Let’s suppose for a moment that you have a movie that is weeks away from release, starring one of the most beloved actors of the past three decades. An actor who appeals to audiences of all demographics who just capped an award season run with a wholly satisfying Academy Award win for Best Actress. Fortunately for 20th Century Studios, that’s precisely what they have with A HAUNTING IN VENICE starring Michelle Yeoh.
Most people would be forgiven for not knowing Yeoh stars in the film. And, to be fair, the SAG strike has certainly hindered her ability to do promotion. But even so, it is rather strange that Yeoh is not front and center in the HAUNTING campaign.
Take a look at the key art. We are madly in love with the teaser poster on the left. It introduces a heightened level of menace not seen in any of Kenneth Branagh’s previous Agatha Christie films. The full poster in the middle, however, is where things get rather curious. Yes, it continues the theme of dread from the teaser, but it reveals little more about this film. It doesn’t expand the narrative at all.
On top of that, it takes a lot of work to figure out exactly what’s happening in this poster. If you’ve seen one of these on a bus shelter from a distance, you probably have no idea what is happening in this image.
But the biggest oddity is that there are no names on the poster, and Yeoh is sideways at three o’clock. It simply makes no sense. Interestingly, names appear on the French poster, but Yeoh is relegated to the margins over Branagh’s shoulder.
In light of this odd print campaign, it’s not entirely surprising that the film is struggling with awareness. Just how bad is it? With 30% awareness, HAUNTING is well behind DEATH ON THE NILE at the same distance from release. And NILE opened to $13M in 2022. That was down from the $29M debut for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.
HAUNTING belongs to the Medium group, meaning it has a production budget between $50M and $100M. The average opening weekend for films in this group is $22M. At one week out, the average awareness for a movie in the Medium group is 37%.
In other words, awareness for HAUNTING is well behind the group average, which suggests it will need help to reach the $22M average opening for the group.
Why is this important? On the heels of THE EQUALIZER 3 opening to $35M, it might be tempting to say that the SAG strike has not impacted the box office. But let’s acknowledge that Denzel Washington is a rare force of nature who doesn’t need to promote his film for it to excel at the box office. Plus, the outdoor artwork for the film paced Washington’s mug front and center above the title.
VENICE is arguably a better litmus test for the strike’s impact. The film would no doubt benefit from Branagh and Yeoh promoting the film. At this time, in the absence of the actors doing promotion, it certainly seems like the studio would benefit from selling the cast in marketing material.