This week, three big nerdstravaganza movies all dropped new images: Shane Black’s Predator reboot, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, and Phil Lord’s and Christopher Miller’s untitled Han Solo Star Wars anthology film. All of them featured the principle cast of the film, decked out in costume or on set (or both), for a quick glimpse at a hotly anticipated picture. And all of them worked–the shot from the Han Solo movie looks like it was shot on a selfie stick, but it still captured the internet hype cycle for a few hours on a Tuesday afternoon.
The photos themselves aren’t much. For Predator, you essentially just get a glimpse of Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, and Sterling K. Brown decked out in camo and trying to look tough, with Shane Black posed in front of them as Jacob Tremblay smiles like he’s been brought out for “take your child on a black ops mission” day. For the still-untitled Han Solo movie, it’s just the filmmakers, the cast in street clothes, and Chewbacca in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Alien: Covenant announced the imminent premiere of its trailer with a shot of the cast around a table on a spaceship with the remains of breakfast between them. But they do a fine job of teasing movies that, in some cases, won’t be out for well over a year. And while formal production stills will surely be coming in the months ahead, these kind of snaps are a fun, cheap, and effective way to let fans know that the movie they’re waiting for is in production.
The fact that they’re so informal is good for obsessives, too. In 2015, when the first shot of the table read for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, fans on Reddit immediately began crafting elaborate theories about the plot based on where people were sitting. (“The positioning seems pretty deliberate. With Daisy between Harrison and Carrie, Boyega next to Isaac and Driver, the two X-Wing pilots, Serkis next to Mark. It’s interesting.”) It was certainly a stretch to assume that Andy Serkis’s and Mark Hamill’s proximity to one another meant anything in regards to the film (and, obviously, it didn’t), but if you give fans a picture to obsess over that looks like any thought went into it, they’re gonna put a whole lot more thought into attempting to decipher it. But you can’t really do that with the Han Solo shot–it’s pretty clear they all just crowded in front of the camera for a quick snapshot (and maybe Woody Harrelson showed up a few seconds late).
Hype cycles for blockbusters and tentpoles start earlier than ever these days. We’re living in an era where we get teasers for teasers before the rollout of the full trailer for a feature film. But all of the parts for an early-in-production photo are usually right there when you start: You’ve got the cast right there, the props, and the set waiting to be used, and it takes two minutes to get everybody to pose for a shot and then upload it to the internet. In the past, we had to wait until the trailer was released to begin truly drooling over the upcoming summer film slate–now, we can start staring at photos of what’s coming before the thing has even started shooting.