News

10 Killer Movie Marketing Campaigns

Remember the tagline from Alien? Or The Dark Knight's mysterious scavenger hunt? Or Deadpool just generally being Deadpool? There's a reason you do.

by | March 26, 2019 | Comments

20th Century Fox

(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

Blockbuster movies cost a bunch of money to make – jaw-dropping special effects and big-name actors don’t come cheap. In order to make the expense worth it, movie studios need to pull out all the stops to get moviegoers to buy tickets once the film premieres, and that typically involves a killer marketing campaign. These days, slick trailers, along with all sorts of unique real-world stunts and marketing gimmicks, can be as much of a production as the final movie itself.

These memorable marketing campaigns take different forms — sometimes it just takes a really well-done trailer and a memorable use of a song, as seen and heard in the trailer for Jordan Peele’s Us, which retools Luniz’s “I’ve Got 5 on It” in a deliciously creepy way. Other times movie marketers will stage mysterious real-world stunts to get excited fans involved. Whatever the method, a well-done marketing campaign for a well-done movie often means box office success.

Here are 10 of the most memorable movie marketing campaigns we’ve seen.


Jaws 2 (1978) 61% and Alien (1979) 98%

Universal Pictures/20th Century Fox Film Corp.

(Photo by Universal Pictures/20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Studio: Universal Pictures / 20th Century Fox

Why you remember it: Because of two incredible taglines.

Let’s kick things off with a tie, as both films are shining examples of an older era of promotion, before viral marketing was a thing. Jaws was the first blockbuster, but Jaws 2 was briefly the highest-grossing sequel of all time until Rocky II bested it the following year. Part of the film’s success likely has to do with one of the greatest taglines of all time — “Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water” — the work of famed and innovative producer Andrew J. Kuehn.

The following year, Alien came around with one of the other great taglines in movie history, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Neither of these movies had real-world promotional activations, but they were united in memorable taglines that, thanks to their use of the second-person, made would-be viewers feel part of the cinematic horrors to come.

Did it work? As mentioned, Jaws 2 was a huge success, pulling in $208 million. Alien’s box office figure is a little disputed, as some creative Hollywood accounting originally recorded the film as a loss for Fox, but it went on to spawn an iconic, acclaimed sci-fi horror series. And, of course, those two taglines are now forever seared into the public consciousness.


Deadpool (2016) 85% 

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Why you remember it: Because Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool.

Deadpool is known as the Merc with a Mouth, and the film’s promotional team sure did have a lot to say about the film. There was so much marketing, and all of it projected an irreverent, slightly naughty sense of fun. There were parody posters, custom emojis, a feud with Wolverine (and Hugh Jackman), a costume reveal via faux-nude spread, and a flaming bag of poop yule log, to name just a few campaign highlights. Then there was Reynolds, who, as the person most responsible for making Deadpool happen, projected his passion for the wise-cracking hero and modeled his own social presence after the Merc.

Two years after Deadpool was released, Reynolds and the Fox marketing team went even harder with the promotion of Deadpool 2, taking over the DVD covers of other popular movies at Walmart and handling Stephen Colbert’s late-night monologue duties, before going further yet for in its meta promotion of Once Upon a Deadpool. The marketing behind the franchise is now officially one of the reasons we look forward to another Deadpool movie.

Did it work? Deadpool made $785 million at the box office and became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever. Not bad for a superhero movie.


The Social Network (2010) 96% 

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Why you remember it: Because “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”

David Fincher’s moody bio-pic about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is really an exceptional villain origin story, and the marketing for the film made that clear. The first trailer is scored to a haunting cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” as sung by a children’s choir, illustrating how there was something unsettling behind all this “friending.” Then there’s the poster, which features Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) looking at the viewer from the shadows, his face obscured by the memorable and ominous tagline in a crisp Futura font. Both the “choral cover of pop song” and “poster with words on a face” would go on to be often-imitated promotional tropes, but they were just the Google Plus to The Social Network’s Facebook.

Did it work? The Social Network made $224.9 million and was nominated for or won a host of major awards. Plus, Zuckerberg had some qualms with the movie – so that’s a success.


Psycho (1960) 96% 

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Why you remember it: Because of the secrecy and Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful set tour.

Modern moviegoers who were too young to remember seeing Psycho in theaters probably remember Hitchcock’s iconic slasher for the famous shower scene. Hitchcock knew that would be the case. Movie trailers weren’t what they were back then — the idea of multi-level movie marketing as we know it today didn’t really emerge until the late ’90s. But, Hitchcock was the master of suspense, and he knew how to get an audience shaking with curiosity and anticipation. The trailer for Psycho featured Hitchcock giving a tour of the Bates Motel, offering gory hints of what horrors might have happened there but stopping just short of giving anything away. That, along with a campaign to keep the shocking twist in the movie a secret – which went so far as preventing Paramount Studio execs from reading the script – had audiences eager to see what happened.

Did it work? Psycho cost about $800,000 to make and made more than $40 million during its initial release — and this is in 1960s dollars! It was a huge hit, went on to enjoy multiple theatrical reissues, and is generally regarded as a landmark horror movie. So, yeah, Hitchcock’s a great tour guide.


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) 91% 

Borat

(Photo by @ 20th Century Fox)

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Why you remember it: Because of Sacha Baron Cohen’s in-character interviews as Borat.

It’s fitting that a movie that blurred the lines between comedy and documentary (not to mention acting and reality) would have a similarly meta promotional campaign. Borat wasn’t a new creation, as Cohen’s character had been on the Da Ali G Show for years, but he wasn’t widely known. That let Cohen dupe the movie’s subjects — as well as many would-be ticket-buyers – into thinking that this kooky Borat character might be on the level.

Did it work? Borat made $262 million at the box office, much to Kazakhstan’s chagrin.


Cloverfield (2008) 78% 

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Why you remember it: Because of all the rampant speculation about the top-secret mystery plot.

A good marketing campaign doesn’t give everything away, it just teases some of the best stuff so that moviegoers are excited to see the rest. Cloverfield’s marketing was so memorable because it gave, well, essentially nothing away. The first trailer, which came by surprise ahead of Transformers screenings, didn’t even include the movie’s title or any plot details. This, along with some innovative virtual tie-ins (shout-out to MySpace), had fans wondering what it might be. A Lost movie? A Godzilla film? An anime adaptation? Something new?

Did it work? Like The Blair Witch Project, which pioneered this type of hype-building mystery promotion, Cloverfield was a hit. The film made $170.8 million against a budget of $25 million, and spawned a whole franchise/”universe” of sci-fi films united mostly by viral marketing, though none were as successful as the original.


Inception (2010) 87% 

Inception

(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Why you remember it: Because of the spinning top mind-game (and the “BWWAAHHHH” sound).

Warner Bros. spent $100 million to market Inception, an increasingly rare blockbuster that was wholly original, not a sequel nor an adaptation. To get people excited about an unknown quantity, the studio banked on Christopher Nolan’s post-Dark Knight appeal and made an online viral game involving the spinning top that diehard fans tried to solve. The game unlocked the official trailer, and that was a great piece of advertising too, in no small part because of the booming Inception sound that rightfully became a meme.

Did it work? The marketing certainly planted the idea of going to see this movie in a lot of people’s’ heads, because Inception made $828.3 million at the box office.


The Dark Knight (2008) 94% 

The Dark Knight

(Photo by @ 20th Century Fox)

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Why you remember it: Because you solved an interactive mystery across a virtual Gotham City, and Heath Ledger’s untimely death.

The heroes of DC Comics save the day in fictional cities, like Metropolis. But, to promote the second (and best) of Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies, the alternate reality game company 42 Entertainment made Gotham City real. Using websites like WhySoSerious.com, fake Gothamite newspapers, and Harvey Dent campaign materials, 42 Entertainment sent fans on a scavenger hunt all over the web and the physical United States — starting with San Diego’s Comic-Con, where one reward was the first image of the movie’s Joker. It gave fans a tantalizing glimpse of the drama to come, and let them feel like the Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, himself. Add to that the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s untimely death ahead of the premiere of his incredible performance as the Joker, and you’ve got a super-powered level of expectations.

Did it work? The Dark Knight made over $1 billion at the box office and was popular enough to change the way the Academy Awards work.


Paranormal Activity (2007) 83% 

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Why you remember it: Because you had to demand it.

Paranormal Activity was an extremely inexpensive movie, one that seemed destined for a modest indie release and perhaps a chance at becoming a cult classic. But, the marketing team at Paramount had the bright idea of democratizing horror. Trailers were released featuring night-vision footage of shocked and delighted viewing audiences and promising a scary theater experience; would-be moviegoers had to vote on a website, hoping that there would be enough fan demand for Paramount to bring the film to their city or town. The website, which was made with the user-driven event calendar company Eventful’s help, added a sense of urgency and participation in what otherwise might have just been an overlooked found-footage flick.

Did it work? Paranormal Activity cost just $15,000 to make, and it made more than $193 million at the box office. It is, by most accounts, the most profitable movie ever made.


The Blair Witch Project (1999) 86% 

Blair Witch Project

Studio: Artisan Entertainment

Why you remember it: Because you thought it was real.

Without The Blair Witch Project’s marketing, there would be no Cloverfield, no Inception, and essentially no viral movie marketing as we know it today. In the early days of the internet, Artisan Entertainment’s scrappy online team created a website and surrounding hype campaign that claimed the story of the Blair Witch was true. There were interviews with the “missing” characters’ parents and backstories from investigators trying to solve this “true” story. In the real world, missing posters went up around colleges and at film festivals. Because of all the marketing, The Blair Witch Project wasn’t just a low-budget indie horror flick — it was a real, ongoing mystery. Moviegoers and internet users have gotten more media-savvy, so this feat likely won’t be equaled, but The Blair Witch Project was the perfect storm, a way to use technology, advertising, and psychology to turn “based upon a true story” into box office gold.

Did it work? The Blair Witch Project made $248,639,099, which is more than 4,000 times what it cost to make the movie. Also, admit it — you thought, for a second, that it was a documentary.


What were some of your favorite movie marketing campaigns? Let us know in the comments!


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

TV renewals international New York Comic Con scary movies 2018 franchise MSNBC canceled crossover quibi Universal Pictures ratings dark Fantasy Pop Rock cats CBS All Access nfl indiana jones toy story emmy awards rt archives Broadway Winter TV Television Academy 21st Century Fox mcc SundanceTV Character Guide king arthur 2016 mission: impossible Action Ovation cars stand-up comedy political drama art house italian dreamworks spain Masterpiece Sci-Fi WarnerMedia Toys travel a nightmare on elm street Paramount Plus The Arrangement ITV jurassic park game of thrones YouTube Red justice league psychological thriller Election debate 45 comic Mindy Kaling green book zero dark thirty target Starz documentaries Sundance Now 93rd Oscars Valentine's Day crime festival sequels social media Funimation Nominations Photos Stephen King Marvel Studios cartoon sag awards free movies The Academy thriller 2020 versus Lifetime Christmas movies Marathons young adult rt labs critics edition blaxploitation supernatural Polls and Games Hulu Fall TV police drama Alien HBO Go critic resources Set visit olympics TCA Winter 2020 TV movies FX on Hulu TIFF Women's History Month aliens richard e. Grant Lucasfilm Ellie Kemper BET Animation comics Super Bowl TCM elevated horror Red Carpet CW Seed Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt crime drama IFC Disney Tomatazos Arrowverse Pirates ESPN boxoffice sports new york Tokyo Olympics medical drama Quiz action-comedy Creative Arts Emmys DirecTV hidden camera Teen IFC Films Comics on TV RT History The Walking Dead suspense universal monsters Peacock Dark Horse Comics Television Critics Association Apple TV Plus video on demand psycho feel good foreign cancelled book Neflix Shondaland casting royal family live action 2015 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Universal Country Trophy Talk golden globe awards Mary Tyler Moore reboot Lifetime Nickelodeon romance Cannes latino zombie Opinion Cartoon Network Instagram Live strong female leads discovery Marvel Television SDCC dexter docudrama superhero parents 72 Emmy Awards hispanic deadpool series historical drama Avengers genre mutant spanish language politics Schedule spinoff OneApp Fox Searchlight venice mockumentary DC Universe Box Office scorecard Holidays jamie lee curtis Warner Bros. fast and furious cinemax space spider-verse IMDb TV Apple TV+ Netflix Christmas movies aapi Logo TCA hispanic heritage month ABC Exclusive Video NYCC know your critic Baby Yoda obituary Travel Channel miniseries stoner french documentary Brie Larson Freeform Certified Fresh Tumblr Mystery archives cancelled TV series transformers festivals BAFTA children's TV award winner MTV period drama Amazon independent unscripted Film Spike breaking bad Superheroe movies Amazon Prime cults HBO Max kong golden globes Family gangster Podcast sitcom YouTube batman Awards critics christmas movies Binge Guide Rocketman composers PlayStation halloween hist Black History Month posters Disney streaming service Spectrum Originals Legendary comiccon lord of the rings DGA Ghostbusters Sony Pictures Song of Ice and Fire SXSW National Geographic joker Film Festival science fiction First Look blockbusters Crunchyroll NBA satire monster movies popular Nat Geo Pixar ghosts Tarantino adenture Calendar Trivia best Paramount book adaptation BET Awards Marvel worst movies nature streaming Disney Plus BBC One doctor who all-time American Society of Cinematographers Premiere Dates twilight CMT disaster dc boxing nbcuniversal Amazon Prime Video ABC Signature E3 Rom-Com Walt Disney Pictures Comedy Central south america 71st Emmy Awards A&E sopranos robots 73rd Emmy Awards Shudder 24 frames 90s Horror godzilla fresh Infographic mob FXX legend binge adventure 2019 Hear Us Out Syfy dogs screen actors guild films Vudu Kids & Family die hard football Best and Worst WGN Holiday Paramount Network zombies child's play Netflix Christmas 2021 adaptation AMC Plus USA blockbuster The Purge indie asian-american classics natural history australia scene in color Writers Guild of America japanese GIFs AMC TCA Awards VH1 heist movie Western reviews marvel cinematic universe Awards Tour war Comedy laika Biopics Mary poppins crime thriller superman Tubi Pride Month Spring TV witnail Apple Cosplay new star wars movies Pet Sematary NBC finale ViacomCBS Drama canceled TV shows Black Mirror 1990s Academy Awards hollywood The Witch new zealand 2017 99% TV TBS 20th Century Fox television Winners Sneak Peek Martial Arts FX BBC remakes chucky dceu See It Skip It criterion Star Trek screenings Turner Classic Movies slasher Year in Review docuseries werewolf rom-coms Fox News The Walt Disney Company TruTV Esquire wonder woman diversity rotten scary comic book movies Mary Poppins Returns TNT PaleyFest Grammys DC Comics comedies true crime Rocky teaser FOX DC streaming service saw Musicals serial killer Britbox A24 Chernobyl Food Network renewed TV shows slashers Video Games king kong LGBT Captain marvel name the review video Disney Channel Emmys cancelled TV shows black comedy live event LGBTQ BBC America Reality animated Epix cooking Emmy Nominations spy thriller singing competition stop motion razzies Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ABC Family kaiju theme song 4/20 spider-man trailers romantic comedy game show Image Comics rt labs RT21 dragons revenge halloween tv TCA 2017 YA Lionsgate comic book movie sequel PBS Anna Paquin Oscars women TLC high school TV Land marvel comics japan Crackle toronto Summer spanish Pacific Islander Disney+ Disney Plus harry potter Extras Hallmark Christmas movies CNN 007 Discovery Channel History vs. The CW Bravo OWN facebook biography james bond basketball dramedy Amazon Studios tv talk YouTube Premium Music X-Men kids GoT Endgame Pop TV biopic Comic Book Showtime worst based on movie Hallmark VICE Sundance E! anime HBO First Reviews anthology President movie Mudbound telelvision Countdown technology Elton John Acorn TV Reality Competition Adult Swim Turner Superheroes APB vampires Watching Series ID Wes Anderson news TV One rotten movies we love talk show concert Interview Classic Film directors comic books GLAAD pirates of the caribbean Star Wars San Diego Comic-Con cancelled television USA Network Columbia Pictures Trailer VOD cops Sundance TV Thanksgiving Comic-Con@Home 2021 El Rey what to watch streaming movies prank Heroines black CBS MCU Musical