Trailers, Trash


It’s the magical time of year when awards films are out in theaters. If you’re like me, then that means you’re going to see more movies in the next two months than you will during any other two-month period of the year. The theater trips are great, and so are most of the films. However, one particular aspect of the theater experience is giving me burnout. Trailers have become trash.

Every movie I see is preceded by four or five trailers, meaning the theater is adding approximately 15 minutes to my theater trip by showing ads for upcoming movies. If you want to take up an extra 15 minutes of my time, you’d better make it worth my while. Unfortunately, that happens less and less frequently with every trip. At least one trailer out of the four will make me roll my eyes. Frequently, more than one and occasionally all will make me roll my eyes.

Blech. Triumph of the spirit.

Blech. Triumph of the spirit.

First and foremost, trailers are wildly predictable. The second you hear the first three notes of the trailer’s music, you can tell precisely what kind of film it will be. A lone, mournful piano? It’s going to be an indie film, and probably be presented as some sort of “triumph of the spirit”. A prime example is the trailer for The Impossible, for instance. A loud, blaring Hans Zimmer-inspired couple of musical notes clearly denote an action movie where people will talk tough and stuff will explode. Gangster Squad is the offender du jour. A lone, eerie piano tips you off that a horror film is coming. Someone’s family is going to be disturbed in some way, shape, or form, and you’re probably going to see a little kid acting weird. In the case of horror, if it’s not an aural cue, then it’s a visual cue almost instantly in the trailer that lets you know what’s coming. You could perform this exercise with almost every single trailer out there, and the clichés cut a wide swath across every genre imaginable.

The problem isn’t the films themselves. And it’s not really the music. It’s that the people who market movies have seemingly developed the same small handful of stock trailer formulas, especially designed to appeal to very specific segments of the market. As an audience member, your exact tastes have been whittled down to the same visual and musical cues, the same cadence of the types of clips used, all designed to elicit the same types of emotions every time you see a trailer for specific genres. It’s pandering, and it’s insulting.


Ryan Gosling’s entire character arc in Gangster Squad is almost completely on display in the trailer.

The second gigantic problem with trailers is that they give almost the entire film away. Filmmakers dread this because it saps their film of effectiveness and the element of surprise. The irony is that all of this came to a head when I saw The Impossible trailer for the 10th time in a month, before Hitchcock. The film I was about to see was about Alfred Hitchcock’s efforts to get Psycho made. Part of his campaign involved keeping a lid on the ending. And after the barrage of clichéd trailers, I couldn’t help but think that there’s no way Hitchcock could pull that off today. There are so many films that are appealing to all of us. Unfortunately, by the time we get to the theater, we’ve seen almost 20 minutes of footage via the various teasers and trailers that come out in advance. Or worse yet, we’ve seen three minutes that just happen to include key footage with what should be surprising, memorable lines.

What really slays me about all of this is that I don’t want to have negative emotions about a lot of these films, especially before I’ve actually seen them. To stick with The Impossible, I’m honestly quite intrigued by the film. I really want to see it. But every time I see that same damned trailer, I roll my eyes and think “Ugh, it’s that stupid feel-good crap again.” Or I’ll start interpreting who the studios are targeting. The next thing you know, I’m imagining myself sitting next to some Axe body spray meathead at the theater to see Gangster Squad.

If there are any studio people reading this, or any movie marketing people scrolling through, I beg of you- please put a little more time into your trailers. Put a little bit more thought and originality into what you’re creating. Find better ways to reach your target audience. What you’re doing now is turning me off, making me dread your message. It’s having the exact opposite of the intended purpose. Fix it, because I know you’re capable.


Filed under Movies

18 responses to “Trailers, Trash

  1. Trailers are appalling nowadays. basically a condensed version of the movie.

    Sometimes being excessively sarcastic about trailers is the best part of going to the cinema.

    It’s a shame they don’t make more trailers like this, to make them into their own little movie.

    What is also becoming common these days is the use of footage in the trailer that is not actually in the film. Not cool.

  2. impsndcnma

    I don’t believe I’ve seen the trailer for The Impossible once this year. I’d be surprised if it opens in the US in December.

    • I got it before Hitchcock, Lincoln, Killing Them Softly, and… maybe Argo? Not sure about Argo but I can verify the others.

      And yet, I still want to see it.

  3. My wife and i just sit there and laugh at the trailers for all the reasons that you’ve outlined. They are ridiculous!

  4. This is a “Good Problem to Have”. It means you are seeing movies in the theater. 2 year old kid = 1 movie a year in theater…

  5. Vladdy

    The Les Miserables trailer (the first one, anyway), uses the revolting tagline: “Live the Dream” or something like that, based on the song Anne Hathaway’s character sings during it. Since the bazillions of people who have seen Les Miserables know that “I Dreamed a Dream” is a song about a woman whose life has been ruined, who has become a prostitute and is about to die of tuberculosis or something, whose dreams, in other words, DID NOT COME TRUE, how much stupider could this marketing tactic be? Then there’s the other trailer, the one I call the Sweeney Todd trailer, where they try to pretend it isn’t a musical. If I would never go see a musical, and was tricked into seeing one by a lying trailer, I would demand my money back the instant someone started singing. Who is this audience they are pandering to?

    • Ha… I should have you write musical reviews for me. I wish I could pay for it.

      Please take this with a huge grain of salt because you know I’m not a musical guy, so to speak (even though I’m trying to break that habit)… I liked Sweeney Todd. I guess the way I see it is if you make a musical, but it’s about turning corpses into food, it’s grisly enough that I can have fun with it. But I also didn’t see the trailer.

      Actually… speaking of musicals, I’m seeking recommendations for “must-see” stuff, if you have it. There’s a good chance musicals are going on my New Year’s resolution list for 2013. It’s time to give that genre a proper chance.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. This kinda reminds me that I used to do a regular feature on my blog where I singled out really well done trailers. I should bring that back.

  7. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    Formula???? I don’t see any formula to the trailers. I recently saw the trailer for “Playing for Keeps” starring Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, and others. The trailer hints at a complex and multifaceted story that really intrigues me to want to see it. It was like no other trailer I had ever seen.

  8. “Ugh, it’s that stupid feel-good crap again.”

    I’ve seen The Impossible and I can attest, it’s much more than that. Check out my review when you get the chance. No spoilers! 🙂

    • Oh, I’m honestly very excited to see it. And I will, without a doubt. But that trailer makes it look as saccharine as a box of 1,000 whimpering puppies. It doesn’t do it any favors.

  9. What!? If it weren’t for these amazing trailers I wouldn’t be aware of upcoming Oscar contenders like “The Kroods”, or “Warm Bodies”! Lol!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s