The Super Bowl was once (and by once, we mean as recently as last year), the premier destination to unveil new movie trailers. For a casual $5 million-plus, Hollywood studios got 30 seconds or more of America’s undivided and unparalleled attention during the biggest event on television. The hope, of course, is eventually translating those massive marketing dollars into substantial box office ticket sales.
Universal Pictures put that time (plus more) to good use during Super Bowl LIV in Miami, rolling out all the stops — including a concert! — to generate hype around footage for “F9,” the next “Fast & Furious” sequel that plays like a homage to muscular men, fast cars and the kind of explosive stunts that defy the laws of physics. Yet in subsequent months, the pandemic hit and forced many movies — “F9” included — to push their release dates. “F9” may face at least one more delay before finally hitting theaters.
So it’s not entirely unexpected that viewers won’t see the degree of fanfare that greeted “F9” for any teaser trailer that play during this year’s big game. In fact, many traditional studios are sitting out the Super Bowl entirely. With the theatrical landscape still in flux, Hollywood isn’t willing to overspend to build buzz for a movie that may not see the light of day anytime soon.
Consider the potential blockbusters that got primetime placement in last year’s matchup: Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Top Gun: Maverick”; MGM’s James Bond entry “No Time to Die”; and Disney’s “Black Widow” and “Mulan.” Fast forward a year later, and only two of those movies has been released. The rest have been pushed postponed numerous times by their respective studios.
It’s not just the Super Bowl that’s been light on movie trailers. Studios have been cutting back on TV ad spots for some time now. The number of 30-second TV ads that studios aired on top networks between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3 was down 82% from the same period last year, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. That trend could continue until cinemas reopen and people feel comfortable returning to the movies.
But fear not, Super Bowl commercial enthusiasts. CBS, the network hosting the big game, has already sold out ad slots. Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Tide and Hellman’s mayonnaise will keep the commercial breaks stuffed.
And football’s biggest night won’t be entirely devoid of Hollywood’s buzziest film and TV titles — there are few ways to reliably attract as many eyeballs. Last year’s showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers resulted in one of the lowest-rated games in modern history and still drew a massive 100 million viewers.
Amazon Prime Video is expected to have a presence, likely with a spot for Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America.” And Paramount Plus will presumably try to leverage some attention ahead of the ViacomCBS-owned streaming service’s launch next month. HBO Max is also expected to tout some of the movies arriving on the platform in 2021. Streaming services have bulked up their presence at the Super Bowl in recent years, most memorably with Netflix’s post-game surprise that “The Cloverfield Paradox” was dropping on the streamer immediately after the clock ran out. But don’t anticipate that kind of shocker from Netflix after the Chiefs take on the Buccaneers. NBC-owned Peacock doesn’t have anything in the works either.
Though plans could change prior to Sunday, Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount aren’t planning to drop trailers. Yet some studios have been known to purchase ad spots late in the sales process, which networks naturally try to leverage for more money. Universal and Disney, both active Super Bowl advertisers, have booked 30-second ad spots but have played coy to keep the promo efforts a surprise. Director M. Night Shyamalan may have hinted to Universal’s ad spot on Tuesday, posting a five-second clip on Twitter of his upcoming thriller “Old.” The video is captioned “5…”, which is the same number of days until the Super Bowl.
It’s also possible that Hollywood could mitigate spending by teaming with corporate partners. Last year, Warners worked with Proctor & Gamble to have Gal Gadot appear as Diana Prince in a Tide commercial that doubled as promo for “Wonder Woman 1984.” And “Bill and Ted Face the Music” got its 30-seconds of fame in a Walmart commercial, though it didn’t feature any movie footage.
In theory, it would be the perfect opportunity for Disney to spotlight Scarlett Johansson’s Marvel hero for “Black Widow” (slated for May 7) or for Universal to reintroduce viewers to Dom and the gang in “F9” (scheduled for May 28). But many expect those titles could alter release plans in the coming weeks. Already, “No Time to Die,” Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as James Bond, was bumped to October and “A Quiet Place Part II” was relegated to September.
So what does that mean for the big game? More time in the limelight for time-tested legends like Doritos and M&Ms.
Brian Steinberg contributed to this report.