Superheroes, Models and Lobsters: The 10 Most Memorable Movie Campaigns of 2016

The year's best use of platforms, tactics and simply cool creative

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We've come to the end of another year, friends. Which means it's time to look back and evaluate what happened in the movie marketing world over the past 12 months.

There were a number of notable trends this year when it came to marketing Hollywood's latest releases. There was, of course, a heavy reliance on nostalgia, as studios pulled out titles that hadn't been touched for over a decade, like Independence Day, Bridget Jones and others for "legacy sequels" that hoped to rekindle some of that old magic. And superheroes continued to be available regularly, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Doctor Strange and other costumed choices at the box office.

It was also a year when a few trends started to solidify in terms of platforms and tactics. Studios are regularly hosting Facebook Q&As with stars in the weeks before release. Snapchat is becoming a regular platform as well, both for organic stories and paid executions such as the "Snap to Unlock" ads run for The Girl on the Train, Passengers and other movies. Official websites are also becoming less and less essential, with many movies putting up placeholder sites with little to no information, or skipping owned sites altogether.

With all that said, a number of campaigns were more notable than others. Below are the ones that really broke through the clutter and made a big impression, though it should be noted that not all of these led to box-office success. Here, then, in no particular order, are the 10 most memorable movie campaigns of 2016.



Rogue One

Let's face it, the first time Jyn Erso turned around at the end of the teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, most all of us were hooked. Or else it was the shot of the dish being lowered into place on the uncompleted Death Star. Or it was Jyn saying, "I rebel." Whatever it was, Disney and Lucasfilm pulled out all the stops for this latest Star Wars installment, featuring a multicultural cast and a story of the ground-level Rebellion before Luke and Han entered the picture.


La La Land

From the moment it debuted at the Venice Film Festival, La La Land has had all the buzz. Critics immediately latched on to the movie, an original musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, that tells the story of two struggling artists falling in love in Los Angeles. It's a story about Hollywood, which always plays well with the entertainment industry and reporters. But it also just looks completely charming, with trailers that emphasize the big musical numbers and the doe-eyed looks Gosling and Stone give each other.


Swiss Army Man

Similarly, this one got everyone's attention at its Sundance debut back in January, quickly becoming known as the movie featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse. The rest of the campaign played up that theme, with trailers and other elements that featured Radcliffe's Manny, a stiff with wide-ranging capabilities that help Paul Dano's Hank survive the deserted island he's become stranded on. There was even a press tour involving a Radcliffe look-alike dummy to keep hammering that idea home.


10 Cloverfield Lane

It's been eight years since the marketing for Cloverfield took over the internet, so the bar was high when it came time to market the sequel, which wasn't really a sequel but part of the same universe, maybe, we're not quite sure, but just go with it. The teaser trailer dropped with almost no notice, and the movie as a whole had only been vaguely hinted at before that. So, when we saw John Goodman acting deranged and dangerous, it was creepy and intriguing. An online puzzle slowly unlocked clues about the backstory and set the stage for what wound up being a truly original horror story.


Zoolander 2

Paramount ran a good campaign for Derek Zoolander's return to the runway and theaters, one that played up the character's cluelessness and inevitable involvement in some kind of international espionage. The marketing kicked off at an international fashion show, where Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson appeared in character, and continued along those same lines right up until release, with fake commercials and ads accompanying the formal campaign. All that didn't add up to box-office success, unfortunately, but even so, you can't knock a campaign that went all-in on the conceit of the story.



I mean, come on, like this one wasn't going to make the list. Deadpool was the star of 2016, and that's because the movie was sold with a campaign that featured the Merc With a Mouth acting like … well … the Merc With a Mouth. It was super violent and super raunchy, from the moment the first red-band trailer dropped through a series of viral videos, a Christmas-themed countdown and lots more. Yes, much of that marketing was done in 2015, but this is my list and because the movie came out in early 2016, it counts. Deal.


Sausage Party

The marketing for what amounts to "Toy Story but in a grocery store" did not hold back in showing off the food-based sex puns that dominated the movie. Everything, from the handful of red-band trailers to the posters and website, all made it clear that this was not for kids, despite the cute animated characters. Instead, it was sold as part of the raunchy comedy brand of creator Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the guys behind This Is the End, Superbad and other modern comedy classics.


The Nice Guys

Another movie that didn't fare well with moviegoers, unfortunately. But that can't be laid at the feet of the marketing campaign, which sold this story of 1970s private eyes and tough guys with a funny, charming and otherwise cool campaign. The graphic concept that dominated the posters and other elements looked like it was pulled off the cover to an 8-track tape, and the trailers all presented Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as America's Favorite New Comedy Pair. Not only was this sold as a return to the buddy cop comedies many of us grew up with, like 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon and more, but it struck a chord in those of us who still enjoy a good episode of The Rockford Files now and again.


The Lobster

Along with Swiss Army Man, this counts as one of the year's quirkier movies and campaigns. The story follows Colin Farrell as a man on his mandated visit to a hotel where he must find love or turn into an animal of his choosing. The trailers were understated and quietly funny, showing off an understated performance by Farrell, and like La La Land, it got a jumpstart with festival buzz, in this case a Palme d'Or win at 2015's Cannes Film Festival.


Suicide Squad

OK, the movie itself was kind of a mess. But the trailers, starting with the first look that debuted at 2015's San Diego Comic-Con, were awesome. Admittedly, the entire campaign overplayed the presence of the Joker, and the press stories of Jared Leto's on-set antics were a bit excessive, adding up to a massive HR violation. The trailers were so fun, though, showing off Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn as the breakout star of the movie and selling a madcap adventure featuring "the worst of the worst." If only the movie had wound up being that much fun.


BONUS! Captain America: Civil War

Here's an 11th campaign, which I'm including solely because, let's face it, Spider-Man's appearance at the end of the second trailer was one of the top movie-geek moments of the year. It confirmed Spidey, now played by Tom Holland and on the cusp of another reboot of his own franchise, would be in the movie. And that "Hey everyone" quickly became a GIF you saw everywhere.

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@ChrisThilk Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategy consultant in the Chicago suburbs. You can find him at, where he shares his thoughts on content marketing, media and movie marketing.