The very first experience of the internet I ever had was visiting an official movie website.
In 1997, via a dial-up connection at my girlfriend’s parents’ house and supervised by her pale older brother, I typed in a URL I found in Empire magazine: www.austinpowers.com
It looked exactly as you’d imagine. A static image of Austin Powers with whatever character Liz Hurley played in it (again this was 1997), along with a couple of Flash enabled games, a few still images and the odd ‘high quality’ screensaver.
I doubt there was a trailer. If there was, it would have taken three hours to load.
Unfortunately 17 years later things haven’t really improved. Even in this age of parallax scrolling and HTML5-festooned web experiences, most official movie websites are still clunky and follow exactly the same template…
A full-screen autoplaying trailer, a brief scrolling journey through a few cast and crew biographies, a ‘turn-yourself-into-a-character-from-the-movie’ interactive game.
The only improvement is that instead of a jpeg gallery there might be a gif gallery.
Ali Gray wrote in The Guardian recently about how Twitter has killed the official movie website. “A hashtag slapped on a film’s poster can do all kinds of heavy lifting,” as can a free-to-run Facebook page or Tumblr account.
Who needs to pay for a domain name and hosting, when they’re all running out and will only be visited for a relatively short period of time.
As Ali Gray reveals, the Zac Efron movie That Awkward Moment had to opt for JustGetHorizontal.com and although the film came out in January the site was offline in June.
It seems the standalone movie website has very much fallen into disrepute. I rounded up innovative examples of movie site design last February and they were few and far between, although Google Chrome experiments such as The Hobbit Middle Earth and Oz: The Great and Powerful are a joy to behold.
Movie marketing has discovered new avenues through social and even more inventive, agile or experiential means (check out prankvertising if you dare).
In a follow-up article to this one I’ll explore these avenues further and see why they are so much more effective.
In the meantime let’s check out a few random new releases and see what the current state of play is for their official standalone websites.
The recent Scarlett Johansson action film full of erroneous pseudo-science has a great looking motion graphic novel and a surprisingly difficult cognitive ability quiz.
The graphic novel is a cool looking feature, though you do want it to be much longer. However the website has taken advantage of full width and height of the screen with its video and images.
The cognitive assessment portion of the site is pretty satisfying too, especially the speed-reading segment. It’s a rare example of web content actually relating to the movie’s themes.
Make your own Boxtroll is a great feature in concept – fully immersive and interactive fun. Unfortunately every time you draw a limb or a head, the result never looks like how you wanted it to.
It’s almost as if the design has already been prescribed.
Sin City: a Dame to Kill For
Again here’s an example of how film sites have improved in terms of design, but content-wise they’re just as empty. Any parallels with the film itself I will leave to you.
Dumb and Dumber To
Maximum points for being the first to nab the Dumblr.com URL. This site is very much indicative of how successful film websites currently operate.
You’ll never return to the homepage after your first visit, but as long as you follow it, its content will regularly appear in your Tumblr feed.
A promise of two interactive environments for the price of one. Looks beautiful, but with weird non-intuitive navigation and some of the roughest scrolling ever commited to the web, it’s a must-avoid experience.
Again, content-wise, there is little here beyond a fancy press kit.
Edge of Tomorrow
Join the UDF! This site is dedicated to capturing your face, placing it on Tom Cruise’s body and making a motion picture poster of the whole Frankenstein affair.
Because I’m an idiot and have absolutely no concept of deadlines, I gave it a go.
Here’s my stupid face…
This is really fun. Maybe I’m starting to think this whole official movie website thing has life left in it after all.
Here’s the final result.
I was wrong.
For an expert view on all things movie marketing, the head of digital strategy at Universal Pictures Albert Hogan will speaking at our Festival of Marketing in November, a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.
For more on movie marketing from the blog, check out these 14 blockbusting examples of movie website design.