Looming SAG Strike Threatens Publicity Plans for ‘Barbie,’ ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Ninja Turtles’

From “Avengers” sequels to “Transformers” flicks, so many summer blockbuster end with cities on fire and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Those moments are usually conjured up by CGI. But major studios looking to promote the hell out of their July or August releases may be in an all-too-real bind that even Superman can’t fly past.

A looming actors strike may wreak havoc on the marketing campaigns for several major film releases — including Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and the franchise relaunch “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” — leaving studios shifting their plans to get ahead of the June 30 deadline for a new SAG-AFRTRA contract.

If that date comes and goes without a new deal in place, then union members (which include every movie star you can name) could hit the picket lines. That means they will not be available nor willing to promote their latest films. Already, the Writers Guild of America strike has caused promotional headaches for TV and streaming shows looking to launch Emmy campaigns. It’s also created dilemmas for publicists hoping to score press for writer clients with movies opening in theaters or debuting at Cannes or Tribeca.  

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” Paramount and Nickelodeon’s attempt to reboot the popular family franchise for a new generation of moviegoers, has moved its press junket from July to June in the hopes of getting ahead of any potential strike. Paramount’s other major release, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1,” which opens on July 12, won’t be affected by an actors strike. The studio is junketing the film for international press from June 18-19, which means that most of its interviews will be banked if the talks with SAG-AFTRA falter.

While every major studio has been hand-wringing over the prospect, Nolan’s new ensemble epic “Oppenheimer” is holding firm to its July 7-8 New York junket dates. This falls after the June 30 deadline and could be impacted. “Haunted Mansion,” Walt Disney Studios’ summer romp based on its own park ride, will host a junket for global press just under the deadline – taking place June 29-30 in New Orleans, where the film is set and was shot. Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Lee Curtis, LaKeith Stanfield and Jared Leto all star in the project, which opens July 28. The junket dates were staked out before strike talks began, one insider said.  

Spokespeople for Paramount, Universal, Disney and Warner Bros. declined to comment for this article. 

The life cycle of a movie marketing campaign can vary, but in the case of most summer tentpoles the hype can start as early as two years prior to release, sources said — think first-look posters and teaser trailers. About four to six months before opening weekend, studios will engage long-lead publications for splashy cover stories, as Warner Bros. did recently for Ryan Gosling (GQ Style) and Margot Robbie (Vogue) in support of “Barbie.”  That film is also set to junket on July 7-8, putting it in the strike’s crosshairs. Some interviews are being completed pre-strike deadline for a later rollout, according to one individual familiar with cast schedules.

“Your last month is all about moving the needle,” added another veteran film marketer. This includes global photo calls with cast, domestic and international talk show appearances, multi-city red carpet premieres and weekly magazine covers. One studio executive said that, thanks to the writers strike, the major late-night shows are dark, and therefore aren’t an option at the moment. But, “not having a big red carpet the week the movie premieres? That will absolutely hurt.”

The executive, like many of those on the side of the studios and producers in the current guild faceoffs, is baffled by the idea of a work stoppage. “The union is fighting for wages. A strike is going to hurt box office grosses, which affects actors’ compensation. If I were someone like Margot Robbie, as a producer and star of ‘Barbie,’ I wouldn’t be happy,” they said.  

One publicist was already bracing for a summer without booking in-depth profiles in magazines or appearances on morning TV shows. “I guess I’m going to be pitching press on a lot of documentaries,” they said.    

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