A24 Under Fire for Seemingly AI Generated Civil War Ads

Image: A24
Image: A24

Movie marketing always treads a fine line between actually giving you an indicator of what you’ll see in the final film and more about evoking a specific vibe—from made-for-trailer shots to hypothetical what ifs, it’s sometimes not always clear what part of it will actually be seen on screen when you’re in a movie theater. But that fine line gets much, much messier when you throw generative AI into the mix.

A24 learned that the hard way last night when it released a series of promotional images for Alex Garland’s new alt-future dystopia movie Civil War—depicting intentionally hypothetical images of the reach of the film’s fictional contemporary American civil war. None of the scenes, which includes soldiers riding an armed boat outside a battle damaged Los Angeles, and the Las Vegas sphere turned into a blackened husk, and more, are actually based on the events of the movie.

The fact that the images are not based on actual moments from Civil War is less of the problem—more so is that commenters immediately started accusing A24 of using generative AI to create the images.

“For a company that seemingly values artistry, using AI generated works for advertising is a real bummer,” one comment reads.

“Why resort to advertising this AI-generated nonsense? Not to mention that one of the movies strengths is what’s left unseen,” another added. “Congrats on the opening weekend and all, but you know you’re better than this.”

“The actors and writers that make YOUR movies possible didn’t go on 100+ day strikes just for y’all to use AI to promote your films,” a third says. “Hire actual artists.”

The overwhelming majority of the comments on the post, which still remains live as of writing, are responding negatively to the use of AI assets—a sentiment that has remained as the news spread to other social media sites, drawing anger from critics and general audience members alike:

There’s definitely some elements that look weird, and indicative of the kind of things people point to identity an image as having been AI-generated. The second soldier at the back of the patrol boat in the LA image (the second image in the slideshow above) has his legs seemingly just blend and vanish into the boat itself, and the same picture includes a massive swan, presumably meant to be a pedal boat, but it has an awkward mix of looking both like a real swan and having the artificial elements of a swan-shaped pedal boat, except not only does it actually lack a space for occupants to sit, it also towers over the two soldiers and their boat.

Another image (the fourth in the slideshow) shows bombed out cars in a Miami street, but a prominently displayed car wreck on the left of the image appears to have three doors on one side. The fifth image depicts one of the Marina Tower buildings in Chicago ablaze, while also putting it across the river from the other tower: in reality, they stand right next to each other on the same side of the Chicago river. Even if these images were intended to be hypothetical scenarios, there’s enough that’s off about them that the Instagram post’s comments are filled with people accusing A24 of using artificially generated images instead of paying an artist to render them for them.

io9 reached out to A24 to ask the studio to confirm whether or not generative AI was used in the creation of the promo assets, but did not yet receive comment at the time of publication. However, an unnamed sourced described as being “close” to the movie told The Hollywood Reporter that the images were indeed AI generated, and that A24 saw them as a continuation of Civil War’s surreal setting. “The entire movie is a big ‘what if’ and so we wanted to continue that thought on social,” the source told THR. “Powerful imagery of iconic landmarks with that dystopian realism.”

If the images are made with generative AI, then Civil War becomes only the latest controversial step in the technology’s encroaching presence in Hollywood. Just recently the David Dastmalchian-starring indie horror Late Night With the Devil came under fire for briefly using a handful of images made with generative AI, while before that Marvel Studios drew considerable criticism for making the opening title sequence of its Disney+ spy series Secret Invasion with similar technology. In the wake of the 2023 Hollywood strikes seeking formal protection for writers and actors from the use of artificial intelligence, from generated scripts to digital background extras, studios wading further into the quagmire of the controversial practice by using it to replace other artists in the pipeline—especially ones involved with such public-facing elements of the film like marketing is fraught territory.

And in the end, the question remains: did A24 really need to do this? In Civil War, it has one if its biggest hits yet on its hands, earing it its highest box office opening weekend so far to the tune of $25.7 million—almost doubling previous record holder Hereditary. Do AI-generated posters get even more people in seats? And if they did, is it worth the ongoing backlash?

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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