The seemingly AI-generated ads for 'Civil War,' A24's most expensive film, are laughable — especially if you're from Chicago

  • A24 is getting backlash for using images to promote "Civil War" that, according to a report, are AI-generated.

  • One image apparently meant to show Chicago had an iconic building in a nonsensical location.

  • Some wondered why A24 would use AI given how controversial its been in the film industry.

"Civil War," the most expensive film to date for film-industry darling A24, crushed at the box office in its first weekend — but some images used to promote the film have been met with swift and stark backlash.

The film, which had a production budget of $50 million, follows a group of journalists sometime in the near future when the US is in a full-blown civil war. The movie topped the box office on its opening weekend, selling an estimated $25.7 million in tickets in North America — a figure that includes me, as I saw the film on Sunday.

A few days after its successful opening, A24 posted a series of images promoting the movie to Instagram, but the post was quickly met with outrage over the apparent use of AI.

An unnamed source close to the film told The Hollywood Reporter that the images were AI-generated. A24 did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

In an initial swipe of the images, which appeared to show places across America destroyed and war-torn, you might not notice anything off — unless, of course, you're from Chicago, as I am, in which case you probably laughed out loud when you reached the fifth slide, as I did.

The image shows the iconic Marina City towers, a pair of buildings constructed in the 1960s that are adjacent to each other and span almost an entire city block on the north side of the Chicago River. Even if you're not from Chicago, you might recognize their distinctive appearance, famous for resembling a Midwest favorite: corn on the cob. (They were also featured on the cover of the beloved 2002 indie album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" by the Chicago-based band Wilco.)

The image shared by A24 would certainly be evocative — one of the towers is burning — if you can get over the fact that the Chicago River is somehow now flowing in between the two buildings, meaning one of the towers now appears to be sitting on an island that currently does not exist.

Theoretically, there could be a time in the future when the landscape of downtown Chicago is fundamentally and absurdly altered to fork the river and create this island, allowing one of the towers to be relocated. But, um, what?

It also wasn't the only aspect of the images that raised eyebrows. One image appears to show soldiers in a boat somewhere near Los Angeles pointing their guns at a giant swan. Perhaps the swan is meant to be a paddle boat, like the ones you can rent on Echo Park Lake? It certainly does not look like it. Plus, if you zoom in, the soldier in the back of the boat appears to be entirely missing legs, with his upper body floating in space.

Another image that looks like it's supposed to be Miami features a car that appears to have three doors. And in an image that apparently is meant to be New York City's Washington Square Park, the historic arch now seems to have a street running between it and the rest of the park. Other potential AI fails in the images have also been called out.

The backlash in the comments was swift, with people blasting A24 for supposedly using AI-generated art. "Why do you keep posting these ridiculous AI posters. Hire an actual artist," one comment with more than 6,000 likes said.

"A24 using ai for advertising might be a sign, maybe its the beginning of the end for a company that used to rely on indie aesthetics," a comment that got over 3,000 likes said of the company, which made a name for itself in part for indie movies that were also accessible. "It's incredibly disappointing."

The source close to the movie who talked to The Hollywood Reporter said the AI-generated images were meant to convey the potential impact of a fictionalized civil war.

"These are AI images inspired by the movie," the source told the outlet. "The entire movie is a big 'what if,' and so we wanted to continue that thought on social — powerful imagery of iconic landmarks with that dystopian realism."

Some commenters also questioned the wisdom of A24 using AI, given the AI concerns expressed during the film-industry strikes last year and a recent controversy with another movie.

Promotion for the horror-comedy "Late Night with the Devil" has been bogged down by complaints that the filmmakers used AI. The directors have said that, in conjunction with their graphics and design team, they used AI for three still images that were then edited further and appeared in the movie briefly.

Marketing for "Civil War" has been controversial even beyond the use of AI, with some people criticizing it as misleading. For instance, none of the scenes depicted in the controversial ad images appear in the movie.

In part because of the marketing, when I saw the film, it was quite different from what I expected, and yet I loved it.

But a large reason I loved the movie was how terrifyingly plausible it all felt. I felt like I was watching a place I know intimately torn asunder. The result was deeply unsettling, a reaction I imagine the filmmakers wanted.

The images A24 posted do not do that feeling — or the movie they're supposed to be promoting — justice.

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