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27/02/2020 The magazine by Communication Science students of the UvA

What’s the deal with movie trailers?

On why movie trailers are disappointing reflections of the movie they’re promoting.


Oscar season is upon us in full force, a time for the press to suddenly wake up to a year worth of movies. Just to talk about a restricted lucky few – and for us mere mortals to fake interest, suddenly concerned about our new conversational topic over the next dinner party. Enough has been said about the lack of representation and inclusiveness in the Oscars, and despite my interest in matters of equality, I still bought into this collective fear of missing out and decided to watch some of this year’s Oscar-worthy movies. You never know when you might get the chance to express an unsolicited opinion about them! My decision is solely based on what I had previously seen in trailers – these movies looked fun, and boasted strong female leads. Too bad I had seen it all before. 

When the very best of all the action in a movie can be packed in about two minutes, what is left is just useless filler time between catchy sentences. The fact that in such a short amount of time I could experience this feeling of dissatisfaction left me wondering – what’s the deal with movie trailers? Have they gotten longer?

The movie trailer industry
Movie trailers were initially devised as a means to spark up the curiosity of an audience and inspire them to watch the new movie promoted. The first trailer, dating back to 1913, was only fifteen seconds long. Talk about leaving everything to the imagination!

As action movies began to fascinate the collective imaginary of the eighties, trailers got longer. Nowadays, separate agencies compete to produce the trailers for the movies we all know and love. Rather than being part of the filming process, the creation of a trailer is a separate deal. It’s now handled by experts, who use specific narrative ploys to develop a short clip that aims to draw viewers.

What went wrong?
In the last years, my experience of trailers has been rather disappointing. Either the clips showed too much, leaving very little intrigue and mystery to the plot, or they simply showed a different narrative with a different pace, setting up false expectations of impressive one-liners one after the other. Some examples: 

With almost three minutes of running time, this trailer manages to show you everything remotely interesting the movie had to offer. Despite the spectacular performances of Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, the rest is a messy, disappointing plot with too strong of a liking for the Blue Lives Matter philosophy.


Honestly, you’d wish the movie would keep the same thrilling pace.

Who’s to blame?
I have spent some time thinking about trailers and complaining about them. Yet what seemed like a rather easy equation might have a much tougher solution than simply blaming the editing or movies for not being intriguing enough. The truth is, our viewing habits might be the ones to blame.

According to Matt Brubaker, head of a trailer agency, when running tests about the preferred trailers, nine times out of ten test audiences preferred samples which disclosed great parts of the plot. It seems that our intention to watch a movie is related to how much we know about it – and yet, we cannot stop complaining about it.

Another point should be considered – unlike a few years ago, we are all on the Internet, and especially on social media. We have unprecedented access to promotional material, and we tend to share it with each other and consume it a lot more. I mean, you honestly have no idea how many people I tagged under the new Ocean’s 8 trailer (YAS, RIHANNA!). Movie trailers have always been chock-full of spoilers. Case in point, check out this Die Hard trailer – just as long as recent ones, and pretty much spoiling everything.

It is not the trailers that are changing, but us viewers. 

Cover: Jake Hills / Final editor: Ramona Nouse

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