Movie trailers spoil too much because we want them to

6 min read
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Ant-Man (4)

Yesterday, I found myself embroiled in a heated email conversation with some friends. See, I had apparently spoiled Ant-Man for some people. In a nutshell, after checking out our awesome Ant-Man competition, a non-comic book reading friend had some queries about Hank Pym/Scott Lang. I explained that Pym was the original comic-book Ant-Man who handed over the mantle to Lang for a while some years back, and in the movie Michael Douglas plays an older Pym who had been Ant-Man back in the day, and was now handing over the suit to Rudd’s Lang.

And then things blew up. Two friends claimed that I had just spoiled the movie for them. A fact that I strongly disagreed with, as the one sentence I had said revealed nothing about the movie’s plot. And besides, they’ve shown Pym giving Lang the Ant-Man suit in every single trailer that has been revealed, so no big deal, right?!

Well, here’s the problem. These friends have been avoiding everything they can about the movie and had thus not watched the trailers. They had adopted this ex-communication as a response to having been spoiled by other movie trailers in the past. And while I disagree with their definition of a “spoiler”, I can’t blame them as we’ve all been severely cheesed off before when movies gave away their entire plot in the trailers, right?

jake-gyllenhaal-southpaw

Wrong. It turns out that people like my friends are way more rare than you might think, because as was revealed in a recent EW article, people actually want to have movies spoiled for them by the trailers. Using the recent spoilery trailers for Southpaw, Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys, EW spoke to those film’s directors to get their thoughts on major plot points being thrown out willy-nilly in previews months before their movie’s release. It seems that none of them were happy about it.

Antoine Fuqua, director of Southpaw, the trailer for which showed a major character being shot and killed:

“I was concerned about [the revelation], for sure. I still am. And I spoke my mind about it.”

Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World, the promo campaign of which was plastered with the big money shot of Chris Pratt leading a pack of raptors on his motorcycle:

“In my opinion, [the studio has] shown far more of this movie than I would ever have wanted.”

Alan Taylor, director of Terminator Genisys, whose last trailer gave away the entire big third act plot twist about who the true villain was.

“I certainly directed those scenes with the intention that no one would know. One of my favorite moments  [REDACTED FOR YOUR PROTECTION] and everything from there until the turn, you’re supposed to think, Oh man, this is great.”

“I had a few heads ups and a few unpleasant conversations where I squawked about this or that.”

terminator-genisys-arnold

So if the directors didn’t want this info out there, then why was it included in trailers? Well, simply put: Audiences want it there. Matt Brubaker, President of Trailer Park, the firm that put together Southpaw‘s spoiler-filled trailer, explains:

“There was a lot of discussion internally whether to show [REDACTED]… But it was decided to show more of the good, so to speak. People have felt burned in the past. If someone’s going to pay $20 to go on opening weekend to see this movie, they want to know that they are making a pretty good investment.”

This is an argument that you may have heard – and shaken your head at – before, but it’s also one that’s backed up by facts. Studios conduct intense test screenings prior to a movie’s release to see what works and what doesn’t, and when it comes to trailers the results may be surprising.

“As much as people complain that trailers give away too much, nine times out of 10, the more of the plot you give away, the more interest you garner from the audiences. Audiences respond to the trailers with more of the movie.”

Dan Asma, co-owner of trailer company Buddha Jones, echoed that sentiment as they found the same happening with their test screenings, and just couldn’t ignore it.

“We prefer to be mysterious. That’s what good marketing is. But what can we do when testing and focus grouping consistently say that numbers spike when you give away more of the story?”

There does seem to be a definite demographic split though when it comes to who wants to see all the entire film given away in the trailers. Mark Woollen, the man behind the incredible (non-revealing) trailers for The Social Network and The Revenant, reveals that for an upcoming unnamed movie that he’s working on “Older audiences seemed to want more plot, and younger audiences were like, ‘Nah, it’s cool.’”

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To be honest, I would have thought it was the other way around, as you would expect younger audience to have more of an “instant gratification” approach to movies, whereas older audiences coming from the pre-internet age of movie advertising where sometimes a poster was all you got, would have preferred to go in as clean as possible. Whichever way that chart is broken up though, the data shows that despite how much folks like us might grumble about it, the majority of audiences want spoilers in trailers. Studios are merely playing the demand and supply game here.

There are exceptions though. Christopher Nolan is famous for keeping a tight lid on his productions, and the mysterious but exciting trailers for Inception, Interstellar and The Dark Knight demonstrate this approach perfectly. The difference is that Nolan has enough Hollywood clout that he has it written into his contract that he has final say about the film’s marketing. Other directors simply don’t have that sway, as Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua stated that “The audience sometimes, I guess, needs a little bit more [plot], especially for this type of movie. So I had to roll with it. I trust them, [Southpaw’s distributor] the Weinstein Company.”

And when Southpaw opened this weekend past on a very limited release, it ended up making well above initial estimates. So I guess Fuqua’s trust in the studio was well founded, and despite how much it may irk me, we shouldn’t expect spoilery trailers to go away anytime soon.

Now for me to go spoil Ant-Man some more for my friends by revealing that this movie actually takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: July 28, 2015

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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