Harrison Abbott on movie trailers and spoilers…
Has it ever occurred to you that a sizeable portion of modern movie trailers are almost deliberately calibrated to ruin their respective films? Sure it has! You’re a vaguely cognisant person with at least a few remaining brain cells. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to read (Disclaimer: if you are in fact illiterate and someone is verbally relaying all this to you, then I sincerely apologise and withdraw that last statement).
Regardless, even if this issue weren’t flagrantly apparent to anyone with a baseline, double digit IQ, there would still be a bevy of articles out there preemptively making the point for me. Indeed, numerous outlets and pundits have produced near-interchangeable exposés on the subject, from Looper to WhatCulture, Digital Spy, Collider and even Chris Stuckmann. And that’s just the first page of Google results! Hell, for all I know, this very site has published something along these lines!
With all that being said, you’d assume that the topic had been minded exhaustively for all its worth. And you would be absolutely right! Still, I’m going to persist in retreading old ground anyway, because when I say things they automatically become more profound and insightful, just by virtue of me having said them.
Returning to the point at hand, it often feels like there are many disgruntled PR teams out there, seemingly intent on using careless spoilers to undermine the very films they were hired to promote. Of course, the sensible among us recognise that this isn’t case and understand that the fault cannot be attributed to front-line staff. Instead it must be traced all the way to the top, where twitchy studio heads brainlessly mandate that advertising be turned up to 11, and sign-off on ridiculously detailed trailers that hold absolutely nothing back. As much as we like to blame those poor marketing schmucks for these missteps- often saying things like ”Warner Bros. really need to fire their trailer editors”- the truth is they’re just following orders, playing to the tune of the actual culprits; panicky execs.
Typically driven by either money-starved desperation, cocaine-fuelled paranoia or, most likely, a potent combination of the two, these corporate numbskulls are positively adamant that every single release needs to be a record-breaking, box office titan. Which means that there can be no room for modest successes or sleeper hits, as everything needs to be hopelessly nipping at the heels of Avatar.
To that end, these clueless money men are notoriously insistent that all the best moments and lines from their tentpole movies be crammed into trailers. That way the hype-train will theoretically have a better chance of reeling in the gullible masses, who have naively assumed that the promotion is only scratching the surface of what’s in store. At least that’s the intention, but as we all know, this tactic rarely pays off. On the contrary, it has a habit of backfiring quite spectacularly.
Because this precarious ruse can only be sustained for so long and when the anticipated films are eventually released, viewers will inevitably discover that they were misled and shown everything up front. Bad word of mouth subsequently begins to spread, the reputation of the movie is irrevocably damaged and its financial performance takes a corresponding dip. Don’t believe me? Check out the numbers for Godzilla (2014) or Batman v Superman.
Now I’m not suggesting that the big-wigs are wilfully sabotaging their own business or anything and I understand the misguided logic at play. The entertainment landscape is becoming increasingly competitive, with films having to fend off the more alluring prospects of streaming services (with their amazing value for money), video-games (which potentially offer months of interactive goodness) and YouTube videos (A free and addictive platform with endless content), not to mention all the other major blockbusters that are in cinemas. All of these mediums are simultaneously vying for the public’s ever-fickle attention and people only have so much time on their hands, what with their pesky requirements to work, eat and sleep. In such a chaotic, high-stakes environment, it only makes sense for marketing campaigns to go big or go home. I get that. I do
Nevertheless, what these studios are routinely underestimating is the power of a good tease. Suggestion and mystery can go a long way, enticing audiences with the promise of what’s to come. The promotion for The Force Awakens was a fantastic example of this, showing very little and doing wonders for the film’s mystique. In turn, it managed to spark rampant speculation for months-on-end and created a ravenous hunger for more.
Unfortunately, rather than learning from this success (or from others like it, e.g: Inception, Cloverfield), studios seem content to repeat the exact same mistake over and over again, dumping all their proverbial eggs into one spoiler-filled basket. As a result, we are treated annually to a thoroughly predictable summer movie season, with very few surprises and films that we already know like the back of our hands.
The spoiling can come in many varieties, from ”teasers” that blow their entire load in just under 3 minutes, showing all the money shots and best set-pieces (see Justice League or Alien: Covenant), to those commercials that break down every major plot point as if to save audiences the trouble of buying a ticket (see Spider-Man: Homecoming or Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). It’s gotten so excessive, that previews often feel less like marketing tools and more like abridged cuts. Hell, it’s even now commonplace for trailers to give away earth-shattering plot twists, or things that were clearly filmed as surprises (See either of the last two Terminator movies or Kingsman: The Golden Circle).
But why do this? Why set your films up to fail? After all, the strategy has a proven track record of being at best ineffectual and, at worst, downright crippling to a movie’s reception. Think about it, there’s only two conceivable scenarios here. No.1) The film’s success is a foregone conclusion, either due to brand recognition or star power, and so you don’t need to show all your cards in order to get bums in seats. Or No.2) No one gives a shit about your product in the first place, in which case you’re only giving them another excuse to skip it, by offering them what is essentially the cinematic equivalent of a SparkNotes summary.
There’s no foreseeable outcome where this approach is beneficial. If anything, you’re just reducing demand by giving prospective customers the goods ahead of release. Which would be an altruistic move, were it even remotely intentional. As it stands though, it’s just poor business. Not only is it bad for the industry, who are effectively devaluing their own output, but it’s also lousy for consumers, as they find themselves unable to experience a movie without already knowing every narrative beat inside-out.
Of course, all this stuff has been well documented before and there’s certainly no shortage of online material echoing my sentiments. By now it’s safe to assume that most people are on the same page, with the general consensus- even among casual moviegoers- being that modern trailers give away far too much. Frankly, it’s plain to see and didn’t demand another article.
Which is fine, because that’s not what this piece concerns. Instead, this is about a mystifying and ongoing backlash that the debate seems to attract. More specifically, it is about a ludicrous counterpoint that is often used to try and discredit those who hold movie marketing to a higher standard. It’s a flimsy argument, one that doesn’t hold up under even the slightest scrutiny.
To find an example of this rationale, all you need to do is give a cursory glance over the aforementioned articles’ comment sections. There. you’re all-but-guaranteed to see people furiously rebuking everything they’ve just read, weirdly taking offence on behalf of studio execs they’ve never met. When doing this, there are a couple of staple defences they’ll put forward , such as ”well, the film made $700 million, so clearly you’re in the minority” (as if ticket sales have any correlation to customer satisfaction), or ”all movies are predictable nowadays, so what harm do these trailers really do?” (as if such low standards are worth maintaining).
But these detractors do have a crown jewel in their asinine arsenal, one they believe to be so exceedingly ingenious, that it is capable of shutting down any further discussion. In reality though, this supposed trump card is nothing but a smug, dismissive hand wave, thoroughly simplistic, completely lacking in nuance and liable to make anyone who uses it look like an immature asshat. In case you were wondering, this secret weapon is expressed thusly:
”If you’ve got such a problem with trailers, then just stop watching them!”
Oh I see, it’s all my fault! I’m to blame for not avoiding these extravagant marketing campaigns! Well phew! I’m glad we cleared that up, now I have a workable solution. All I need to do is organise my entire fucking life around innumerable TV spots, movie trailers, unskippable YouTube videos, and sponsored social media posts! It’s so obvious now: the billion dollar corporations shouldn’t be taking responsibility for any this shit, it’s up to me to put the work in.
Thank God the answer wasn’t stupidly reductive or blatantly impractical! Although I must admit, I do have a couple of questions. Maybe I could get some clarification once you conceited, Kool-Aid guzzling sycophants have finished rimming the executives over at Paramount.
Firstly, how come you weasely minions have to grovel at the feet of these companies, every single time someone dares criticise them? Secondly, why in the name of Zeus’ butthole is the onus on me to shield myself from spoilers? If anything, the studios should be trying their damndest to protect the integrity of their releases, not the other way around. There’s no reason for me to do damage control because these people can’t keep it in their pants. After all, it’s their product on the line!
…Click below to continue on to the second page…