Sometimes a movie is so great that it changes the way we think about film, storytelling and the world around us. For instance, Jaws, Star Wars and Jurassic Park are considered revolutionary because they forever altered how we think about film.
Then there are the movies that may not have the staying power of something like Star Wars but were so innovative that they changed the world of advertising. The impact of these films can still be felt today—in some cases more than a century later.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project was a blockbuster film put together on a shoestring budget, but the most amazing part of the movie wasn’t on screen at all. Released at a time when the internet was rapidly gaining popularity, The Blair Witch Project became the first movie to become a viral internet sensation. Using the power of the online rumor mill, the cast and crew pretended the film was actual footage of hikers who had disappeared, sending millions of people flocking to the theater to see what happened to Heather, Mike and Josh. Going viral is still one of the best ways to send your sales soaring, pushing movies, TV shows and advertisements to search for the same lightning-in-a-bottle that The Blair Witch Project found online.
Macabre was the first of the famous “gimmick” films by director William Castle, offering a $1,000 insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London with every ticket sold to cover people who might literally be scared to death. Although the idea of promoting something as so extreme that consumers can’t help but be interested wasn’t new to Castle, he quickly proved himself to be the master, with ambulances and nurses paid to be at movie theaters to build up intrigue. Today this kind of thing is more likely to be seen in burgers that have donuts in lieu of buns and adventure sports like BASE jumping, but the concept of something so weirdly dangerous that you need to check it out for yourself hasn’t changed a bit.
The Garage (1919)
This classic slapstick starring Fatty Arbuckle is the first known example of product placement in a film, with the Red Crown Gasoline logo clearly visible on screen for portions of the movie. Today, almost every movie has some sort of product placement advertising deal, occasionally even mentioning a company or product in dialogue. With streaming services like Netflix offering access to shows and movies without commercials, product placement is more important than ever.
The Pleasure Seekers (1913)
While posters and newspaper ads were the standard for advertising movies at the turn of the century, Loews Theatres upped the ante with the invention of the movie trailer. A sneak peek of a Broadway show called The Pleasure Seekers in 1913 was the first time anyone had given an audience an on-screen preview of an upcoming performance. Tempting the audience with snippets of upcoming shows and movies was sheer genius—so much so that combining trailers with news snippets and animated short films added an entirely new dimension to the moviegoing experience. Today, trailers are used for everything from movies and TV shows to books and concert tours.
The Lumiere Films (1895)
The very first movie ever screened for a paying audience was The Lumiere Films, a collection of short clips designed to show off just what could be done with a camera. True to form, right after the first movie came the first movie review, by writer Maxim Gorky. Gorky might not have invented product reviews, but he highlights the role played by reviewers in the sale of products and services. As every company selling goods on Amazon knows, if the first people to experience something don’t like it, that review can be enough to sink it.