When Manchester United footballers started promoting movies

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Recalling that time when players of Manchester United ended up promoting The Revenant, Alien: Covenant and Deadpool.

Appreciating at the time of writing football isn’t really a topic that people aren’t talking about quite as much, we are conversely deep into summer blockbuster season. And it’s at this time of year my mind always wonders to the period where the streams of footie and huge movies were crossed.


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It came thanks to a wheeze from 20th Century Fox (and the fact that I’m still talking about it suggests it wasn’t an unsuccessful one), whereby a deal was struck with Manchester United Football Club. It was never something officially announced by the club itself, but it didn’t take too much time to work out what was going on.

Eyebrows were thus raised when Fox came around to releasing The Revenant. The film that finally won Leonardo DiCaprio his Best Actor Academy Award, the 2015 movie from Alejandro González Iñárritu is described as a revisionist western, and it out of the blue earned the Twitter endorsement of then United players Memphis Depay, Ashley Young, Juan Mata and former captain Bryan Robson.

Here’s a flavour of the Tweets, that are all still live.


Given how closely together the recommendations came, two and two was quickly added up, and four was found. Just to ice the cake, the 20th Century Fox fanfare was then played before a United home game. The partnership was on.

But this was just the warm up. For over the next year or two, it wasn’t just social media posts that 20th Century Fox got for its money: United players starting turning up in video promotions for the films themselves. No matter that the acting of said players came in for some, er, ‘pushback’, for Fox it all achieved the desired effect.

Some of these worked better than others. The tongue firmly in cheek promotional campaign for the first Deadpool movie with Ryan Reynolds lent itself to the idea anyway, and the simple promo of a “weird Wayne Rooney dream” was the end result…

But this got everyone’s confidence up, to the point where somebody decided that a bit of acting was required. I should state that Manchester United’s players can play the game a lot better than me. But when they crossed over into other ventures, it did nonetheless start to edge towards cringe.

Have a look, then, at this promo for 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Getting the stars of the movie to lend their voices to it may have taken the edge off things a little, but, well, anything for the team, right? (although I do think that Derby County manager Rooney nails his “bloody hell” at the end).

For Independence Day: Resurgence, somebody then had the idea of Wayne Rooney and some of his teammates up against alien invaders. Chris Smalling, Danny Blind and Juan Mata were his wingmen. This is what happened…

In fairness, the ideas evolved, and the simpler stuff worked. Getting Man United’s players to watch Alien: Covenant and shriek on camera is straight out of the Final Destination marketing playback, but pretty effective.

Towards the end too, the onus switched to just getting players to stand around and ask then questions. Then there was the Kingsman: The Secret Service for instance, where they answered queries that wouldn’t look out of place in a promotional magazine. Which effectively is what it was…

The deal eventually ran its course, and any chance of a renewal hit a couple of obstacles. Firstly, the response to the players’ acting wasn’t really, and I’m putting this delicately,  on the positive side. Thus it may be that they declined to get involved in any further promotions.

But also, of course, Rupert Murdoch elected to get out of the film and television business, and decided to sell the majority of his Fox businesses – with the exception of that horrific news channel – to Disney. Fox’s marketing department was thus part of the ‘making economies’ part of the press release.

Perhaps some enterprising indie distributor might resurrect the idea, and try it all again with my beloved Birmingham City. Just imagine it: a promo for the new Nicolas Cage movie, with Jukey up top against the Cage himself? Well, I’d buy a ticket…

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