October 25, 2019

Is 'Ad Astra' Clickbait? A Look At Hollywood Marketing 101

Trailers and marketing are supposed to bring people into the theater, but honesty isn't always the best policy. Especially with movies like Ad Astra

Ad Astra has made $124,575,212 so far at the domestic and worldwide box office. Those are fine numbers for a PG-13 Brad Pitt space movie that's a contemplative look at fathers, sons, legacy, and the lengths people will go to escape facing their grief -- even if it means literally going into the depths of cold space to avoid facing very real pain.

One of the many ways people decided to see the movie was the trailer. It promised a movie filled with action and confrontation, but the final result is quiet, slow, and more lyrical. So does that make the trailer clickbait? Or theater-bait?  

Check out this video from The Royal Ocean Film Society where they ask a similar question, and let's talk after the jump. 

Marketing Ad Astra 

I saw Ad Astra opening night in a packed theater in Los Angeles. It was a wild, contemplative ride through space. The movie was slow. It made you think during every turn. It was like Blade Runner 2049 meets Tree of Life. 

For me, that's high praise. But it might not be for you. 

Ad Astra was a hit with critics, but audiences had other feelings. The website, Rotten Tomatoes, says the movie got a certified fresh 84% from critics, but their poll of average audiences only gave it a 40%. 

So what could have caused this big of a disparity? The simple answer is likely the marketing. 

In a year where we have seen Brad Pitt as a possibly murderous stunt man, the movie where he was going through an internal struggle in space needed some spice. 

The trailers for Ad Astra emphasized action-y set pieces, loud music, and snippets of a Brad Pitt speech to make it feel more like Saving Private Ryan than Apocalypse Now. (Even though the movie is clearly inspired by Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness' "up river" story structure.)

While these things made sense from a marketing standpoint, they definitely felt dishonest to the people who saw the film. 

But can you blame marketing? Theatrical experiences are hard to come by and sales of movie tickets are down. If your studio took a risk to make contemplative science fiction, you want to make sure they get their money back.

So you lean into the two things the movie has going for it: 

1. A Star 

2. Multiple genres  

As we mentioned in our genre post, some are more marketable than others. By leaning into the shades of mystery and highlighting any action in the film, the marketing department was able to reach a much broader audience to pique their interest. 

But in doing so, they also alienated people who spent money to see the film. While Ad Astra took in decent numbers, it may not pay off in the long run. 

The Future of Movie Marketing

You know why I love watching movies on a streamer? I have the power to turn off something I don't like without feeling guilty about leaving the theater. 

Streamers put a lot of effort into making thumbnails with famous actors or concepts that might attract you, but once you click to watch, they're not that worried about you leaving. Just generating the click helps. And chances are you'll stay on their app and pick something different if you hate it. 

The same cannot be said for traditional theatrical. 

I've never walked out of a theater. If I paid my $15-$20 to be there I just eat it and watch. But I always remember. And that feeling often keeps me at home for some realses I'm not sure will be awesome. 

What if the movie I pick is not worth the risk? This is the dangerous game marketers play. 

People are catching on to trailer-bait and staying home. 

Is There Hope for Cinema? 

I recently subscribed to AMC's AList, which lets me see three movies a week for $20 a month. That got my butt back in the theater and made the risks much smaller. I think incentive programs like that will certainly help get people back out there. 

But it might take time. Marketing is one aspect of cinema that will always come under scrutiny when a movie underperforms, but we rarely talk about how good it is at highlighting a great movie and making sure people see it. 

We will keep our eye on trends and try to keep you updated. Let us know what you think in the comments! 

What's next? Read the best screenwriting books

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Your Comment

1 Comment

Nothing new. This sort of marketing is always been same. Sometimes a trailer give out more that you think you saw the movie or sometimes a trailer add deleted scenes to draw you to the theater.

This is also very apparent when watching trailers of vod or disc released indie films.

October 26, 2019 at 5:20AM

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Johnny Wu
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