5 Movie Marketing Colossal Fails
Whether a movie is destined to become Star Wars or Gigli, chances are the producers will throw a big fancy premiere screening for everyone to show up and pat each other on the backs. Normally, these premieres are little more than fancy viewing parties for the cast and crew, giving them a chance to see their finished product without having to go to a regular theater and sit amongst the riff-raff garbage people they try so hard to avoid. But every now and then, movie premieres will go terminally overboard and attempt to pull off some dumb headline-grabbing stunt which backfires in predictably hilarious ways.
Last Action Hero: A Giant Arnold Schwarzenegger Balloon Is Exiled To The Sea
Last Action Hero seemed like a can't-miss blockbuster. It had a smart, genre-lampooning script by Shane Black, it was being helmed by the director of Die Hard, and it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his box office juice.
Naturally, the road leading to the film's premiere had to involve some larger-than-life marketing stunts. Firstly, Columbia Pictures erected a giant, terrifying inflatable Arnold in the middle of Times Square to promote the movie. If its hideousness and size wasn't nightmarish enough, it was also carrying a bundle of dynamite ... three days after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Naturally, this upset people, so the dynamite was changed to a badge and the balloon was put back up, before it was apparently exiled to a barge in the ocean where it couldn't upset anyone.
The next stroke of genius in a marketing campaign, which had so far put a giant bomb-wielding monster in the heart of a city rebounding from tragedy, was to go into outer goddamn space. The studio reportedly spent around $500,000 to have a NASA space shuttle plaster the Last Action Hero logo on it -- a weird move for a flick that doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with rockets or space travel. They also painted "Schwarzenegger" on all the booster rockets, a subtle indication that the shuttle was powered by steroids.
The movie opened in June, and the rocket was planned to launch in May. However, because the universe is occasionally a wondrous place, the shuttle was delayed to July, before finally launching in August, by which time Last Action Hero had died a swift and unheralded death at movie theaters across America. So Columbia Pictures built not one but two separate Towers of Babel to promote their Schwarzenegger movie.
Despite the fact that they'd wasted a shit-ton of money on offending New Yorkers and painting a grounded shuttle, they continued to pour the gasoline of money on the fire of Last Action Hero's impending failure. The premiere was a lavishly depressing affair. For some reason, they built a replica of Hamlet's Elsinore castle, and trussed up a Leo the Fart mannequin from a crane. For those of you who haven't seen Last Action Hero, Leo the Fart is a fat dead gangster whose corpse gets stuffed with nerve gas set to detonate in the middle of his funeral. So Columbia Pictures promoted Last Action Hero with yet another public display of a delightful fake bomb.
Most of the expected stars did not attend the premiere (a fact which was alarmingly apparent due to a gimmick wherein their arrivals were announced over a loudspeaker). One of the few who did was Arnold's teenage costar, who was wearing a Last Action Hero T-shirt.
Superman IV: Superman Doesn't Show Up
After two decent Superman movies and one so terrible that it's central plot point was Superman splitting in two and fighting an alcoholic version of himself, the world was finally ready for the king turd of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Like Kryptonite to your enjoyment of cinema, the Superman series was picked up by Cannon films, which ( as we've discussed) was basically the estranged deadbeat uncle of '80s Hollywood. Superman IV found Supes rounding up and destroying all of the world's nuclear weapons (either leading to a utopia or a cruel Kryptonian dictatorship) and fighting a new villain: Nuclear Man, who basically looked like a roided-out MacGyver trying to rob a nail salon.
Bizarrely, the movie premiered in London as a charity event, with special guests Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Cannon inexplicably requested that the film's superheroes attend in costume, which may have been fun treat for the newly-wedded royal couple, were it not for one thing: Christopher Reeve did not come to the premiere in his Superman costume. In point of fact, he didn't come at all. Probably because even he thought that the movie was an "absolute mess."
This wouldn't have been a huge deal (Reeve's family attended in his absence), except for the fact that the poor schmuck who played Nuclear Man was now the only person at a highly-publicized event featuring the royal family dressed like a stupid asshole.
Nuclear Man isn't a recognizable character from the comics. Without someone else standing directly next to you in a Superman costume, no one is going to know who the hell you're supposed to be. So actor Mark Pillow was stuck explaining to every guest that he was Superman's nemesis, and that his bosses had requested he attend in costume, and that's why a thin layer of polyester was the only thing standing between the future King of England and his spandexed scrotum.
Singles: A Drunken Pearl Jam Ruins The MTV After-Party
Cameron Crowe's Singles told the story of a bunch of grunged-out 20-somethings living in Seattle, in the most 1990s stroke of storytelling outside of Blossom and Ace of Base firing themselves out of a cannon into the Berlin Wall. Because making a movie about the early '90s grunge scene without Pearl Jam would be like Eddie Vedder singing "Jeremy" without making the Eddie Vedder face, the members of Pearl Jam are in the movie. Like, as actors.
Understandably, Crowe asked the band to play at the party following the premiere. It probably didn't seem like a huge deal, because again, they're in the damn movie. To help promote the flick, the concert was going to be filmed and televised by MTV -- which at this point was still airing music-oriented content instead of shows about werewolves.
Fortunately for history, Eddie Vedder got super hammered beforehand, and began the show by shouting "Fuck MTV!" Which is an awkward to way to kick off an MTV show. Eddie was borderline incoherent, stumbling across the stage like he was on the deck of the Poseidon.
When a fight burst out in the crowd, presumably ignited by sheer boredom, Eddie jumped into the crowd yelling "Don't be violent, fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!"
Vedder even started tearing down the scenery MTV had set up around the stage like a goddamned maniac. He was partly acting out of frustration, because he couldn't hear himself through the stage monitors. He kept violently gesturing to the sound guy to raise the volume, but nothing happened, and so he lost what meager drunken hold he had on his temper and hulked out. It wasn't until later that Eddie realized he had mistaken the lighting tech for the sound guy, which explained the mystery of why the stage got brighter every time he asked for more volume. Ironically, his transformation into a cyclonic rage monster that night was arguably what led MTV executives to decide that they should focus more on werewolf programming.
2001: A Space Odyssey: A Children's Comic Tries To Convince People The Premiere Wasn't A Bomb
2001: A Space Odyssey has gone down in history as one of the greatest films of all time, lauded by both elite cinephiles and filthy hippies riddled with psychedelics. But the world premiere was a disaster -- 241 people walked out of the screening in confused boredom. Legendary actor Rock Hudson was even quoted as saying: "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?" The whole crappy affair led to director Stanley Kubrick going back and cutting an additional 17 minutes out of the movie and burning the negatives, because Stanley Kubrick didn't half-ass anything. However, his efforts seem to have been in vain, because the movie still doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
One can't help but wonder if 2001's initial reception wouldn't have been different if the dense, ponderous art film were presented differently. For example, that very same premiere was the subject of a cross-promotional advertisement: a comic book on a Howard Johnson's menu. For children.
Some visionary at whatever ad agency was the exact opposite of Sterling Cooper Draper Price decided that, while they were stuffing their gobs with chicken fingers and chocolate milk, kids would really dig the story of a black alien rectangle that somehow guides the human race through scientific advancement. Surprisingly, the kids in the comic are riveted by the exciting space action, instead of weepingly frustrated by the purposeful rejection of conventional narrative structure. Maybe the comic is missing the panel where the kids take a whole bunch of LSD right before the movie starts.
The end of 2001 is basically a surreal mindfuck in which an astronaut is pulled through a magic wormhole, confronted with the existential inevitability of death, and somehow transformed into a giant celestial baby, which is probably representative of the next plane of being, but could literally mean that he turned into a galactic orbiting fetus. What did the kids think of all that?
Yeah, those kids are high as shit.
Gone With The Wind: None Of The Film's Black Actors Were Invited To The Premiere
The epic Civil War drama Gone With The Wind is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, despite the fact that most people under the age of 40 have never seen it. You might expect a movie of such renown to get a big Hollywood premiere, but despite protests from legendary producer David O. Selznick, the studio forced everyone to stage the premiere in Atlanta, where the film was set.
It was a giant event, and Atlanta welcomed the movie and its stars with open arms -- that is, everyone except for the film's black cast members. They weren't allowed to come.
Due to segregation laws in Atlanta at the time, the black actors in Gone With The Wind weren't allowed to attend the premiere of their own movie, which is one of the meatiest chunks of bullshit in the history of cinema. Not even Hattie McDaniel, who would go on to win an Oscar for her role in the movie, was allowed to come.
That's not to say that no black people were permitted -- several black members of a local church choir were invited to come sing. That might not sound so bad, so allow us to point out that the choir members were part of a "Southern Plantation" pageant, and as such were required to perform while dressed as slaves.
One of the choir members was Martin Luther King Jr., whose father was the director of the choir. It's entirely possible this event played a part in shaping the young Dr. King into the legendary civil rights leader he eventually became. It isn't too hard to envision a rough draft of his famous speech reading, "I have a dream that little kids won't be forced to dress up as fucking slaves and sing to a bunch of dipshits at a Hollywood movie premiere."
We love when a good promotion goes completely to shit. See more in 5 Corporate Promotions That Ended In (Predictable) Disaster and The 5 Biggest Disasters In The History Of Marketing Ideas.
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