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Can trailers spoil a movie?

Trailers are released to get audiences hyped for a film’s debut but finding the perfect balance of sparking audience interest without giving away the entire plot appears to be a tricky task.  It sometimes seems as though trailers should come with a spoiler warning in the title. Why do trailers show so much and to what extent does it spoil the experience of watching a film?

The recently released trailer for Jessica Chastain’s newest role Ava has been criticised for its all-revealing nature. Chastain is introduced in the trailer as a hitman working for an organisation headed by John Malkovich. One of the organisation’s leaders, played by Colin Farrell, believes Ava is a loose cannon and a threat to their system and is seen in the trailer saying, “I want her killed.”

Okay, this is a nice intriguing insight to the premise of the film, maybe we should stop there…or not. The trailer then goes on to show an intense and bloody fight scene between Chastain and Farrell and ends with her sneaking up behind him and firing a shot. So… that is the movie then, I guess? YouTube comments on the trailer were quick to point out its oversharing nature with one user stating, “this is literally the entire movie” and another joking that “they forgot to include the end credits.”

Shutter Island was criticised for hinting too much at the twists that make the movie so brilliant to watch

Ava is just one example of a trailer that seemingly reveals way too much of the film’s plot. The first trailer released for Shutter Island was criticised for hinting too much at the twists that make the movie so brilliant to watch, the trailer for Adam Sandler and Seth Rogan’s Funny People reveals one of them is dying before then revealing he’s actually not thus basically giving away the entire plot of the film and Free Willy’s trailer literally shows the whale being freed!

Another that sticks out to me was the trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle which revealed that Colin Firth’s character was still alive after being killed in the first film; I personally would have preferred to have discovered this on the big screen for optimal shock factor rather than alone in my bedroom on my phone.

Robert Zemeckis after the release of the trailer for Cast Away, which sees the main character struggling to survive on an island before showing him getting off the island, said “we know from studying the marketing of movies, people really want to know exactly everything they are going to see before they go to see the movie, it’s just one of those things”, but do they?

Zemeckis’s point comes from experience with focus groups who are shown trailers before their release: these groups tend to enjoy trailers that show more of the film. Zemeckis went on to add “to me, being a movie lover and film student and a film scholar and a director, I don’t.” This then raises the question of what kind of audience a film trailer is trying to reach. Does appealing to the general public or casual movie-goer require more insight to what the film is and what will happen within it?

Finding the balance for the perfect trailer is hard and navigating around spoilers can be tricky when trying to show the audience that there is more to the movie than first meets the eye

Trailers are all about promotion and some films undoubtedly need more than others. “Event films”, such as a new Star Wars or Marvel release, have a pre-existing loyal fanbase who will pay to see the film regardless of how good or bad the trailer is, but independent and stand-alone films cannot rely so heavily on guaranteed audience interest and thus trailers become essential to drawing crowds in.

For this reason, trailers tend to be long and detailed in order to attract target audiences. However, by revealing too much of the plot audiences are left feeling as though no effort is needed to watch the film after just seeing it for free in a 3-minute video shared on Facebook. As one comment on the trailer of Ava pointed out, “why would I pay to see it, you just showed me the whole story.”

Finding the balance for the perfect trailer is hard and navigating around spoilers can be tricky when trying to show the audience that there is more to the movie than first meets the eye. There is also an element of choice on the audience’s part: I know of people who refuse to watch trailers at all and prefer to go into a film blind. Personally, I watch a film trailer once and then don’t watch it again to get a feel for the film without fixating on everything that happened. By the time I come to watch the full film I have probably forgotten half of what I saw in the trailer and nothing is ruined. Even so, this could be avoided if we just stopped putting major spoilers in trailers.

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