Top 5 Movie Gimmicks

3D is one of the most popular type of movie gimmick known today. A movie gimmick is something added to an otherwise normal feature film in order to entice audiences to go to the theater and watch. It’s an unusual idea which hopefully will “enhance” the movie and stimulate box office sales.


Macabre 1958 (Horror film. Produced and Directed by William Castle)

Macabre is the story of a mysterious maniac who has kidnapped the lead characters’ daughter. She gets “buried alive” and he must find her in 5 hours before her air runs out.

William Castle, known as “The King of Gimmicks”, pioneered many movie gimmicks including Emergo where a skeleton was flown over the audience seats, Percepto where buzzers would tingle the backs of theater goers, and Illusion-o where each audience member was given a blue/red filter and could choose either to see the ghosts in the film or not.

Macabre introduced his first gimmick. Every ticket purchase included a $1,000 life insurance policy for the viewer in case he or she died of fright during the movie. This is roughly equivalent to about $8,600 in 2018. This did not include, however, people with pre existing heart conditions or suicide.

The stunt paid off however, as the movie was a massive success, grossing $5 million back in the late 1950’s, which is $43M in 2018, and paved the way for other gimmicks from Castle.


Psycho 1960 (Horror film Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock)

Everyone knows Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller Psycho starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. And if you don’t, you probably at least know the shower scene.

But did you know that part of the publicity for Psycho was that Hitchcock had a strict no late admission policy on the viewing of the movie? This “gimmick” came at a time when casual entry into the middle of a movie was more or less a normal thing theater goers would do. And since Hitchcock didn’t want people to miss absolutely anything, I mean, spoiler alert, his leading lady is killed off by the mid-point of the movie, he imposed this requirement to theater managers. Initially they complained citing possible financial loss from missed ticket sales, but ultimately the idea worked, as people lined up around the block to get in and Psycho was a smash hit.


Wicked, Wicked 1973 (Horror film Produced and Directed by Richard L. Bare)

Wicked, Wicked is another horror film with a gimmick.

This time the exciting addition was ANAMORPIC DUO VISION.

In other words…split screen.

In 1973 producer, director Richard L. Bare came up with the idea to shoot a movie in split…er…ANAMORPHIC DUO VISION where part of the story is told on the left and the other part on the right. He even went the extra mile and recorded the audio in stereo so that the corresponding dialogue would come from the left or right speakers.

The plot was about a hotel where all the blonde female patrons were being murdered. Yup. That’s basically it.

Beside the plot being thin, the editing was said to be a nightmare and the acting and horror was considered more camp than scary. Critics were split on it (hahaha, see what I did there). There was talk of a follow-up ANAMORPHIC DUO-VISION movie to be produced, but since Wicked, Wicked was so poorly received, that idea eventually died.


Million Dollar Mystery 1987 (Comedy film Produced by Stephen F. Kesten and directed by Richard Fleischer)

Moving over to the comedy genre, we have Million Dollar Mystery. It’s an ensemble comedy film done in the spirit of the 1963 film “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”. A group of people meet a dying man in a restaurant and he gives them information about four million dollars hidden in different locations. He dies, and hilarity ensues as they all race to find the treasure. Of course, every time they find a million, they immediately lose it.

There is a monster list of comedians and comic actors in the movie, including Eddie Deezen, Rick Overton and Mr. Cunningham himself, Tom Bosley.

This movie was a promotional tie-in to Glad brand of garbage bags and here’s where the gimmick lies: each time they find a million dollars, they immediately lose it. After losing the third million the movie ends. But the viewer is informed by the characters that the final million is hidden somewhere in the USA and by following the clues in specially marked Glad brand garbage bags, they have the chance to guess the location and win it.

Did the gimmick work? Well, the movie cost 10 million to make. But it only made $989 thousand at the box office. Oh, and 30,000 people guessed the correct location of the money in the giveaway. A 14 year old girl was chosen from random from the winners. So, ummm… yeah, this one kinda tanked.


Clue 1985 (Comedy film Produced by Debra Hill and Directed by Jonathan Lynn)

Finally, one of my all time favorite movies ever, the 1985 movie adaptation of the classic board game Cluedo or simply Clue in North America.

 This is another ensemble mystery comedy. It’s directed by Jonathan Lynn with script collaboration with John Landis of Animal House, Blues Brothers and Trading Places fame. This ensemble is incredible, starring Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren.

The plot is extremely basic as it follows the theme of the board game, where everyone is a suspect in the murder of Mister Boddy.

In the spirit of the game where the murderer is different every time, the gimmick of Clue the movie was its three different endings. So you would go see Clue in your local movie theater and get only one of the three endings. How do you see a different ending? You have to try a different theater. What could be better than having everyone see your movie three times?

Well, the movie had a $15M budget. It made $14.6M. Critical response was low, only earning %50 scores across most critics, including Roger Ebert who called the multiple endings a gimmick that would distract audiences and instead it needed three different middles.

Despite this, it has become a cult classic and the VHS and later DVD release of the film includes all three endings shown one after another. This is in my opinion the best way to watch Clue.

That’s it for movie gimmicks. What are your favorites?