Rio Olympics: 'Rogue One,' 'Pete's Dragon' Lead Movie Advertising Blitz

Rogue One Teaser stills 6 - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney

The first trailer for December's 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' debuted exclusively on Thursday night's broadcast of the Summer Olympics, while a new trailer for Tom Hanks' 'Inferno' and a teaser for Amy Adams' 'Arrival' premiered during the games earlier this week.

There's an unofficial sport taking place during the Summer Olympics in Rio — promoting Hollywood movies in a bid for the gold.

Studios are spending many millions to plug a medley of upcoming films — both movies that are on the verge of opening and others that won't roll out until winter. Every four years, the Games are the biggest live television event of summer, and the film business isn't about to miss out on the opportunity, even if the Olympics aren't as big as the Super Bowl.

And in a new twist this year, some companies are bypassing theaters altogether, debuting their trailers first during the Olympics, airing on NBC.

On Thursday night, Disney and Lucasfilm used the Games to premiere a trailer for the spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which doesn't hit the big screen until more than four months from now on Dec. 16. The spot dropped immediately following the swimming portion of the evening, setting social media afire. (Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps probably never imagined he'd have to compete for attention with Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the leader of a team tasked with stealing plans for the Death Star ahead of the events of the first Star Wars movie in 1977.) To tease the trailer, in the days leading up to the trailer's first airing, the Rogue One campaign centered on a much-debated spot interlacing footage from the film with footage of Olympic athletes. 

The gambit echoed the strategy Lucasfilm and Disney used last October, when they premiered a trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on sister company ESPN's Monday Night Football to staggering results. That trailer was viewed more than 112 million times online in 24 hours, according to a post from Lucasfilm on Combined with the 16 million viewers that tuned in to watch the trailer on Monday Night Football, that's a total of 128 million views. But while The Force Awakens trailer debuted two months in advance of the movie, this time the Rogue One trailer arrived a full four months ahead of the film.

Disney paid NBCUniversal many millions for ad time to promote a number of its upcoming films, and not just Rogue One. The studio is also airing wall-to-wall spots for Pete's Dragon, which opens this weekend, as well as a cut-down trailer for Marvel's Doctor Strange (Nov. 4), starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and spots for Queen of Katwe (Sept. 23) and The Light Between Oceans (Sept. 2). The studio is also showing brand new creative materials for Moana (Nov. 23).

Disney is hardly the only film company exploiting the Rio Games. Earlier this week, Sony used the Summer Olympics to debut a new trailer for Ron Howard's Inferno (Oct. 28), a continuation of The Da Vinci Code film franchise that returns Tom Hanks in the title role. The studio is also running ads for The Magnificent Seven (Sept. 23), the remake of the classic Western starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt.

"The Olympics are destination viewing. People want to experience it live, or as close to it as they can," says Sony worldwide president of marketing and distribution Josh Greenstein. "Inferno is a big event movie for us, so we wanted to display it on a big, live event. While the Olympics aren't as pricey as the Super Bowl, or a final championship, like the NBA, you pay a premium."

Paramount is another studio betting big on the Olympics, booking numerous spots for both Ben-Hur, which opens Aug. 19, and the first look at Arrival (Nov. 11), the sci-fi epic starring Amy Adams and directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Other movies getting airtime on the Games include Universal and DreamWorks' The Girl on the Train.

Earlier on Thursday, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus hopped on the phone with reporters to reaffirm his confidence in the performance of the Olympics, whose ratings are down from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and assure that advertisers are happy. He said the company has booked another $30 million in advertising since the Games began, on top of the record $1.2 billion booked before the Summer Olympics started.

Going into Wednesday night, the 2016 Rio Summer Games were pulling an average 28.6 million viewers and 15.6 household rating. Overall audience trails the 2012 London Games by nearly 10 million, while the household rating is down by almost two points from the comparable period.

See the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story below.