When people think of cinema, they tend to equate it with a group of artists and artisans — such as directors, writers, editors and cinematographers — coming together in a creative endeavor in order to deliver their vision to the masses. And this is certainly correct. But modern movie making involves much more than the artists and technicians who create the picture from whole cloth; there are businesspeople involved as well.
Yes, marketing plays a huge part in how each and every completed film is disseminated to the masses. And while a good film will always be good, a successful marketing campaign can ensure it reaches the widest audience possible. And a poor one can almost single handedly ensure defeat at the box office.
So with that in mind, here are some famous examples of how poor marketing undermined certain cinematic releases.
John Carter (2012)
This debacle of modern cinematic marketing takes first position because of the film’s heroic failure to recoup even half of its estimated 350 million production and promotional costs. The problems inherent in this pseudo-sci-fi epic were many – most audiences weren’t familiar with the source material, it featured an unproven star, etc., etc. – but the lion’s share of the blame rests with the marketing department and its central message used to market the film—namely, it didn’t have one. In the lead up to the film’s release, online and television ads showcased little more than skinny green aliens and expansive desert landscapes. In other words, zero story.
In the future, if Disney is going to spend over 300 million dollars on a film, they should at least clue the audience in on what it will actually be about.
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (2012)
The only thing worse than a marketing campaign that doesn’t provide any tangible info about a movie is a seemingly nonexistent one. This likely contributed to the epic failure at the box office that was “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure.” The film cost some $20 million to make and was released on a whopping 2,160 screens – taking in a mere $206 per theater in its opening weekend. Yes, the movie received abysmal reviews and, yes, it looked to be treading the same well-worn terrain as Barney, but the near non-existent media campaigns didn’t help put people in the seats either.
Boat Trip (2002)
This tepid “high concept” comedy was likely never going to break box office records, but it’s hard not to imagine how a deliberately misleading marketing campaign contributed to its downfall. The central premise of the film involves a hetero Cuba Gooding Jr. mistakingly signing up for a gay cruise. However, upon the film’s release, no one knew this because the studio got cold feet and buried the lead.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
A premise based on a title, and a title based on a premise. And nothing else. But apparently studios and marketers alike felt this Zen-like concept was worth following through to its logical, money-losing conclusion. The film itself was the result of Internet buzz over the title and nothing but the title. The studios picked up the baton and then handed it off to the marketing department with little thought or care as to what it actually was they were making and selling. What it turned out to be was a four-word bomb and an indictment over letting a small corner of cyberspace dictate movie making and marketing.
These are just a few examples of movies that bombed due in part to poor marketing (there is not enough space in the whole of the Internet to list them all). And if history is any barometer, there will be many more failures to come as a result of the inability of marketers to heed the lessons of mistakes of years past.