How to stay relevant if you're a delayed movie

Wonder Woman.
(Image credit: Illustrated | IMP Awards)

Have you watched this week's new teasers for Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 yet? Admittedly, it's a little hard to get excited about them. Tenet is now in its 13th month of promotion, after its first teaser debuted ahead of Hobbs & Shaw last August, and it's been more than two years since director Patty Jenkins showed a brief clip of the Wonder Woman sequel at Comic Con.

Both Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 were among a handful of movies that were in the midst of major marketing campaigns when COVID-19 shuttered theaters around the globe this spring. But as the pandemic now threatens the fall, distributors have struggled to find ways to keep their long-delayed forthcoming blockbusters feeling relevant. The result? Endless marketing campaigns and slow-drips of teasers, which may be doing more to lessen excitement than build it.

Campaigns for major blockbusters used to begin about a year ahead of release, but the industry has trended toward shorter marketing windows. Disney, for example, spent three-plus years promoting 2010's Tron: Legacy; now "executives are moving in the opposite direction, tightening efforts to as little as four or five months for major releases like Aquaman [or] Avengers: Endgame," The New York Times reported last year. That's because distributors found "when you can watch anything anytime, you're less likely to get excited about a movie coming out in a year," as Digital Marketing News puts it. Hype has a short lifespan.

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Movie marketing is also absurdly expensive; generally, it runs about half the total cost of production, meaning Wonder Woman 1984, Mulan, and Tenet — which ranged from $175 to $205 million to make — likely had earmarked campaigns of about $100 million. All three movies have now passed their intended release dates, though. Each delay "could amount to losing $200,000 to $400,000 in marketing fees," executives estimated for Variety, and "that number could increase to just under $5 million."

Now that Tenet and Mulan have seemingly nailed down assured release dates, their marketing campaigns can begin to ramp up in earnest (the biggest pushes come about two weeks ahead of release). But after hearing about both movies for years now, new trailers feel like wearying obligations to watch, rather than buzzy cultural moments.

Wonder Woman 1984, meanwhile, has made a renewed marketing push ahead of its new Oct. 2 release date, with a clip that shows Kristen Wiig's transformation into the villainess Cheetah. The timing feels boldly optimistic; might want to save that one until late September, at least.

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