Cowboys & Aliens Marketing Confusion: Moviegoers Expecting a Comedy?

Although the online response to the first trailer for Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens seems to have been a primarily positive one, the preview has been receiving a slightly different reaction from audiences at multiplexes: uproarious laughter. The New York Times published a piece yesterday about the unexpected giggles and guffaws that came when the trailer screened before a midnight screening for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 in Santa Monica. It seems that the straightforward title and mixing of genres have created some confusion as to what exactly this movie will be. Is Universal going to have a hard time selling it as a mainstream summer event movie?

Part of the problem seems to stem from a cultural tendency to look for irony even where there is none. Today’s moviegoers have seen movies built on ridiculous titles like Snakes on a Plane and Hot Tub Time Machine, and “Cowboys & Aliens” definitely sounds like it should belong in the same category. A title change might have been wise, but since the movie is based on a comic book, I’m assuming they did not want to… ahem… alienate the fans.

It might not even be so bad if the trailer simply had more humour in it, but Jon Favreau has promised that it will be true to the comic: that is, part standard western and part suspenseful alien invasion movie. Universal claims that they are not worried about the confusion created by the title, and that the trailer itself was created to defy expectations and establish a tone. What do you think, is there a problem here, or does Cowboys & Aliens still have what it takes to be a successful blockbuster? Did Favreau miss an opportunity to add in some comedic elements, or is he right to play it straight?

  • Aaron F.

    I was blown away by the trailer and thought it smoked the Green Lantern trailer released the same day. Don’t know how audiences can be confused. The trailer is pretty straightforward and rocked my socks!

  • Brendan

    Anybody going to a midnight screening of Harry Potter probably isn’t the best judge of movies anyway.

  • While the movie looks pretty good, I were hoping for a little lighter tone myself, than what I got.

  • KeithTalent

    The name of the film screams comedy to me, but I have yet to see the trailer.

  • Derek

    When I first heard about this movie being made, I assumed that it was gonna be an action/comedy; considering Jon Favreau, being the director. But the trailer wasn’t what I expected. However, I was sold when I saw it. It has a shit load of big names surrounding it (Cast and Crew). I don’t think it matters what type of genre of film the movie is, just as long as it’s good; which I’m pretty confident it will be.

  • Jurassicalien

    I don’t think you can ever trust a single audience reaction to something. I’m not sure if this was tested on one single audience or done a number of times, but you can never trust people in a theater or groups of people as proven by this video: Also this is the first trailer and it’s really a teaser, once more trailers, commercials and posters come out hopefully people “get it” but if not, whatever, I’ll still see the movie.

  • Justice

    After we saw the trailer before Harry Potter, both my friend and I gave a wtf/confused look to each other. While I am still interested in the movie, I think its definitely a problem of tone and expectations that the teaser and the title set. It doesn’t help that they do a big promote that Favreau also directed Iron Man, which sets up an expectation of action/comedy. I do think they will have to try a little harder to sell the concept and overcome immediate expectations. We’ll see how successful they are.

  • Napalm

    I don’t blame people for misreading the title.. I also thought the movie would be something along the line of a comedy when it was first announced.

  • kyri

    I have told you guys.. the title is problematic…

  • Hugh

    the title is problematic…

    What alternative do you suggest, Kyri…..Wild West Iron Man?

  • kyri

    No, for this kind of movies since you are targeting to a wide audience and you are spending serious money to promote it is good to use a more Marketing-sane Title. Like a one word catch phrase..

    You know..: Elysium.

    There are endless options.

    Wild wild West was a Comedy Men In Black Was a comedy Back to the Future was a Comedy.

    Thats why they can more easily use this kind of titles.

    I know its restarted that Creators need to choose a catchy Movie-title that sounds “cool” to a 13year old but is what it is

    Don’t get me wrong I am interested on the film based on the trailer (not the title) and I do know Cowboys and Aliens is supposed to be based on the comic but.. Come on.. it does sound a bit restarted.

    If I was the director I would even prefer to use something as simple as just a DATE like “1819” or whenever this movie takes place.. instead of that.

    imagine if Matrix was named: “The adventures of Neo and his friend Morpheus” Or District9 was called SouthAfricans Vs Aliens Or “The Alien apartheid”

    Its not a sellout its how marketing works if you are targeting on a wide audience.

    I am not the one making the rules.

  • Hugh


    Thank you for your illuminating response. You make a lot of interesting points.
    I am interested in this film but have not made the assumption that it is a comedy.

    Context is evrything though and it is unfortunate that they decided to screen it to such an apprently undiscerning audience.

  • kyri

    Apparently that is where they target everything in these days.

  • kyri

    Restarted = retarded

    (How can i remove this iphone autospell anyways?)

  • Ben

    A movie’s title should not be altered (especially when it comes from a specific source) to cater to the teeming, idiotic masses. Screw the morons out there who can’t tell a comedy from an action film simply because of a title.

  • kyri

    Ben, you should be a marketing strategist..

  • Derek

    I don’t find the title to really be all that humorous. To me, it seems more straight to the point; on what we are goin ta be seein when it comes out.

  • The Man

    There was a lot of confusion with my family to what the film was. Cowboys and aliens like cowboys and Indians?

  • Harry Potter just has a dumb audience. How would it have screened before a sci-fi film?