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Civil War: A24's AI Posters Controversy, Explained

Even before its release, Alex Garland's "Civil War" courted controversy with its naturally contentious plot, which sees a divided America descend into a full-blown civil war, with the Western Forces of California and Texas rebelling against an authoritarian federal government. Xoop's review of "Civil War" praised the powerful filmmaking on display, and strong reviews may have played a role in why the film blew up at the box office. Now, the movie is embroiled in a different kind of controversy — utilizing AI to generate its promotional posters. 

A24 uploaded some posters for "Civil War" on Instagram, and some have even been plastered in cities in real life. However, there are some telltale signs in the posters that AI could've been used in their creation. The posters showcase various scenes of wanton destruction in noteworthy American locales, but certain aspects don't add up. For example, one poster shows soldiers pointing a gun at a swan boat in Echo Park Lake, but it just looks like a giant swan rather than a paddleboat. Plus, why would soldiers target such a swan in the first place? Additionally, a poster set in Miami has a car with three doors on one side. 

The Hollywood Reporter even published a statement from a source familiar with the film, apparently confirming that AI was used for these posters. "These are AI images inspired by the movie," they said. "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."

A24 fans aren't happy with the Civil War AI posters

Replacing artists with AI is a sore subject for many, especially as it was a major source of contention for both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes in 2023. Additionally, "Late Night with the Devil" became one of the most controversial movies of 2024 when it was revealed that the film features AI-generated artwork. "Civil War" is now controversial for more than one reason, and while people can debate the merits of the political machinations depicted in the movie, the AI posters are almost universally despised. 

People didn't hold back their thoughts on X (formerly known as Twitter). @thebeckydodd hated seeing A24 descend to such artistically bankrupt depths, writing, "Super disappointing to see A24 whom I have always thought of as very artist friendly in terms of Hollywood utilizing AI generated posters for marketing Civil War...I truly had thought better of them." For some, like @BEANS_IS_CANNED, the posters practically ruin what was otherwise a great movie. "Civil War is already as good as it is, hearing about it after the movie almost ruined it for me," they remarked.

The posters are part of marketing, which means Alex Garland and others who actually worked on the movie probably had nothing to do with them. But it's disappointing all the same, especially as "Civil War" is about the paramount importance of photojournalism and depicting truth in the world. These posters sully the reputation of what's otherwise a thought-provoking film. A weird-looking swan is one thing, but it's a slippery slope for studios wanting to use AI more prominently in movies beyond some promotional images. Studios should always hire real artists; they can afford it.