Remember The Time An Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Was Advertised In Space?

Image: Columbia Pictures
Image: Columbia Pictures

Last Action Hero is unironically one of my favorite films of the 1990s. It was a critical and commercial disappointment, but the thirty years of distance since its release have helped paint it with a sheen of nostalgia. It’s a sharp and interesting extra meta send up of the kinds of action films star Arnold Schwarzenegger helped popularize, featuring healthy satire and fourth-wall breaking. It’s stupid, but it’s fun. And stupid fun is exactly what Columbia Pictures was aiming for when it bought $500,000 worth of advertising space on the side of a NASA Conestoga rocket. The first ad of its kind, developed by Space Marketing, Inc., an organization set up to help fund the costs of NASA missions.

“After reviewing many possible promotional partners for this historic event, Columbia Pictures was chosen for their ingenious creativity that represents the same goals as the American space program,” said Mike Lawson, president of Space Marketing.


The rocket was intended to launch in May ahead of the film’s June release. The launch was the first of three Commercial Experiment Transporter (COMET) missions, designed by NASA to provide greater access to space for American businesses. It was designed to stay in orbit for two years, conducting experiments in growing plants and crystals in a space environment.

Each of the rocket’s four boosters were painted with Schwarzenegger, while the film’s logo occupied the entirety of the main fuselage. A separate 900-number was set up to allow callers to record a message to be sent into space for $3.50 each.

Due to delays the rocket didn’t actually launch until after the movie had already flopped at the box office. The budget for the film’s protracted 9-month shoot schedule was $85 million, with tens of millions spent on the ad budget (including a $20 million tie-in with Burger King, and a $36 million amusement park ride.) For the movie to gross just $137 million globally, it was clearly a let down. Schwarzenegger’s previous film Terminator 2, by comparison, brought in $521 million.

Last Action Hero was advertised as the movie of the summer in 1993, but due at least in part to it being released in the second week of Jurassic Park’s juggernaut blockbuster status, it never met that expectation. Maybe if the rocket had launched on time, it could have saved the film’s reputation. Or maybe it was just released thirty years too early.

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