Jigsaw the Cinephile: Was Lionsgate’s Saw Parody of AMC’s Iconic Nicole Kidman Ad Fair Use?

Brooke Levy

Anyone who has been to an AMC movie theater in the past two years (or, really, anyone who is loosely familiar with Internet meme culture) should now be familiar with the infamous and incredibly camp Nicole Kidman AMC advertisement.[1] The advertisement features the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress wistfully waltzing into an AMC movie theater on a rainy evening, settling into a pristine leather chair, and sitting back to have what appears to be a euphoric and borderline life-altering experience—notably with her poetic, ASMR-esque voiceover in the background. Perhaps unintentionally, the ad took the internet by storm, resulting in inspiration for Halloween costumes,[2] a parody on Saturday Night Live,[3] and movie-goers saluting, reciting, and applauding in theaters.[4]

Seemingly to capitalize on the impact that the ad has made on popular culture, Lionsgate released a parodic version of the ad last month to promote the upcoming release of Saw X.[5] In the parody, Jigsaw (the Saw franchise’s titular serial killer) provides a voiceover while Billy (the creepy puppet who serves as a symbol for Jigsaw) rides his tricycle into a movie theater and settles into his seat to watch some of his own greatest hits (namely, torturing his victims). Nicole’s most iconic line from the original ad—“Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this”—is replaced by a one more suited to Jigsaw’s personality: “Somehow, self-amputation feels good in a place like this.”

Interestingly, Lionsgate removed the ad shortly after it was first released, with neither Lionsgate nor AMC providing official comment regarding why.[6] (Accordingly, the link to the parody included in the previous paragraph is an unofficial version that was captured and uploaded by a fan.) My best guess is that the ad was removed because AMC wasn’t happy with such a gory parody of their work, and Lionsgate was uninterested in a legal battle with the theater giant—especially since AMC would likely be one of the primary distributors of Saw X. Ultimately, as a law student with one intellectual property class under my belt, I think the Lionsgate ad would have qualified as fair use under U.S. copyright law as a parody, if Lionsgate decided to fight AMC in court.

The fair use doctrine was developed as a defense to alleged copyright infringement and was codified in 1976 by 17 U.S.C. § 107. The statute delineates what are referred to as the four fair use factors: (1) purpose and character of the use, (2) nature of the copyrighted work, (3) amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and (4) effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.[7]

When enacting § 107, Congress emphasized that “[b]eyond a very broad statutory explanation of what fair use is and some of the criteria applicable to it, the courts must be free to adapt the doctrine to particular situations on a case-by-case basis.”[8]

The fair use defense was most recently examined in the highly-anticipated Supreme Court case of Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts v. Goldsmith, where the Court issued a narrow holding regarding the first fair use factor: purpose and character.[9] Notably, Warhol was only recently decided, and it’s unclear how it will be interpreted by courts and applied to cases involving parodies.

The most important case for the present analysis is the Supreme Court’s earlier decision in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.—which the Warhol court cites and which remains good law—where the Court held that “parody, like other comment or criticism, may claim fair use under § 107” and highlighted parody’s “obvious claim to transformative value.”[10] In Campbell, the Court found that a rap parody of Roy Orbison’s song, “Oh, Pretty Woman,” was protected by a fair use defense under § 107, even despite its commercial use, since “the commercial or nonprofit educational purpose of a work is only one element of the first [fair use] factor enquiry into its purpose and character.”[11] Likewise, the Court highlighted how, in regard to the third fair use factor, “parody needs to mimic an original to make its point, and so has some claim to use the creation of its victim's (or collective victims') imagination.”[12]

Thus, based on § 107 and fair use and parody have been interpreted in Warhol and Campbell respectively, it appears that Lionsgate would have been able to successfully claim a fair use defense for their parody.


[1] AMC Theatres, AMC Theatres. We Make Movies Better., YouTube (Sept. 8 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiEeIxZJ9x0 [https://perma.cc/D5F5-WA9T] [http://web.archive.org/web/20231019191004/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiEeIxZJ9x0]

[2] Sarah Maberry, Where To Buy Nicole Kidman's Iconic AMC Cinema Ad Look for a Halloween Costume, Good Housekeeping (Sept. 30, 2015), https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/halloween-ideas/a45306323/nicole-kidman-amc-cinema-ad-costume-where-to-buy/ [https://perma.cc/4YAC-35XU] [http://web.archive.org/web/20231019191554/https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/halloween-ideas/a45306323/nicole-kidman-amc-cinema-ad-costume-where-to-buy/].

[3] Saturday Night Live, Nicole Kidman AMC Ad – SNL, YouTube (Oct. 2, 2022), https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=a22c8NPNOPI [https://perma.cc/4JYG-YRYQ] [https://web.archive.org/web/20230000000000*/https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=a22c8NPNOPI].

[4] See, e.g., Madison Iseman, Please Rise for Our National Anthem, TikTok (Aug. 16 2022), https://www.tiktok.com/@madisoniseman/video/7132539002078367022?_r=1&_t=8gcfMWfpJ7r [https://perma.cc/FQ74-388K] [http://web.archive.org/web/20231019193014/https://www.tiktok.com/@madisoniseman/video/7132539002078367022?_r=1&_t=8gcfMWfpJ7r].

[5] JoBlo Horror Trailers, SAW X | "We Come To This Place" Trailer (NEW 2023), YouTube (Sept. 13, 2023), https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=Hewhq7KEuW8&t=6s [https://perma.cc/ZK3W-LERU] [http://web.archive.org/web/20231019193431/https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=Hewhq7KEuW8&t=6s].

[6] Saleah Blancaflor, ‘Saw X’ Creates a Clever Parody of AMC’s Nicole Kidman Ad—Then Deletes It, Fast Co. (Sept. 14, 2023), https://www.fastcompany.com/90953715/saw-x-parody-amc-nicole-kidman-ad [https://perma.cc/KM2J-N3HR] [http://web.archive.org/web/20231019193804/https://www.fastcompany.com/90953715/saw-x-parody-amc-nicole-kidman-ad].

[7] 17 U.S.C. § 107.

[8] Peter S. Menell et al., Intellectual Property in the New Technology Age: 2022, at 798 (2022) (quoting H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, at 66).

[9] Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts v. Goldsmith, 598 U.S. 508 (2023).

[10] Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc, 510 U.S. 569, 579 (1994).

[11] Id. at 584.

[12] Id. at 580–81.