Are Movie Trailers Giving Up the Whole Story?

by Stefanie Kiteley

A comment that I come across frequently on the Internet is, “I feel like I just watched the whole thing.”

This is a complaint that I’ve seen registered frequently on YouTube, and other sites, when movie trailers come out.  All too often people seem to watch the trailer and think that the whole plot of the movie has been given away in two minutes.  The exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution have all been covered in a fraction of the actual length of the movie.

I’ve read a fair amount of commentary and reviews on movies as well as trailers, so while I am sure that most viewers know that they haven’t actually seen all the key points of the movie, it doesn’t stop them from feeling this way.

A survey by YouGov discovered that 32% of Americans think movie trailers give away too much plot while 48% disagree.

Below is the trailer for “30 Seconds or Less” which was recommended to me as a trailer where you “see the whole movie in two minutes.”

After people watch a trailer they usually want to be filled with excitement, they want to go see the whole movie right now, be filled with a buzz.  They want to be able to tell their friends about some great looking new movie, they want to be able to post a cool video to their social media platforms.

I think that sometimes movie trailers fail to capitalize on this possibility for great emotion and willingness to share.

Many short videos have proven that there can be highs and lows of emotions in a short amount of time, and taking the viewer through that journey can create a connection to the film.  It can be a serious letdown to watch something and feel like there’s not going to be any sort of payoff because the answer to the mystery has already been given away.

It’s important to note that while the ending isn’t always the most important part, and the journey there is what may make it worth it, frankly that is not always the case for some movies.  People are fully aware that there are many bad movies out there, and consumers seem to be less willing to take a chance on movies if they feel like they’ve already been let down before they even seen the full feature.

It can all come down to the marketers to find the right tone and voice for promoting the film.

There have been several movies whose trailers came out and there was a stir because no one was really sure what the movie was about.  The trailers were intentionally vague, and possibly even so short that audiences did not understand what they might be getting themselves into watching.

This does work for some movies, it can create a buzz or hype about them because of that aura of mystery.  But content absolutely must be kept in mind for this sort of trailer.  It seems to work best for apocalyptic, horror, mysteries and other, darker genres.  It can also work well for sci-fi or fantasy movies where the plots are too complex to truly cover in a trailer.  It’s all about the way the movie should be perceived and the audience that would connect with that.  However it seems that this kind of trailer still lends to the chance that viewers may feel deceived by the content they were given.

Trailers do have their work cut out for them, they have to tell a story.  Just enough of a story that they will draw viewers in, but not give away all of the story that they are selling.

This “Guardians of the Galaxy” trailer does a good job at giving viewers an idea of what’s going on but not trying to explain the whole plot of the film in two minutes.  It manages to tell a story but still leaves a sense of mystery for the overall plot.

When trailers come out, they are putting out the biggest brand statement for the film.  It is what most people will see about the movie, and it can dictate who will be willing to watch it.  I feel that it is important that these advertisements be done to the best of their ability.

Perhaps the way about it is that trailers need to make the viewer do some of the work.  Draw the viewer in, make them question what they think they know, keep them guessing, and intrigue them enough to want to go watch the rest of the story.

In my opinion it all comes down to balance.  It’s all a matter of utilizing the content to draw customers in so that they want to hear the story and see it all the way through.

Tell a story that makes people want to pay to find out the ending.


2 thoughts on “Are Movie Trailers Giving Up the Whole Story?

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