'Matrix' Wins Marketing Super Bowl

by Brandon Gray
January 27, 2003

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 48-21 routing of the Oakland Raiders wasn't the only decisive victory on Super Sunday. The big game served as the opening salvo in the battle of the 2003 tentpole pictures, and the highly anticipated Matrix sequels may have emerged the winner over the likes of The Hulk and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

The studios often use the Super Bowl to lure potential moviegoers with the first glimpse of the big movies of the year, and they pay a sizable chunk of the movies' marketing costs to do it. This year alone, each 30-second spot cost just over $2 million—the highest rates yet. It may have been worth it as the game drew 88.6 million, the sixth most watched ever.

The following is Box Office Mojo's scorecard of how the movie ads fared, listed in the order they aired in Hollywood. Maybe because most movies advertised were either sequels or based on other franchises, the studios played it safe this year using the tried-and-true structure of a brief mysterious intro leading up to the introduction of the highly recognizable character followed by a bunch of rapid-fire action shots.

Tears of the Sun (Sony/Revolution) - March 7
This commercial has been running for a few weeks now, usually during football games—Sony sure knows its audience for this slick looking war picture. For star Bruce Willis, this doesn't look like another Hart's War. It's exactly the kind of vehicle people want to see Willis in. Grade: B+

The Life of David Gale (Universal) - February 21
This is another spot that's been running prior to the Super Bowl. When the project was first announced, it sounded rather dry. But the marketing suggests a race-against-time potboiler to save the death row inmate David Gale from being executed. Thing is, so far the only reason to care about Gale is that he's played by Kevin Spacey. Grade: B-

The Hulk (Universal) - June 20
"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," Eric Bana as Dr. Bruce Banner utters at the beginning of one of the most anticipated commercials of the year. Maybe that's because he turns into what looks like Shrek on steroids. Then again, the Spider-Man CGI looked kind of goofy in its ads too, and given the daunting task of rendering The Hulk, disappointment at first sight was inevitable. After the intro, lots of CGI-related mayhem ensues, including Hulk spinning a tank and Nick Nolte looking much like his notorious DUI mug shot. As an announcement to Hulk fans the movie's coming, it may have been adequate, but it was memorable for all the wrong reasons in its own right. Grade: C-

The Matrix Reloaded / Revolutions (Warner Bros.) - May 15 / November 7
From the get-go, this spot places the viewer right back into the world of the Matrix with a voiceover by Laurence Fishburne about the war between the humans and the computers. From there, it hits all the notes fans of the first movie have been craving—a new riff on the famous bullet-time fight sequence, plenty of Carrie Anne-Moss, a multiplying Agent Smith—not to mention the Warner Bros. logo going Matrix digital. Plus it hints at even greater dazzling eye candy. The end shot of Keanu flying like Superman was perhaps the one misstep. All in all, it was almost as exciting as our first glimpse at the first Matrix—quite a feat given that the novelty has waned. Reloaded is expected to bow at over 3,700 theaters—the widest opening release ever—and will follow Attack of the Clones' Thursday release pattern established on the same weekend last year. Clones grabbed $110,169,231 in its first four days, a number not out of Reloaded's reach despite its R rating.Grade: A-

Anger Management (Sony/Revolution) - April 11
This brief spot competently spotlights this movie's hook—the oddball pairing of Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson—two stars famous for their rage-ridden performances. Quick shots of slapstick occur including Sandler doing a Waterboy-like tackle, culminating in Sandler and Nicholson in bed together and a decent punchline. When major stars team up for the first time, often the box office result is less than the sum of its parts (Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger and Robin Williams and Bill Crystal in Father's Day come to mind). However, this picture plays to Sandler and Nicholson's personae so well that they're complimentary enough to prove to be an exception. Grade: B

Daredevil (Fox) - February 14
Fox opted to show this look at this Marvel adaptation instead of their other Marvel adaptation, the X-Men sequel (due May 2). After The Hulk and The Matrix, all these superhero-style movies were starting to blur together. The voiceover on this ad announces that "This President's Day weekend, a new hero arrives and the movie event of the year begins." Most event movies say something like that, but following The Hulk and The Matrix, that's a bit of a stretch—not to mention that the average moviegoer likely isn't terribly familiar with the Daredevil character (nor knows when President's Day weekend is). What follows is a shot of Ben Affleck as Daredevil diving through the air in his red tights and then a bunch of glimpses of the action. There's only one bit of dialogue. Affleck mumbles "You're holding back" to Jennifer Garner, followed by quick shots of her kicking butt in full Electra regalia, and then Affleck says, "Don't." It's a pale imitation of the Batman-Catwoman dynamic, but perhaps the best way to lure Valentine's Day audiences. Alias star Garner actually gets more literal face time than Affleck, who's mostly obscured by his Daredevil mask or by sunglasses—which may hinder the movie as audiences like to see the stars' eyes even if they're playing blind. Among comic book superhero movies, it's only been the ones that were cultural phenomena prior to release like Superman, Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man that have crossed the $100 million mark. Grade: C+

Bad Boys 2 (Sony) - July 18
This opens with a swirling shot of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith making wisecracks amidst a shoot-out. Then those words that make box office registers ring and cinephiles cringe are voiced: "From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay." With master marketers Bruckheimer-Bay at the helm, practically every shot is a money shot, and this spot ends with a nice one of a cool car chase. An action-buddy-comedy on the urban tip is always welcome to audiences, especially in contrast to the many serious superhero movies. Though this long delayed sequel may have been sprung more from lulls in the careers of Lawrence and Smith than anything else, it's probably a lock to surpass the $65,074,024 gross of its predecessor in its first week. Grade: B

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Warner Bros.) - July 2
Warner Bros. ran the gamut in marketing quality—first with the spectacular Matrix spot and then with this one—an afterthought to the cheesy Terminator-themed intro ABC produced for the game. On its own, it was a clunky, forgettable glimpse at the return of the Machines. A slapdash smattering of shots including the new Terminatrix leads to the appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger's good ol' T-800. However, no compelling effort is made to sell the movie on its own merits, not even a hint of the premise nor an explanation as to how the Machines rise after the seeming finality of T2. There aren't even any one-liners from Schwarzenegger, a Terminator trademark. It just rests on the laurels of the brand name alone, and that could mean significantly fewer tickets sold than T2. Grade: D+

Old School (DreamWorks) - February 21
This ad beckons audiences to join the fraternity as the theme from Chariots of Fire plays over the wacky antics of Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and especially Will Ferrell, who provides the punchlines. It closes with Ferrell accidentally shooting himself with a tranquillizer gun, slurring his speech like a tape played at very low speed. Expect enough people to want to kick it old school to make this a solid hit. Grade: B

Bruce Almighty (Universal) - May 23
"What if you had a chance to be God for one week? What would you do?" this ad poses against a partially cloudy blue sky. Then, it cuts to Jim Carrey walking confidently down a street, turning and pointing and wham! He blows up a fire hydrant. "This May, an ordinary guy gets his shot." Scenes of Carrey using that power to walk on water and get a glimpse up a hot girl's skirt follow. This is classic "what if" comedy a la one of Carrey's biggest hits the $181,410,615-grossing Liar Liar, which not coincidentally was also a Universal release directed by Tom Shadyac just like Bruce. This is the Jim Carrey the way his fans want to see him, and it's shrewd counter-programming to the second weekend of The Matrix Reloaded. This has the potential to be the comedy blockbuster of the year. Grade: A-

Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle (Sony) - June 27
Lots of bullet-time action shots a la the first movie in this colorful spot, following the adage that sequels must be the same as their predecessors—only more. It goes through a ho-hum structure with title cards saying "New Mission," "New Enemies" (quick glimpses of Demi Moore), etc. ending with this punchline: "And a New... 'Bosley!'" the Angels shout. Cut to Bill Murray's replacement Bernie Mac saying, "What's happenin,' Angels?" Given the mediocre ratings of Mac's TV show that may not have been the best way to end it. Grade: B-

The Recruit (Disney) - January 31
This ad is basically the greatest hits of the marketing campaign that has been in full swing for the past couple of weeks. Colin Farrell asks "Do I have to kill anyone?" at the start. "Would you like to?" answers Al Pacino. From there, it's Pacino laying down the rules of the CIA in voiceover. Pacino-as-mentor-to-hot-younger-star has yielded solid returns in the past (Devil's Advocate, Donnie Brasco) and this thriller should be no exception. Grade: B+

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