Creating and making a hit movie is no easy task. Lots of hard work, time, and money (tons of money) go into making a hit film in Hollwyood. Even if all the hard work goes smooth and your actors put on a great show, there is no guarantee your movie will take off like you believe it should. One big part of a movie’s success (or lack thereof) is something not many people will think about — the marketing. How a movie is portrayed in print ads or commercials can have a big impact on whether the potential audience is even interested or not. A great marketing campaign can help get tens (or hundreds) of thousands more people to line up at the box office, which can help make it a financial success. With that in mind, this article will take a closer look at 10 of the best movie marketing campaigns in history. Some are newer, some are older, but they are all great!
10. Paranormal Activity
We open this countdown by looking at Paranormal Activity, which took the horror genre by storm back around a decade ago. This film generated a ton of buzz online by releasing “found footage” style trailers, in an effort to make the film look more like a documentary than a traditional, fictionalized scary movie (similar to a film you will hear about later in this article). These trailers also didn’t offer much from the movie like most trailers, but instead, showed snippets of audience reactions. These reactions included people screaming and jumping out of their seats, alluding to how scary the film was. This campaign was a huge success and this film got a ton of attention, and many people thought the film was real footage when they went to see it for the first time.
Before it was one of the most popular films of all time, Avatar was a mysterious but highly anticipated film. Despite the film coming out in December of 2009, James Cameron and his marketing team didn’t release any concrete visuals until a few months prior, whereas most large films release things over a year before the release. This is one of the few examples out there where “less is more” was true when it comes to a marketing campaign. The mysterious nature of this film, which was garnering a lot of attention for its ground breaking use of 3D technology but hardly nothing about the actual plot, really piqued the interest of movie goers everywhere. To date, Avatar has grossed over $2.7 billion at the box office, which is the most all-time by a few hundred million dollars. The actual story might have been a bit cliche, but the visuals were definitely stunning. Multiple sequels are in the works.
8. The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games was a hugely popular young-adult book series before becoming a movie, so they already had a built-in audience for their films. While some marketing teams might decide to do less when it comes to advertising an established brand, The Hunger Games’ team still decided to go all out with their campaign. They did an amazing job, specifically targeting the younger teen audience. The key component of their massive marketing campaign was the fact that they created a giant “online world” for their fans. This online world let fans unlock hidden content, special extras, and other exclusive content. They did a great job at engaging their audience and not only showing them things like trailers and photo stills, but also letting them get involved.
7. The Dark Knight
While this film didn’t need a huge marketing campaign (it was likely already destined for greatness), it sure didn’t hurt it. The advertising for The Dark Knight began over a year before the film actually released. They ran a fake political campaign for Harvey Dent, had scavenger hunts, and even created and sent out a fake newspaper called The Gotham Times. Of course, they also had traditional things like great posters and trailers as well. When it was first released, I actually worked in a movie theater. I never have seen an opening night like The Dark Knight, so it looks like the marketing worked. Of course, the movie also sadly benefited from the untimely death of Heath Ledger, who gave an Oscar-winning performance as The Joker. Many flocked to the film just to see Ledger in his last feature role.
6. The Avengers
The Avengers is different from any other film on this list, as its marketing campaign was essentially all of the Marvel films that came before it. As you know, The Avengers is the collection of Marvel superstars combining into one team. Each Marvel film before it introduced us to the characters and their backstory. So by the time The Avengers was released in 2012, the backstory was all laid out and people were familiar with every character. The audience for the film was huge and The Avengers was a box office smash. The film still had a traditional marketing campaign too, but using these previous films as a bit of a marketing tool was a great move to go above and beyond the competition.
Most of the time, there are some rules to how advertising works. Many of the films in this article went above and beyond what is conventional, but Deadpool really broke all the rules in a big way — leading to a hugely successful box office cash-in. The ads were very unconventional and often quite inappropriate, which is fairly rare, even in 2017. They poked fun at clichés, broke the fourth wall, and released a 12 Days of Deadpool series of small clips before the official second trailer released on Christmas Day. The marketing team did a great job through and through, and really took advantage of everything from videos, to billboards, to the internet and everything in between. They even put up billboards that made the movie look like a love story, so boyfriends could trick their girlfriends into seeing it on Valentine’s Day. Star Ryan Reynolds really owned this role, and his participation in all the extra marketing made it feel authentic, instead of Fox just releasing another cliche superhero movie trailer.
Despite being fairly well known in some areas of the world (most notably the U.K.), Sacha Baron Cohen was fairly unknown in the USA when Borat first hit theaters. That made it easier for him to portray his performance as Borat like it was actually a real person. He did a giant press tour, appearing entirely in character, which convinced a ton of people that this exaggerated and crazy documentary film maker from Kazakhstan was real. It was a genius move that got a lot of people interested in the film. Even after the movie was released, a lot of people left confused about what parts of the movie were real and what was not. Some unlucky participants of the “gotcha” film making style even filed lawsuits after seeing they had been tricked by Cohen’s most famous character.
The name of the game for Cloverfield was mystery, and slowly bringing people in and piquing their interest. The first trailer of this film released during the previews for Transformers, and was accompanied by a date of January 18th, 2008, but it had no title. Almost all of the details about the film were kept quiet, which left people to speculate about what the film was about. Was it an alien movie? A monster movie? A natural disaster? An action flick or a horror movie? What the hell was this thing? Some people thought it might be a surprise sequel to an already popular film. Others thought it was a spin-off. There was no shortage of other ideas about what the plot of the film could be.
It ended up being a found footage monster movie, and eventually spawned a Cloverfield movie universe, which includes the (seemingly) unrelated 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming God Particle, both of which also employed the mysterious marketing campaign of keeping audiences in the dark until release day.
2. The Interview
If you think about which films have made the most sensational headlines the past decade, there is a good chance that The Interview will be near the top of the list. Starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, it’s about a pair of journalists getting a chance to interview famed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Before they go, however, they are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. The concept didn’t sit well with the North Korean government and they threatened violence against the USA if the film was released.
The film was lambasted by the North Korean media and the film was delayed at first. It never actually made it into theaters, as Netflix snatched up the rights and put it straight onto their streaming service (but not before it was illegally leaked and downloaded by millions of people). It seems like everyone and their mother either heard about or saw this film. as the hype was just too much to ignore. This is a very different example than most on this list, but when the actual leader of a nation and every news channel around the world is talking about your film, that is a very unique type of marketing that we may never see again.
1. The Blair Witch Project
Coming in as the best movie marketing campaign of all-time is none other than The Blair Witch Project. Forget just movies, this might be one of the best viral marketing campaigns in any category in history. While it might seem fairly “meh” and basic today, it was HUGE in 1999 and virtually unheard of. The marketing team constructed a brilliant campaign to make the film look like a serious documentary. They even printed mock WANTED posters for the “missing” actors. They built a website that explained the history and the legend of the Blair Witch, which never really hinted at being part of a movie marketing project. The site included news footage, photos, and interviews that all suggested the footage was very real. This culminated in the movie becoming incredibly famous (plus making huge money at the box office). Two decades years later, the film is still talked about and the marketing style has been copied time and time again by other “found footage” films.