As we know from years of watching viral videos, pulling off some kind of wild trick or ridiculous antic is a fast way to get people talking about you. However, for movie studios, using publicity stunts to promote their new films goes back to Old Hollywood times.
Here are 15 wild and ridiculous PR stunts that studios and actors pulled to promote their movies:
1. To promote Bee Movie at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, lead voice actor Jerry Seinfeld dressed in an oversized bee costume and zip-lined over the crowd like a graceless Tinker Bell in Magic Kingdom.
Before jumping off an eight-story hotel to take flight, he said, "You know, one thing I hate is any kind of movie promotion that smacks of desperation in any way."
Here's a video:
2. In 2005, the horror movie House of Wax cast Paris Hilton as Paige, a character who died early on. Her onscreen death was used as a key part of the marketing campaign, and they even sold T-shirts that said, "See Paris Die."
Paris told Hollywood.com, "I thought it was the coolest death scene. It's really awesome. I cheered! It was dope."
3. To promote Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen conspired with Eminem to stage a PR stunt at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards. Performing in character, Sacha wore fake wings and flew over the audience on wires. After flipping the wrong way, he was lowered down — landing with his butt in Eminem's face.
After fans wondered if Eminem had really been upset over the mishap, he admitted it was staged. He told RapRadar.com, "Sacha called me when we were in Europe, and he had an idea to do something outrageous at the Movie Awards. I'm a big fan of his work, so I agreed to get involved with the gag. I'm thrilled that we pulled this off better than we rehearsed it."
He also said that, though he stormed out of the awards ceremony as part of the stunt, he spent the next three hours laughing about it after getting back to his hotel.
Here's the full clip:
4. To promote The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen walked the red carpet at the 2012 Oscars in character as Admiral Aladeen, carrying an urn bearing the face of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. During an interview, he "accidentally" dumped the fake ashes all over Ryan Seacrest.
A few months later, Sacha apologized to Ryan.
During an episode of On Air with Ryan Seacrest, the host explained, "I saw Isla Fisher [backstage at Saturday Night Live], and I said hi, and she said these words, and then it dawned on me. She said, 'I apologize for my husband.' And I said, 'Oh, yes, yes, gotcha, thank you, thank you very much for saying that'…I didn't realize her husband, The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen, was doing a walk-on cameo...He comes off stage, comes over to me, breaks character and says sorry about the Oscars, it wasn't personal. [He was] very, very apologetic and genuine and kind and sweet...Then he started telling me how it went down…Originally he said that they were going to spill whatever it was in that urn on George Clooney. Someone decided that wasn't a great idea because he was up for a lot of nominations, it was a big night that night. Then they somehow spun the wheel of tragedy and landed on my name."
Watch the full clip below:
5. After reviewing 1943's The Outlaw, Joe Breen, who enforced the Hays Code in Hollywood, ordered producer Howard Hughes to remove dozens of "unacceptable" shots of actor Jane Russell's breasts, which he felt were "shockingly emphasized and, in almost every instance, are very substantially uncovered." However, Howard ignored him, and playing into the controversy, hired a skywriter to write the movie's title and then draw two circles with dots in the center, representing boobs.
He also released promotional posters depicting Jane lounging in a haystack, along with tag lines like "How Would You Like to Tussle With Russell?" and "Mean! Moody! Magnificent!"
6. Ahead of the movie's 2008 release, The Dark Knight's marketing campaign centered around the Alternate Reality Game "Why So Serious?". Their main goal was to get people to see Brokeback Mountain actor Heath Ledger as "the most iconic, most evil villain," so, after releasing "I Believe in Harvey Dent" promotional posters introducing Aaron Eckhart's casting, the team secretly spread out Joker cards bearing the message "I Believe in Harvey Dent Too" outside of major comic book shops. They also hid the cards in new Batman comics and old graphic novels.
Chief Creative Officer and Director/Experience Designer Alex Lieu told IGN, "That was it. Literally, people just found these cards. They started taking pictures and posting them on boards. Digg was a really big thing at that time. There was no URL, nothing like that — but someone went to IBelieveInHarveyDentToo.com, and there was a picture of the same Harvey Dent poster that had been tagged by the Joker. And the website said, 'Hey… if you want to make your vote really count, give me your e-mail.'"
Every email address unlocked a single pixel of the first image of Heath Ledger as the Joker.
Alex continued, "We never underestimate what happens when millions of people get together and try to solve something. It took 97,000 e-mails [to unlock the Heath Ledger Joker photo]. The first, like, 20,000 or 30,000 were immediate — and then it slowed down, and then people were trying to run scripts and stuff, which we blocked. So they had to Digg it, and go to all comic-book forums and movie forums to get enough people to crowdsource. During the 20 hours [it took to unlock the image], people were Photoshopping what they thought it was going to look like. And it was so incredibly accurate."
7. To promote the 1947 rom-com, The Egg and I, press agent Jim Moran went to the the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm and — with the memoir the movie was based on in hand — sat on an abandoned ostrich egg until it hatched 19 days, four hours, and 32 minutes later.
He reportedly squatted in a specially designed wheelchair during the day and slept in an ostrich corral at night.
8. The Blair Witch Project had a small marketing team who used their relatively low budget for some pretty unorthodox (for the time) advertising. Since they had 16 hours of unused footage from the movie, they posted weekly online episodes that "helped establish the back story." They also sent interns into clubs and coffee houses to ask other young people what they knew about the "Blair Witch." However, one of their most attention-grabbing promotional materials was the fake "missing poster" featuring three of the actors.
John Hegeman, who lead the marketing campaign, told the LA Times, "Moviegoers in general, no matter how old they are, are pretty smart. They know that some guy in a suit, at a studio, is trying to fool them by making a movie look like what they think kids want. But there's a difference between fooling an audience and conditioning an audience. And when you have the time to condition an audience, you have the ability to have them be accepting of your movie, warts and all."
9. In the middle of Will Ferrell's acceptance speech at the 2013 MTV Movie Awards, Aubrey Plaza ran onstage with a drink in her hand and the name of her upcoming movie, The To Do List, written across her chest. Without speaking, she tried to take the trophy out of his hands.
After she left the stage, Will quipped, "Aubrey Plaza, everyone! Just like we rehearsed it…it was perfect — not too long, not too short. Right on the money!"
MTV told the Washington Post that the stunt hadn't been staged on their end, and they asked Aubrey to leave afterward.
Referencing the infamous 2009 VMAs moment when Kanye West stormed the stage during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech, Aubrey tweeted, "Thanks for the advice @kanyewest went better than planned!"
You can watch the full clip below:
10. In 2009, Joaquin Phoenix claimed that he was giving up acting to pursue a hip-hop music career. In an infamous Late Show with David Letterman interview, he took on an unusual persona as he convinced the host of his new career path. A year later, director Casey Affleck — who'd been following Joaquin and filming him — admitted that it was all for their mockumentary, I'm Still Here.
Casey told the New York Times, "The reviews were so angry...I never intended to trick anybody. The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind."
Watch the full interview below:
11. To generate buzz for 1939's Gone with the Wind before it was even filmed, producer David O. Selznick embarked on a casting search across the American South the find the perfect Scarlett O'Hara. On the Southern Talent Search, he and talent scout Katherine Brown met with debutantes, visited women's colleges, and spoke with Junior League groups.
Amateur actors responded to newspaper ads. Some even showed up to the audition in period costumes.
Eventually, they cast Vivien Leigh, a professional but mostly unknown actor from the UK.
You can watch the spoof news report below:
13. To promote Dracula's Daughter, the 1936 horror movie about a female vampire who targets other women, Joe Weil, who worked for Universal's publicity team, hired an actor to lay on a couch in a Pittsburg storefront, pretending to be one of Countess Marya Zaleska's victims. A curtain periodically opened and closed around her until the premiere, where she was "revived" onstage at the theater.
In additional, Universal published "birth announcements" from Dracula.
14. In 1992, Paramount promoted Cool World, which mixed animation and live-action, by placing a 75-foot steel cutout of Holli Would, the cartoon main character, on top of the "D" in the Hollywood sign.
Locals were quite upset with the stunt. Some even protested with signs that said, "Stop the Hollywood Sign Prostitution."
Hollywoodland Homeowners Association president Chuck Welch told the Hollywood Reporter, "This sign should not be used for advertising."
However, Harry Anderson, a Paramount spokesperson, told the outlet, "We followed the legal process to the letter to get our permit. We've obeyed all restrictions put on us in terms of fire and safety, and we're paying for 24-hour security for the sign for the next week."
The studio also donated $27,000 to the parks department to aid with upkeep for the sign and an additional $27,000 to Rebuild LA.
15. And finally, at advanced screenings of the 2001 movie Blow, "replica cocaine-cutter mirrors" were reportedly handed out as souvenirs. They were also passed out outside sporting events and at bars to promote the film.
Debbie Lips, the director of the drug rehabilitation center Hope Institute, told the New York Post that the stunt was "sending out the wrong message" to teens and worried that it would glamorize drug use.
However, Steve Elzer, New Line Cinema's senior VP of corporate communications, said, "Anyone who sees Blow recognizes that this highly acclaimed film does not promote or glorify the use of drugs."