The Year’s Nine Most Compelling Movie Marketing Campaigns (So Far)

From Us and Captain Marvel to Rocketman and John Wick 3

Jordan Peele's Us had one of the eeriest marketing campaigns in recent memory.
Universal Pictures

We’re halfway through 2019, which means two things: 1. We’re that much closer to eventually being swept away by the rising seas, and 2. It’s time to take a look at which movie marketing campaigns have proven to be the most interesting, even if they haven’t always been for the most successful movies of the year.

The following list is presented in no particular order other than that in which they caught my eye while reviewing the year’s releases. It includes movies both big and small; ones you’ve never heard of and ones you couldn’t miss if you tried; ones that have come out in theaters and ones hitting streaming services first.

With no time to waste, let’s dig in:

Always Be My Maybe

What it’s about: Ali Wong and Randall Park star as childhood friends who reunite as adults, having attained very different levels of success, and can only fight against their renewed romantic spark for so long.

Why it makes the list: Netflix’s marketing campaign shows how to sell an old-fashioned concept in new-fangled ways. The story is a romantic comedy that drew multiple comparisons to When Harry Met Sally and other classics of the genre. But Netflix fully embraced, more so than it has even in other campaigns, the meme-ification of marketing, particularly around a cameo by the internet obsession Keanu Reeves. Weeks after release, it put the dinner scene he’s a big part of on YouTube to satisfy people’s demand, but that was only after GIFs of that scene had been dominating Twitter.

Rocketman

What it’s about: Taron Egerton stars in this biopic of legendary singer/songwriter Elton John. Unlike other movies that take the life of the subject super-seriously, this one plays out as a musical fantasy.

Why it makes the list: The campaign embraced the element of fantasy to differentiate it from those other self-serious biopics, showing not only how John’s music is used to help tell the story but also how his outsized persona was a form of fantasy he used to escape his personal problems. John, his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin and others were all involved in production to some extent and were frequently interviewed during the publicity cycle. On several occasions John and Egerton appeared together, including the above performance of the title song at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

Captain Marvel

What it’s about: Marvel’s first film featuring a solo female lead has Brie Larson in the title role as an interstellar amnesiac with mysterious powers.

Why it makes the list: Of the two massive Marvel Studios films released this year, this one had the more interesting campaign. Avengers: Endgame was shrouded in such secrecy it showed more footage from previous films than anything else. This campaign, on the other hand, was all about going “Higher. Further. Faster.” and showing how Carol Danvers is determined to the master of her own fate, always getting up after being knocked down and never willing to accept second-best. It was inspirational and compelling.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

What it’s about: It took director Terry Gilliam more than 20 years to finally bring the movie to completion. Adam Driver stars as an advertising director who gets caught up in a real-life Quixote adventure while on location in the same spot he shot a student film years before.

Why it makes the list: While the movie only received a small release through Fathom Events, you have to hand it to Gilliam for finally finishing the darn thing. The campaign was never going to live up to 30-odd years of anticipation and expectations, many created by the director himself. But it absolutely sold a movie that looked and felt like it came from the eccentric filmmaker, representing the culmination of his own attempts to tilt at any and all windmills.

Us

What it’s about: Writer/director Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out followed a family on vacation at the beach who finds out there’s a whole other world tethered to our own.

Why it makes the list: Not since the 1991 thriller Dead Again have scissors been so integral a part of a movie marketing campaign. Those scissors were the perfect visual representation of the film’s ideas, that there are two sides in balance that, when brought together suddenly, can be painful and traumatic. The campaign made sure to mention Peele as the creative force as often as possible, promising audiences it was the latest from a filmmaker with a talent for telling socially relevant thrillers.

Fast Color

What it’s about: Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ruth, a woman who’s been on the run ever since it was discovered she has incredible powers.

Why it makes the list: Lionsgate caught some flack for running a lackluster campaign and not giving the movie a significant release, even by the standards of smaller releases. But the trailer and other materials that were included in the marketing were intriguing, selling a story where powered individuals are feared and hunted, not celebrated and lionized.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

What it’s about: Warner Bros. was hoping the Pokémon brand could become its next big cinematic franchise and so got Ryan Reynolds to voice the title character in a noir mystery filled with characters lifted from trading cards and video games.

Why it makes the list: As he has for Deadpool and other movies, Reynolds was intimately involved in the marketing, bringing his unique sense of deadpan humor to the campaign to make it about him as much as the movie itself.

John Wick 3: Parabellum

What it’s about: Keanu Reeves is back as the assassin everyone’s afraid of and wants to kill but who no one can finish off. The story picks up exactly where the second film left off, with Wick on the outs with an organization that protects professionals like him and needing to run for his life.

Why it makes the list: In a year where “sequel fatigue” has been a recurring industry media narrative in the wake of high-profile franchise flops, this movie was a rare bright spot. That was due in part to a campaign that promised more of the same incredible fight choreography featured in earlier installments along with the same stoic performance from Reeves, riding a renewed wave of popularity in general.

The Last Black Man In San Francisco

What it’s about: Director Joe Talbot and writer/star Jimmie Falls partnered for a story about how black residents of San Francisco are being pushed out and having their history torn away from them as the city gentrifies thanks to all the tech employees crowding others out.

Why it makes the list: Filmmakers setting stories in New York City often remark how they want to “make the city a character of its own,” a sentiment loftier than many executions. The campaign for this movie showed the San Fran location wasn’t chosen at random, though, but that the city is integral to the story being told. That’s communicated through a poster that plays on the city’s famously hilly streets and a trailer making it clear the changes San Francisco has undergone in recent years provides the drama that drives the character’s actions and emotions.

Honorable Mention: The Dead Don’t Die

Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy-as-social-commentary warrants inclusion if for no other reason than this GIF of Adam Driver saying “Ghouls”:

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