CAMPAIGNS: Film Release - Battling with the Phantom Menace

Client: Canal Plus

Client: Canal Plus

PR Team: Optimum Releasing (in-house)

Campaign: Re-release of The Third Man

Timescale: May 1999 ongoing

Budget: undisclosed

Optimum Releasing, a two-man film distribution company, was charged with

the UK re-release of the 1949 classic The Third Man, by the film’s

owner, Canal Plus. Also being re-released this summer, but not by

Optimum, were two other classics starring Orson Welles: Citizen Kane,

and the lesser known Touch of Evil.

Not only did Optimum’s two-man team have to compete with these, it was

also up against The Phantom Menace - the mother of all blockbusters,

backed by Twentieth Century Fox.


To generate as much publicity for The Third Man as possible, with the

minimum spend. The aim was to drive box office sales at three screens in

London and one in Dublin.

Strategy and Plan

With 20 to 30 classic films being re-released each year, Optimum knew it

would have to do something special to make its film stand out. The fact

that it was a digitally re-mastered uncut version was not enough in

itself to guarantee box office traffic. While most other distributors

did their best to avoid releasing their films at the same time as

Phantom Menace, Optimum decided to make a virtue out of releasing The

Third Man in the same week. Only two other films also opted for a 16

July release.

Optimum gambled on a strategy that would deliberately link the release

of The Third Man and Phantom Menace, hoping to create a ’David and

Goliath’ scenario, which would prove irresistible to a press tiring of

Star Wars hype.

The first strike was a press release titled ’British film to face the

Menace’, designed to set the stage for the encounter. This started to

get the film talked about long before release, with pundits amused at

the stark contrast between the two films.

Next, Optimum contacted the Austrian Tourist Board (ATB). As The Third

Man is set in Vienna, the ATB was staging events to mark the 50th

anniversary of the film’s release, including erecting a ferris wheel

like the one in the famous fairground scene. Optimum communicated these

stories to the UK press, linking the ATB’s initiative to the forthcoming

release of the film.

To keep the pre-launch buzz going, Optimum enlisted the help of Charles

Drazin, author of a book about the film. Drazin became the ’voice of the

Third Man’ and conducted several radio interviews to talk about it.

In the week of the release, Optimum booked a reviewers’ screening slot

for The Third Man directly after Phantom Menace. Optimum wanted the

contrast between the films to be as marked as possible and for the

reviewers to talk about the 1949 film as ’the thinking man’s choice’. It

also wanted them to admire the plucky defiance of releasing it in the

face of so much Hollywood hype.

Measurement and Evaluation

Optimum’s strategy of pitching The Third Man against The Phantom Menace

was an unqualified success. The Independent on Sunday headline on the

cover of its Culture section on 16 July was ’You could see this (Phantom

Menace)but you should see this (The Third Man)’. The Daily Telegraph

said pitching The Third Man against Phantom Menace showed ’magnificent

and justified self-assurance’. The Mail on Sunday called it ’a classic

lesson for George Lucas’.


In the first three days The Third Man took pounds 18,000, and pounds

40,000 in the first week. Touch of Evil took six weeks to reach the

pounds 40,000 mark. Citizen Kane - arguably a better-known film - took

pounds 100,000 in two months, showing on 20 screens. Optimum anticipates

The Third Man - showing on just four screens - will take the same amount

in three weeks.

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