Marketing ‘The Flash’: No Ezra Miller, But Lots of Batman and TV Spots

In late August 2022, Ezra Miller trekked to Warner Bros. for their first meeting with film chairs Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. The sit-down followed months of legal and personal troubles for the actor, with a string of arrests and bad headlines threatening to derail The Flash, the $200 million feature Miller had been attached to since 2014. A few weeks earlier, Miller apologized for their behavior — which included trespassing and choking a woman in Iceland in an incident captured on video — citing “complex mental health issues.”

The question on everyone’s mind that day in August: Could Miller stay out of trouble, and out of the headlines, long enough for The Flash to safely enter theaters? Ten months later, the answer appears to be yes. Miller has not only stayed out of the headlines, but the actor is nowhere to be found in the press as the film sprints toward its June 16 release date.

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Instead of touting its star, the studio has put the focus on the film itself, hyping it to perhaps unrealistic levels. CEO David Zaslav and DC Studios co-head James Gunn have publicly said the feature is among the greatest superhero movies of all time. This has sparked bemused head-shaking from some at Warners who question the wisdom of setting such high expectations.

“It can’t be the studio telling you it’s good; your friends have to tell you it’s good,” says one insider.

The first reviews, which dropped June 6, are solid, but not the type of notices received by The Dark Knight, considered the greatest film of the genre. The Flash currently sports 72 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, good enough to beat Joker, Warners’ 2019 Oscar-winning, $1 billion hit, which has a 69 percent score.

The studio is facing several other headwinds that are affecting The Flash’s projected opening — a soft $70 million-$75 million. Some superhero movie fatigue is real, and so is the perception that these next few DC movies, including August’s Blue Beetle and December’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, are less urgent because Warners is relaunching a slate of entirely new movies, with new actors to inhabit the superhero roles, under the aegis of DC Studios heads Gunn and Peter Safran. 

It’s unclear how much is perception and how much is reality. Both executives have said some actors from the current universe could persist, and one who seems most likely is Xolo Maridueña, whose character Blue Beetle has close ties in the comics to Booster Gold. Gunn and Safran are planning their own Booster Gold show, and it is possible Blue Beetle could appear in it, depending on Beetle’s reception this summer.

So far, Warners has sidelined Miller in the press in favor of director Andy Muschietti, producer Barbara Muschietti and Supergirl actor Sasha Calle as ambassadors for the film.

On June 12, Miller is expected to attend the film’s premiere, which will likely be branded as a “fan event” — one where stars walk the carpet but answer no questions from journalists. The studio previously has experience in such hybrid events. In April 2022, it held a New York event for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which was mired in its own controversies around author J.K. Rowling, the recasting of Johnny Depp — and even Miller, who was arrested in Hawaii days before the event.

Instead of touting its star, the studio has enlisted famous champions, courting celebrities for advance screenings. Stephen King has seen it. (“As a rule I don’t care a lot for superhero movies, but this one is special. It’s heartfelt, funny, and eye-popping,” he tweeted.) So has Jaden Smith. (“ummm best movie ever,” he wrote on Instagram.) Tom Cruise also was treated to an advance screening at his home. (He did not tweet his review, but is said to have liked it.) In fact, the studio mounted what one person described as one of the more robust screening campaigns in recent memory to build buzz, with tens of thousands seeing it.

Rival studios note Warners has been spending heavily on spots and particularly trailers, running the latter during the NBA playoffs. One exec believes Warners paid upwards of $14 million to the NBA alone, although that also included a spot for Barbie. (A Warners insider says the figure was lower.)

“They are spending huge, huge. This is a massive campaign,” says the executive familiar with these rollouts.

And if Warners can’t bank on the Flash himself to bring audiences in, it is hoping that Batman, one of the biggest superheroes in the world, can, as well as the nostalgia factor for a returning Michael Keaton. Both have been heavily profiled in the campaigns, and Keaton showed up for a fan event in London last weekend.

But it’s unclear if it’s resonating. Having both Keaton and Ben Affleck back as Batman has drawn comparisons to ground trod by the successful Spider-Man: No Way Home (unfairly, as Flash was to have originally arrived in theatres before that movie). And on the flip side, moviegoers can feel like they just recently saw a Batman movie, in the form of Robert Pattinson’s The Batman, released in 2022.

“They are not promoting Flash as a character because they can’t,” a rival studio executive says regarding not putting too much focus on Miller.

Normally, studios would also have a big movie’s stars blanket late night talk shows, but due to the writers strike, those shows have shut down. That has been a blow to movies, but in the case of Flash, it may prove advantageous. Miller isn’t conspicuously absent from the shows, and co-stars don’t have to field awkward questions about their troubled star.

“It has hurt everyone equally” says the rival exec, “but in their case, it hurts them less.”

One bright spot for Warners has been filmmaker Andy Muschietti, who is a favorite at the studio after the hit It films. Even if Miller’s future with DC is an open question, Muschietti’s doesn’t appear to be. He is the top choice to direct Batman feature The Brave and the Bold, multiple sources tell THR, though there is no script — and thus no formal commitment from the filmmaker — until one materializes post-writers strike.

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