The Hunger Game’s promotional team could have taught the guys behind Edge of Tomorrow a thing or two.
Did you see the beautiful posters the marketing team for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 put out yesterday? They’re gorgeous, and perfectly evocative of the complex world of Panem.
The A.V.Club (bless them) had this to say about the series:
The Hunger Games and its sequels are fundamentally about the power of media and propaganda. That’s what the titular competitions are, after all—carefully stage-managed advertising designed to keep the people of the decadent Capitol amused and the residents of the impoverished districts cowed…
The promotional team for the upcoming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1…have produced a series of striking promotional images presented as in-universe propaganda posters that celebrate several of the districts responsible for providing the nation of Panem with specialized goods.
Take a look for yourself.
Of course, Panem has the benefit of being based on a wildly popular book series that takes place in a fully realized world with complex politics. In the vein of those most famous book-to-film adaptation, the Harry Potter films, it had tertiary characters with fascinating backstories, a rich history, an author interested in delving into its world’s past, and was aimed directly toward that most prized demo.
But more than that, the film series has been gifted with a promotional team that understood how to capitalize on all this to drive people to want to see their product.
This isn’t the first time this team has put together such gorgeous (and unique) promotional materials. These images of the main cast in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire were an indication early on that they would be expanding the universe first created in the original movie.
And this is far from the only movie series to do this. Remember that super weird trailer Man of Steel came out with, the one where General Zod threatened the Earth with annihilation unless he got what he wanted?
Yeah, watching that during a commercial break while watching CSI or whatever was mildly terrifying. But it was also more than that: it was an indicator that this was a Superman movie that was also about an alien invasion, about a struggle between species, and – I cannot stress this enough – it was a striking indicator that its creative team fundamentally understood the greater world in which Superman lives.
But not only that: this tactic also indicated that they wanted to take us there themselves. By using such a bold advertising ploy, they invited us to experience the terror or being invaded right alongside the citizens of Metropolis.
In other words, they didn’t just give us a world to get lost in; they turned our world into their own.
Edging Toward Profits
So what’s all this got to do with Edge of Tomorrow?
Well, for starters, Edge of Tomorrow was gifted with a lot of things these other movies had. It had an extremely recognizable movie star at its center, a strong action-oriented and original premise, a director with a promising track record (Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity), and, most importantly in today’s Hollywood, it benefited from being based on a wildly popular piece of existing material: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.
What’s that? You didn’t know Edge of Tomorrow was based on a book and manga series? That makes you and approximately 95% of America.
Far be it for me to compare The Hunger Games or Superman to a Japanese manga series, but I would have found it infinitely more interesting to know that beforehand.
Indeed, had I been a member of the promotional team behind Edge of Tomorrow, I’d have worked with the original author to help expand the movie’s universe. Where did the aliens come from? Why are they on Earth?
Take the chance to introduce us to the tertiary characters you had to get rid of to fit the novel within the framework of the movie. Give us interviews with the cast in character as a way to fill in the story’s backstory. Tell us about the battles we’ve won and lost.
Start filling in those WWII propaganda blanks (which they referenced heavily; the troops landed on the beach in Normandy, for goodness’ sake).
Give us a shot of Emily Blunt as Rosie the Riveter.
Create a series of trailers that’s just Tom Cruise and background characters promoting the war against the aliens.
Instead of taking this more interesting approach, though, the team stuck to the generic: promoting the hell out of the movie as a Tom Cruise-Emily Blunt vehicle.
And that, ultimately, proved to be their Achilles heel.
Fading Stars, Rising Universe
Don’t get me wrong: celebrities still sell movies. But movie stars can’t to put butts in seats, not anymore.
People saw The Hunger Games before Jennifer Lawrence became the most ubiquitous actress in Hollywood. Sure, her spike in popularity increased the ticket sales for the second film in the series, but ticket sales likewise spiked because fans read the book series and decided they wanted to see what this whole fad was about.
People saw Maleficent in droves. Yes, Angelina Jolie was perfectly cast in the film, and yes, it was a gorgeous film. But it was also familiar.
We knew going in exactly what her character was. Furthermore, we knew we could expect high fantasy and over-the-top characterizations, that the movie’s concept was intriguing, and that…well, Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones were going to have a starring role.
People didn’t see Man of Steel for Henry Cavill (though I have some friends who saw it for Henry Cavill’s pecs). Enough said.
Compared to these other movies, doesn’t Edge of Tomorrow’s marketing feel…generic somehow? Oh look, Tom Cruise in another action movie! Can’t wait to skip it!
Which sucks, because it was a fun, whipsmart movie that had a lot going for it.
Unfortunately, I think its marketing team didn’t take full advantage of all the weapons at their disposal. And that, ultimately, was their downfall. They didn’t expand their universe to captivate the imagination of their potential audience.
And really, if you’re not grabbing their attention, what are you doing?
*I didn’t have the chance to expound upon it here, but X-Men: Days of Future Past also did an amazing job at all of this. Check out my post on movie marketing websites for the skinny.