The Year’s Most Anticipated Summer Blockbusters & The Content Lessons They Share
Each summer rakes in billions of box office dollars around the world with blockbuster movies that compel people of all ages to rush to the theater. Thanks to reboots, remakes, and franchise follow-ups, 2018 is no different. There is a lot that can be learned from the summer blockbusters featured on the schedule for this year – especially when it comes to content marketing and development strategies. We have already covered what Marvel taught us with the vibranium-powered, record-breaking hit movie Black Panther. Below is an overview of the lessons learned through the 10 most-anticipated summer blockbusters that will be released sooner than you may realize:
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Technically, Avengers: Infinity War is an anticipated spring blockbuster that will fight, fly and Hulk Slam its way into the summer. It still teaches a few key lessons that can help start things off and revolutionize the way you will look at the other movies scheduled for release:
Space the Timing of Your Posts Appropriately: Disney undoubtedly decided to move the release of Avengers: Infinity War back a full week to leave plenty of space for the other theatrical releases that fall under the Disney-owned umbrella – including Solo: A Star Wars Story and Deadpool 2. There are only so many box office dollars to go around on any given weekend. To maximize the studio’s chances of getting the most of it throughout the season, it is a very wise decision to time the release dates strategically to avoid unnecessary competition, conflict and confusion.
The same principle should apply to the scheduling of your posts, articles and overall content. First and foremost, you should make sure that you have a schedule and are not just post your content whenever you create it without any strategy in place. Your audience will need time to find, examine, engage in and share your content – which is why a schedule will work well for everyone involved. It will provide you with a schedule to follow and a growing list of customers and contacts that will expect you to follow it. Timing the publishing of your posts appropriately will give each post plenty of time to generate as much buzz and draw as much traffic as possible before you start over with a brand new “release.”
THE INCREDIBLES 2
November 5, 2004 – the day that the rest of the world was introduced to the Parr family: Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack. On the surface, the Parrs were part of a working class family trying to make ends meet after a recent move as the children try to figure out with their individual journeys through adolescence and achievement. Beneath the surface, though, they were, uh…incredible – led by former superheroes on hiatus Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. 14 years later, Disney, Pixar and Brad Bird are bringing us back into the Parr family home which was apparently frozen in time (Frozone pun intended). Bob and Helen are still happily married, and the kids are basically the same age, but now the story will focus more on Elastigirl playing the role of main hero called into action while Bob Parr works on being “Mr. Incredible at Staying at Home with the Kids.”
Switch the Perspective to Add Flavor to Your Content: The perspective of your content is powerful and possibly one of the top reasons why you have an audience at all. When approaching a topic that you have already covered before, it may seem more comfortable to just pick up where you left off and tell the same exact narrative.
The Incredibles franchise could have easily picked up with Bob Parr’s story in the forefront or a flash forward to 14 years in the future to see what Violet and Dash are now doing as young adults and independent superheroes as their parents deal with Empty Nest Syndrome and figuring out who they are again now. Instead, they decided to essentially keep everything the same while simply focusing on a different perspective – shining light on a brand new story without making any major changes to the surrounding narrative. Your readers and viewers want something fresh and new, but they expect you to keep the core narrative in place. Switching your perspective and telling a new story from within that core can keep your content well-seasoned and continuously engaging.
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM
Jurassic World found a creative way to erase the follow-up sequels that basically failed in comparison to the original movie – taking moviegoers back to Jurassic Park to masterfully give it a successful sequel/reboot. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it seems as if they are coming back with a bigger and better story (and budget). Perhaps what is even more impressive, though, is that they found a creative way to add a key element from the original movie that they did not add to Jurassic World.
What (or rather, who) is it? Two words: Dr. Ian Malcolm (technically, that was three words if you count the title.) It has been made very clear that Jeff Goldblum will not have as much screen time in the Jurassic World follow-up as he did in Jurassic Park. However, his presence alone is sure to drive moviegoers to the theater to see how the writers skillfully worked him into the plot.
Connect the Dots Between Past and Present Content: Your readers and viewers probably enjoy some of your past posts as well and would enjoy seeing how you skillfully connect the dots between past and present. Your past content does not necessarily need a lot of “screen time” with your new work but finding effective ways to revisit or “reprise” the old in with the new can draw more traffic on both ends and go a long way in keeping your audience engaged.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
A lot of people were excited by the announcement of the follow-up to the 2015 blockbuster hit Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd as the titular superhero and Michael Douglas as the former Ant-Man who basically passed the torch to Paul’s character like Bruce Wayne passed the Batman cowl to Terry McGinnis as Batman Beyond:
NOTE: We apologize for switching from Marvel to DC for that Batman Beyond reference but felt as if it was a valid point. Right? If not, we apologize yet again. If so, then we apologize for the apology! We now return you to your originally scheduled blog.
An interesting point to consider, though, is the vast number of complaints and concerns that circulated after Ant-Man and the Wasp was first announced. Apparently, diehard comic book fans and longtime followers of the Ant-Man story expected The Wasp to have a more instrumental role in the first movie instead of just the follow-up. Many of those diehard fans were not very pleased by the fact that The Wasp outfit was finally revealed in a post-credit scene. That is where the lesson crawls its way into the equation.
Education Must Come Before Entertainment: Before you can entertain your audience with your content, you need to make sure they know what you are talking about in the first place. This is a pertinent point when it comes to the complex topics that you dive into within your content. You may be eager to cover them, but you need to ensure that your audience knows the background and basics first before diving in headfirst. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfect example. Marvel knew that the diehard Ant-Man comic book fans would make up a relatively low percentage of the moviegoers that saw the Ant-Man movie in theaters. Therefore, it was imperative to start with the background, basics and the beginning to ensure that everyone is probably educated before they can be properly entertained by franchise follow-ups. Marvel applied the same principle with Spider-Man: Homecoming by not even hinting at the Spidey origin story that had already been done (and redone) in past franchises.
Based on your audience’s existing knowledge (or lack thereof), you may (or may not) need to focus on covering the background and basics found at the shallow end of the content pool before you dive into the deep end.
SICARIO 2: SOLDADO
Sicario was a sleeper hit when it was released in 2015. After grossing more than $84.8 million at the worldwide box office against an estimated $30 million production budget, it was crystal clear that Lionsgate would probably greenlight a follow-up sequel. Enter Sicario 2: Soldado. It is true that there have been some major changes between films with the cast and crew. However, Sicario fans are still excited by the fact that there is another solid story to tell – a story that will turn a sleeper hit movie into its own franchise.
Always Have a Follow-Up Ready: You should always have a follow-up ready to roll. Chances are that you will eventually have a “sleeper hit” of your own. At the time of publishing, it may seem as if the post may not go anywhere. You may have even scraped the bottom of your content pot just to create that post at all. However, what happens if that dud hits the mark with your audience and they want more? Where do you go from there? You should always have at least a follow-up idea ready. This also speaks volumes about boosting the quality of each post. If your post is good enough, chances are you will be able to find a few seeds within it that can grow in their own garden.
NOTE: We intentionally avoided movie-related puns for this film since it focuses on a brutal Mexican drug cartel. There were quite a few puns considered that we could have worked into it, but it’s important to keep your content appropriate for your audience. Is that another lesson? Yes, it is! Two lessons learned from one movie. You’re welcome? Moving on…
PART II: REMAKES, REVAMPS & FOLLOW-UPS
The next five movies listed are either remakes, revamps or franchise follow-ups that also teach important lessons in content development and marketing.
If you were to go back in time to 1987, then you would find Predator. Next to the Terminator franchise, Predator is the other most popular movie from the A-list acting career of bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Directed by John McTiernan and co-written by Shane Black, the movie about an extraterrestrial predator hunting down a special forces team in guerilla-held territory made over $98 million at the box office and became the cornerstone of a blockbuster franchise. Fast forward to 2018, Shane Black is now directing the fourth installment of that franchise: The Predator.
It combines the old with a new, including an impressive ensemble of theater seat-filling actors and actresses. Instead of picking up where the last movie left off, it essentially is telling a story that took place between the 2nd and 3rd films. We know how that worked out with the Star Wars franchise with the critical and commercial success of their own “bridge film” Rogue One. Chances are that 20th Century Fox is hoping for a Rogue One-esque box office performance for Predators.
You Don’t Always Have to Revisit the Very Beginning: As mentioned above, it is recommended to visit past content to connect the dots between past and present content. However, you do not always have to go to the very beginning (i.e. your first post and/or covered topics) You can find another interesting story along the way by focusing on other stages of your timeline. Examine the order of content that you have followed to this point and view it as a timeline. Perhaps there are fresh topics found within the second or third quarters that need to be addressed. You could easily find Rogue One or Predators-like success with the traffic flowing to your content by applying this principle.
Ocean’s Eleven rocked 2001 with $450.1 million generated at the box-office and a first-class appreciation of seeing the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Carl Reiner team up to lead a solid franchise of ensemble heist movies. Nearly 17 years later, it makes perfect sense that the studio would want to revisit that franchise with hopes of striking oil yet again.
At the surface, it’s the same concept. Enter Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the estranged sister of Clooney’s Danny Ocean (connecting the dots between past and present without even needing a gratuitous cameo). Debbie wants to pull off a nearly impossible heist at the Met Gala in New York City and uses her close friend and ally Lou (Cate Blanchett essentially stepping into the designer shoes worn by her Benjamin Button co-star Brad Pitt in the original franchise) to assemble a crew of talented women to pull it off. See? The same concept! However, by flipping the cast to an all-female heist team, you now appeal to a new generation (since the original franchise debuted nearly two decades ago) and a revamped audience that is excited about seeing females in the forefront of their own franchises (try to say that phrase 5 times fast).
Upgrade & Update Your Content to Accommodate Your Evolving Audience: Just because you hit the mark with your content 10 years, 5 years or even 1 year ago does not mean it will hit the same mark today. With the ever-changing landscape of the digital age and consumer expectation, it is vital that you are willing to accommodate and adapt accordingly if you want to not only survive but thrive within your target market. It may seem like you are revisiting the same concept and telling the same story. However, by finding a fresh way to tell the same story to generate appeal and engagement with your revamped and rejuvenated audience, you will be able to pull off the heist of the century: “stealing” your customer’s attention and engagement. (See what we did there?)
The Hustle basically follows the same principle applied by Ocean’s Eight. This Chris Addison-directed movie is a remake of the 1988 classic film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin as two con men trying to outdo each other. This movie differs from Ocean’s Eight by working on a different story that follows the same formula. Enter an Oscar-winning star (Anne Hathaway vs Michael Caine) and pair that individual against a comedic actor with dramatic acting chops (Rebel Wilson vs Steve Martin). Who knows? During the modern-day era of everything-gets-a-franchise, there may even be some follow-up sequels in the future for these two leading actresses.
The question, though, is, “Did this movie really need a remake?” The fact that nearly 30 years have passed without Caine and Martin returning for a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels II speaks volumes of the timeliness of the original film. It could easily have been left alone for another 30 years and fans would still enjoy it as a classic work of cinematic art. The Hustle could very well tarnish the original film’s reputation if it turns out to be an epic failure or waste of theatrical space.
Revamp or Remake Your Content Wisely: Not everything needs a follow-up, remake or revamp. Just because most movie studios refuse to acknowledge this fact does not mean that content marketers and developers should overlook it. You will cause detrimental damage to your engagement rates and repeat traffic if you become known as the “lather, rinse and repeat” content source within your market.
THE FIRST PURGE
It makes sense why a dystopian horror film that focused on a 12-hour period in which crime is legalized took a $3 million budget and turned it into a $89 million box office hit in 2013. It also makes sense why that hit later evolved into a 3-film, $320 million franchise that compelled moviegoers to keep coming back for more. It even makes sense that there is a fourth movie being added to the mix with hopes of making another $100 million. The lesson learned is that it is prequel instead of a follow-up.
The word “prequel” alone may make your stomach turn – automatically bringing deeply repressed nightmares of failed prequels and Jar Jar Binks to mind. However, The First Purge will serve as a breath of fresh air simply because it is a story that deserves a prequel. The Purge dove in by assuming that audiences already knew about the 12-hour purge without ever telling the story of the purge origin and its very first enactment. If done correctly, The First Purge could become the most appealing (and most successful) film of the franchise simply by telling a prequel story that franchise fans would kill to see in theaters (See what we did there?)
Tell the Behind-the-Scenes Story Your Audience Wants to Hear: How did you get here? Do not hesitate to tell the behind-the-scenes story that would interest your audience – especially if you have developed a solid reader/viewer base with your content. There is nothing wrong with going back in time to your own life story (if applicable) or the beginning stages of your brand/company. Doing so will boost your authenticity and transparency in the eyes of your customers and clients. Chances are that it will answer questions that they may have had the entire time that they have followed your online presence. Regardless of how many years have passed since your story began, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going back in time to tell the origin story if it will add value to your overall content and meet the demand of your audience.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT
Where would the Mission: Impossible franchise be without Ethan Hunt? More importantly, would the past 5 movies have resonated with the franchise’s fans as much as they did if Tom Cruise was not the main action star? You may remember there was a time when the Rumor Mill thought Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol would essentially force Tom Cruise to pass the baton to Jeremy Renner – allowing Ethan Hunt to finally fade into the background. That was, of course, until Renner grabbed the Bourne baton from Matt Damon… and the Rumor Mill immediately stopped spinning.
Here we are: 22 years and 6 movies in (and counting) with Tom Cruise still risking his life to pull off his own jaw-dropping stunts that always seem to captivate and shock moviegoers within each film. What is the takeaway lesson for the final blockbuster on our list?
There’s Nothing Wrong with Familiarity: Each of the 6 movies has featured a different villain, additional MI6 team members and/or upper management and a different mission. You could even go as far as saying that Tom Cruise’s hairstyle has fluctuated from film to film as well. However, there are quite a few familiar elements that have been in place, including:
- The title sequence (featured clips from the movie with the iconic theme music playing in the background after an intense cold opening scene)
- An intense stunt/action sequence (at least one) featuring Tom Cruise that becomes a cornerstone of the film’s marketing strategy
- Ving Rhames: Aside from Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames is the only other actor that has been featured in all 6 movies (and counting)
There is also the fact that there has been at least one leading lady in each film that survived most (if not all) of the movie:
- 1st Film: Emmanuelle Beart
- 2nd Film: Thandie Newton
- 3rd Film: Michelle Monaghan & Maggie Q
- 4th Film: Paula Patton & Lea Seydoux
- 5th Film: Rebecca Ferguson
The key with familiarity is to have it in moderation and complement it with enough fresh content to avoid simply rehashing what you have already done. As mentioned, the villains and missions have always been different in each movie but there are other interesting twists of freshness that will make the 6th movie even more intriguing.
- It’s the first film in the franchise to bring back female costars from previous films aside from brief cameo appearances
- It’s the first film in the franchise to bring back a director from a previous film (Christopher McQuarrie)
- It’s the first film in the franchise that made headlines for Tom Cruise injuring himself during one of the stunts – which will undoubtedly drive more people to the theater just to see the stunt and how they recovered from it while filming.
You can accomplish the same “mission” with your content by following the same two principles:
- Use familiarity from past content in moderation. Your objective should be to build fresh content on familiar ground.
- Complement the familiarity with more than enough fresh content to prevent your audience from assuming you ran out of ideas.
THE MOST IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY LESSON
Chances are that we have broken your glass ceiling when it comes to how you will view the summer blockbusters referenced above (and movies in general). That is perhaps the most important lesson of them all. You must be willing to analyze all forms of content (including the cinematic content of summer blockbusters) to identify ways to revamp, refine and refresh your own content strategies. As the old saying goes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can flip that by saying “What’s good for the cinema is good for your content.” You must know how to find the lesson and what to do with whatever you find.
Chief Content Officer
Annie has over 20 years of experience as an editor and content creator and manager. With work in television and written media, she has dedicated her past 10 years to learning the ropes of online content creation, from writing to editing, from SEO to content management.
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