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 Wall, February
- Opening Weekend Gross: $18.47 million
- Star: Matt Damon
- Budget: $150 million
- 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
- 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
- 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?
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 Out, two 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?
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.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the current state of marketing in film? Comment down below!
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