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We Apparently Have Only Ourselves to Blame for the Glut of Spoiler-Heavy Movie Trailers

This article contains spoilers for Southpaw, Terminator: Genisys, Jurassic World, Star Trek Into Darkness, Terminator 3, Terminator Salvation and even Rocky V

I’ve seen Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie Southpaw. It’s okay, kind of like a grittier version of Rocky V if instead of just going broke Rocky also lost custody of his son and had to start boxing again. The actual boxing on display is possibly the most realistic I’ve ever seen in any boxing movie, and Gyllenhaal looks like a beast in the ring. Shame about [spoiler] dying.

Wait. What the heck am I talking about? I haven’t seen Southpaw. It only feels like I have because I watched the trailer when it dropped 3 months ago, and now that Southpaw is in theaters all the reviews confirm that the early trailer truly was a condensed version of the full movie. Rachel McAdams, playing Gyllenhaal’s wife and mother of his daughter, dies a third of the way into the movie, but she’s dead less a minute into the trailer. It’s the instigating event that derails Gyllenhaal’s life and ultimately sets him on the path toward redemption. However, did they really have to spoil that in the trailer?

Doesn’t this argument sound awfully familiar by now? It feels like we have been complaining about trailers giving away too many spoilers for at least a decade. Southpaw is the example of the moment. Around a month ago it was Terminator: Genisys. A couple of weeks before that it was Jurassic World. Last summer it was The Amazing Spider-Man 2. If you go even further back, both Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator 3 (2003) gave away their big twists in trailers.

But why? Why do studio marketing departments feel so desperate that they need to give the plot away for free? According to the various production houses which actually make the trailers, it’s because their focus testing consistently shows that we want to be spoiled. Speaking to EW, one of the execs responsible for the Southpaw trailer admitted, “There was a lot of discussion internally about whether to show the wife’s death. But as much as people complain, the more of the plot the trailer offers, the more interest it gets. People have felt burned in the past.”

The logic is that we have become weary of trailers not because of spoilers but because of how many times they mislead us. Trailers always want to shove movies into a neat little recognizable box, but that’s tougher to do now that so many movies are made outside the studio system thus freeing them to straddle multiple genres. In my own personal experience over the past couple of years, it’s been remarkable how many times I have watched an indie comedy that turned deadly serious. I have come to expect it at this point. It arguably makes for more interesting movies with recognizably human (i.e., flawed ) characters, but marketing those types of movies is a real bitch. So, a dark drama with some comedic elements (e.g., August: Osage County) will be sold to us a comedy, but then we’ll walk out complaining, “That wasn’t funny at all.” However, if a trailer gives away more of the plot we’ll at least feel more assured that we know exactly what to expect from that movie.  Or so the argument goes.

Terminator Genisys
John Connor in Genisys

Dan Asma, co-owner of trailer agency Buddha Jones, told EW, “We prefer to be mysterious. But testing consistently says that numbers spike when you give away more.” Even if it gives away too much, that predictably sets off a renewed round of arguments about spoilery trailers which means plenty of articles which will have to mention something like Southpaw and thus remind people that Southpaw is a movie they might like to see in theaters right now.

I don’t know how much I personally buy the argument that we might want to be spoiled more because we’ve been burned too many times by misleading trailers. I’ve always assumed spoiler-heavy trailers were made as acts of desperation to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.  After all, those movies whose box office prospects are on better footing, like anything Pixar or Marvel Studios makes, don’t have to stoop to that level.  But maybe the more desperate trailers really do stem from what they find out in early focus groups.

There hadn’t been a good Jurassic Park movie since the first one over 20 years ago. So, Jurassic World kicks off with an instant conversation-starter: Holy shit! Is Chris Pratt going to control Velociraptors in this movie? The early Genisys trailers didn’t seem to move the needle much in convincing people to give another Terminator movie a chance. So, Paramount figured why not give away the big spoiler to get people talking the same way Terminator 3 let it slip that Arnie would go from good to evil and Salvation proudly announced the main character was a Terminator who thought he was a human?

Interestingly enough, when Paramount chose not to spoil the big Star Trek Into Darkness twist everyone had already guessed they were criticized

A non-Rocky boxing movie hasn’t made significant money since maybe The Fighter. Why not reveal that Southpaw’s version of Adrian dies early on? Oh, that makes it stand out a little more.

It comes at a cost. When you already know the plot twist it can almost be comical sitting in the theater and marveling at how much the movie wants to surprise you. That’s why directors Colin Trevorrow, Alan Taylor and Antoine Fuqua have had some unkind things to say about the marketing campaigns for Jurassic World, Genisys and Southpaw. However, Fuqua told EW, “I had to roll with it. The audience, I guess, needs a little more.”  That belief might be why some people have stopped watching trailers entirely.

Source: EW


  1. I guess at their most basic level trailers are marketing tools to attract people who wouldn’t see the movie otherwise. Perhaps if you already know you are going to see a movie and don’t want to be spoiled…

    1. I agree. The only challenge to that is when you are in a theater and the trailers start before the movie you are seeing. It is harder to avoid it in that setting, though you can certainly try to block it out by maybe covering your ears and closing your eyes. Never seen anyone do that though, not that I really look around at other people while trailers are playing.

  2. My husband has stopped watching trailers altogether. I still gobble them up, but I will admit that there have been some spoilers that kept me from going and seeing a movie I might have otherwise checked out because I felt I already knew all that was going to happen. I do believe, though, that we have caused this situation with our impatience and constant clamoring for more and more information regarding upcoming films. I think we have placed the studios between a rock and a hard place. It’s likely that at this point, they simply can’t win either way. Either we (the people) will be upset about too little information or too much. And since those lines are subjective, there is no perfect medium for them to find.

    1. It is definitely a difficult position. JJ Abrams is criticized for his puzzle box approach to marketing in an age where the internet is too smart for that, yet when trailers give us too much we get mad.

  3. Recently, I decided that I’m not going to watch any of the Scorch Trials trailers or Mockingjay trailers. Why? Because I know I’m going to see the movies and I want to go in with nothing but excitement. No thoughts about the trailer, no spoilers. I’m sold already, there’s no need to know anything else.

    With so many trailers just giving it all away it becomes irritating. Yet these people working in these marketing departments are in a bad place. There have been a number of trailers that don’t give things away, but portray a different movie than was given. The one that comes to mind first was Godzilla. Bryan Cranston was pushed so hard and he was great… in what little he was in. It sucked because you get sold on this element that is presented so much and gives the impression that it’s there only to find that isn’t really the case. It does suck, but I don’t think that giving away the plot is really the answer. I think presenting a more accurate portrayal of the movie, while retaining mystery is the best way to go. That can’t be easy, so I in no way envy them.

    1. Which actually has few to no real spoilers. However, if you already know you are going to see the movie then you don’t really have to pay attention to any of the trailers or tv spots.

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