Because the ad begins after 20 minutes of trailers, most ticket buyers have already taken their seats by the time it plays. At an AMC in Burbank, the AMC A-lister Clayton Walter remembers a couple taking advantage of their captive audience to hand out copies of Kidman’s script to the entire theater before a December screening of Red Rocket. “My first thought was that they were religious people who were handing out anti-porn material or something since Red Rocket is about a porn star,” Walter wrote in an email. “I almost cried when I saw it because it was so much better than I could’ve imagined.” When a woman stood up to start reciting, only to look around and see that no one had joined her, “It was honestly a bummer,” he says.
The ad reached its internet peak around the release of Spider-Man: No Way Homethanks in large part to the anonymous comedy writer behind the Americana at Brand Memes Twitter account. As an AMC A-lister who has been repeatedly poking fun at the ad over its entire campaign, he remembers being tagged numerous times in late December after AMC swapped in a 30-second version that cut out the “heartbreak” line. As a joke response, he made a Change.org petition page, asking AMC to restore the original “Kidman Cut,” and quickly received more than 600 signatures in support. “I did not think more than five people would sign this thing. It really took off,” he says. Though Aron admits to replacing the original ad “because we didn’t want people to get tired of it,” he says, he was inspired by the petition and eventually returned the full spot to theaters. “We didn’t take that as criticism,” Aron says. “We took that as the highest form of flattery that we could possibly have imagined.”
Diehard fans will admit that the commercial’s strange power mostly rests on the contradiction of seeing Kidman dressed up in a sparkly blue, pinstriped outfit inside a national theater chain. It’s “so absurd to imagine her going into an AMC to watch a new Jurassic World movie,” notes Walter, citing the “high camp” of the presentation. The roller-coaster response (which has included fans faux-campaigning to nominate Kidman for another Oscar) has overwhelmed its creators, who couldn’t have imagined the in-person and online engagement the ad has received. “It’s very, very weird, but in the greatest possible way,” Ray says. “When you sit down to do something like this, you just don’t think it’s going to be seen by hundreds of millions of people. You don’t know that it’s going to catch fire.”
Of course, the point of the whole thing is to get people back in movie seats, an experience which many movie-lovers fear is on the way out. Whether it works or not is hard to say at this point, but Landsman feels that the ad “did serve its intended purpose of creating this sense of unification of being back at the movies. It’s this shared inside joke that we’re together. It’s a wonderful energy wave that you feel being in a theater again.”
The commercial is due to run at least through the end of August, when AMC’s contract expires with Kidman. However, Aron hopes to sit down with the actress later this spring “to talk about if we all want to let these commercials run for another year, or maybe film some new ones,” he says, “but it’s hard to imagine we could top Este.”
Indeed, it continues to inspire moviegoers in unexpected ways. Last month, LA-based high school teacher Lauren Hussey, another A-list subscriber, convinced her friend of her to take a 30-minute “pilgrimage” to Porter Ranch to recreate Kidman’s footsteps of her. “I made a joke like, ‘We have to go, we have to honor Nicole and the commercial that we love so much,’” she says. Before reciting Kidman’s lines inside her specific auditorium, she stopped in its numbered hallway to record a photo and imitate a shot from the ad.
“I’m sure people thought we were ridiculous: ‘Why are they taking a picture in the hallway?’” Hussey says. “We were like, We’re here in the spot where it was made! That kind of stuff was exciting.”