In today's day and age it's become increasingly easier to gather large amounts of information about a new movie before it's even been released. We have pictures, leaks, rumors, and, more importantly, trailers. And this information is largely avoidable unless you actively seek it out, except, of course, for trailers. Trailers are a way of letting the audience know what a movie is about, what it'll look like, and whether or not it's worth seeing before the movie actually comes out based on the viewers' preferences. Studios will make it their business to put the trailer out as many times in as many places as possible before the actual release of the movie to reach out to large numbers of people. But when does it stop being a trailer and when does it start spoiling the experience of movie goers?
We all want to walk into a movie to be surprised but if we don't watch trailers how will we know if the movie is worth watching in the first place? Some movie trailers, like one of my favorites for Mad Max: Fury Road, are a work of art in and of themselves. With a masterful combination of some of the movie's highlights, the perfect use use of an amazing soundtrack, and very minimal exposition, a trailer can be just as great an experience as the movie itself. But there are still a lot of trailers that show too much, give away crucial plot elements, or even reveal major twists, which essentially summarize the entire movie (like the ill-fated The Amazing Spiderman 2 trailer). Here are some of the major issues I've found with a lot of trailers.
1. They're the sparknotes version of the movie
This happens most commonly with comedies or horror movies where the trailer will give away the entire plot of the film and basically summarize it for you in a nice package so you know exactly what you're getting into. Generally this is because the film itself isn't about the plot at all, rather about the moments throughout (like jokes or jump scares) that will make people want to watch the film. So the trailer will generally show scenes from the movie as they would appear chronologically and may even put one or two plot twists in there that will spoil key elements, giving you the sense that you just saw the entire movie but for a few scenes. For an example, the Ghostbusters trailer below giving away the entire plot, any interesting plot elements, and some of the jokes that would have been fun to watch in the movie. We don't know for sure if this is the entire film since it hasn't come out, but it sure feels like it.
2. They give away major plot points
In order to get audiences interested in a movie, the studio will show interesting scenes from the movie in the trailer. But sometimes these scenes are so clearly major plot points or incredibly emotional scenes from within the movie that really spoil the surprise for you. You're no longer going into the movie wondering what will happen next, instead you're going into the movie going "oh this is where so and so happens. I know this because I saw it in the trailer". For an example, watch the Captain America: Civil War trailer below (a trailer I didn't mean to watch but couldn't avoid it). In the trailer, they literally show the death of one of their major characters and they dwell on it, something that would have come as a surprise or a big reveal in the movie (as most in-movie deaths should be). So you're no longer going to feel any emotional shock when this character dies in the movie itself as you've already seen it in the trailer.
3. They can be misleading
Another problem with a trailer is that it won't grasp the actual feel of the movie and make it seem like it belongs to a whole other genre that's completely misleading to viewers. This will cause audiences to go into a film expecting to watch, say, a comedy, and end up watching something more along the lines of a drama. It's not to say that one genre of movie is better than any other, but the mindset and expectations you have for a movie and how well they match those expectations will play a part in determining how good a movie is. For example, if someone told you Schindler's List is a comedy and you go to see it for the first time, you'll probably end up highly disappointed and angry. We can all agree that Schindler's List is a great film, but it would make for a terrible comedy. For an example of this, The Skeleton Twins trailer below shows the movie as a mature comedy, showing a whole reel of humorous moments, jokes, and even highlighting the cast of great comedians, when the movie itself is more of a drama than a comedy.
So why is this happening?
So why are trailers so hard to make? A lot of the issues come because the trailers aren't made by the directors or producers or really anybody who had anything to do with the movies themselves. They're generally made by either the studio's in house marketing team or an outside trailer production agency known as a 'Trailer House'. This means that the people creating the trailer won't be entirely familiar with the film and would have to classify movies quickly in order to get the trailer done fast. The studio will also be under pressure from investors to showcase what the investments went towards. If you gave thousands of dollars to see a movie get made, you'd probably be upset if the trailer was just a couple of shots with some voiceover, regardless of whether or not the finished product is any good. You want to see something substantial so you're reassured your investment was worth it and it was used for more than just b-roll. Films tailored for children especially will want to show off their marketability by showing any character or prop that may be coming to toy shelves near you before the movie itself actually comes out. Additionally, studios are no longer limited to just having a 30-second long TV spots because with the internet they can release a 3 minute long video that fans will watch over and over again anytime they please. In order to fill up these 3 minutes, it's easy to use a lot of footage from the movie rather than focusing on a single scene. Additionally, studios will want to have marketing campaigns going on a lot longer than they should, having teasers for a teaser for a trailer for their movie that won't come out until a year from then (like Ant Man).