It's easy to market a movie, right? You cut together a trailer with a lot of explosions, set it to a questionable hit song from ten years ago, make sure the title doesn't mean something racist in Slavic, and get that bad boy to theaters. There's not a lot of room for something to go horribly, hilariously awry ... is there?
Jeffrey Katzenberg is the producer who helped kicked off the Disney Renaissance with The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, later leaving to start Dreamworks Animation and undoing all that good work with Shrek. But it could've ended even worse. At a Las Vegas video convention in 1994, Katzenberg decided to promote The Lion King with the help of a real goddamn lion. To the surprise of all, the beast did not want to sing a musical number. It wanted to eat Katzenberg.
Walt Disney Pictures
The lion briefly latched onto Katzenberg's back, then went after his leg while a couple of overwhelmed trainers swatted at it like ... well, like overwhelmed trainers swatting at a lion. Katzenberg made it out OK, and everyone involved learned a valuable lesson about dragging an apex predator into your lap to promote a children's movie. It's unclear why they had to learn this lesson, but they did.
In Roland Emmerich's 2012, neutrinos decide to end the world because Mayan prophecies (as misunderstood by dummies) told them to. Woody Harrelson gets killed by the Yellowstone volcano, and John Cusack is also somewhere in it. That's all you need to know. That'll sell tickets. But 2012's marketing team thought they needed more, and decided to lean hard into the Mayan apocalypse nonsense. Their first teaser asks, "How would the governments of our planet prepare six billion people for the end of the world?" before cutting to a tsunami and answering: "They wouldn't."
People were then told to "find out the truth," and "Google search 2012," which sent them to over 1,000 real websites and 175 mostly real books that took this garbage seriously. The marketers also set up a fake website called "The Institute for Human Continuity," in case any panicky idiots needed further convincing.
The IHC site presented itself as a serious scientific institution, with little evidence that it was pushing a very dumb movie's very dumb plot. As a result, over a thousand people contacted NASA, asking for reassurance that the world was not in fact coming to an end. Some were so worried that they couldn't sleep, while others claimed they were contemplating suicide. NASA itself actually had to set up a page explaining that apocalyptic movie plot devices are not real dangers to human life.
To celebrate the release of Mission: Impossible III, Paramount studios rigged 4,500 random LA Times news racks with devices that would play the Mission: Impossible theme song (this was back in 2006, when news racks still existed). Sounds pretty harmless, right? Here's what they looked like:
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: panic. Yes, Paramount studios hid small red blocks of plastic with wires coming out all around Los Angeles, and when some of them failed to defuse the tension by playing jaunty music, civilians called the police for a more literal defusing. The bomb squad detonated one of them, and a veterans' hospital was even evacuated in response to the apparent threat. The official statement from the LA Times and Paramount Pictures was that they had wanted to "turn the everyday news rack experience into an extraordinary mission." We think that's PR speak for "This was a dumb idea, and we're sorry."
While out promoting Django Unchained, a budding young interviewer wanted to ask Samuel L. Jackson about the film's racial dynamics and director Quentin Tarantino's love affair with a certain racial slur. He starts with: "There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the usage of the N-word ..."
Jackson snaps, "'Nobody'? 'None'? What word would that be?"
Keep in mind, this is a nervous young white guy interviewing Samuel "The L. Somehow Stands For Motherfucker" Jackson. He's ... what? Just supposed to casually drop the N-bomb right out the gate and hope he finishes the interview with teeth?
The reporter meekly answers that he doesn't like to say the word, to which Samuel Jackson yells, "Try it! TRY IT." One thing is certain: This is, without a doubt, the deadliest trap this guy has ever or will ever stumble into.
He refuses, and Jackson adds, "We're not having this conversation unless you say it!" The dude wisely ends up skipping the question entirely. Maybe that was Jackson's ingenious plan all along?
For the Vietnamese premiere of Kong: Skull Island, the marketing department went all out and built an elaborate set piece, including a full-sized model of Kong and a mini volcano that spewed real fire. It was, as the kids say, "dope as shizz, yo." (We do not know any kids.)
Slight problem there: The Kong statue had his hand over the edge of the volcano. The one that spewed actual fire. Surely somebody thought about that before-
Thankfully, no one was hurt. Well, except for Kong. Of course, it wasn't fire that killed the beast. It was ... oh wait, no, it was definitely the fire.
When Matt Cowan is not writing for Cracked, he's writing short stories (or thinking about writing for Cracked).
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