Wonder Woman 1984 – Marketing Recap

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 become Hollywood’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 Posters

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 background swirling 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.

There were also four new character posters that debuted on IGN.

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.

The Trailers

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.

Advertising and Sponsorships

Snapchat users could add a movie-themed lens and background to their stories and videos.

There was also an exclusive Snap lens on branded Dorito’s bags.

It was one of the first brands to have access to Instagram Reels when that feature was rolled out earlier this year, posting exclusive content there.

An official Spotify playlist featured not only Hans Zimmer’s score but also a solid selection of 80s hits.

IMAX promoted its involvement in the production with a short featurette with Jenkins talking about shooting the movie not just on film but on IMAX.

Fandango offered an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.

The movie sponsored a bit on “Ellen.”

Outdoor ads of all shapes and sizes, from standard billboard units to full-skyscraper projections, were run in the last few weeks before release.

Just last week WB released the first three minutes of the movie, which offer a bit of flashback as well as stage setting for where the story of this film begins.

Cross-Promotions

Promotional partners for the movie included:

Tide, which inserted Wonder Woman into a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl LIV broadcast earlier this year.

The Red Cross, which ran a sweepstakes entering those who donated blood, platelets or plasma in July for a chance to win movie prop replicas of Wonder Woman’s lasso and gauntlets.

Revlon, which created a line of movie-inspired cosmetics.

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.

Eleven by Venus Williams, which created a “capsule collection” of movie-themed apparel.

Alex and Ani, which created a line of movie- and character-themed jewelry.

Roblox, which added movie themes, settings and costumes to the game that players could unlock and add. New features were added as time went on.

Dairy Queen, which created the Wonder Woman Cookie Collision Blizzard, which was available well before the film was eventually released.

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.

Events

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.

A new October release date was announced in June.

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.

A new digital-first comics series featuring stories from established and new creators.

Media and Publicity

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.

The late-breaking HBO Max plan didn’t sit quite right with Jenkins, who said as much in a recent interview.

Wiig and Gadot’s on-set friendship and subsequent antics was covered in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight.”

Late night appearances included Gadot, Wiig and Jenkins on “The Tonight Show,” Gadot and Jenkins on “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” Wiig on “Late Night,” Pascal on “The Tonight Show,”

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.

Overall

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.

Kristen Wiig Ww84 GIF by Wonder Woman Film - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Kristen Wiig Ww84 GIF by Wonder Woman Film - Find & Share on GIPHY

Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max Isn’t Just the Best Choice, It Was The Only Choice

All the world is waiting for you, in the comfort of their own home.

Wonder Woman 1984, which is the last studio blockbuster standing on the theatrical release calendar, retains that status but now comes with a significant caveat: It will also be available day-and-date, December 25th, on Warner Bros.’ HBO Max streaming service.

That news came just a couple days ago, and not a moment too soon. Earlier this month there were reports Warner Bros. was considering a significantly tightened window of just two weeks between the movie coming to theaters and then to streaming. Indeed, as time ticked by that 12/25 release date seemed increasingly in doubt, given campaigns for major movies like this generally begin in earnest six weeks or so out.

In a significant shift in tone since the beginning of pandemic-related changes in studio release plans, when theater owners and NATO put out statements sounding like Luigi and Dino visiting the Army base, the CEO of AMC Theaters commented by saying it’s all good, and that this is the best solution for everyone. At the same time, Universal Pictures has signed deals with both Cinemark and Cineplex theater chains allowing the studio to shorten the theater-to-home video timeline to just over two weeks.

That change in rhetoric is welcome, especially since Warner Bros., like many other studios over the last eight months, is making not only the best choice but really the only choice when it comes to the movies it’s holding on to.

First, it’s a sign the studio is reading the broader societal landscape as it exists at the moment. The Covid-19 pandemic is, at the moment, essentially out of control in the U.S. and while a vaccine may indeed be on the way, the soonest it will be widely available enough to have a measurable impact on the population is likely the summer or fall of 2021.

Along the same lines, it’s a hedge against the last month of 2020 being even worse in terms of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. While the CDC, as well as many governors and mayors across the country, has (finally) formally stated people should not travel or gather for Thanksgiving there are going to be plenty who ignore such recommendations and warnings. If/when that happens, cases – including deaths – will be spiking (again) just a couple weeks before Christmas Day. That may well lead to another round of stay-at-home orders and business closures even more restrictive than those put in place in recent days.

Third, it’s an acknowledgement by all parties – WB and exhibitors – that there’s no further financial relief for theaters or any other party coming from the federal government. Not only are Republican officials not taking any steps to meet with House Leader Nancy Pelosi, but Treasury Secretary and Man Who Constantly Looks Like He’s Waiting to Get Back To Kicking Orphans Steven Mnuchin recently announced he is ending several stimulus programs, the impacts of which will likely be felt well into the Biden Administration.

Outside of all that, it does seem that this may finally be the crack that brings the entire dam down. As Peter Kafka said, the pandemic has provided the impetus for the movie industry to fully come into the present and make some substantive changes. The kinds of deals exhibitors are making were first floated a decade ago but roundly rejected at the time. Meanwhile, studios have spent that time building up their own brands and distribution infrastructures, all of which is being brought to bear right now. Those deals, then, are the best chance exhibitors have for survival.

This has been such a wild week in the distribution and exhibition industries that, as big as the Wonder Woman 1984 news is, it’s not by any means the only big beats in this space. Paramount announced it had finally officially sold Coming 2 America to Amazon, which scheduled it for early next year, and there’s rumors Disney could shuffle some of its upcoming live-action remakes of Cruella, Peter Pan and others to Disney+ as it seeks to clear the shelves while playing catch-up when theaters are fully reopened.

It’s great that Warner Bros. will continue to support theaters with the WW84 release, but making it available via streaming is also an acknowledgement of the current realities. There really wasn’t any other option available, at least not one that was feasible long-term.

Looking Toward the Fall Movie Season

We should be more confident, but that’s not working out.

Last month’s grand reopening of movie theaters in many parts of the country did not turn out as expected, though that in and of itself should have been expected. Tenet, seen as the salvation for theaters that had been closed for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, grossed an estimated $41 million in its first three weeks combined, and that was the best performing film since mid-September. Weekend box-office totals have fallen since its release without another major feature to attract audience interest.

Also falling in that time has been advertising spending by studios, largely because Tenet acted not as a savior but a warning signal to others, including Disney, which pushed just about everything on its release calendar – including Black Widow and West Side Story – by anywhere from six to 12 months down the road.

Key to all of this is that a handful of major markets including Los Angeles and New York City are still keeping theaters closed. San Francisco officials have given the greenlight for opening, but the recently-announced delay of both No Time To Die – pushed from November to April of next year – and Dune – pushed from December to October – has created even more chaos.

Looking at how things stand as of this moment, the biggest titles still on the 2020 calendar, all of which are slated for mid-November at the earliest, are:

  • 11-20-20: Soul
  • 12-11-20: Free Guy
  • 12-18-20: Coming 2 America
  • 12-18-20: Death on the Nile
  • 12-25-20: News of the World
  • 12-25-20: Respect
  • 12-25-20: Wonder Woman 1984

That list, which doesn’t include a handful of smaller titles with great word of mouth like Nomadland and Ammonite as well as streaming releases like The Prom, raises a number of questions and other points to consider.

What’s the Plan Until November 20th?

Between now and the middle of November, the major releases are all happening on Netflix while theaters only have a smattering of art-house titles to program. The Trial of The Chicago 7, Rebecca and others are all streaming, meaning unless The War With Grandpa unexpectedly breaks out into blockbuster territory theaters are going to have minimal new films to play and even fewer that benefit from any sort of mass advertising or marketing campaigns.

That landscape is why theaters are reducing hours or closing on select days in certain markets to reduce overhead during times when no one is coming to see any of the movies being shown. Regal even just announced it will be closing all theaters in the U.S. and U.K. It’s also why a coalition of The National Association of Theatre Owners, the Directors Guild of America, the Motion Picture Association and scores of high-profile filmmakers have once again petitioned congressional leaders for an industry bailout package, citing the monumental losses they’ve suffered.

Such a bailout seems unlikely, though. While the House of Representatives has unproductive talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a stimulus bill that’s $1 billion less than what the House passed in May, the Senate is solely focused on rushing through a Supreme Court justice approval. And if the news that Disney Parks will be laying off 28,000 people in California and Florida or that airlines are on the verge of letting 50,000 employees go isn’t enough to spur significant action, it’s hard to imagine a strongly-worded letter will do the trick.

Some of Those Dates Are Sketchy At Best

If Disney were going to move Free Guy, which originated with Fox, it likely would have done so last week when it made other changes. And Sony seems to have revived the No Time To Die campaign in earnest, so the odds it’s released as scheduled are at least decent.

But it’s hard to believe Coming 2 America remains on that mid-December date for much longer. With October now begun, the campaign for a long-anticipated sequel starring the recently revived Eddie Murphy should have started by now. Instead there hasn’t even been a teaser trailer or announcement poster. The same goes for News of the World, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks Elizabeth Marvel.

Also, of the nine titles on that list, eight of them are bunched on just three dates: 11/20, 12/18 and 12/25. That’s literally putting all the eggs in a single basket and means studios are counting on people feeling like it’s simultaneously too dangerous to visit family and friends during the holidays but also safe enough to hang out in theaters. Those are both big assumptions or bets to make.

They also assume that the attention of the U.S. audience won’t be focused tightly on what’s shaping up to be a contested election cycle. With cries of hoaxes, frauds and conspiracies already abundant there’s a good chance the end of November will still find the country watching the legal battles being threatened by a certain incumbent president. Either that, or a clear defeat of that same individual will consume 40% of the nation in planning the armed rebellion he and others like him have been encouraging for months now should he lose.

The Question of The Audience Remains

NATO head John Fithian may find New York governor Andrew Cuomo to be an easy target to blame, citing Cuomo’s insistence on keeping NY theaters closed. Financial analysts may suggest studios take one for the team and keep putting movies in theaters to help exhibitors, who are seeing their stocks take a massive hit. It may be true that Tenet simply wasn’t the best movie to lead with last month.

Even if all those things are true, it remains unclear what percentage of the audience NATO, Wall Street or anyone else thinks is coming back to theaters any time soon for two reasons.

First is simply because of health concerns. The number of coronavirus cases are rising across almost the entire country, there’s massive uncertainty because not only does the president have Covid-19 but the information coming out of the White House – which is increasingly looking like a super-spreader hotspot – is unclear and inconsistent. A lot of people are either still taking the same precautions, for a variety of reasons, they have been for the last seven months or are newly concerned about potential exposure. As Lucas Shaw said on Twitter:

Second, the economic picture has not improved substantially for a good percentage of the U.S. population. While stock indexes continue to inexplicably rise:

  • 60% of U.S. households have reported the loss of all or some of their income in the last several months, with the impact falling disproportionally on non-white demographic groups and forcing many women out of the workforce because they’re now responsible for monitoring the at-home learning of their children.
  • The number of people who have been out of work for six months – the threshold for labeling those losses “permanent” – is growing, in part because companies aren’t filling open positions, asking those still at work to do more in a push for productivity.
  • Personal spending has dropped with the ending of enhanced unemployment benefits, or because people have dropped out of the workforce.

With that all in mind, it’s unclear what disposable income the analyst quoted in the THR piece linked above thinks people have to be spending on what is essentially an outing explicitly designed to give them Covid-19.

And, as I’ve said before, it’s unclear exactly what studios are supposed to do. Any option available to them at the moment may bring in only a percentage of what a movie was expected to given a fully functioning economy and box-office. So they must decide between honking off consumers and exhibitors by holding movies back from any kind of release or honking off only exhibitors and punting titles to streaming of PVOD. Only one of those comes without putting studios in the position of the bait that lures audiences into an infectious disease trap.

Advertising Is Rebounding Just In Time For Theaters To Reopen For No Reason

Political ads will prop up a market with few movies coming to theaters.

Last week a report was released predicting the U.S. advertising market, in free fall since much of the economy shut down in March and April, should wind up relatively stable for 2020, buoyed in large part by heavy spending from various political campaigns. While still down from its 2019 level, the report forecasts that decline only being around two percent.

That’s not too bad but assumes that more local and state economies will continue to reopen from their pandemic-related closures and that another Covid-19 wave – potentially in conjunction with flu season – won’t cause further restrictions. The report doesn’t go into detail, but it’s safe to assume 60+ percent of that will go to the duopoly of Facebook and Google, with Amazon getting a share of that as well while media companies continue to fall by the wayside.

Among the businesses reopening as states and cities loosen their guidelines for operation are, of course, movie theaters, who have been counting on such easing along with a slate of high-profile releases from Hollywood to bring people back. For months theater owners and other interested parties have been counting down the days until Tenet, Mulan and other titles finally came out.

But Mulan was shifted to Disney+, where it reportedly was viewed by 29 percent of U.S. subscribers to that service during its first weekend. Given the “Premier Access” fee of $30 attached to the movie, that comes out to roughly $260 million. And Tenet’s domestic performance has been very weak, though it’s done pretty well overseas. And it needs to be noted that many of these numbers are estimates given studios are under no obligation to share VOD revenue and WB is holding back official box office reporting.

Since then, Wonder Woman 1984 has moved from October to December and there’s rumors Black Widow may also be delayed while Soul could follow Hamilton! and other recent movies to go straight to Disney+. Theatrical releases are, in the last few months of the year, a risky bet to make, one that studios aren’t willing to make on expensive productions that require the economics of theaters to turn a profit.

Given that’s the majority of what studios are producing these days, that means theaters are now in the position of being open for business but unsure of what movies are going to be available to put on screens for the next several months. It seems like every media outlet has now run a variation on the “The Tenet Experiment Failed and The Fate of Fall is Unknown” story in the last week.

There have also been additional comments from others like the CEO of IMAX, who dismisses the PVOD “experiment” Hollywood has engaged in as “failed.”

While the economics of all this are still largely up in the air and open for interpretation, the repeated delays for some movies like WW84 and others that studios seem insistent on bringing to theaters at some point are causing massive audience confusion. That’s in large part because the advertising and marketing keeps shifting and changing, in some cases multiple times. In the case of WW84, branded products from promotional partner companies have hit store shelves with dates that quickly turned out to be inaccurate. Ads have been placed – including some on DC comics – with revised released dates that also were incorrect even before people retrieved them from their pull list boxes.

So audiences don’t have any idea when the movies they might be interested in are coming out because release dates keep changing. Such changes used to be relatively uncommon and only happened for major titles, often months in advance. Now they’re happening with almost every title save for those always intended for streaming and sometimes are announced just weeks before a target date.

Setting an accurate release date and sticking with it requires studios to select one of two options. They can either:

  1. Set a streaming/PVOD release, deciding that getting some revenue from subscriptions/downloads is better than holding the film back and earning nothing, even if that revenue is less than what it was anticipating from a theatrical release
  2. Maintaining a theatrical release date and counting on a combination of 1) health realities being such that theaters and other businesses are still fully open, 2) audience willingness to venture out to mass gatherings, and 3) the movie being attractive enough to a critical mass of people.

Neither, of course, is ideal and is definitely not a sure thing. While Covid-19 cases in the U.S. are falling (despite inaction and misinformation from the Federal government), there’s no guarantee that trend will continue as the weather in much of the country turns colder. Cases have begun rising in many states, which may lead governors and health officials to impose additional restrictions. That could lead to a chain reaction where such orders lead to theaters having to close or further restrict attendance levels, which in turn leads studios to rethink theatrical release dates for major movies, which means fewer options for the theaters that still open.

On top of the coronavirus, the western part of the U.S. is basically one massive wildfire, disrupting life there and causing many to evacuate or make substantive changes to how or when they venture outside due to unhealthy air quality. On the other side of the country, the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard keeps getting hammered by a string of hurricanes that similarly upend normal life and cause property damage or loss.

The question also remains how many people are even able to head out to theaters right now or for the foreseeable future. On top of massive sustained unemployment numbers, “essential” workers who may be dealing with reduced hours or the need to change their schedule to accommodate remote learning for their kids anticipate earning have also had the “hazard pay” employers offered for a while cut completely. Even those who can work full-time from home likely don’t have the freedom they once did if they have young kids who need help with online classes and other issues. Gig workers and freelancers are largely uncertain of their future. Overall income has fallen after brief upward movement.

So who, then, is able to go to the movies either because of time or financial reasons?

If people don’t know when a movie is going to come out, how they’ll be able to afford tickets or how safe it will be to go to theaters, it’s unclear what exactly the core value proposition of a traditional movie marketing campaign is, exactly.

Those who question studios’ commitment to theatrical release models would do well to consider those points. Streaming’s lower price point makes the per-view cost almost zero, and even pricey PVOD titles eliminate the health and time points from the decision matrix. That makes running a marketing campaign a lot easier because, quite simply, there are fewer variables to balance and fewer potential potholes to avoid in running that campaign.

The DC Fandome Movie Trailers, Ranked

A completely arbitrary list, canon until an arbitrary change.

Over the course of this past Saturday’s DC Fandome, a virtual event focusing on the non-comics projects featuring the company’s stable of characters, a number of trailers debuted for some highly-anticipated movies.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the release of most of the films is still up in the air, including Wonder Woman 1984, but the scheduled October date is more sketchy by the day. Issues like that, though, won’t get in the way of passing hasty judgement on the spots that were shared and which served as one of the major attractions of Fandome. Those trailers are ranked in order, from incredible to that’s kind of awful.

Wonder Woman 1984

The campaign has been underway for a while now, based on the original plan for the movie to have been out earlier this summer. This trailer ups what has been seen previously with additional insights into Maxwell Lord’s megalomania, the mystery surrounding Steve Trevor’s return and Barbara’s motivations that lead her to become Cheetah. It’s fast-paced, funny, and has Wonder Woman using her lasso to ride lightning like Spider-Man swinging between buildings. This alone should win the movie all possible awards.

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The Batman

There’s an old adage among corporate technology buyers that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” DC’s version of that is “No one ever got fired for suggesting a Batman movie.” And this certainly looks like a Batman movie. There are various shades of things we’ve seen before, but thankfully this *doesn’t* appear to be a straightforward origin story, which is something we do not need. Too bad we didn’t get a good look at Andy Serkis’ Alfred, but Robert Pattinson does appear to be sufficiently gravitasy as a still-unseasoned Dark Knight.

The Suicide Squad

Not an actual trailer, but it doesn’t really matter because both the “First Look” and “Roll Call” videos make the movie seem like a lot of fun. That’s not surprising given director James Gunn also wrote the film and seems to be throwing the kitchen sink into the works, creating what looks like a big, goofy action film. There’s no reference to the first movie – in fact it seems to be running as far away from it as possible – which is fine considering that film was a mess.

Black Adam

We’ve turned a corner here, and are firmly into “Wait…what?” territory. This is a movie that seemed destined never to get made, despite the efforts of Dwayne Johnson to keep it alive over the last several years. Apparently it’s actually in the works, though, as this sizzle reel featuring concept art and voiceover from Johnson attempts to prove. I remain unconvinced, especially since the concept art is so overwrought and the narration so lackluster.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

And here we find ourselves at the bottom of the barrel. In lieu of rational thought, which this trailer actively works against, I offer simply a series of random thoughts.

  • Minus infinity points for the use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which Snyder apparently fetishizes having used it previously in what is objectively the worst scene from 2008’s Watchmen.
  • The big Darkseid reveal finally shows everyone that he looks more or less exactly like both Steppenwolf and Doomsday.
  • Why is the trailer footage shown in 4:3? Is the movie being released in four one-hour installments on Instagram? Is that why everything is so orange, because of the filter?
  • Interesting to note which footage was also included in the theatrical release’s original trailers but didn’t make it into the recut movie. Also, which shots have starkly different color palettes.
  • Is Cyborg’s dad Dr. Manhattan?
  • “Not us united” is an interesting reminder of the “Unite the seven” idea that more or less kicked off the original’s theatrical campaign many years ago.
  • This is…not great. It’s the most Zack Snyder-y thing Zack Snyder ever Snydered, at least based on this and the other teases.