It should go without saying that marketing a movie is a difficult task. Creative minds behind a movie’s pre-release promotion need to get people interested enough to hand over money for a ticket, or at the very least a good portion of their valuable time, if it’s a streaming release. Teasers, full-length trailers, TV spots, interviews, and even things like the title and poster need to be taken into account to market most movies successfully.
Some releases end up being more difficult to market than others, leading to a movie underperforming or receiving a divided critical reception. These movies all fall into one of these camps — and some fall into both — showing that when it came to getting potential viewers interested , the marketing department had their work cut out for them.
1 ‘Babylon’ (2022)
An extremely long movie filled with gross-out humor and reckless behavior, Babylon would always be a tough sell to general audiences. It’s a flashy and often loud look at Hollywood during the silent film era and how the move to talksies impacted the people working in the film industry. It also touches on the enormous sacrifices that have been made throughout history in the name of filmmaking.
With its gross — and sometimes disturbing — subject matter, a runtime of over three hours, and a tone that leaps between comedy and tragedy, Babylon’s a lot to handle, and it seemed to turn many viewers away. The marketing didn’t properly explain what the movie was about, and even a director like Damien Chazelle, plus stars like Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, regrettably couldn’t prevent Babylon from being a box office disappointment.
2 ‘Small Soldiers’ (1998)
Small Soldiers is a movie that exists somewhere between a kid’s movie and a movie for mature audiences, which would have made advertising it an onerous task. Its plot involves children’s toys being implanted with military-grade AI microchips and the havoc this ion causes when two different toys effectively come alive and decide to go to war.
It’s certainly a lot darker and more violent than something like Toy Storybut it also centers on a child protagonist and doesn’t push the envelope too far regarding adult content and humor. It’s a shame it’s the kind of movie that might not entirely appeal to a target audience because it ends up being an enjoyable and well -made film, with its odd tone certainly helping it stand out.
3 ‘Cats’ (2019)
Several years after the release of 2019’s Cats, the Catsthe whole movie still feels like a bit of a fever dream. It’s a film adaptation of the famous stage show of the same name and centers on a large group of anthropomorphic cats who all want to be granted access to the Heaviside Layer, which is their equivalent of heaven. However, there can be only one, leading to each cat essentially arguing they should be chosen through musical numbers.
It’s hard to know who such a movie is for. Fans of the stage musical probably wouldn’t like the changes made, kids will probably find the cats themselves too terrifying to look at, and adults aren’t likely to find the childish humor and music entertaining unless they specifically want to laugh at the movie. This likely contributed to the film earning less than its budget at the box office.
4 ‘Lightyear’ (2022)
Instead of being difficult to market based only on something like its tone or style of humor, Lightyear is a difficult movie to market based on its premise alone. It’s based on a familiar character but technically exists within the world of the Toy Story films, as it’s apparently the movie that Andy watched in the 1990s that made him want to get a Buzz Lightyear toy.
It doesn’t help that even if potential viewers understand that, the movie’s shaky tone, forgettable characters, and underwater story don’t make it easy to advertise. Reviews weren’t great overall, and even if it earned a little over $200 million Worldwide, the fact its budget was $200 million doesn’t exactly make it a big box-office success.
5 ‘Caligula’ (1979)
While it might exist as something of a bizarre cult classic today, Caligula was deemed a notorious failure upon release. It’s a very sleazy and gruesome story set almost 2000 years ago, detailing the rise to power and subsequent fall from grace of Caligulawho was the third emperor of Rome.
Ultimately, production troubles ensured Caligula would never have an easy time marketing itself to audiences, principally because the writer and director disagreed with the head producer about what the movie would be. As such, the finished product feels awkwardly torn between two sides: the creative minds who wanted to make a violent, tragic historical epic and the producer who wanted to (and did) add graphic adult content featuring Penthouse models.
6 ‘Birds of Prey’ (2020)
Birds of Prey can’t be faulted for its ambition. It aimed to depict the character of Harley Quinn in a way that was zanier and more unhinged than she’d previously been seen in live-action and doing so while also introducing the titular Birds of Prey, a gang of all-female crime fighters who Harley Quinn joins.
It all led to a movie that was a lot of fun in parts but also quite messy. The comedy was goofy, but the violence was gruesome, which meant the film couldn’t be marketed to younger viewers who might like the lighter stuff. Additionally , those who wanted more scenes with the members of the Birds of Prey might have been disappointed at Harley Quinn stealing the show, while Harley Quinn fans who weren’t interested in the Birds of Prey might have felt the opposite.
7 ‘Godzilla vs. Hedorah’ (1971)
Despite there being many Godzilla movies that delve into strange territory, Godzilla vs. Hedorah would have to be one of the strongest. In it, Godzilla is pitted against a giant monster known as Hedorah, which has been born because of an alien lifeform merging with a large pile of pollution in the Sea of Japan.
Its bizzare premise makes it an iconic cult classic Godzilla film, but admittedly one where it’s hard to tell who the target audience was. There’s light-hearted music, and the humor can be goofy (Godzilla even flies at one point), but some of the action can be gruesome, the atmosphere is dark , and Hedorah has a creepy appearance. It’s wonderfully weird stuff for hardcore Godzilla fans, but it can’t exactly be classified as either a kid-friendly or an adult-focused monster movie.
8 ‘Last Action Hero’ (1993)
When a movie succeeds at parodying a genre while also belonging to that genre, marketing it can ultimately prove difficult. Last Action Herowhich was released at the height of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s popularity, and functions as both an action movie and a parody of the sorts of action movies Schwarzenegger had become known for.
The tone can be confusing enough while watching the movie, which guarantees that establishing the movie’s wild premise and mix of genres in something as brief as a trailer was inevitably tough. It ended up underperforming at the box office but has ended up of being something cult classic.
9 ‘Chappie’ (2015)
After making two relatively serious science-fiction movies — District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013) — Neill Blomkamp released a slightly more playful film with 2015’s Chappie.It follows a police robot ending up in the hands of two gangsters, who effectively raise the newly-made robot and train him to help them with a heist.
It ends up being a strange movie with a simple, sometimes even childish story, but also with graphic violence and plenty of profanity. The marketing department would have had their work cut out for them by trying to convince older audiences to give Chappie a chance, given some of the content made it off-limits to younger viewers.
10 ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (2019)
The ninth (and supposedly final) Star Wars film in the Skywalker Saga was undeniably a box office success. It passed $1 billion at the box office but ultimately didn’t earn as much as the entries that preceded it: Episode 7 ($2 billion) and Episode 8 ($1.3 billion).
Its performance compared to the other films in the Sequel Trilogy might have come about because enthusiasm in the series had diminished, and the fanbase had become more divided than ever. The marketing had to convince those who disliked Episode 8 that Episode 9 would be a course correction while also promising it would conclude the story developed in previous films. This led to underwhelming critic reviews and a box office performance that didn’t stack up to its predecessors.
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