty of interesting campaigns, though. It just means in some cases what made them “interesting” or otherwise notable was a little different than what would have qualified in prior years.
More than anything else, 2020 was a year of unexpected firsts. WarnerMedia finally launched HBO Max and offered a number of original films before announcing it would be home to its entire 2021 theatrical release slate. Disney rushed Onward over to Disney+ before later using it for titles like Hamilton and Soul that otherwise would have gone to theaters and for Mulan as a test for a new pricing model. Paramount sold off many of its titles to Netflix or Amazon. Apple released a handful of original features while trying to provide Apple TV+ with some momentum. Universal essentially reinvented and reinvigorated PVOD.
So, with all that said, these are some of the most intriguing movie marketing campaigns of a year for which “intriguing” is such an understatement as to almost be irresponsible.
Why It Made The Cut: Many campaigns for period films include some element or another meant to evoke the era the story takes place in. No movie takes that as far as Netflix’s Mank, where the whole campaign was designed to seem as if the film were being released in the late 1930s/early 1940s, just like Citizen Kane. Trailers were cut and narrated in the style of that period, posters were designed to look similar to the kinds of one-sheets seen then and more. It shows something unique can be created if the marketing team goes all-in on a concept.
Why It Made The Cut: The campaigns for many movies that had their release plans changed dramatically saw subsequent alterations made to their marketing campaigns. Few were as innovative as Disney’s shift of Mulan. Not only was the film sent directly to Disney+ (as well as limited theaters), but the introduction of a “Premier Access” PVOD tier to that streaming platform set this one apart from the others. By all accounts this experiment was a success, one that may be replicated with other titles in the future. It also essentially set the stage for what Warner Bros. would wind up doing with HBO Max beginning with Wonder Woman 1984, though Disney remains committed to sending its Marvel Studios titles exclusively to theaters.
Why It Made The Cut: Few films felt as timely as The Assistant, which came out at the same time Hollywood was dealing with not only the continued fallout of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual harassment and assault but also the burgeoning protests by assistants in the industry over lack of adequate pays and other mistreatment. While other campaigns made big, flashy statements to audiences, this one played it so quiet and understated it sometimes fell off the radar, but kept coming back to show how powerful the story and performances were.
Why It Made The Cut: Before May of last year, Warner Bros. and DC Films seemed to be actively apologizing for the dark, dystopian tone (not to mention storytelling shortcomings) of earlier films from Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was part of that, presenting a new take on the best character to come out of Suicide Squad that freed Harley Quinn from the male gaze and other traps. In contrast to some of those earlier movies, this campaign was funny, bright and full of women taking their power back. It was also one of the last major fully-theatrical campaigns of the year before things got weird.
Why It Made The Cut: Universal’s unsuccessful effort to launch its Dark Universe film franchise on the back of 2017’s The Mummy is legendary as a case study in corporate hubris. That made the campaign for The Invisible Man so notable as it not only looked like a powerful and compelling story in its own right but also was the first example of the studio’s new approach of making smaller movies driven by creative filmmakers, not the dictates of a shared cinematic universe.
Why It Made The Cut: These two kid-targeted movies were some of the earliest efforts by their respective studios into the burgeoning world of premium video-on-demand, an avenue theater owners had kept off-limits for a decade. Most notably, each represented early adoption of the studio-hosted watch party, encouraging fans to engage in a communal but remote viewing experience anchored by Twitter chats. While Trolls World Tour was a first-mover, Scoob! in particular went all-out for its watch party with downloadable party packs, recipes and other items for those at home to use as part of the event.
Why It Made The Cut: The New Mutants is included here simply because it actually came out after years of delays, rumors of extensive reshoots and other issues. Not only was it finally released – after a campaign that shifted over time from a horror-centric push to one that was more of a conventional super hero message – but it came out theatrically instead of, as many expected, via streaming.
Why It Made The Cut: With so many movies coming out on PVOD or streaming, Tenet’s theatrical release is a bright shining example of a powerful stakeholder intentionally not reading the room. The film’s massively disappointing box-office performance shows there was no audience in September willing to brave theater-going in sufficient numbers, a lesson so well-learned by Warner Bros. it’s cited as being a major reason for the studio’s decision to send #WW84 and eventually all its 2021 releases to HBO Max. It would rather anger directors, agents, production partners and others than go through that again, and with good reason.
Why It Made The Cut: Few films of late have tried so hard – and to a great extent so successfully – to redefine an entire genre as The Happiest Season. Its holiday-centric campaign was perfectly in keeping with the movie’s story, and the emphasis on providing a new take on the Christmas movie category was felt throughout the marketing by Hulu.
How Warner Bros. has mounted an oft-delayed and ultimately unusual campaign for its first legit superhero sequel since 2012.
To call Wonder Woman 1984’s trip to an eventual release date “unconventional” would be a severe understatement. Originally scheduled for December 2019, it was later moved to June, 2020, then later and later in the year following the theatrical closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The final release date of December 25, 2020 seemed iffy as late as last month but has finally come to pass because WB – and parent company AT&T – pulled a bold move that has subsequently disrupted the entire film industry, sending the movie to both whatever theaters are open and the HBO Max streaming platform.
Just as the title implies, the movie – directed once more by Patty Jenkins – jumps several decades from the World War I setting of the 2017 installment to the 80s. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, where she meets coworker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s insecurities make her a ripe target for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomaniac businessman who acquires the ability to grant wishes and fulfill desires, an ability he uses to increase his own fortunes. Eventually Barbara wishes for superhuman powers and is transformed into Cheetah, setting the stage for an epic showdown with Diana. Along all that, Diana is confounded by the mysterious return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she believed dead 60 years ago and who doesn’t appear to have aged at all.
Before the HBO Max release was announced, #WW84 had taken Tenet’s position as the movie exhibitors were pinning all their hopes for a moviegoing revival on. The simultaneous distribution may have dashed those hopes (along with the fact that the pandemic is nowhere near controlled in the U.S., meaning most theaters are still closed), so the film is now seen as an example of what could becomeHollywood’s future. At the very least, it set the stage for Warner Bros. announcement its entire 2021 slate was following the same pattern.
In addition to the copious discussions and analysis of what all of the above means for theaters, HBO Max and other studios, initial reviews have praised it as a feel-good sequel to help close out an infection-filled tire fire of a year. Those reviews have been mixed enough to give it a lackluster 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the marketing of the film has struck the same colorful, powerful tone as that of the original.
The first teaser poster, Tweeted out by Jenkins in early June 2019 along with the news the movie would not have a panel at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, shows Diana looking imposing in golden full body armor. She’s set against a colorful backdrop that forms a slight “W” to reinforce the branding. It’s an impressive first image communicating what may be the movie’s brighter tone.
Four character posters – one for Diana, Trevor, Lord and Minerva – retained that colorful background branding while also offering one of the movie’s biggest revelations: that Trevor sports a fanny pack in the film.
In March two more posters came out showing Diana kneeling in her ceremonial armor, a colorful backgroundswirling behind her. Those posters also served as announcements of the new (at the time) June release date.
An exclusive IMAX poster, released in November, shows the armored Diana crouched and ready for battle while promoting the fact some sequences in the film were shot with IMAX cameras, the better to lure in audiences hoping for an immersive experience.
More posters came out earlier this month that took the same kind of visual approach, making sure to include the new selling point of simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max availability.
The “#WeekofWonder” campaign run the first week of December included another poster showing Wonder Woman walking purposefully and powerfully toward the camera. AT&T debuted another showing a more relaxed, though still armored, Diana.
A Dolby-exclusive poster loses some of the colorful background but continues the emphasis on Wonder Woman’s shiny armor, as does one for Cinemark and one for RealD 3D.
Diana is explaining to Barbara that her life has been different than she might imagine as the first trailer (37.3 million views on YouTube), released at the beginning of December 2019, begins. We see momentos from her past before seeing Wonder Woman break up a group of armed criminals in a shopping mall. As that’s happening, a TV commercial features Lord promising people they can achieve all their dreams and have what they want. Somehow Steve Trevor returns, having not aged a day in the 40 years since he apparently died. They set off on a mysterious adventure while we’re shown footage of them in combat mixed with scenes of the Amazons competing in some form of organized games.
All of that is bookended by title graphics and other animation seemingly pulled directly from a 1984 video cassette, including fuzzy static that mimics what would happen when a VHS tape got stretched after too many plays.
In conjunction with DC Fandome in August a new trailer (23.8 million views on YouTube) was released that starts by showing a young Diana in the midst of her training followed by a grown Wonder Woman using her magic lasso to swing between lightning bolts. That gives you an idea of how epic the story is. After that there’s more footage showing Barbara’s quest for power that turns her into Cheetah, Lord’s megalomania that has to be stopped and the mystery surrounding Trevor’s return. At the end there’s a nice flip from a scene in the first movie, with Trevor trying on clothes to fit into the current world while Diana judges his choices.
In mid-November in conjunction with the announcement of the HBO Max release plans the “Official Main Trailer” (4.3 million views on YouTube) came out that is almost exactly the same as the Fandome trailer from August.
Online and Social
Whatever website might have once existed for the movie it’s been replaced by a single page on HBO Max’s site with the trailer and information on either signing up for that service or purchasing theater tickets. It’s really disappointing, though there were still stand-alone social profiles that went more in-depth on promotions and other marketing assets.
Advertising and Promotions
With so much going on, it’s necessary to break all of this up a little bit.
Microsoft, which had a substantial campaign using the movie and character as a way to encourage kids to develop tech skills and learn to code by playing game, engaging in online scavenger hunts and more. There was also a Bing extension that added movie key art to browsers and an Edge browser theme.
Dorito’s, which put movie branding on chip bags, some of which came out earlier this year before various delays, leading to packaging hitting shelves with inaccurate dates.
Hot Topic, which offered all kinds of movie and character merchandise, some exclusive to the retailer.
Reebok, which offered a line of movie- and character-themed footwear. That campaign included an emphasis on highlighting healthcare workers as well as promoting the company’s education initiatives.
The movie also was included in a number of ads for AT&T encouraging people to sign up for the company’s fiber home internet service so they had the bandwidth to fully enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max.
Promotions for the movie kicked off all the way back in June, 2018 in advance of that year’s San Diego Comic-Con as Gadot and Jenkins Tweeted out a handful of first looks at Trevor, Barbara and Diana. That Trevor’s presence in the movie was revealed at the outset of the publicity cycle is notable since the question of whether or not he would show up could have been a significant part of the campaign. Instead, Jenkins – and presumably the studio – felt there was more to gain from getting it out there early and not making everyone endure months of speculation, which is appreciated.
The movie was also part of that year’s CineEurope presentation from the studio.
Jenkins, Gadot and Pine all appeared at SDCC 2018, an appearance that was followed by the launch of an Omaze campaign where people could win a role as an extra on the film.
Warner Bros. sat out Hall H at SDCC 2019 but Jenkins and Gadot did appear at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo in December, talking about the movie and what audiences could expect while giving attendees an early look at the first trailer.
The film was included in WB’s 2019CinemaCon presentation that included footage from the film and comments from Jenkins. It was also featured in that year’s CineEurope presentation.
Gadot appeared as a presenter during the recent Oscars broadcast.
Shortly after that news came the movie would be among those included in DC FanDome, a virtual event planned for August. That panel, which included the debut of another trailer, had Jenkins and others discussing both this and the first film and fielding some questions from fans. There was also a surprise appearance by the original on-screen Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. More promotions for the film, including another appearance by Jenkins, were part of the second part of FanDome a month later.
The news the movie would debut in theaters and on HBO Max was accompanied by a short promo making that point to audiences. It was also prominently included in promos for WB’s later announcement of its 2021 theatrical/HBO Max plans.
Additional longer commercials showed an abridged outline of the story.
A new extended spot was unveiled at this year’s CCXP, one that focuses on the emotional journey Diana goes on over the course of the story.
Immediately leading up to release WB bought Promoted Trends on Twitter.
DC FanDome was reactivated in mid-December for the movie’s virtual premiere, including exclusive looks at the film and more. That premiere supported World Central Kitchen, which has been doing a lot of work to feed hungry people across the world – including the U.S. – during the pandemic.
DC Comics Tie-Ins
There’s been a full-throated promotional effort from DC, not only because that division is home to the Wonder Woman IP but also because the movie’s release roughly coincides with the 80th anniversary of the character’s print debut. That effort has included a number of on-domain “get to know X character” stories and videos as well as insights into the design and creation of Wonder Woman’s golden armor, an interview with Tina Guo, the guitarist behind the now-famous Wonder Woman movie theme and more.
A planned movie tie-in comic with cover art by Nicola Scott, who shared her work on Twitter in March. More details came out in July, including that the book – “Wonder Woman 1984 No. 1” – would debut exclusively in Walmart stores and feature multiple stories, including a direct prequel to the film co-written by Louise Simonson and associate producer Anna Obropta.
A handful of Zoom chat backgrounds, released earlier this year (as many companies were doing) so people could add some film branding to their video calls.
Lilly Aspel, who plays the young Diana, appeared on an episode of DC’s Kids YouTube show to talk about the movie and play games.
#WonderWomanDay was celebrated in October with all sorts of merchandise sales, events at comics retailers and more.
With all the delays and date changes, publicity didn’t truly kick off – outside of a few interviews and comments, including those from Pine and Jenkins from the “I Am The Night” set – until February of this year.
That’s when more photos were released to EW, which also hosted a roundtable conversation with Jenkins and the cast as well as an interview with Gadot about the continuation of Diana’s story as well as that spiffy new armor.
Another interview with Gadot had her talking about this movie as well as her career, public image and more.
New images and comments from Gadot and others emerged in April, as Warner Bros. execs reiterated their commitment to the theatrical model for this movie. At about the same time, Jenkins hinted at the four-film arc she has in mind for the character if she gets the chance and more. She discussed more details and ideas in another interview later on.
As the reality of the pandemic became more clear in May, Gadot surprised a group of Wonder Woman-inspired healthcare workers in Detroit with an appearance to lift them up during difficult times.
Wiig was interviewed about what a career change it was to take a role in a big-budget production like this and how that went.
DC interviewed Magnus Lygdback, Gadot’s trainer on the film, about how he helped her get ready for production, while Jenkins offered more information on how she intended to bring back Trevor.
Pascal was the subject of a feature profile that included comments from Jenkins about working with him and more.
In an interview earlier this month Jenkins said she was essentially ignoring the theatrical cut of Justice League, directed by Joss Whedon, because she felt it contradicted what she had done and had planned, unlike the way she had worked with original JL director Zack Snyder
Gadot spoke in a later interview about returning to the role and what she hoped that meant for the character, feminism and the world as a whole. In another she acknowledged again how rough a year this has been for many people and expressed her hope this movie brings them and everyone else some joy and relief.
Wiig also returned to her “Saturday Night Live” home the weekend before release.
A substantial profile of Jenkins made lots of headlines for including her thoughts on the HBO Max situation, the prolonged negotiations that finally allowed her to return for a sequel, her plans for a third film and more. Another interview had her revealing how studio notes influenced the ending to the first movie.
Let’s face it, the campaign is one of the best of the year, even despite all the delays and awkwardness, because of this single image.
On top of what it’s selling to audiences, the campaign has a strong message for entertainment industry executives who feel threatened by change they’re not in charge of.
Picking Up The Spare
Gadot appeared in a quick video recapping and setting up the movie’s story. She was also interviewed about this movie and state of the industry.
Another DC post covered the process of bringing the film to life.
Connie Nelson was interviewed about the new film and more. There were also additional features and interviews about how the filmmakers customized Cheetah for Wiig, what prompted Wiig to take the role, Pascal’s approach to this film as well as his history with Wonder Woman and more.
More on how Gadot and Wiig bonded was covered in a joint video interview with the two.
The film’s costume designer explained how she created the film’s 1980’s fashion aesthetic.
A few thoughts while pondering whether James Corden’s denial a “butthole cut” of Cats exists is proof it totally exists.
Just like the rest of 2020, the last week has contained eight months worth of news. And that’s just in the entertainment world and doesn’t even take into account the attempted coup taking place or the fact that an entire political party has pulled away the mask to show off its anti-democratic nature.
Warner Bros. Uses HBO Max To Plan For The Future
Yes, the news that Warner Bros. plans to release its entire 2021 movie slate to both theaters (at least any that are open) and HBO Max is a huge deal.
No, this is not WB offering up theaters as a sacrifice. I don’t think Jason Kilar or anyone else actively wants to destroy the theatrical exhibition industry, but they *do* want to maintain their own business and for the foreseeable future going direct-to-consumer is the best way to do that.
To that point, a survey from Deloitte reports most people aren’t going to feel comfortable going to a theater until at least the middle of next year. That means the theater industry isn’t likely to move upward significantly until the second half – or later – of 2021, a window that roughly lines up with when enough of the U.S. population has received the pending Covid-19 vaccines to impact communal spread.
Despite that, WB’s announcement seems to have unlocked the rare achievement of honking off almost everyone within the movie industry.
Theater chains were angered because they thought the Wonder Woman 1984 shift to HBO Max was a one-off. Their stock prices dropped just as you would expect them to and AMC Theaters has once again said it will have to secure an influx of cash to survive past early 2021. Independent cinemas weren’t thrilled either.
Directors Denis Villeneuve and Patty Jenkins, who helmed Dune and WW84 respectively, have blasted the move, with Villeneuve specially calling out how it betrays a lack of respect for the art of cinema and instead is about the debt management of a telecom behemoth.
There’s also, of course, director Christopher Nolan, who said it showed WB panicking and “dismantling” a great studio. Whether or not he’s self-aware to realize the theatrical release of Tenet he insisted upon despite the pandemic helped lead to this change remains up in the air.
In fact the Director’s Guild of America is pretty upset as well.
Legendary, the production company behind Godzilla vs. Kong and more, which reportedly had less than an hour’s notice before the announcement was made and is upset because it had Netflix on the line for GvK but still wanted a theatrical release.
Disney Announces [checks notes] Literally Everything
On the heels of Warner Bros. grabbing a hammer and walking over to the “Break glass in case of once-in-a-generation-pandemic” box where it kept HBO Max, Disney took its Investors Day presentation to announce scores of projects and changes. Those announcements were, depending on who you talk to, either A) the greatest things ever, of B) soulless exploitation of beloved characters with no respect for the individuals who created them decades prior.
Those announcements included lots of Star Wars series and films and lots of Marvel series and films along with plenty of Disney, Pixar and other projects. Of note:
The timing of Jenkins being announced as the director of an upcoming Star Wars movie is coincidental to that of the WW84 HBO Max news. The former has likely been in the works for a long time while the latter just broke a week ago, so I’m not reading too much into that.
20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures, the remnants of 20th Century Fox, are becoming producers of content for Hulu, which is kind of a sad fate for a once major movie studio.
Disney is doing what WB didn’t and clearly laying out tiers for feature film distribution. Tier One (Theatrical): MCU, including Black Widow, and Star Wars; Tier Two (Windowed): Raya and the Last Dragon etc will get the same Disney+ Premier Access Mulan did; Tier Three (Disney+): Live action remakes like Pinochio and others or legacy sequels like Sister Act 3.
What all of this means to my eye is that the battle lines for the second phase of the Streaming Wars have just been laid out.
Companies like Netflix and even Amazon Video have long felt that the key to expanding on existing success was the development or acquisition of some major blockbuster movie franchises all their own. Netflix might have something brewing if the Russo Bros. can build on the success of Extraction, which they said they have plans to. Recent hits like The Old Guard and Enola Holmes could also easily be turned into ongoing series if the creators are on board. And Amazon might be hoping it can do something with Without Remorse, which it acquired from Paramount.
Warner Bros. could do that with their own properties on HBO Max, but how it handled the recent news means they’re now working from a deficit in terms of goodwill among agents, directors and others.
Right now Disney is the only player actually executing on that strategy, counting on the impressive portfolio of brands and properties it manages to keep people coming back to Disney+ for spinoffs, sequels, prequels and other expansions.
If I were a betting man, I’d say that a year from now we’re having a very different conversation. Platforms have realigned, studios have altered their strategies and at least one studio has been purchased by a tech company, probably either Apple or Alibaba.
Whatever happens, this last week has been a very, very interesting two months.