The Dark Knight

[Stop Button Lists] The Ten Best Movie Marketing Campaigns Ever

The Ten Best Movie Marketing Campaigns Ever (or since 1999)

source: WhatCulture

  1. The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)
  2. Cloverfield (2008, Matt Reeves)
  3. The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)
  4. Tron: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski)
  5. Avatar (2009, James Cameron)
  6. The Matrix (1999, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)
  7. Paranormal Activity (2007, Oren Peli)
  8. 28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)
  9. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)
  10. The Blair Witch Project (1999, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez)

Stop Button Lists is a new feature. When I thought of it, I wanted something flexible. Possibly scalable, definitely flexible. The first week’s post discussed a top ten list from thirty-five years ago, last week’s post looked at home video releases; those same films will be discussed in a different context in a coming post–see what I mean by flexible?

The idea is to look at different containers and how their contents relate to both the container and the other entries. The first week’s list was created by a single person, the second week’s list came from LaserDisc release dates. Containers can made in many different ways.

So for this post, I thought about doing an entirely different kind of container. I wanted to look at the most successful movie marketing campaigns and talk about those films. However, with the exception of an “AdWeek” article I couldn’t motivate myself to read, most such lists appear not on film or business sites, but on desperate-for-profit clickbait nonsense sites.

Cillian Murphy stars in 28 DAYS LATER, directed by Danny Boyle for Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Cillian Murphy stars in 28 DAYS LATER, the eighth best marketed film of all time, directed by Danny Boyle for Fox Searchlight Pictures.

On WhatCulture, which pays its authors based on pageviews (but nothing upfront), I found two lists with the same title. “10 Best Movie Marketing Campaigns Ever.” Two different authors, two months apart. I went with the list where I’d seen seventy percent of the films. And I wrote a post about the list.

Try as I might not to attack the bad choices, there was nowhere else to go with it. The list’s creator wasn’t interested in a conversation about the effectiveness of movie marketing, he wanted to get paid. He didn’t see a penny until he got a thousand hits or whatever.

I’m not a stranger to figuring out what will, based on available data, get the best Google results. I do it a little bit with the tags on the site now, trying to conform to existing Google keywords. So I’m not above being mercenary, I just try not to be intrusive with it.

And this list is intrusive. It plays its reader, who’s not just getting played for reading the article, but giving the hits–clicking between each photo to get to the next part of the post. Just reading it requires, through UI, a lot of commitment.

So the list has to be worth it. Either to enrage or to validate.

Once I got through a draft of the post, I couldn’t forgive the lack of research on the list. Analysis would actually be interesting, looking at a bunch of different factors. But WhatCulture isn’t about providing brief scholarly posts, it’s about getting hits.

A scene from THE DARK KNIGHT, directed by Christopher Nolan for Warner Bros.
A scene from THE DARK KNIGHT, directed by Christopher Nolan for Warner Bros. Its marketing campaign encouraged people to dress as The Joker and emulate the character’s psychotic behavior.

And putting The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Avatar on a list are going to get some hits. I’m still surprised how much of a readership boost I got around the time of my Avengers post on all the related films. It has enthusiastic fans who read about it.

That anecdote aside, The Avengers gets an average of approximately half a million searches a month. It’s a good search term for the list getting seen. And Dark Knight and Avengers are probably mutually exclusive, so you’d get both. Ditto Avatar. The list has its franchises, but it has different ones, ones with divisive fan bases. Except maybe Avatar, does it have divisive fan base factions?

The list is cautious, calculated. Does anyone really remember if A.I. had a good marketing campaign? The argument for The Matrix having one is a little strange; I remember when it was the zeitgeist and it seemed like it was ironic theater-going turned into a sincere regard for the film, not because of marketing. Of course, I only was excited to see it because it was from the makers of Bound.

Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund star in TRON: LEGACY, directed by Joseph Kosinski for Walt Disney Pictures.
Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund star in TRON: LEGACY, directed by Joseph Kosinski for Walt Disney Pictures. The film was marketed to tech savvy fans of the original film, which unfortunately excluded Homer Simpson, the only person to champion the original.

Tron: Legacy? It had a bunch of cool marketing things, but the movie didn’t hit the way it was supposed to hit. It was quickly forgotten; Disney even cancelled plans for Tron 3. Why’s it on the list? To get hits, because lots of people though the movie looked or sounded cool.

The silliest entries on the list are Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. It’s all the same thing–viral marketing where participating in that marketing is part of the film’s “experience.” Of the three films, Paranormal Activity–which I’ve never heard anyone talk about–is the most successful in the long run. Blair Witch immediately fizzled as did Cloverfield, but nowhere near as spectacularly.

I pruned the list in my first draft–a la George Carlin and the Ten Commandments–and even planned on doing something similar here. I wanted to look at why the movies got cut. But, really, there isn’t a point to it. It’s a pointless list. The goal of this post is, well, put simply, to make points out of pointlessness.

Hopefully, I succeeded. Otherwise, thanks for sticking it out.

The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

Before I get into the meat of this response, there are a few things I want to get out of the way. First, I was really glad when I heard some guy talking about how he didn’t like the movie as everyone filed out. Second, I have a problem with showing movies like this one (which feature inventive psychopaths) to morons like the one sitting next to me. This guy thought the Joker was just so cool for the ways he killed people. It made me a little sick (sort of like seeing a five year-old in line for the movie did as well). The last bit… The Dark Knight is leagues better than Batman Begins and a wholly watchable–albeit exceptionally boring in parts–movie. It’s not a worthless narrative. It’s not worth much, but it’s not worthless.

I also need to mention, once again, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer steal part and parcel from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One without crediting Miller. Here it’s a Bruce Wayne, motorcycle-man, a SWAT team fight and Gordon’s family in danger. But Nolan also lifts–and updates for modernity–quite a bit from Batman Forever.

One thing keeps The Dark Knight going and it’s Heath Ledger. He’s unbelievably good. Nothing you can read in a review can prepare you for his performance. It’s singular and exceptional. Simply, Ledger makes The Dark Knight–as absurd a prospect as Alice in Wonderland–pass for legitimate. Seeing what he’s going to do, how he’s going to deliver a line, move his eyes, makes the movie worth the rest of it.

Let’s just go through the performances, actually. It’s probably the easiest thing… first the actors, then the production.

Christian Bale is, once again, perfectly fine. He’s not so much the protagonist in The Dark Knight as a supporting player. At times he even comes behind Gary Oldman in narrative importance. There are some real problems, however, mostly with his voice. Bale’s Batman voice is awful (had they brought in Michael Keaton to dub over it, the movie would have been significantly better). He’s also not visibly fit enough to be Batman. Nolan makes a point of showing off Bale’s physique and it’s not one of a guy who drops fifty stories without twisting his ankle. But Bale’s kind of perfect for Nolan’s Batman movies. I wouldn’t want anyone particularly good to embarrass himself in them.

I’m trying to stay moderately positive (hey, it’s the biggest hit of all-time or something, right? That means it must be good… not just a side-effect of American high school graduates getting progressively less educated every year), so I’ll mention Morgan Freeman. Freeman’s shameless with what he’ll add to his filmography these days and The Dark Knight is no different. He turns in his standard, wise but still sharp old guy performance and it’s fine.

Michael Caine’s character is still poorly written, but he’s in this one less and is, therefore, better than he was in the first.

Cillian Murphy’s funny in his cameo. If Nolan had given his scene more weight, the movie would have been better. But given what Nolan thinks he does well, it’s no surprise he doesn’t actually recognize when he has a good scene going.

Maggie Gyllenhaal isn’t awful. She’s not any good, but a lot of it has to do with her scenes. The Dark Knight‘s approach to the American legal system is sillier than the Adam West television program would have portrayed. Gyllenhaal’s in the middle of that setting for the first act, when she’s not trying to do the love triangle stuff (with Bale and Aaron Eckhart). Gyllenhaal has zero chemistry with either. The only time she’s believable is when she’s talking to them on the phone. All gossip aside, it’s no wonder Katie Holmes didn’t come back for this one. The character isn’t just the worst written in the movie, it’s one of the worst written female characters in a long time. After–in the first movie–being a strong female character, here Gyllenhaal plays second fiddle to Eckhart. It reminds me of a professor telling women to become lawyers instead of paralegals… Nolan takes the character from being a lawyer and demotes her.

Now to Eckhart. I haven’t seen a worse performance out of someone since Nicole Kidman in Malice. Similar to her performance, here Eckhart’s hair does most of the acting. He’s exceptionally bad. In fact, he’s silly. If it weren’t for the overbearing music and the constant, weighty pretension, I would have laughed through every one of his line deliveries. Luke Perry would have been better….

Gary Oldman, on the other hand, actually ruins the movie. It’s not all him–Christopher Nolan’s (hang on, I need to check a thesaurus) putrid dialogue helps. I can’t figure out why the Joker writing is so much better than the rest of the material. Maybe someone good did a rewrite. But seriously, Oldman does ruin the movie in the end. He’s never for one moment convincing. Not just as a police officer or police lieutenant–Oldman’s cop wouldn’t be taken seriously on “Barney Miller”–but as an American. Oldman affects a strange, semi-Southern accent and it’s clear he’s just cheaply covering his own. He’s also revealed to be, at best, a drooling idiot (thanks to Nolan’s cavernous plot holes).

Suffering through Oldman and Eckhart for Ledger basically sums up the experience of The Dark Knight. Nolan’s choice in cameos is bad–Eric Roberts is particularly bad, but Anthony Michael Hall isn’t much better. The Tiny Lister cameo at the end is just funny. It sort of shows off The Dark Knight for what it really is… a movie with Tiny Lister as a big mean black guy in it.

Nolan’s a lousy director, incapable of filling a Panavision frame with any content. Oddly enough, there are some great action scenes in the movie. I don’t know how Nolan managed to conceive of such great set pieces–probably from reading Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One–but there are a number of them. Those excellent action scenes make the movie a lot more watchable, even though Ledger’s present in most of them so they’re covered. There’s one particularly good car sequence he isn’t in though. Most of the credit belongs to Lee Smith, who does a great job (a look at his filmography reveals he’s worked with good directors on occasion).

The much lauded opening bank robbery scene is moronic, however. And that idiocy is the real problem with Nolan and his Dark Knight. It’s not realistic. Trying to make it realistic just makes it seem stupid. The court room scenes play less realistic than “Night Court.” The mayor’s wearing eye shadow for some reason. The city is completely overrun with crime, on an inconceivable scale. It’s ludicrous, made far worse by Nolan’s pretentiousness. My wife’s only seen this one so I had to tell her it was actually less pretentious than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is probably the most pretentious movie I’ve seen since I saw Begins. Nolan’s totally and utterly full of shit.

Luckily, he’s got Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard back scoring the movie and, wow, is their collaboration terrible. One of the worst side-effects of 28 Days Later is everyone mimicking the way that film used its score. Zimmer and Howard’s score seems like it’s for the video game version of 28 Days Later. Calling it derivative doesn’t begin to cover it–The Dark Knight uses the music to drown the viewer in its self-importance. There isn’t a single subtle note in the duo’s score.

When I got done with Batman Begins, I figured that film would result in a better sequel. And it has. The Dark Knight is idiotic, but it’s still not as dumb as the first one. Ledger’s performance will likely get me back to the theater see it again; probably get me to buy this dumb movie on disc. But–again stealing from Frank Miller, I think from Dark Knight Returns–the film’s conclusion is a bit of a pickle for a sequel. Can the next one be even better–maybe even approach being good? It might… there’s still some of Batman: Year One to plagiarize. But will Nolan recognize the good material and curate it?

No, he won’t.



Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer and DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Michael Caine (Alfred), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Monique Curnen (Detective Ramirez), Ron Dean (Detective Wuertz), Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow), Chin Han (Lau), Nestor Carbonell (the mayor) and Eric Roberts (Salvatore Maroni).

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