Movie Marketing Madness: Captain Fantastic

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(Ed. Note: I know Captain Fantastic came out, at least in limited release, last week and that I usually publish these before their release dates. But as I said, I was taking last week off for various reasons, though I didn’t want to lose this one entirely. I say all this like anyone but me is paying attention…)

There are all sorts of ways to live differently than the rest of society. Turn on one of the HGTV or DIY channels these days and you’ll quickly find out about the tiny house movement. Read any number of blogs and you’ll find out about the non-consumer lifestyle that emphasizes buying as little as possible. There are countless books about managing your finances in ways that might seem foreign to the daily Starbucks venti Frappuccino crowd. Regardless of what your choices in going against the mainstream grain might be, it’s important to do so with conviction.

Captain Fantastic is certainly about someone who lives that unconventional lifestyle with conviction. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a father who has chosen to live with his kids off the grid, teaching them how to fend for themselves, speaking to them frankly and honestly regardless of age and otherwise being what most people might call “unusual.” When his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) gets sick and eventually dies, he and the kids are pulled out of their paradise and into the “real” world, where they come into conflict with her parents, who violently disagree with their choices and others who are not on board with what Ben and Leslie have been doing.

The Posters

The poster relies heavily on quirk as the key selling point of the movie. So the entire family, led by Mortensen, is seen on the left standing on the street and all decked out in eccentric outfits. They’re standing next to a bus that, presumably, they use as a form of family transportation. At the top, above the title treatment, is a big pull quote from an Entertainment Weekly review. Below the title is the copy “He prepared them for everything except the outside world,” which provides the hint that the story involves some variation on the fish-out-of-watt theme. Some of the other festival logos are there to provide a selling point for those who are swayed by such things.

The Trailers

The one and only trailer does just a great job of selling the movie, playing to the audience that saw it at Sundance and also making it accessible to those who weren’t. We meet the family as they deal with the mom needing to be in the hospital. She dies and her dad isn’t happy with how she’s been out away from society and forbids the husband from coming to the funeral. His kids convince him to ignore that and off they are, giving the kids their first experience in the real world, including diners, meals at relative’s house and a bit of physical flinging. Ultimately the grandparents say they’re filing for custody on the grounds the children are being abused, something that doesn’t sit well with anyone.

It’s super-charming and strongly exudes that quirky indie spirit that will make it appeal to fans of movies like Little Miss Sunshine, The Way Way Back and more. There’s no single performance that commands attention here as it looks like a real ensemble, with equal focus on the kids as on Mortensen and Langella, the two biggest visible stars. It’s funny and moving and sells the movie very well.

Online and Social

You get a cropped version of the key art when you load the official website.

Scroll down and the first section of content is “Video” which has the trailer as well as three clips from the movie. After that is “Story” where you can read a brief synopsis that doesn’t offer much in the way of details about the movie.

captain fantastic pic 1

There are about seven pictures in the “Gallery,” mostly stills but with one behind-the-scenes shot of Ross directing one of the kids thrown in there too. “About the Film” has links to the on-domain blog posts about the movie which offer some background on its making and other details. Many of those same stories are in the “News” section below that, alongside “In the Press,” which links to off-site press coverage of the movie.

The movie didn’t get its own social networks so Bleecker Street used the brand channels to promote it, linking to news stories, sharing trailers, photos from the premiere and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No TV spots to speak of but online display ads were run that used the key art with a call-to-action to buy tickets now.

Media and Publicity

Pretty good early reviews and word-of-mouth resulted from the movie’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Writer/director Alec Ross kicked off the publicity campaign with an in-depth interview about how he’s long been writing things while being a successful “that guy” character actor on TV and in movies, the struggles of getting this movie made and more.

captain fantastic pic 2

A survivalist expert apparently helped the entire cast into the woods to teach them how to live off the land and more, which became a press story all its own. The movie went to more festival accolades at the Nantucket Film Festival. Later on Mortensen was interviewed about what made him accept the role when he’s reluctant to leave his other, non-acting pursuits, and what he wanted to get right with the movie.


I’d love to know what the general audience awareness of this movie is, or was before release. The campaign is strong in the formal elements like the trailer and poster but it’s really dependent on the word of mouth that was generated by festival screenings and so on. There’s a really good press push that helped the word of mouth keep going as well.

What all that is selling is a movie that seems to be built for not just those who enjoy offbeat cinema but also feel some kinship for offbeat lifestyles. You almost have to buy into Ben and Leslie’s choices for themselves and their kids in order to get it. Yes, the idea of wanting to do right by your kids is a universal feeling for parents and that will be relatable to just about everyone, but it seems if you have to accept that what they’re doing *is* a valid choice in order to really get on board with the movie. We’ll see if that helps or hurts box-office performance.