From Joker to Spidey – Movie trailers have lost the element of surprise

Luke Stevenson is a journalist at Community Care and an avid cinema-watcher. He is also one of the three hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast.

Spider-Man made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: Civil War
Spider-Man made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: Civil War

How do you make a trial feel even longer? I’ve never served on a jury, but I watched The People vs. OJ Simpson, and I’m pretty certain repeating everything you already know for an hour and a half doesn’t help. That was my experience of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenTim Burton’s latest slight on his reputation which saw fit to drag the wonderful Eva Green down with him.

There were many problems with this film, but one of the major ones was that its first hour and 10 minutes was a retread of the trailers. Boy goes to house, sees other children in house, they are peculiar, Samuel L Jackson turns up. What is true for the two and a half minute trailer is true for the first two-thirds of the full film, by which point you’re too bored to take in new information.

The problem isn’t localised to Miss Peregrine. It’s becoming far more commonplace for movie trailers to over-explain themselves and give away reveals that would be better experienced while watching the movie in full. Likewise, a lot of what you see in a trailer comes from the film’s final act and it’s not difficult to remember what you have seen and score it against what you’re currently seeing. For example: “Captain America is in trouble on a boat? But that’s fine, because I saw in the trailer him having a fight on a plane, which hasn’t been in the movie yet, so he’ll be fine.”

It doesn’t just spoil the events of the film; it spoils the experience. This year alone is littered with examples of films that have given away too much, from Star Wars to Suicide Squad. Here are a few examples of this awful and increasingly prevalent phenomenon.

Jared Leto as the Joker in DC's Suicide Squad movie
Jared Leto as the Joker in DC’s Suicide Squad movie
  • Rogue One – We know her father developed the Death Star and for the first part of the movie she will be convinced he has disappeared, but we know he re-emerges.
  • Batman vs. Superman – The trailer revealed Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman together fighting Doomsday. It revealed the major villain and that the fight between Batman and Superman doesn’t do much to upset either of them.
  • Captain America: Civil War – Spider-Man!
  • Suicide Squad – This trailer was unique for how it managed to fit 80% of all of a character’s scenes and dialogue, namely The Joker, in its two and a half minute running time.

Why are they doing this? Well, audiences like familiarity and studios like hype. By revealing their major hands, studios get a week or so of good press from clickbait articles and endless fan theories.

Audiences also know what they are getting. When tickets can cost £10 a go, you want to know what you’re getting is good. So seeing a lot of action, excitement and a few new characters to learn about ticks all these boxes. But is it really worth it?

Trailers should be limited to using footage from the movie’s first third, and deleted scenes. If you can’t communicate why your movie would be worth watching using just the first third, then it probably isn’t worth watching at all.

Felicity Jones in the new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Felicity Jones in the new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Also, trailers should stop character reveals. Sure, 10,000 tweets in a night is good, but can you imagine the reaction on opening night of Captain America: Civil War or Batman vs. Superman if you didn’t know Spider-Man or Wonder Woman would be in it? Instead, those moments are saved for the trailers.

There’s no solution to this problem because, as long as stuff doesn’t give away the ending, nobody really considers it a spoiler. However, it’s now common for a movie to communicate most of what it’s about to you before you’ve seen it. At which point watching it becomes a join-the-dots trudge through the few snippets of major dialogue you haven’t seen.

For more on the phenomenon of movie trailers giving away far too much, be sure to listen to this week’s episode of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast this Thursday.


Do you agree with Luke? Are movie trailers giving away too much plot? Let me know in the comments section.

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