• Festivals

Publicity Stunts at the Cannes Film Festival

What better place to publicize your film than the Cannes Film Festival where the world’s media gathers every May? More than 4,000 journalists and over 2,000 media outlets from 90 countries attend, according to the festival’s website. So making a splash in a creative, silly or tacky way is de rigueur on the Croisette, from the topless starlets of yesteryear like Simone Silva posing without her top in Robert Mitchums arms in 1954 (three paps fell over themselves into the ocean to take her picture; one broke his ankle, another his elbow) to Sacha Baron Cohen sporting a lime green mankini at the photocall for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006, splashing in the waves flanked by a bevy of bikini-clad beauties.


Baron Cohen is no stranger to stunts in Cannes. In 2012, he emerged from the Carlton Hotel in his The Dictator persona, accompanied by two mini-skirted “bodyguards” wielding fake semi-automatics, scrambled onto a camel, almost fell off it to shrieks from the assembled press, then with a “let’s go shopping,” he led the camel and the press through the Croisette to a Ralph Lauren store jamming traffic.

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren faked a fight in Cannes in 1991 to make some headlines for their upcoming Universal Soldier. The two were seen pushing and shoving each other in the middle of a verbal altercation on the steps of the Festival Hall. They copped to staging the whole thing in order to take advantage of the rivalry created between them by the press, Van Damme citing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone’s impromptu dance in front of the press at Cannes the previous year as inspiration.

DreamWorks has regularly premiered its animated films at the festival and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for the accompanying publicity stunts. In 2004, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Jack Black arrived on a 14-foot inflatable shark and landed on the beach to publicize DreamWork’s Shark Tale, Smith and Jolie seated in the front laughing at Black hamming it up in the back.


“You know, one thing I hate is any kind of movie promotion that smacks of desperation in any way,” said Jerry Seinfeld before jumping off the Carlton hotel roof and ziplining down to the beach dressed in a fuzzy bee outfit with black tights to draw attention to Bee Movie which he wrote and voiced for DreamWorks in 2007.


In 2008, Black arrived by water taxi surrounded by 40 actors in panda costumes and proceeded to show the assembled photographers his kung fu moves in honor of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda. Black voiced Po, a noodle shop panda turned martial arts star in the movie. “I’m going to do an incredible kick,” he shouted to the press. “You may want to get this . . . I’ve only got two roundhouses a day so you’d better get this one.”


Then there was the year (2009) when director Felix van Groeningen and four of the actors from his film La Mertitude des Choses bicycled naked down the Croisette, recreating a scene from the movie to gain a little extra publicity which they got with photos of their butts splashed across every entertainment media outlet across the world.

That same year, A Christmas Carol previewed footage at Cannes and its director Robert Zemeckis and stars Jim Carrey, Colin Firth and Robin Wright arrived for the event in horse-drawn carriages, while Christmas carols played over loudspeakers, and the Croisette in front of the Carlton was blanketed with fake snow on a hot and sunny day. Carrey got into a fake snowball fight with the press that dutifully chronicled his every move.

For the premiere of Top Gun: Maverick last year, the French airforce’s aerobatic unit “Patrouille de France” did a flypast, eight planes trailing red, white and blue smoke in formation over the Palais des Festivals as the stars, including Tom Cruise, watched from the red carpet before the premiere of the movie.


Not all stunts have been successful. In 2016, a bunch of fake terrorists dressed in militia uniforms stormed the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc, the go-to hotel of the stars in Cannes. They arrived at the hotel’s dock in a boat and marched up the steps towards the frightened guests who scattered in a hurry. It was a publicity stunt for a French internet company called Oraxy which bills itself the first private global marketplace for “UHNWI” or ultra-high net worth individuals.