Why Do Movie Trailers Spoil So Much?

In Featured, Industry Insights, Tyler Carlos by Amanda Valdovinos

– By Tyler Carlos –

(Spoilers Below)

Living in today’s culture, people are constantly bombarded with advertisements for the latest trends, gadgets, and experiences available. With the non-stop onslaught of advertisements, it seems like one group will always get the short end of the stick – moviegoers. In order to leave an impression, trailers have to tell enough of the story to draw viewers in while keeping enough secret so that people will go to the theater. After all, that is the point of a movie trailer – to get people into the theaters. However, as the number of trailers has increased, one problem has become increasingly noticeable: revealing more than we want to know.

Spoilers are some of the most abhorrent parts of the internet. When people post or reveal important, game-changing information about movies or TV shows on social media or in articles without warning viewers, viewers (rightfully) get angry. The sad part is that movie trailers are sometimes the perpetrators. In an effort to get people to the theaters, filmmakers, perhaps inadvertently, give away important information that would have had more impact on the audience if learned in the theater.

The Three Types of Trailer Spoilers

Now, there are a few types of trailer spoilers that need to be brought up. First is the “Plot Spoiler.” The plot spoiler is the trailer spoiler that reveals a plot point that was previously unknown to the general audience, therefore revealing vital story information that could have otherwise been a nice or surprising twist. For example, in one trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was revealed that the final battle of the film would involve the villain Doomsday. Before that trailer, audiences had no idea that Doomsday was in the film, as the script had been kept tightly under wraps and Doomsday had not been mentioned in any synopses or summaries. Another common example was the trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Those who had not read the Lord of the Rings trilogy before the films had no way of knowing that Gandalf, who had sacrificed himself in the first film, would be returning as Gandalf the White in the second. Many audiences that saw this trailer believe this is a secret the studio should have kept, because it changed how they viewed Gandalf’s “death” and opened up so many unexpected possibilities for the second film.

The second type of spoiler worth mentioning is the “Logical Spoiler.” This kind of trailer spoiler isn’t the kind you notice right away when originally watching the trailer. On the contrary, it is noticed while you are actually in the theater watching the movie. A logical spoiler  is when a viewer uses the information they saw in the movie trailer to logically determine what will happen in a film. Let me explain. In the recent box office hit A Quiet Place, one trailer very clearly showed a conversation that Emily Blunt’s character has with John Krasinski in which she says, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” While this makes for a great trailer, when watching the film, there were high suspense/high intensity scenes where Emily Blunt’s character was in mortal danger. However, because the trailer had shown a brief glimpse of a conversation that I knew would come and had not yet taken place, simple logic told me, as a viewer, that Emily Blunt’s character would make it through the scene alive. This kind of spoiler usually isn’t as disorienting, but it can still take someone out of the movie experience. Knowing what will happen is no fun, and this kind of spoiler is something that filmmakers need to be careful about.

The last kind of spoiler is the “Surprise Spoiler.” This is probably the most rare kind of spoiler, but it does happen occasionally. The surprise spoiler is a spoiler that gives away some kind of information that is simply unnecessary to reveal ahead of time and that could have been easily been avoided. These differ from the plot spoiler in that these usually don’t reveal very much about the overall plot. A great example for this kind of spoiler is a trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. In an Asian trailer for this film, it was revealed that Kiera Knightly would be making a cameo appearance in the film as Elizabeth Swan. Well, of course once that info hit the America news cycle, the spoiler was out. Kiera Knightly had always been rather firm that she would not be returning to the POTC series, so although fans had hope, it had never been confirmed. But why did the filmmakers find this necessary information to reveal? This was a moment that could have been so impactful in the moment, as it was (most likely) wrapping up the entire POTC series. These small moments are sometimes the most impactful, and it is up to the filmmakers to let those moments shine at the right time.

Should Audiences Know Exactly What They Are Getting?

With all of these different kinds of trailer spoilers, it invites the question of why do filmmakers put these spoilers in trailers. Is it because there isn’t enough footage to choose from? Is it because they want to tease what is to come? Or is it because they want audiences to know exactly what they will be getting?

Personally, I believe it is the last question. Trailers are meant to hype potential viewers and convince them to take time out of their lives and spend their hard earned money to see this one particular movie in the theaters. It’s basically a modern day barter- you have to give something to get something. But films are a unique product. Producers and studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars on movies, and a first impression is everything. Once audiences see a film, that’s it. There’s no going back.

Because of this, filmmakers have to make a decision- should the audiences know exactly what they are getting from a movie? This is a two sided coin. On one side, yes. Absolutely. 100%. I, as a viewer, want to know that I am going to be spending my money and time on a movie that will be worth it. I need to know a basic premise to understand what it will be, and a few shots of the film would be nice to see so that I know what kind of tone the movie will have. And this doesn’t just apply to me as a single, 25-year-old male. Parents have to know that a film is appropriate for their children. Those that enjoy horror films have to know that a movie will be scary. That is vital information that every movie goer has to have so that they can decide whether they want to see a particular movie.

Now, the flip-side of that coin is a bit more difficult. Should audiences know exactly what they are getting? When it comes to the story, to the plot, and to the characters, I would argue no. Filmmaking is an art. It is meant to inspire and allow people to make their own interpretations. Filmmakers spend countless hours working on a movie. They plan each plot point so that it creates the appropriate response at a certain moment in the film. Everything in a movie has a purpose. Audiences should be able to watch a movie and not know what is going to happen if they choose. It takes the fun and surprise out of the moment. It’s like reading a book for the first time but already knowing how it will end.

5 Reasons Trailer Spoilers Will Continue

1. Stand out from the crowd– The sheer number of films coming out nowadays makes it difficult for movies to stand out from the crowd. At least one big movie comes out a week, though most weeks have more than that. Just by those numbers, there are at least 100 movies coming out a year, and that is just the big budget films that have enough money to advertise well. Plus, trailers for films coming out in the next year start promoting this year. It is important for these large films to make headlines, and to make headlines, there has to be some juicy information to catch attention.

2. The number of adaptations/sequels– It’s a common thought that Hollywood has officially run out of ideas. Many films coming out in the upcoming years are adaptations of popular books, remakes of old films, or sequels/reboots. Because many audiences may already know how a film will end or they already have a basic understanding of the film, many filmmakers may feel the need to “up the ante” on their trailers. People want the movie now, but since they can’t, filmmakers give them the next best thing.

3. Undecided moviegoers– Surprisingly, there are still those that do not own a MoviePass (seriously, it is the best thing I own). Therefore, there are those who have to consider whether they will go see this film or that film because it may be the only one they can afford. Or else, it could be the only film they can go see that week or month because they don’t have much free time (parents/business owners). They only have one shot, and they want to know that they’re making a good choice. Because of this, filmmakers want these undecided moviegoers to go see their movie. So they have to prove that their movie is the best. How? By hinting at really good surprises at the cost of spoilers.

4. Different audiences– As mentioned above, the POTC spoiler was from an Asian trailer that made its way into American news. Films, especially big budget, high action films, are a worldwide product. Filmmakers have to be able to sell to every kind of audience around the world, and different factors bring different audiences to the theater. What may draw Americans to the theater may not work for Polish audiences. To account for this, filmmakers may have to market the films differently, and that may mean revealing different information.

5. The 24-hour news cycle– We live in a 24-hour world. Something always has to be on TV. The news always has to be reporting. And movies always have to be promoting. If a movie stops promoting itself, it’s possible that people won’t show up. There is a fine balance when it comes to film promotion. Most films start promotion at least 4 months in advance. Some big budget movies start even earlier. But that is a lot of time to fill. One trailer will not keep audiences interested for that long. So they have to release a new trailer with new information. As the premiere date approaches, more trailers make their rounds, including TV spots and ads before videos. And we can’t forget the trailers before movies in the theaters- that’s where you hook the moviegoers. Eventually, a movie has to keep promoting itself with new information…or else run the risk of getting boring.

Movie trailers are now a part of everyday life. Anyone who gets on the Internet will most likely see some kind of film promotion, whether willingly or unwillingly. Those that go to the movies will definitely see the latest trailers. For those that want to avoid spoilers, all I can say is that it has to be a conscious decision. If you don’t want to know more details about a movie, close your eyes and plug your ears when a trailer starts. It’s unfortunate that spoilers will likely continue in trailers for the reasons above, but we can avoid them if we make the effort. We are the ones that have let ourselves see a film the way it was meant to be seen: Spoiler-free. Good luck, moviegoers.

About the Author 

Tyler Carlos is a proud nerd originally from Baton Rouge, LA. He completed his undergraduate in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University, and graduated from JPCatholic’s MBA in Film Producing in 2016. In his off time, he enjoys Crossfit, escape rooms, and watching Gotham and This Is Us. His ultimate goal in life is to learn how to fly.