[NOTE: This post about movie trailer spoilers contains spoilers for movies spoiled by trailers]
The balance between marketing a film and keeping story surprises secret is a tricky one – especially in an industry that is struggling to woo customers into theaters and away from the comfort of HD TVs. Cutting a movie trailer is tricky – even for highly anticipated films – and even trickier for movies that actually need a strong marketing push. However, in recent years, studios have (arguably) started tipping the balance: forcing out too much information over the chance that they might hold too much back. It’s understandable, given the amount of money that has been shelled out to produce a film, but what ever happened to selling theatergoers on a movie experience instead of its most climactic moments and biggest reveals?
Previously, following a spoiler-filled trailer for The Lazarus Effect, we put together a list of the Best Movie Scenes & Twists Spoiled by Trailers but after the latest Terminator: Genisys trailer left many fans wishing Paramount Pictures had showed a bit more restraint, it’s time to address the question directly: Is too much information in trailers spoiling movies?
Have Studios Always Been Reckless with Spoilers in Movie Trailers?
Marketing a movie is tricky – and, no matter, how good a film might actually be, there’s still a lot of pressure on studio PR departments to get word out. Yet, there’s no question that film trailers have, on average, become more spoiler-heavy when compared to their predecessors. Back in the days of trailer voice guru Don LaFontaine, previews often spelled-out a film premise through voice over narration, with out-of-context shots of action, comedy, and drama peppered in, but stopped short of revealing the movie’s biggest twists and climatic CGI moments.
For readers who don’t remember a time before spoiler-filled trailers – where surprises and eye-popping visuals were outright used to market a film – here are two classic trailers (one known for its shocking twist, the other for its ground-breaking visual effects) that took a less heavy-handed approach:
Compare the trailers for The Sixth Sense and Jurassic Park to the latest trailer for Terminator: Genisys, which outright spoils one of the film’s biggest secrets (John Connor’s hybrid man-machine) or even last year’s Transformers: Age of Extinction (where the third act reveal of Optimus Prime riding robot dinosaur Grimlock was the movie’s primary marketing image).
It’s also worth nothing that, in general, the length of trailers has increased overtime (going from roughly 2 minutes to 2.5 or even 3 minutes) – which doesn’t even include the countless “extended previews” that have become a staple of studio marketing strategy. In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a mix of extended trailers and spoilery clips spelled out nearly every single twist, turn, and plot beat ahead of time (including Harry Osborne’s late-in-the-game transformation and Spider-Man showdown as Green Goblin) – ultimately summarizing the upcoming film, instead of teasing it.
Viewers will debate the fine line between spoiler and core plot – but it’s easy to argue that, at the very least, movie studios have shifted from a more restrained preview approach.
Why Do Studios Put So Many Spoilers in Trailers?
Even if moviegoers (especially cinephiles) agree that trailers show too much, studios clearly have sound reasons to promote their products (yes products) this way. If spoilery previews weren’t making films (and their respective producers) more money than non-spoilery previews, there would be absolutely no reason for studios to take this “more is better” approach to trailers.
Since many moviegoers, and even theater chains, feel strongly that trailers show too much, where is the disconnect? The truth: many film die-hards that try to avoid spoilers will go see a film anyway whereas eye-popping visual effects/brainy twists help woo casual customers who might otherwise have skipped a theater trip entirely.
On any given day, we see many of our commenters respond to spoilery marketing by replying with: “I wish they hadn’t shown [insert spoiler] but I’m totally going to see this anyway.” If those who prefer fewer specifics in trailers will still go see a film, in spite its spoilery marketing, what reason would studios have for being more subtle? Putting it plainly: They’re getting to eat their cake and have it too.
As much as movie fans like to think that story and character drama are still key ingredients in attracting an audience, with higher production costs, heightened expectations for event theater viewing, and an overstuffed market of movie options to choose from, drawing casual attendees with eye-popping visuals (“Optimus Prime rides a robot dinosaur? Wow!”) and in-your-face twists (“John Connor has been turned into a Terminator? What?”) is the safer bet – even if it comes at the expense of more dedicated theatergoers.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that most trailers are cut by a distributor or studio – not the film’s director. Select moviemakers have full control (or influence) over previews and marketing but most do not. For that reason, even if a creator makes a modern movie classic, it’s still up to studio executives to determine how best to market that film – and get as many viewers into theater seats as possible.
“I’m really angry at the trailers. I’m a director, I guess, so I always get pissed at them! The movie looks fantastic and the trailers look so hammily off. The posters are okay, they’re still neutral, but we’re trying to get the film out there so people don’t judge it by the trailer.”
Watch the “hammily off” Mirror Mirror trailer below:
The lesson here? If you think trailers for a film spoil too much – the director of that film is likely to agree.
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