Marketing and the origin of the summer blockbuster.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term blockbuster originally referred to a WWII-era “aerial bomb capable of destroying a whole block of buildings.”
These days the ‘summer blockbuster’ is a big-budget film featuring some of the shiniest stars, freshest cinematic tricks, and, true to the original meaning of the word, unless you’re hiding out in a bomb shelter you can’t hide from it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, is coming out this week. Johnny Depp, Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom are back, looking pretty in their pirate costumes as they set out on another sea-faring adventure.
This is hardly news to you, I know, but what’s funny is you may not be quite sure how you found out. Maybe reading a magazine in the grocery line up, an ad on the back of a cereal box, a blurb on your email sign-up page, or – most likely – your TV told you.
Released in 1975, Jaws is commonly referred to as the first Hollywood blockbuster. We tend to think technological bells and whistles gave birth to the blockbuster phenomenon, but big-budget Hollywood movies with mega-stars were around long before that (think Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in the 1939 production of Gone With the Wind). Although Jaws was innovative, it wasn’t the robotic shark, the fake blood, or the bikinis that made it a blockbuster. It was the marketing strategy.
The shark thriller was one of the first movies to be widely promoted on network television. For three nights before the movie release on June 20, 1975, television networks were pelted with 30-second trailers for the movie. “It will attack and devour anything,” the ads said. Coupled with a new wide-release strategy that saw movies opening in hundreds of theatres across North America at once (today it’s more like thousands), as opposed to targeting big screens in only one prime location (say, New York City) before crawling their way across the country, Jaws was everywhere. And being everywhere worked.
From there on in, big summer movies have been buddying up with the tube. …And with breakfast cereal companies, lunchbox manufacturers, action figure designers, fast food companies, etc. Pirates of the Caribbean is a Walt Disney Pictures Production. Given the amount of media owned by Disney, this makes for some cozy product promotion deals.
In fact, the movie is based on a Disneyland theme park ride of the same name. But maybe in their purest form all summer blockbusters are a little like a theme park ride: flashy, fun and hard to resist.
Even if they are a little nauseating.