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) 59% 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% 


(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% 


(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, 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 (2009) 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

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