In a world where the Internet has most of the answers to a potential moviegoer's questions about any upcoming film—including how it ends—it's amazing that some filmmakers have managed to keep the details of their new movies a secret, right up until it's time to deliver the reels to the theaters. Some have blurred the line between fiction and reality. Some used the ubiquity of the Internet to their advantage. And sometimes, the viral campaigns were so great that they overshadowed the films entirely.
1. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
The "found footage" horror genre kicked into high gear with The Blair Witch Project, the story of three filmmakers who ventured into Maryland's Black Hills with video cameras and never returned. Nearly 80 million people read "police reports" on the incident and other information pertaining to the disappearances on www.blairwitch.com. That website—plus the use of unknown actors and a documentary featuring fake local news and newsreel footage titled Curse of the Blair Witch that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel prior to the film's release—led many of those 80 million people to believe that the movie was based in reality.
2. A.I. (2001)
The set of A.I., the film brought to us by Steven Spielberg and the late Stanley Kubrick, was notably off-limits to the press, and the stars of the movie had to sign confidentiality agreements. The hype of a Spielberg-Kubrick collaboration was probably enough to power the box office, but Warner Bros. created more than 40 websites to give background information on the alternate reality of the movie, where there is a robot uprising in the year 2142. It was all meant to be groundwork on a series of video games developed by Microsoft called The Beast, but ultimately turned out to be an alternate reality game (ARG) which lasted 12 weeks. The marketing campaign was massive, surpassing even The Blair Witch by utilizing phone lines, fax machines, email accounts, and live events.
3. CLOVERFIELD (2008)
While the first movie trailer for Cloverfield—which ran before Transformers (2007) screenings—showed footage from the actual movie, including handheld footage of New York City being destroyed, and credited J.J. Abrams as a producer, it left out the movie's title. Which only fueled speculation that it was a Voltron movie, or a big-screen spin-off of Lost. Websites were created for the fictional drink Slusho and a fictional drilling company Tagruato, two companies which ended up sharing responsibility in creating The Parasite, the name given to Cloverfield's monster. A MySpace page was even set up for the main character Rob, where "he" announced he was moving to Japan to work for Slusho.
4. DISTRICT 9 (2009)
District 9 is about a world in which sick aliens arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982 and were subsequently confined to the titular government camp. Billboards and signs reading "Humans Only" began promoting the movie more than a year before its release, without any movie title. A website "written" by the alien character Christopher Johnson told of the cruelties the military company Multinational United was inflicting on his people, and websites were created by Multinational United itself.
5. I'M STILL HERE (2010)
It wasn't until one week after I'm Still Here's release that director Casey Affleck admitted to The New York Times that the film was a mockumentary, and that Joaquin Phoenix only pretended to quit acting to become a rap star. Most memorable in aiding in the deception was Phoenix's painfully awkward 2009 Late Show interview with David Letterman.
6. INCEPTION (2010)
Up until seven months before its release, the plot to Christopher Nolan's Inception wasn't publicly known. The official website was simply a spinning top controllable by mouse, and after some weeks, the top started to wobble. When more time passed and the top toppled over, users were directed to a new website that revealed the first teaser poster. A viral game called Mind Crime was also created, which featured a movie trailer hidden inside the virtual world's movie theater.
7. SUPER 8 (2011)
The J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg collaboration (Abrams wrote and directed, Spielberg produced) resulted in expectedly mysterious promotions; theater employees even had to use a special code to open up the canisters containing the trailer. The final frames in that trailer snuck in the phrase "scariest thing I ever saw," and fans who went to ScariestThingIEverSaw.com saw a PDP-11 16-bit microcomputer display. Along with RocketPoppeteers.com, the two websites dived into the story of the son of the scientist who derails a train containing an alien that starts a big mess on Earth.