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How Serious is Film’s Marketing Problem?

For decades, marketing costs for Hollywood films have skyrocketed.  This thought is pretty clear just from inflation alone, but it also points to a bigger problem in he industry.  Now more than ever, studios have no idea how to market a film to the public.

The Money Side of Film

To gauge how marketing has changed over time, in 1980, the average cost to market a film was a shade over $4 million.  However, estimates for 2017 are around $40 million for a medium size film, let alone even higher inflated numbers for a massive blockbuster.  To put that jumped in perspective,  that $4 million figure in 1980 is equal to about $12.7 million in today’s dollar, signaling that marketing costs have more than tripled even when you factor in inflation into the equation.

Such a trend has caused the movie industry to fall into the extremes of budgets, either making a mega-blockbuster that can facilitate a massive marketing push or a micro-budget film that will easily make its money back opening weekend.  Gone is the $50-$60 million film merely do to the fact that they’re difficult to market.  They don’t have the spectacle of films with over $100 million budgets and don’t have the close quarters, claustrophobic feel of smaller films.

The Seasonal Shift

Movies have also found it more difficult to find a proper release date.  The line between blockbuster and Oscar season is blurring more and more every year, making it difficult for studios to figure out the best time to release their movies.  Some studios believe that their film deserves a prime summer release when a fall release would have greatly helped the film’s box office returns.  Take this year’s War for the Planet of the Apes.  Released in the middly of July, Apes was somewhat buried by competition (dealt with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Despicable Me 3 which had solid holdover traffic), hampering its opening weekend take and legs at the box office.

That’s not to say that films that would probably have been released in a more traditional release date aren’t able to succeed.  In fact, Dunkirk did very well as a prestige picture that came out in July.  But it’s another element that makes the entire equation very murky.

Can Stars Help?  Not Necessarily…

Then it comes to the process itself, which is even weirder.  In years past, studios could easily bank off of the the star power of actors to push the film.  Buuuut, that just doesn’t work these days.  Take a look at these notable movies that opened in 2017 with very recognizable stars:

The Great WallFebruary

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $18.47 million
  • Star: Matt Damon
  • Budget: $150 million

Life, March

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $12.5 million
  • Stars: Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Budget: $58 million

Ghost in the Shell, March

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $18.68 million
  • Star: Scarlett Johansson
  • Budget: $110 million

The Circle, April

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $9.03 million
  • Stars: Emma Watson and Tom Hanks
  • Budget: $18 million

Alien: Covenant, May

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $36.16 million
  • Star: Michael Fassbender
  • Budget: $97 million

Baywatch, May

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $18.5 million
  • Stars: Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron
  • Budget: $69 million

The Mummy, June

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $31.69 million
  • Stars: Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe
  • Budget: $125 million

Rough Night, June

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $8 million
  • Star: Scarlett Johansson
  • Budget: $20 million

The House, June

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $8.72 million
  • Stars: Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler
  • Budget: $40

mother!, September

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $7.53 million
  • Star: Jennifer Lawrence
  • Budget: $30 million

Blade Runner 2049, October

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $32.75 million
  • Stars: Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford
  • Budget: $185 million

These numbers are no coincidence.  For the most part, these movies weren’t exactly well-received from critics.  But still, these figures show a glaring shift from previous decades in film.  It isn’t enough to just bank on a beautiful face anymore.

What Projects Should Companies Greenlight in the First Place?

It’s hard to say what makes for a bankable movie these days.  Many point to popular IPs as they way to market a movie.  Those people wouldn’t be wrong either as we’ve seen Marvel, DC, and Star Wars based properties strike it big at the box office.  However, those properties are merely exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself.  For the studios that don’t have superheroes in their corner, they’re struggling to stay afloat.

A great example would be Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a movie based off of a renowned line of comic books that have since influenced properties such as Star Wars.  As of right now, this film is one of the biggest bombs of the year.  Other films like Power Rangers or Ghost in the Shell also failed to captivate audiences.  Unless your movie has a superhero or has lightsabers, there’s no guarantee that your movie will do well anymore.

So what gives?

Solutions Anyone?

This problem will certainly be tough to crack for studios.  If it wasn’t, this article would never see the light of day.  But, we’re here.  So what truly helps a film stand out from the crowd?

Streaming has caused a lot of problems for major studios.  The absurd amount of content available for viewers to watch has certainly allowed more projects to be made, but also has made each work harder to get recognition.  Some content is bound to get phased out by possible consumers.  And what’s the first to go?  All the slop that studios throw out into theaters without regard for audiences.

Moving forward, if your final product isn’t very good, you’ll never get viewers to leave their comfy couches to go the theaters.  Considering that Netflix is pushing to make 80 original films next year, this idea will only become more important.

Marketing material needs to grab your attention, and an irresistable premise will help do that.  Just look at winners like Split and Get Outtwo films that got a ton of butts in seats due to their great and innovative premises.

However, it all comes down to that trailer and the subsequent TV or other means of marketing.  They need to flash something that comsumers have never seen before.  Look at it from a consumer perspective.  It’s pretty easy to scroll past a promoted ad on Twitter if it’s more of the same, isn’t it?

Conclusion

Consumers are gathering more data and understanding of a saturated market, leveling the playing field on which projects deserve their money.  Ultimately, studios need to be clever.  Dont’ be afraid to try something off the beaten path.  Honestly, that might be the only way to truly succeed with ten different films released every week.  Try crazy viral marketing, virtual reality expos, anything that grabs attention.

In the end, consumers are getting smarter.  It’s time you got smarter too, Hollywood.  What that exactly mean I haven’t the faintest idea, but you need to solve it.  Fast.

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Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on the current state of marketing in film?  Comment down below!

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Nick Kush

A current college student, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society.

20 Responses

  1. ghostof82 says:

    My solution: cheaper admission prices = more bums on seats. Why price every movie admission the same? Why should you pay the same to see a $30 million film as a $200 million blockbuster? Cinemas and studios started digging their own grave by charging a premium for 3D while Amazon and Netflix got ahead with streaming. Sad to say the days of big budget adult sci fi like BR 2049 might be over. Unless radical thinking like streaming to homes same time as cinema runs and charging a bit less than cinema prices works. The box office woes of so many films this year may spell the beginning of the end of the current model.

    • Nick Kush says:

      That’s very true! If someone wants to take their whole family to the movies, they have to pay something like $100 when you factor in food and what not

  2. Steve says:

    Just got back from Killing Gunther. Excellent light hearted fun. No one I know has heard of it. It isn’t even playing in many towns… Go figure. Hollywood is just out of touch. Completely shoving crap down our throats while ignoring gems and other precious stones

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’m glad you liked it! Hollywood just has a certain mentality where they believe only a certain film will succeed so you get a bunch of generic slop. Honestly, I’m starting to enjoy the smaller indie movies because I know I’m walking into something unlike what I’ve seen before

  3. jimbelton says:

    A lot of it comes down to quality. The scary thing (for the studios) is that this year, some quality films have failed. A prime example: Blade Runner 2049. It has an 89% fresh score from critics and an A- from audiences on Cinemascore. So how is it failing to succeed?

    • Nick Kush says:

      I think that one comes down to its running time for the most part. Although it’s pretty stupid considering it’s a great film, people just refuse to sit through three hour films these days. They just can’t it!

      • jimbelton says:

        I’m still planning to go, assuming it doesn’t vacate theaters before I get around to it. 3 hours is nothing. LOTR directors cuts are closer to 4. Ah well, its the cell phone addled masses lack of attention span, I suppose 🙂

      • Nick Kush says:

        Absolutely! People like you and me have zero problem with epic films. I’m in college so a lot of my friends just can’t take it. They need instant gratifcation with films

    • Nick Kush says:

      Plus that caused there to be less showings of the film per day leading to less variety of times for people to see it

  4. It strikes me that the theater industry is no longer conducive with how the larger public (outside of cinephiles) wish to obtain and consume movies. The younger generations don’t see it as sacred and the older generations aren’t going as much due to the issues of old age (frequent bathroom trips, etc.) and not understanding/connecting with the array of films put out now. I also think there’s a rejection by some of Hollywood’s emphasis on nostalgia and re-hashes (superhero films, extended universes, sequels, franchises, reboots, remakes).

    With the lower attendance rates, theaters will of course raise the prices and establish gimmicks (3D, extensive yet overpriced food, assigned seating, etc.) to get people to the theater. Meanwhile, the studios just go bigger and bigger in an attempt to push stuff they think will reach the widest audience. They either fail to do so, or in the case the better performers, are limited in getting big profits due to the higher budget costs eating up the box office cash.

    The answer may be downsizing. Hollywood may need to make less movies, and to lower the price tags of their projects. Instead of pushing 50 mega-budget films and releasing them within one week of each other, it may be smarter to put out 20 mega-budget films and concentrate the rest of the money on the niche markets that appeal to specific groups. Using that opportunity, hook them into stuff slightly out of their niche interests. I think this would be better than their present course, which will lead to financial disaster that will collapse the industry as its presently known.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I think moving forward the theaters that will thrive are the ones that create amazing viewing experiences like Movie Tavern or those 4D theaters. Otherwise, people won’t see be benefit of leaving their home.

      I think downsizing is certainly a smart idea, but probably wouldn’t happen considering the climate for content now. I think Hollywood just needs to realize that they might have to make films available in homes right away in a few years

      • I think you’re correct on on the theater situation. If that situation is different in other parts of the world, Hollywood may push more in other parts of the world to reap financial benefits. China alone has helped quite a few films that struggled in the US. However, if the present course doesn’t change, they’ll be forced into downsizing by a series of financial disasters. Just looking at the increased number of big-budgeted studio releases and the clustered release dates for them, 2018 could be a year of bad results for many studios.

      • Nick Kush says:

        Couldn’t agree more

  5. My son-in-law, Michael Greenholt, works as an animator in the industry, and he said that the trend is that the big special effects blockbusters are taking over because they’re the ones audiences want to see on a big screen. Due to modern viewing habits, many people evidently prefer being able to watch other flicks at home while messing with their phones and other devices. I was interested to note that the movies you cited as not doing well for the most part are not very good or very original. Nice post.

    • Nick Kush says:

      That definitely doesn’t surprise me so hear that from an insider. What’s the point of seeing a movie like Moonlight in the theaters now? Personally, I still really enjoy the theater experience, but many just aren’t interested

  6. Interesting industry analysis!

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