“Shoutout to My Publicist!”: PR Lessons Learned from the 2023 Year in Movies

March 11, 2024

“Shoutout to my publicist.”

No, shoutout to you, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, for bringing a tear to the eyes of every underappreciated publicist everywhere. 

The 96th Academy Awards came and went this weekend without a PR disaster like the 2022 Oscars delivered. 

Watching that incident live made me pray for every PR person involved. (I also thanked the heavens it wasn’t me.) 

However, despite the show going on as planned, that doesn’t mean there were no lessons to be learned from an extraordinary year in movies. Our favorite movie stars, directors and studios all used their own PR prowess to elevate themselves and their movies further or fell victim to a lack of preparation to promote their work or combat criticism. 

Take Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro”, for example. Cooper’s long-documented passion project earned him an admittedly desired Best Actor nomination. While Cooper’s performance was objectively good, it can be argued that the movie itself didn’t deserve a Best Picture nomination. (Personally, I thought it was incredibly boring, and I honestly felt accomplished for gutting through this movie until the end.) 

However, Cooper’s team was able to propel the movie to new heights by bringing academy awareness to Cooper and co-star Carey Mulligan’s impressive track record and the movie’s artistry. It was simply Oscars bait but Netflix put its resources toward awards promotion. Cooper has done dozens of interviews and shared the behind-the-scenes account of how this movie came to be, including Cooper studying his character’s conducting for six years, something that was sure to wow the academy. Cooper was also featured on Variety’s Actors on Actors Series season premiere with 2024’s heavy hitters: Margot Robbie, Cillian Murphy and Emma Stone.

On the contrary, Sean Durkin’s “The Iron Claw” story of the Von Erich curse received a grand total of zero nominations despite being universally loved. Durkin’s film was snubbed from a Best Picture nomination perspective, but more questionable was Zac Efron being snubbed for a Best Actor nomination

So what went wrong? Well, A24 didn’t put any promotion behind “The Iron Claw”. Even fans couldn’t understand why. Like with many things in life, you need to do PR to achieve your goals. 

The movie did a wonderful job of telling the Von Erich story, but the studio did a horrific job of telling the story of “The Iron Claw”. Public relations is simply storytelling after all. 

Nevertheless, there are plenty of other positive lessons to be learned from our favorite movies of 2023.

Barbenheimer Proved Competition Can Be Positive For Marketing

We know that competition brings out the best in us, but in the case of movies, both of these blockbusters – “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” – won. After Warner Brothers and Universal both refused to move their respective blockbusters to a different opening weekend, the excitement for these movies synergized in a phenomenon known as Barbenheimer.

As both production companies, directors and stars began marketing their movies, social media and the internet decided to transform the July 21 release date into what essentially became known as Barbenheimer Day.

The online competition became furious. Any assets produced by either movie immediately went viral. It was a marketer’s dream

The hype and excitement continued to build. Fans began planning double-feature screenings, dressing up in black or pink costumes, and doing photo shoots at the movies. The online content continues to this day.

The results were extraordinary. “Barbie” broke records during its opening run, making $155 million from more than 4,200 locations in the U.S. and Canada, while “Oppenheimer” also outperformed predictions, making $80.5 million from more than 3,600 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Barbenheimer also meant that moviegoing was back.

After theaters shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic and there was a push towards streaming, consumers began viewing the high cost of movie theater attendance as an easy expense to cut, aside from Marvel and Pixar movies. However, Barbenheimer had to be viewed in theaters because it was an experience. (It also helped that Christopher Nolan basically insisted that “Oppenheimer” be seen on a 60MM screen.)

The results showed that social media can influence consumer moviegoing. Directors Nolan and Greta Gerwig, and Cillian Murphy and Margot Robbie – who were the biggest movie stars of 2023, all played up Barbenheimer across social media and in multiple interviews. They embraced the competition. 

The best part? Both movies were objectively awesome. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” currently have 88% and 93%, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes. The social media hype was warranted! 

Both movies were nominated for Best Picture, with “Oppenheimer” ultimately winning, while Murphy won Best Actor and Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Barbenheimer accounted for 21 total Academy Award nominations. 

Barbenheimer redefined movie marketing and promotion, and many studios will soon try to replicate it rather than run from competition. 

There is Always an Audience if There is a Compelling Story to Tell, Even if it is Not U.S.-Based

“Parasite” winning Best Picture in 2020 was the culmination of this lesson, but it was also the inspiration for future movies. Many foreign filmmakers have gained popularity in recent years because U.S. audiences are becoming increasingly willing to watch movies in other languages. This was on full display with the reception forPast Lives” a film predominately in Korean with some English parts.

Like most foreign establishments, “Past Lives” sought entrance into the U.S. market for further exposure and higher box office numbers. One way to do that? Positive press!

The producers and makers of the film believed they had a quality product on their hands and weren’t afraid to show the world. Therefore, they debuted “Past Lives” at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, nearly five months before the theatrical release to great applause.

Many film critics came out and said “Past Lives” was the best film they saw throughout the festival, sparking more interest and excitement.

It’s often difficult for foreign films to gain traction in the United States and other countries because the typical moviegoer may find it difficult to watch a movie in another language with subtitles. However, with backing from critics, it helps bring many to the cinema.

The lesson fromPast Lives” and “Parasite” before it, is simple – if you have a good story to tell, the audience will show up. And it doesn’t hurt to get the good word from critics (or, in the case of PR, industry analysts).

This is evidenced by the film being nominated for Best Picture. 

For companies looking to expand their business into the U.S., look at “Past Lives” for inspiration.

Obviously, the film is not for everyone. Many moviegoers prefer to turn their brains off during movies and do not want to read subtitles and dissect what they are consuming. Yet, there are also many consumers out there who are more than willing to take a chance on something out of the box and new.

Sometimes you can strike gold with things that are outside of most people’s comfort zones.

Paul Giamatti Showed Us that Sometimes Keeping it Simple Works

There will always be those critically acclaimed actors who shoot for the stars with every role they take, really leaning into a character study as well as finding a challenge so out of the box that it changes their whole life. (See Austin Butler as Elvis unable to lose his accent.) 

But sometimes keeping it simple – and just making a good movie – leads to commercial success.

That is exactly what Paul Giamatti did with “The Holdovers”. 

For many younger audiences, Giamatti is known for his comedic roles such as the blue man in “Big Fat Liar”. However, despite a distinguished career, Giamatti is often criticized on social media for simply playing the same character in many films, even if he has proven to be a much more versatile actor than given credit for.

With “The Holdovers” Giamatti went back to the basics – his comedic and fun-loving self. “The Holdovers” entered theaters with simple expectations: be a fun and feel-good Christmas movie for families to enjoy. What transpired was simply a result of being a good movie. 

Giamatti, along with co-stars Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa, delivered performances that won over the hearts of the audience – immediately catapulting the film into Christmas classics territory. 

Giamatti was nominated for Best Actor while Randolph won for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for three other Academy Awards including Best Picture and the reason was simple: it was a good movie.

Oftentimes, movie studios and producers go above and beyond to make movies that receive Academy Award interest. As discussed, see “Maestro”. However, the makers of “The Holdovers” decided to make a good movie with a great cast and surprised themselves. 

Career-best performances from Giamatti, Randolph and a breakout star in Sessa obviously helped, but the route taken was simple – the best product will get noticed.

Like with “Past Lives” and “The Holdovers”, good press will come from being a good product. Creators of “The Holdovers” likely didn’t set out to alter cinema, they simply aimed to produce a great product in an industry lacking competition for the classics – Christmas movies. 

A good product wins above all. It makes the job of getting press all that much easier. 

The lesson learned from Giamatti and “The Holdovers” is that if you are interesting, you can attract loyal followers. Businesses should look at Giamatti and see that being true to yourself will get you far. There is an audience and a consumer base for your specific product. 

Bospar’s team of award-winning PR professionals understands the power of keeping it simple, diversifying your portfolio, taking risks and putting on the perfect PR stunt. Companies and brands will forever seek to make history or change technology as we know it, and the right press will always take that further. As we continue to enter into a new age of press and marketing focused on social media and the internet, there will always be a need for experts like Bospar who understand exactly what you need. 

Just ask Da’Vine Joy Randolph. 

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About the author

Nick Yacenko is a senior account executive at Bospar. His experience has brought him to different walks of the public relations industry, from B2B technology such as HR Tech, APIs, cyber security, web3, AI and SaaS to consumer products, lifestyle, travel, and celebrities. His experience includes publicizing pink pineapples, dartboards, waterparks, ski resorts, and top actors, athletes and artists. He has also honed his craft in analyst relations, securing countless client briefings. Nick earned his bachelor’s in Communications and his master’s in Communications and Media from Rutgers University. He resides in Northern New Jersey with his fiance and their two kittens, Mango and Simon.