How Memes are Rewriting the Movie Marketing Script

Movie Meme Roundtable Perspective Header
  • Text D1A Staff
  • Design Emily Zhang

As the traditional movie theater experience has given way to streaming at home, the days of drumming up audience anticipation for a movie via a cryptic poster, celebrity magazine cover or coming attractions slot are long gone. The internet and social media have played a key role, and recently, behind-the-scenes set photos—strategically dropped by studios or leaked by paparazzi—have become major conversation starters and meme fodder, often years before a film hits the big screen.

These photos are savvily engineered for hot takes on the timeline. One major genre is the superhero costume reveal (designed for endless dissection by their respective fanbase); another is the “OMG” absurdist factor of a celebrity transformed, for example: the unveiling of notoriously private actor Ryan Gosling as a bleach-blonde Ken doll in Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie film, or a Midtown dripped-out Adam Sandler playing a diamond dealer in Uncut Gems (2019).

While the end goal of releasing these photos is to drive audiences to see the film once in theaters, they often become entertaining content in and of themselves—drawing out potential spoilers and saturating social channels with jokes until they (perhaps) lose steam.

We brought together a group of Day One Agency movie fans to discuss how these viral teasers elicit interest in a release, and if the discourse brings them to the box office.

Meet the panelists below, and click the ‘+’ icon to find out which 2022 release they’re most looking forward to seeing.

Parisse Dawkins Headshot
Looking Forward To Seeing: The Woman King (2022) starring Viola Davis
Parisse Dawkins
Creative Strategist
Trey Taylor
Favorite Movie: Home Alone (1990)
Trey Taylor
Senior Editorial Director
Andrew Downing headshot
Looking Forward To Seeing: Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022)
Andrew Downing
Senior Creative Strategist
Elise Bang
Favorite Movie: The Social Network (2010)
Elise Bang
Creative Strategist
Connor Howlett Headshot Vertical
Looking Forward To Seeing: Don't Worry Darling (2022)
Connor Howlett
Senior Digital Strategist
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Favorite Movies: Isle of Dogs (2018) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Tiffany Gilpin
Digital Coordinator

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

When was the first time you remember a movie production set photo going viral or becoming a meme? What movie was it for and what was your reaction?

Parisse: *looks at meme folder*

Trey: I remember the images of Kristen Stewart petting the green screen wolf that were released for Twilight, but I’m not sure if they were published around the time of the film’s release or if they became easily memeable later on.

Andrew: I think the first time that I recall the internet starting to care more widely about set photos was when the Marvel craze started picking up, because people wanted sneak peeks of the outfits and the superheroes.

Elise: Old movies are constantly resurfacing because people find them memeable later on. In the case of Twilight, it was very earnest when it first came out, but now people take it less seriously. I do remember some OG Minion memes: i.e. “filet minion.”

Connor: Not the first one I remember, but oh boy did Twitter have a field day with the green screen BTS photos from Spiderman: No Way Home.

Andrew: More recently, I remember people ripping apart the Sonic [the Hedgehog] movie, specifically Sonic's design.

Did anyone have strong reactions when this pic dropped on Twitter?

House of gucci

Connor: Ohhhhhh yes. It ended up being my Halloween costume, LOL.

Elise: I was just about to bring up Adam Driver.

Electric eel

Trey: The House of Gucci leak immediately made me concerned that the film would be gimmicky and cheap.

Elise: I agree, Trey.

Did the photos spark excitement to see the movie, or did you just enjoy the subsequent social chatter?

Connor: For House of Gucci and Sonic it was more so excitement to see the trainwreck versus genuine excitement.

Andrew: I've definitely seen movie leaks or jokes that make the movie look terrible, and I want to see it because it looks terrible.

Trey: One thing that might have been a direct correlation is that the leaked photos of House of Gucci set the stage, in a way, for how people acted while at the cinema. I went to a screening opening weekend and it was full of people shouting at the screen and quoting lines they’d heard from the trailer.

Parisse: If the wardrobe [shown] was great, [it] definitely sparked excitement. But the other side is jokes and online chatter.

Trey: In almost every case I felt less inclined to see a Marvel movie because of the leaked pics. If it fell into the category of camp, I was more compelled.

Elise: Generally I like to go into movies as blind as possible, so I'm bummed when I see spoilers. I even avoid trailers sometimes. Trailers these days give away literally everything. If you are posting 505949058430 pictures of your movie before it comes out, I feel like I can connect the dots. I haven't clicked a single Barbie movie link.

Connor: I have avoided trailers/info before when people recommend I go in blind. Like Parasite—thank GOD I listened.

Trey: Spoilers do not concern me whatsoever.

Andrew: For me it depends on the movie. If it's Oscar bait, I'd rather go in as blind as possible.

Tiffany: I like going in blind, but I don't mind spoilers because I forget right after.

This photo was hard to avoid, no matter where you were online—do you consider it a spoiler?

Ryan g

Parisse: Now that I see it so often, I get the gist of the movie.

Elise: I don't consider that photo a spoiler, but the more I see of the Barbie movie the more I cringe. I'd rather have that first cringe moment when I am actually watching the movie.

Trey: The ultimate Barbie spoiler! When the movie is about a DOLL and how it looks then you lose a lot when it’s revealed too early. Will I still be going? Yes.

Tiffany: If [there are] bad reviews I’m interested in watching either way, because maybe it’ll be worth it (or people being dramatic).

Andrew: I feel like the Barbie movie will have the same internet hype and some kind of funny trend on TikTok as Minions.

A theme is emerging: serious movies/Oscar bait are for going in blind...but things that may be campy or silly—Minions, Sonic, House of Gucci, serve more as “content” rather than a meaningful experience or even potentially “art.”

Andrew: A “popcorn movie” is what I call them.

Trey: To me, you can’t spoil a campy “content” movie because the plot is usually so thin as it is, and let’s be real, Marvel is just people parading around in costumes. No different to the Barbie movie or House of Gucci. Yes I said it!

Andrew: The plots are already out there in comic books, LOL. Yeah, 1000%, I think that the meme and set photos of Barbie probably help it tenfold.

Elise: I just feel like I've seen it at this point! By spoil are we talking about “giving it away” or making you less inclined to go watch it?

Trey: I think yes, but that coincides with popcorn movies generally being all that Hollywood will make because of the absolute need for recognizable IP for every new release.

Can you recall any specific marketing for a recent release that you felt was unique and compelling?

Elise: Marcel the Shell.

Tiffany: The Nope movie. It was so ambiguous, I still wanted to see it.

Trey: Everything, Everywhere All at Once was unique in its marketing. The hot dog finger gloves A24 sold. I know they also create collaborative zines with the directors of their films that they sell.

Parisse: Love an A24 movie.

Connor: Agree with EEAOO. I may or may not have brought my A24 tote bag to work today…

Andrew: I was going to see the new Jurassic Park regardless because I've been a huge fan since [I was] a kid, but the fact they went the extra mile to build a whole site of CGI dinosaur sightings was interesting to me.

Elise: When they took Marcel to the Westminster Dog Show…

Trey: What? How did I miss that!

Do you think any of these “meme” movies will become classics? Or even worth a rewatch?

Andrew: Maybe cult classics. Not classic as in, “Damn, that was an amazing movie.”

Elise: Well, look what happened with Shrek, LOL.

Tiffany: The memes/jokes on TikTok for The Batman had me weak.

Trey: I remember when Sofia Coppola released Marie Antoinette and there were a lot of set photos from that (possibly released much later) and everyone initially thought it would be a bogus take on history. But I think it has really held up!

Elise: The girlies love Marie Antoinette.

Trey: It fueled Tumblr for a good 5 years.

Elise: Back to’s the longest living movie meme, in my opinion.

Trey: Does anyone follow @NightPromoting on Twitter? They post vintage movie merch that was released as part of marketing campaigns from movies of old.

Parisse: Fire. Thinking now that a few Avatar BTS shots wouldn’t sway me. I've waited so long.

Trey: I wonder if marketers/studios release these images on purpose to create dissent among the community? Seems like a good tactic.

Connor: Media outlets and trying to reach #1 on Twitter trending topics, probably.

Sure, you're a part of the conversation, but what happens when the movie actually comes out in a year?

Trey: Right, like there is no way Greta Gerwig wants this much conversation around her movie already…I’m not sure if anyone remembers the conversations that have been going on for years around the real-life Little Mermaid. First Andreja Pejic was cast in a Sofia Coppola directed version, and now I think Halle Bailey is the star and it’s still a year out? [I’m] positive that convo started around 2015 or earlier.

Parisse: Melissa McCarthy gave a "spoiler" on Watch What Happens Live speaking on Halle's voice. That's all we get.

Elise: If the memes are good enough, the people will remember.

Trey: My one last thought is how interesting it is that we have such recall for BTS or paparazzi images from beloved films years later, regardless of how popular they were at the time or how well the film did at the box office. I suppose we’ll discover how that translates to Barbie ticket sales next year. Either way, they’ve succeeded in getting us talking.