When it comes to filmmaking, no single piece of marketing is more crucial than the trailer – it has to give audiences a taste of what’s to come in the film and reveal some interesting moments to draw them in, all within a two and half minute time constraint. Unfortunately, a lot of trailers miss the mark.
The biggest mistake that many trailers make is showing far too much of the film, whether it be crucial plot points or tent pole action scenes. The Terminator series has run afoul of this trend consistently; Terminator 2 revealed the twist of the T-800 being the hero, Terminator Salvation showed that Sam Worthington’s character was a Terminator and recently Terminator Genisys publicised the fact that John Conner had been turned by Skynet – as such, major moments end up being diluted. Other notorious examples of trailers spoiling movies include Carrie, which shows the climactic scenes at the prom, including the majority of the character deaths, Cast Away, where Tom Hanks’ character is revealed to have got off the island, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which showed the ending shot of the movie among other plot spoilers. Tent pole moments can also be revealed; Independence Day ruined the money shot of the aliens destroying the White House. Comedy movies can also show all the best laughs; Home Alone, for instance, shows most of the pratfalls that served as the main reason to see the movie within the trailer. As such, this begs the question as to why people saw these films at all.
Another thing that some trailers do wrong is misleading the audience of the tone or direction. Drive caused complaints and demands for refunds because it turned out to be a slow paced and intense drama rather than the action movie that the trailer had made it out to be. M. Night Shyamalan suffered twice with this, as The Village and Lady in the Water were both marketed as horror films instead of the simple dramas that they actually were. In an especially egregious case, the Black Christmas remake featured numerous scenes shot specifically for the trailer, with producers going behind the directors back to deceive the audience. As such, trailers can be unreliable for the product they market, which can lead to bad word-of-mouth and a reduction in cinema attendance.
There are also a number of trailer clichés. Action trailers tend to feature elements such as loud horn blasts (often known as ‘The Inception Horns’), frequent uses of low electronic pulses and constant fades to black that border on epileptic levels. Comedy trailers meanwhile tend to rely on swipes and pausing the music for a comedic line. The issue with this is that once these have been used multiple times, they no longer become shocking or exciting, and therefore can make films appear predictable. One way that this issue could be dealt with is by dropping the length of trailers to 90 seconds. Studios would have to work harder to sell the movie to audiences without giving too much away. Otherwise, trailers need to be crafted more carefully, maybe having directors on hand to prevent such mistakes being made.
Great trailers do exist; Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for instance, was very successful in getting audiences stoked for the film with some exciting moments, while simultaneously not giving away major plot details. But if studios continue to fall into the pitfalls mentioned above, we may see cinema attendance taking a turn for the worse in the future.