This morning, I watched three new trailers for movies being released: Knock Knock, The Night Before, and Goosebumps. Knock Knock is a horror film about a family man (Keanu Reeves) who invites two sexy female strangers who appear to be distressed into his home. The strangers then proceed to seduce him, to which he gives in reluctantly, but then the girls abduct and torture him for being unfaithful. The only thing I don’t know is whether Keanu Reeves survives. The Night Before looks to be a comedy about the last night before three friends say goodbye to their youthful partying lives before going on to other things. They get into a bunch of funny situations that seem to be every scenario they will get into for the film. Goosebumps follows a young boy attracted to the girl next door who becomes friends with her, gets invited to her house, and then finds a bunch of manuscripts. These manuscripts, once open, release monsters based on R.L. Stine’s famous Goosebumps book series. Also revealed is that R.L. Stine will be a character in the movie. In other words, I feel like I’ve just seen the movies in their entirety.
Back in the 90s, or even before that, trailers were often snippets of out of context shots that looked pretty cool while a voice over narration told you the premise of the movie. Trailers lasted on average 90 seconds. Today, trailers have become stories unto themselves revealing the premise through multiple scenes (often shown in the order they appear in the film) and gradually revealing more and more twists in the narrative while even showing parts of the climax. Jurassic Park is one such example, or even Unbreakable. With Unbreakable, the entire trailer covers the opening two minutes of the film, with the doctor’s voiceover recounting the events of the train derailment and that Bruce Willis’ character is not only the lone survivor, he is unharmed. Then, you hear Samuel L. Jackson’s voice asking if he is willing to learn the answers. Both trailers market their films with a premise, some intriguing shots to establish the film’s tone, and an invitation to learn more (by watching the film).
This was not the case for Terminator Genisys, a trailer lasting almost three minutes. It revealed a huge spoiler that John Connor was in fact a machine in the alternate timeline that has been created. It went from a beginning, middle, to end, only concealing how the final battle plays out. But by seeing this trailer, you practically know how the film plays out. This is a sad state of marketing where the trailers are now officially destroying our ability to enjoy a movie. The more information we know going in about a movie, the less we will be shocked, thrilled, or surprised, let alone being entertained.
Why would any studio want to spoil the experience of their own movies with trailers that give away so much about the story, the characters, and the twists? The answer, I surmise, lies in the underlying fear between a studio’s investment and their need to ensure that said investment will yield a return. Trailers are cut by the studios, not the director of the film. And unless that director has proven their sensibilities/profitability like Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan, they rarely get any input into the marketing strategy for their film. Thus, to ensure that audiences will be enticed enough to want to pay money to sit through a two hour film, studios throw as much at the audience as possible. Grimlock was the top marketing symbol for Transformers: Age of Extinction despite only being in the film for a matter of minutes. Instead of keeping that a welcome surprise for the audiences who went to see the film, Paramount Pictures littered the trailers, posters, and spots with images of Grimlock, just to entice viewers that yes, you can expect the Dino Bots to enter the Transformers universe.
In other words, your enjoyment of the film is secondary to the studio than the fact that your butt is in a theatre seat to their movie. To the studio, knowing Grimlock was in Age of Extinction first before seeing the movie ensured you would see the film on opening night rather than here about a big Dino Bot “surprise” from those talking about it later on. Even though this isn’t really a spoiler, it has an effect on how audiences will respond to the film particularly because the marketing of Age of Extinction created an expectation that the Dino Bots would be the centerpiece of the film.
It would have been a more welcome surprise to me if the Goosebumps trailers had kept secret that the film is in fact a meta-love letter to the entire series with an actual characterization of R.L. Stine. I may have been more intrigued by Knock Knock if I was left wondering why the two girls were harassing this seemingly ordinary man. I was already sold on the fact that Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogan, and Anthony Mackie are all in the same movie; I didn’t need to go on the entire journey of their evening just yet.
But here’s the thing. I’m still going to watch all three movies. I still saw Terminator Genisys despite knowing the twist. Will these spoiler-ific trailers wreck my overall enjoyment of the films? Probably, but I will try not to let it. Most fans saw Avengers: Age of Ultron despite the fact they already knew about the Hulk Buster suit, Vision, what Ultron looked like, who were the new characters, and that Tony Stark created Ultron. The performance of the film was not affected by how much information audiences knew going into the film. And at that point, it doesn’t matter as much if audiences truly loved or hated the film because they already showed up at the theatre to watch it.
Thus, there is no incentive for a studio to keep the twists in their movies as secret. If the fans are already sold no matter what the trailers look like, it leaves the studio with the task of enticing the regular, every day film goer. And why not do that by throwing everything they have into the trailer? It’s as if the studio is saying, “So what if they know the twist ending? At least it got them to buy a ticket.” And thus, business defeats art.