I had revisited DW Griffith’s excellent historical epic ‘Intolerance’ (1916) the other day, and it got me thinking about a lot of things. One in particular that I believe can be linked to the topic of this article is cinema and advertising. His first feature, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915), which also happened to be the first Hollywood film ever made was naturally very successful (though controversial at the same time) at the box office due to its status. ‘Intolerance’, on the other hand, bombed harshly (especially considering its mammoth of a budget) and commenced the downward spiral of the genius director’s career. Maybe it was overconfidence that led to Griffith pulling off a 3 hour film that audiences at the time were unused to, but it is clear that he didn’t take into mind their reactions. When producing a film in order to get a profit, it is important to consider such aspects, and that is where ‘anticipation’ plays a big part.
Among other things, film is also a business, and therefore it is vital for the studio and the film-makers to attract people towards viewing their pictures. This is mostly done through posters, trailers, public announcements, hoardings, etc. and some work better than others. When there is a lot of anticipation backing a movie up, the advertisers can relax as their part of the job is made simpler, but the pressure falls on all the others related to the actual development of the film, as they have to now meet the growing expectations. How does one build up this ‘anticipation’ for their films, though? Well, that is what I shall try and explain using different examples in this article, and hopefully you can understand something about the human psychology, advertising, and cinema. Hollywood has released some of the most highly anticipated films of all time, and many of these rake in quite the dough. Let us now dive deeper into these pictures and try to examine the reasons for their success. Here’s the list of top most anticipated movies ever.
15. Titanic (1997)
When a movie boasts about its expensive set designs and advertises itself as “the” disaster film months prior to its release, chances are that people will catch on and expectations will rise above the charts. Such was the case with James Cameron’s 1997 film ‘Titanic’ that few haven’t heard of or seen in today’s world. There were a few issues and setbacks with the picture before it was released that had many people worried about its performance in theatres. Thankfully, Cameron’s artistic and commercial skills combined with the beautifully structured adventure of a movie that ‘Titanic’ was allowed it to cross any and all expectations that its audience had in their minds. Critics spoke dearly of the film’s characters, sets, look, and feel, and it soon went on to be the highest grossing movie of all time in 1997 (with a domestic gross of $600 million). In the present day, ‘Titanic’ stands as the second highest grossing release of all time, only to be bumped down by Cameron’s other release in 2009, ‘Avatar’.
14. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
The fourth instalment in the ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise had a lot going for it. It was being released a full nineteen years following the last film, for one. The film was once again directed by Steven Spielberg, and it starred Harrison Ford in the role that he had made iconic and unforgettable. The film was advertised to children through fast food outlets as well, with toys and memorabilia being included with their meals. All of this prompted people to watch the film and expect a lot from it. The film was able to generate a 78% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and its audience generally enjoyed it, but many didn’t feel like the film would rank up there with the rest of the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies (excluding Temple of Doom) due to its comic portrayal of events (as well as characters) and dependence on computer graphics as opposed to practical effects. That being said, it had a very good collection at the box office, earning a domestic gross of $317 million.
13. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Released 10 years after the last ‘Star Wars’ film, the hype surrounding this piece of entertainment was nothing short of amazing. There were discussions over this film in many different shapes and forms, from the debate on the realism of effects it would use, to director JJ Abrams’ efficiency, to the accuracy of the casting choices. With the onset of the internet, the film was able to reach a wider fanbase than just retorting to those people for whom ‘Star Wars’ was a part of their childhood. It was shown in theatres in late 2015, and managed to be a critical hit and a commercial monster, earning a worldwide gross of over $2 billion. Critics appreciated the integrity of the film in portraying its story as well as the new characters and the way they were able to blend into the universe. The story was regarded as one of the most compelling in the franchise, and it helped to make big stars out of its previously lesser known cast.
12. Superman (1978)
There was a time when comic book heroes jumping onto the live action screen was still a dream. Sure, there was 1966’s ‘Batman’, but that was more of a parody (albeit a very enjoyable one at that) and people wished to see more out of their superheroes. They wanted action, catchphrases, extraordinary stunts, and of course, a heck of a good time. 1978’s ‘Superman’ promised all of that and much more, which allowed it to cause a lot of media buzz. Add to that an excellent poster and one of the greatest movie taglines of all time (“You’ll believe a man can fly!”) and you’ve got the people on your side, at least, until the film is shown in theatres. The most expensive film to be made at the time, ‘Superman’ was able to live up to everyone’s expectations, with a solid story, mesmerising visuals, charismatic actors, and energetic action. Though it might look a little dated today, there is no doubt concerning the impact this groundbreaking film had, and it was able to earn a domestic gross of $134 million.
11. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
When you follow up a film that has the popularity and artistic quality of something like ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993), the film at hand is naturally expected to top or at the least be at level with the original. With one of the most commercially successful screenwriters at the time – David Koepp – at work along with Steven Spielberg directing, Jeff Goldblum starring and John Williams composing, people were pretty much sure that it would end up being just as good as the film that preceded it. Unfortunately, ‘The Lost World’ was quite underwhelming because despite it being enjoyable, the film lacked the character development and audience involvement that the first did. The CGI was comparatively overblown here, and the film had some pretty poorly done scenes that later went on to become internet memes in their own right. All that being said, it was still very successful and banked a worldwide gross of $618 million.
10. The Hunger Games (2012)
Just the fact that a movie was being made out of the books that ‘The Hunger Games’ was adapted from got people excited for this 2012 drama epic that paved way to building three sequels. ‘The Hunger Games’ book series had an undeniably large fanbase which served to advertise and hype this movie up by themselves. The casting choice of Jennifer Lawrence was also met with praise because of her much loved personality and skills as an actress. The film went on to perform very well at the box office, and though critics called it somewhat flawed in certain aspects, many went on to assure that it was a very rewarding experience. Since the Harry Potter series had ended a while before the release of this picture and the Twilight series wasn’t too well-loved by the majority of its viewers, ‘The Hunger Games’ also sought to fill in that gap brought on by the lack of a franchise to follow.
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
In the year 2001, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series was at the peak of its fame, and that was when a film adaptation was announced, which got fans very excited. A very good indicator of how big the boy wizard was in popular culture is what happened during the premiere, where film-goers actually dressed up as characters from the series to attend. With four books released to successful returns, people expected a lot from the franchise, and thankfully it did not disappoint. The film was met with box office success and critical praise, although some felt that Chris Columbus took an easier route to tell the tale. I, for one, enjoyed it very much and it has become a part of my childhood, like it did for many others. The film sports bright characters, colorful locations, a well thought out and communicated story, and a score that you couldn’t forget even if you tried.
8. Avatar (2009)
When a film stands as the most financially successful of all time, it’s quite possible that there was a lot of hype surrounding the piece prior to its release. Of course, such was the case of James Cameron’s second addition to this list, ‘Avatar’. When the project was announced, it was given a kick like none other. The special effects had taken fifteen years to develop and perfect, and the initial test shots were something out of this world. ‘Avatar’ was Cameron’s next endeavor after ‘Titanic’, and that may have added wood to the fire. When the film was screened to audiences, initial reactions from critics and general audiences were highly positive, which led to its astounding win at the box office. Later reviews weren’t as supportive, and call the film unrealistic, poorly written and developed with a very easy story, but most still praise its visual mastery. I enjoy this film a lot but do not think it works better on additional viewings.
7. Spider-Man (2002)
Many of the reasons as to why the web-slinger’s comic books were successful can also be attributed to those that allowed the fans to have high expectations for his film. The target audience for super-hero films at the time were high school teenagers, and Peter Parker was the only comic book protagonist around to whom they could all relate, by part or in whole. The film boasted state-of-the-art effects, and was made after a 25 year long block due to developmental issues surrounding the crew of the film. It paid off really well, and attracted quite a large audience to the theatre. Tobey Maguire was considered perfect for the title role, and director Sam Raimi’s method of connecting both the super-hero’s life and the life of the man underneath the mask was also praised. The film went on to be the highest grossing movie of the year, with a domestic gross of $403 million.
6. Deadpool (2016)
When initially announced that ‘Deadpool’ was going to be an R rated film, people were thrilled because that meant a faithful adaptation of the source material, which was known for its title character’s sarcastic dialogue and disgusting actions. The internet was blown over with frequent mentions of the film every now and then before its release. Ryan Reynolds’ casting as the protagonist also created considerable hype surrounding the picture. When it did come out in early 2017, the film pretty much surpassed any and all expectations that people had of it and was noted by critics for its snappy screenplay, compelling story, excessive violence and gore, and crude humor. The film scored a whopping $783 million at the box office, which was quite high for a film of its rating. I find it immensely enjoyable, but do think it fails to hold up on multiple watches.
5. Independence Day (1996)
‘Independence Day’ was a smart movie, because without really having much of anything worth being hyped for (it wasn’t an adaptation, a remake, or a reboot) the film found a way to appeal to its audience with just a promise of crazy and over-the-top action sequences. The marketing campaign held by 20th Century Fox for this picture was so professional and strong that people finally came around. The film delivered as promised, with a completely absurd plot, well crafted sets, and never-before-seen special effects, and therefore it was a hit with the crowds. Though it lacked critical praise, the enjoyment that one receives from this film made solely for the purposes of entertainment cannot be denied. It had a domestic gross of $306 million, and even spawned a (terrible) sequel that came out quite recently.
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy will be remembered for a long time to come, and that’s simply because it’s excellent. Peter Jackson’s insanely popular ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001) and ‘The Two Towers’ (2002) were Oscar nominees and winners in several different categories, and therefore, the chapter that brought the epic saga to a close had a lot to do in order to serve its fans, and expectations were sky-high. The film paid off even better than expected, and was critically acclaimed as well as a box office king with a domestic gross of $377 million. It went on to be nominated for 11 Oscars the following year, and was able to win them all. In recent years, fans have started to point out several minor flaws with the film, mainly to do with its multiple endings, but everyone is in complete agreement when they say that it is a fruitful, honest, and enjoyable conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
3. The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan was slowly becoming a film-maker that audiences felt could be relied upon in terms of putting out quality content, with his earlier films like ‘Memento’ (2000) and ‘The Prestige’ (2006) at the time ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008) came out, a film that officially established him as a household figure. It boasted IMAX action scenes so perfect that you couldn’t get them anywhere else, and had an ingenious marketing campaign that communicated to people that ‘The Dark Knight’ wasn’t going to be your ordinary lighthearted superhero flick. Being a direct sequel to the critically acclaimed ‘Batman Begins’ (2005) only helped further this excitement. Heath Ledger’s untimely demise increased the buzz surrounding his role as The Joker. The film opened in theatres in 2008 and was met with critical and commercial praise that was unlike anything that super-hero films received prior to this. It was praised for its dark, gritty atmosphere, and Ledger’s role has been referred to time and time again as one of the best of all time.
2. The Avengers (2012)
The marketing for ‘The Avengers’ started long before its production had even begun. With each individual super-hero film based on the members of this crime-fighting superhuman team (released before this one), many fans had expected to see a movie like this one day in the near future. When it was finally announced, people anticipated it to be the most gigantic a film could ever be, in terms of visual scale and box office numbers. The very fact that ‘The Avengers’ was a one-stop shop for all of Marvel’s best super-heroes got people extremely excited. The movie, on release, was met with terrific success at the box office and grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. It was critically praised as well, for being exciting, intriguing, action-packed, and memorable. I love ‘The Avengers’, and I feel it keeps getting better whenever I put it on to see it again.
1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Based on Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel, the film only heightened people’s expectations of it with publicity photos bearing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh’s faces – two extremely popular actors at the time, as well as the leads of this film – and the promise of a monster of a picture, with lush fields and expensive sets decorating its background. An audience at the Fox Theatre was allowed an early preview of the film who reportedly began to cheer at the opening credits and gave a standing ovation later when it ended. The news of events such as this spread through word of mouth and reached tons of people, which helped it in its box office success, making it the most profitable film of all time. Critical opinions were favourable to the picture as well, with many highlighting Leigh’s performance, calling it “perfect for her role”. Personally, I do appreciate ‘Gone With the Wind’ for its efforts but I’ve never gone head over heels for it. That being said, it is definitely worth a watch.
Read More: Most Underrated Thriller Movies