Rain Man is one of the most memorable films of the 1980s. Starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, the comedy-drama tells an interesting tale of two brothers’ cross-country journey and the realities of living with a mental illness.
Rain Man was extremely successful, making a huge profit and winning several Academy Awards. Yet, despite its huge potential, Rain Man’s marketing team experienced difficulty figuring out how to promote the movie prior to its release.
Tom Cruise says the marketing team struggled to find creative ways to promote ‘Rain Man’
Rain Man received near-universal acclaim upon its release in 1988 and grossed over $350 million, according to Box Office Mojo. However, leading up to the movie’s release, the film’s marketing department struggled to find a compelling way to promote the film. Few people could deduce the movie’s meaning based on its flyer, and the film’s abstract title didn’t do much to help sell it either. Cruise recalled the challenge of selling the film based on its name in an 2017 interview with BBC Radio 1.
“Rain Man is another one, we’re like, ‘Can’t figure out a better title for the movie than Rain Man?” Cruise said. “When it came out, we’re like, ‘How are we gonna sell that? Rain Man, what’s it mean?”
Cruise also remembered the intense discussions the team had about promoting the film during marketing meetings.
“You know, we’d be in marketing meetings, they’d go, ‘What’s it mean?’ ‘Well, you’ve gotta see the movie.’ ‘But how do we sell that?’ It’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know, that’s your job. We make the movie.’”
The ‘Rain Man’ production team struggled to find a screenwriter and director, as well
Prior to marketing the film, the production team had even bigger problems. They had to deal with a revolving door of above-the-line talent, going through six screenwriters and three directors before ending up with Barry Levinson.
When asked why it took so long to find a director that could complete the film, Levinson told Rolling Stone “Nobody could quite get a handle on it, make a personal connection.”
Director Barry Levinson relied on the characters in ‘Rain Man’ for guidance
Levinson’s ability to connect with Rain Man’s iconic characters gave him the confidence to move forward with the film. The dynamic between Cruise and Dustin Hoffman was a major point of emphasis for him and drove his decision making.
“I start from the point of view of character,” Levinson said in the same interview. “This is dangerous, because if the characters don’t really work, then you’re gone. But I liked Raymond and Charlie. Charlie is a salesman. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s hustled and manipulated. Raymond is an autistic. He’s never been out into the real world. Raymond is like something I’ve never quite seen.”
Diving into the specifics of how he handled directing, Levinson explained how he dialed into the frustration and humor between Cruise and Hoffman’s characters.
“To fully realize these characters, my idea was to ask, cinematically, what happens when Charlie talks to his autistic brother? He can’t sell him, because no matter what he says or how he tries to con him, Raymond wants what he wants. Raymond never initiates a conversation. Raymond never looks at you when he talks. … Many audiences like gizmos, plot things, cops and all that kind of s—, in which I’m not interested. If I can show the autism for what it is and understand it – show the frustration and the humor – if I can make the relationship work with these two guys on the road, then that’s enough for me.”
Rain Man went on to be a massive success, earning four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor for Hoffman.