The Email Is a Paid Actor: How Emails Make Movies Scarier, Funnier, and Just Better

The Email Is a Paid Actor: How Emails Make Movies Scarier, Funnier, and Just Better
11 March, 2024 • ... • 3721 views
Daria Zhuravleva
by Daria Zhuravleva

The Oscar Season is coming! Last year, we made our own Email Academy Awards. In 2024, we’re going for something different.

Think of this. Emails have become a part of our everyday lives since the late 1990s. But they are a bit hard to show on silver screens, and texting is more realistic in the 2020s, especially in movies about younger people. So, do emails get acting gigs? Yes.

We managed to find some interesting use cases of emails in films, including the relatively recent ones — and we learned that they can be very versatile “actors”! From moving the plot to adding realism, from scary details to comedic moments — they can do it all. Keep reading to learn about Selzy’s favorite examples.

Warning! This article may contain spoilers for the following movies: Tár, Split, Love, Simon, You’ve Got Mail. Proceed with caution.

🎨 Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001): More streaks to the portraits

In this romcom classic, Bridget Jones exchanges Hotmail (pun intended) messages with her colleague Daniel Cleaver, who later becomes the main antagonist of the whole movie series. The slightly villainous nature of this character is revealed in that email exchange. The conversation is about Bridget’s skirt length, discussed with a solid amount of innuendos, which is a little bit of a red flag…

Bridget Jones’s Diary screenshot of an email to Mr. Cleaver that starts with “Am appalled by message”
Source: Product Placement Blog

Why is it cool? This short message exchange tells us a lot about the characters and the situation they’re in — it reveals Bridget’s snarky personality and Daniel’s lowkey concerning attitude toward women. Also, it’s curious how the “silent” nature of emails allows this interaction to happen in the first place: the conversation is a bit intimate, so it can’t happen in front of other colleagues in the office.

Want to write better jokes for your marketing emails than the one about the skirt on sick leave? Check out Selzy’s guide on email copywriting.

💔 Love, Simon (2018): A secret life

The main character of Love, Simon lives a double life, with secrets unfolding on the mobile screen in a chat with his pen pal. One interesting detail is that in the movie, emails are not shown on screen that often — they’re narrated instead. This resolves two issues at once: overcoming the challenge of visualizing the screen content and introducing much longer conversations, unlike in our previous example.

Love, Simon email screenshot, a laptop screen with a long email and an unfinished sign-off
Source: 20th Century Fox
Love, Simon email shown on mobile phone, email from blugreen118 that says “Jacques, if I were a betting man I’d say you were drunk emailing during that last letter.”
Source: 20th Century Fox

Why is it cool? Since digital conversations can be held on the go, adding emails as a plot-driving force is a great way to show how one’s life can divide in two due to keeping secrets, and all the mental torment that comes with it. Simon is both in the metaphorical and digital closet, and both are about to be violated in the film.

Never ever violate your email subscribers’ privacy — read Selzy’s guide on GDPR and email marketing.

📢 Missing (2023): A touch of realism

Last year’s Missing is not your average thriller flick — it’s a screenlife movie, which means that the entire film is happening on the screen of one device. While the protagonist tries to find her missing mother, she breaks into the inbox of her mother’s boyfriend and finds out interesting things about him. Along with a bunch of promotional newsletters…

Missing screenshot of a promotional email from Cinespia
Source: Sony Pictures Releasing
Missing screenshot of a promotional email from JetBlue airline company
Source: Sony Pictures Releasing
Missing screenshot of a feedback email from Gold’s Gym
Source: Sony Pictures Releasing
Missing screenshot of a newsletter from The New York Times
Source: Sony Pictures Releasing
Missing screenshot of a transactional email from a security camera shop
Source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Why is it cool? While adding different types of marketing emails may seem unnecessary, it adds to the realism — we believe that the protagonist is searching for something in a cluttered Gmail inbox. It also adds to the anxiety, since the protagonist is scrolling through a bunch of mostly unread promotional newsletters, and creates the feeling of suspense — we have to wait until the big reveal, not get it right away. Also, we appreciate the director acknowledging the existence of email marketing!

💌 You’ve Got Mail (1998): The powerhouse of the plot

You’ve Got Mail is a modern adaptation of the 1940s film The Shop Around the Corner, which is a screen adaptation of Parfumerie, a Hungarian play. Originally, it was a story about two real-life rivals becoming pen pals and falling in love. In You’ve Got Mail, pens are replaced with keyboards, and letters are sent via AOL.

Email screenshot from You’ve Got Mail, with the subject line “Dear Friend”
Source: BuzzFeed
Email screenshot from You’ve Got Mail, the subject line is “In Case You Were Wondering, I’m Not Perfect”
Source: Product Placement Blog

Why is it cool? At that time, emails and the internet in general were a relatively new technology, which effectively modernized and brought extra novelty-induced excitement to the story. One interesting detail is that being digital pen pals in the 1990s was not the same as now — you were not online 24/7, smartphones didn’t exist, and the internet was a separate physical place — your work table with a personal computer. So, the anticipation element of actual letters is still in place!

🆘 Split (2016): A cry for help

In Split, the movie about a kidnapper with multiple personalities, emails play more of a supporting role — we don’t even see the content. Nonetheless, they add an important detail to the story! In one of the scenes, we can see the inbox of Dr. Fletscher, the kidnapper’s psychiatrist. In the inbox, we find 20 unread emails from “Barry”, one of the kidnapper’s personalities, with the same subject line.

Screenshot from the movie Split with 20 new emails from Barry S., all have the same subject line “We need you.”
Source: Reddit

Why is it cool? Since these are 20 emails sent within minutes, we may assume that each of them was sent by a different personality using the email address of “Barry”. The problem is, the character has more than 20 “alters” — and those not involved with emails are plotting something bad. So, we can’t help but feel sorry for Kevin, which is the actual name of the character — is he a villain or a victim of his split mind?

👻 Tár (2022): The haunted inbox

In the middle of Tár, the story about a well-renowned conductor and composer falling from grace, there’s a curious scene that reveals what actually is going on with the movie’s titular character. In this scene, we find Lydia Tár cleaning her “Sent” email folder of all the messages mentioning Krista Taylor, a young conductor who took her own life, as we learned minutes before.

Tar movie screenshot with emails Tar sends to different orchestras not recommending Krista Taylor as a conductor
Source: Universal Pictures
Email screenshot from Tar, subject line Re: Krista Taylor, Recommendation, the email’s first line is Hello Gustavo, I suggest you steer clear of Ms. Taylor…
Source: Universal Pictures
Email screenshot from Tar, subject line Re: Conducting Position for K. Taylor, the email’s first line is Dear Riccardo, Ms. Taylor is a troubled and unstable young woman.
Source: Universal Pictures

Why is it cool? Tár is not a ghost story in a classical sense, since we don’t see anything explicitly supernatural happening. However, the sheer presence of Krista in Lydia’s inbox, silhouettes in the background, a redhead woman in the audience during an interview, and more make us think of ghosts. Sent emails, since they’re digital, are a great way to convey how Krista “haunts” Lydia’s past (and inbox). Also, the fact that the protagonist deletes sent emails as if the recipients will see them deleted too is a bit funny — and it symbolizes how you can’t undo certain things, like taking your words back.

You can’t unsend a sent email but you can make sure your emails don’t go to the wrong or just disinterested people — here’s how to clean your email list for better engagement and less regretful campaigns.

💀 Midsommar (2019): Not-so-subtle foreshadowing

In Ari Aster’s critically acclaimed folk horror flick, the story begins with the tragic demise of Dani’s entire family. However, we don’t see it right away — it all starts with an ominous email from the protagonist’s sister.

Midsommar movie screenshot with a computer screen and Terri Ardor’s email that says “i can’t anymore - everything’s black - mom and dad are coming too. goodbye.”
Source: Reddit

Why is it cool? A good horror piece goes beyond jump scares and gore. Midsommar for sure has both of these but it also creates gutwrenching anxiety in different ways, including this email. Could this interaction between the characters make the same impact if it was a live conversation? No — the distant nature of online communications adds to the protagonists’ helplessness in the situation. Also, the deliberately ambiguous wording of Terri’s email leaves room for many scary interpretations. And, of course, the real meaning turned out to be the worst one from the list…

Make your email the star of the show

As you’ve learned, emails can play important roles in movies — they can do so in your business too. So, if you’re not implementing this channel or producing emails on the leftover principle, you’re definitely missing out.

Email marketing can be an incredibly effective promotional tool — but only if you’re doing it justice. If you don’t know where to start or you’ve been struggling to make your emails effective, try Selzy’s Email Marketing 101 Course. The best part is, it comes with a whole month of Selzy’s Standard plan so you can start practicing right away — and make your emails the main character, deserving of the Oscar 🏆

11 March, 2024
Article by
Daria Zhuravleva
I'm a writer with 3 years of experience, knowledge and interest in all things IT and marketing, and a passion for the English language. As a staff author at Selzy, I see my mission as an educator who makes your life easier by explaining complex topics in a digestible and somewhat entertaining way. Hobbies include birdwatching, all things music and art, writing freeform poetry, and hiding in the woods.
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