It’s impossible to look back on film marketing in 2023 without beginning with two films, polar opposites in every way, released on the same date; the unpredictable, unrepeatable, cultural phenomenon that was … Barbenheimer.
Barbie and Oppenheimer. Barbara Millicent Roberts and J Robert Oppenheimer. For some reason, the juxtaposition and subsequent portmanteau-ing (coined in a tweet by Next Best Picture’s Matt Neglia as early as April 2022) of these two captured the public’s imagination and snowballed throughout the summer. Both campaigns already had striking artwork: Lindeman & Associates’ unsubtle but entirely suitable MAXIMUM EXPLOSION approach for Oppenheimer looked stunning on the big, bright lightboxes of cinema lobbies; while BLT Communications confidently took Barbie’s pink theme (Pantone 219C, if you were wondering) to its logical, minimal conclusion.
But it was arguably the cottage industry of fan art that gave both films an unexpected momentum. Oppy and Barbie as romcom, as La La Land, as Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, as each other … the meme-ification of the two films democratised the marketing process and made the audience active participants in it, perhaps significantly at a time when social media was getting more and more cluttered with unwanted adverts beyond our control. And it was all free.
Is it possible to replicate Barbenheimer’s organic success? Was that phenomanteau a one-off? You can’t blame people for trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle, but despite social media’s best efforts, Saw Patrol didn’t really become a thing. Still at least Saw X had some solo fun with wordplay – this grisly rebus by Switch is perfect for a franchise that knows exactly what the audience wants from it. Body parts, rusty tools, and pitch-black humour.
From Dogtooth to The Favourite, one of the best things about a new Yorgos Lanthimos film is the promise of new Vasilis Marmatakis art (just ask anyone who’s borrowed his concept for The Lobster). For the forthcoming Poor Things, he’s framed Emma Stone in some unsettling, awry portraits that echo the dreamy, candy-gothic vibe of the film … cannily leaving just enough space for a slew of awards season plaudits.
The Zone of Interest
In Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp. Kellerhouse, Inc’s poster presents the film’s harrowing duality by crushing the tranquility under an oppressive black sky. It challenges the viewer – such a delightful scene, how darling, of course there’s something else happening out there in the darkness, just don’t think about it.
A brilliant, deceptively simple visual pun that hits you with the absurd elevator pitch for Pablo Larraín’s film – what if Augusto Pinochet was a vampire? Akiko Stehrenberger (for Netflix Creative Studio) gets the idea on the page and gets out.
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
There is a powerful, sensual elegance to Percival & Associates’ unconventional poster for All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, the feature debut from award-winning poet, photographer, and filmmaker Raven Jackson. Rather than attempt to show the entire decades-spanning exploration of a Black woman’s life in Mississippi, the poster pulls right into a single gentle embrace, capturing the essence of the film. Here is a big story told in small moments.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Resisting the urge to drag Drew Struzan out of retirement, Disney turned to poster artist Tony Stella for the latest (and last … for now) Indiana Jones outing. Stella’s painted artwork continues the style of the previous films but without appearing like pastiche. It feels modern and fresh, no mean feat for a series that began over 40 years ago, themselves evoking the imagery of film serials from another 40 years back.
Across the Spider-Verse
How do you do something different for the tenth Spider-Man movie in little over two decades? More. Whereas the first Spider-Verse film introduced a handful of alt-Spider-Persons, BLT Communications’ striking key art for Sony’s animated sequel throws in dozens of diverse, deep cut versions from comics, cartoons, and video games, while echoing the upside-down motif of the original film’s poster. If you don’t recognise all the incarnations, that’s kind of the point – 60 years of lore is overwhelming for anyone, especially Miles Morales. Also worth a mention: the Journey to the West-inspired Chinese poster for the film is gorgeous.
Compared to the prolonged marketing assaults of other big films this year (who hadn’t already seen Tom Cruise’s motorcycle-parachute stunt a hundred times before the release of Dead Reckoning?), Gareth Edward’s science fiction epic practically appeared out of nowhere. No familiar IP or star or explosions here – perhaps Oppy had used them all up – AV Print’s sumptuous poster is more of a contemplative mood-setting piece, establishing the tone of the film with a simple tableau that looks more like concept art than marketing material. So refreshing to be faced with something new, unknown, intriguing. What is this?
Confidently obscuring its star, GrandSon’s poster for Brit McAdams’ comedy Paint deploys an economic use of copy and visual signifiers – the blonde orb of perm, that distinctive painting style – to sell the idea of Owen Wilson as a pseudo-Bob Ross. The composition of the landscape subtly suggesting the shape of his face – there’s a touch of John Stezaker at play – is a particularly nice touch.