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Analysis: Super Bowl Movie Ads Lack Luster

by Brandon Gray
February 10, 2005

The New England Patriots' 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on the National Football League's Super Bowl XXXIX proved to be exciting—the same cannot be said for the movie advertisements.

Each 30-second spot cost a record $2.4 million, and an estimated 86.1 million people tuned in this year, according to Nielsen Media Research. That figure is down four percent from last year but about average for the big game.

Movies that air spots during the Super Bowl tend to perform well at the box office, but there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy; the studios push pictures with high potential. Often the most popular movies skip advertising during the telecast. Last year, for instance, Troy and Van Helsing had Super Bowl ads but were trumped by fellow May releases Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow, which did not. In 2003, the summer's top movies, Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean, left the Super Bowl to the lower-grossing The Matrix Reloaded and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines among others. Putting the wrong foot forward during the Super Bowl can even hinder a project as was the case with the poorly received ads for the disappointing Hulk and Terminator 3 in 2003.

This year's crop of advertised event pictures looked rather uneventful, for the most part, having dubious impact in their brief running times against the cacophonous assault of non-movie ads and Super Bowl graphics.

The first glimpse of actual footage from the Tom Cruise-Steven Spielberg tent pole War of the Worlds proved the most striking, utilizing director Spielberg's trademark reaction shots. Only this time, instead of wonderment, the intended reaction was fear, conveyed mostly through child actress Dakota Fanning, who was seen sobbing in the face of impending doom. The shots of Cruise and company scurrying away in a minivan as a highway and neighborhood are obliterated recalled campaigns for earlier disaster pictures like Independence Day and Twister.

The spot for the Will Smith comedy Hitch stood out against the maelstrom of images and noises because of its simplicity—one scene of Smith coaching an unruly Kevin James, inter-cutting the picture's slogan, "The cure for the common man." The spot relied on hackneyed "white men can't dance" stereotypes, but there is an audience for such humor and the movie's brand of comedy was clear.

Batman Begins's ad offered a slick, furtive look with Michael Caine, apparently as Alfred the butler, welcoming the new Batman, played this time around by Christian Bale, with the line "Master Wayne, it's been a long time"—a nod to the franchise's long dormancy. But it failed to herald the Caped Crusader's return in a visually impressive way befitting the character's iconic stature.

The other ads were a blur, including the Vin Diesel comedy The Pacifier; Get Shorty follow-up Be Cool with John Travolta and Uma Thurman; the computer-animated Robots; the Matthew McConaughey adventure Sahara; the Adam Sandler football comedy The Longest Yard; Diesel-free action sequel XXX: State of the Union; and the Keanu Reeves thriller Constantine.

Using the Super Bowl to kickoff the marketing campaign for a major motion picture broke through in 1996 when 20th Century Fox gave viewers a taste of Independence Day, which included the now famous shot of the White House blowing up. The movie went on to dominate the year with a $306.2 million haul. Since then, movies that captured viewers' attention include The Matrix, Gladiator and Bruce Almighty. Over the past three years, the average total gross for a Super Bowl-advertised picture has been $105 million.

RELATED STORY
'Matrix' Wins Marketing Super Bowl

Below are charts of how the Super Bowl-advertised movies have fared at the box office since 2002 (gross figures in millions):

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