On Not Watching Trailers…

Over the past several months and even years, I’ve essentially stopped watching trailers, at least intentionally. I’ll still generally watch them in theatres, but even then there are a few I’ll cover my eyes for and try to tune out as much as possible (two years ago it was Inception, this year it’s Looper). I almost never seek them out to watch online, or even watch them when they’re posted on sites I regularly read or write for. Once in a while I point out that I’m not watching a trailer (the most recent case is the Cloud Atlas trailer, which dropped yesterday), and I’m usually greeted by a couple of responses. One, people assure me that the trailer in question doesn’t give the plot away or really tell much about the story at all. They assume that I’m not watching because I don’t want to be spoiled, which is indeed a major concern these days, as a lot of trailers get waaaaay too detailed in explaining plots. The other response is to tell me how awesome it is, how it made them really excited to see the movie, and how it would probably really appeal to me. This one assumes that I’m not watching out of indifference, and that watching the trailer would excite me about the movie more than I am, which is apparently not much, since I can’t even drum up enough interest to watch a trailer.

Neither of these is really accurate in principle (though, sure, I also don’t watch trailers known to be spoilery or trailers for movies I have zero interest in watching).

Generally, I don’t decide what movies I want to see based on studio marketing. I decide based on who’s involved in making it, primarily the director, to some extent the actors, writers, source material, etc. I decide based on buzz coming from festival and early screenings. I decide based on general critical reaction (I don’t tend to read full reviews before a movie comes out). Once in a while a trailer may whet my appetite for more, but generally by the time trailers come out, I’ve already decided whether or not I’m interested in seeing a movie. Even the exceptions, like Wreck-It Ralph, which I wasn’t interested in until I saw the trailer, I turned the trailer off as soon as I got a glimpse of what it was going to be. Once I’m sold, I don’t want to see any more.

So why am I averse to seeing them? It’s not primarily because I fear they’ll give away key plot points, though there is that fear especially on big Hollywood films. And it’s not primarily because I’m uninterested in the product they’re presenting. It’s primarily because if I want to see a film, I don’t care to have any visuals or dialogue already in my head when I go in to watch the film. Maybe others can put that out of their head when they see a movie, but I can’t. When we get to a scene in the film that was in the trailer, I instantly think “oh, this is that part that was in the trailer; I already know this part.” It’s still probably funny (or moving, or impactful, or whatever), and I still probably laugh (or cry, or feel gutted, or whatever), but for that split second, I’m out of the movie. I’m not thinking about the movie anymore, I’m thinking about the trailer.

Then I mentally check off that scene from the trailer. “Three down, five more to go.” I’m waiting for those other scenes to happen. I know they’ll come up sometime. When will they be? Oh, hey, this line that sounded like it’s all one piece in the trailer is actually cut from two different scenes. That’s interesting, but it takes me out of the movie as I re-orient myself to the movie’s script. Huh, this line reading sounds different than it did in the trailer; they must’ve used a different take for some reason – which do I like better? Hmmm, we’re getting close to the end of the film, and that one shot from the trailer hasn’t happened yet, wonder when it’s going to turn up? Oh, I bet it’s going to be right here at the climax – yep, there it is, okay, that was kind of anti-climactic since I’d already seen that shot. These are all things I actually thought while watching The Avengers for the first time. Now, granted, this isn’t necessarily a huge deal, and it probably isn’t going to ruin any movies for me – I still loved The Avengers. But I really wish I hadn’t watched the trailers first, because I would’ve liked to have experienced those moments fresh in the film. I’m learning from my indiscretions.

The Cloud Atlas trailer is almost six minutes long. Most trailers are around one and a half to two minutes long, so this one is three times longer than most trailers. Three times as much footage, three times as many visuals, three times as many shots that I’d see out of context, and be waiting to see in the movie. I won’t do that to myself. I don’t really understand why people want to see that much of a movie months before it comes out, why people want that imagery in their heads ahead of time instead of seeing it all as a whole, as it was meant to be experienced, but clearly I’m weird about it. Most people want to watch 5-10 minute clips of movies before they come out, something that’s become increasingly common for studios to release within the week or two leading up to release. And that’s fine, but I avoid those like the plague. It’s not a spoiler thing, I just don’t want them in my head, I don’t want to be waiting for them, I don’t want to be wondering when they’ll turn up. A lot of these, granted, are the opening of the film, which isn’t as big an issue (at least you’re not waiting for it to happen, because it’s right at the beginning), but still, that means when I go see the movie, I’d be seeing stuff I already saw for the first five or ten minutes, and I can’t think why I’d want to do that.

So that’s why I rarely watch trailers anymore, especially when it’s for a movie I already want to see. It rarely adds to my anticipation, it often yields distraction and mild disappointment while watching the movie, and it’s simply not worth it. I’m not that hard-core about it, and unless it’s the rare Inception or Looper where I really do want to go in totally blind, I don’t turn away from trailers in theatres. But I’m not going to seek them out or watch them online, so if you ask me “hey, did you see that awesome trailer for xyz,” the answer is probably no. And I probably don’t care to, so don’t try to convince me.

For the record, this is my favorite trailer of all time (regardless of the eventual quality of the movie):

  • Mythical Monkey

    Then I mentally check off that scene from the trailer. “Three down, five
    more to go.” I’m waiting for those other scenes to happen. I know
    they’ll come up sometime. When will they be?

    I totally get that and I find myself doing the same thing. Especially if it’s either an only fair-to-middling movie (Ted, say) or a particularly arresting image (Tim Robbins reaching for the rainy sky in The Shawshank Redemption).

    Fortunately for my viewing habits these days, I never run across trailers on television for old Mary Pickford movies …

    • Yeah, that is a definitely plus about watching older films. :) It’s much easier to go into them totally blind, or only based on director/cast knowledge.

  • I avoid trailers, just like i avoid TV commercials, and usually surf with adblock on my browser, but I only truly hate those Hollywood comedy and rom-com trailers targeted to the lowest common denominator. You know all the ones with the same tired voiceovers, same editing style, and same reaction shots; and basically tell the whole movie in 2 minutes.

    • The good thing about the ones for standard-issue Hollywood comedy, romantic comedy, and even low-level drama/action movies is that generally the trailer gives me enough of a feel of the movie and its story that I don’t feel any need to watch the actual movie. It’s like, okay, I just spent two minutes watching the entire plot of this movie, so I’ve saved myself 90 minutes.

  • The Amber

    The RE2 trailer is indeed the business.

    • The Amber

      And I hit enter before I elaborated why. Mostly because it invites one to the world of the movie without wrecking any of the scenes in it while at the same time relating the big evil corporation with a real big corporation that could be seen as having similar practices by some. Also, it totally tricks you into thinking it is just a regular makeup commercial, bringing the danger of end to the present in a jarring manner.
      Best trailer ever.

      • Agreed on all those points. I think even the actual Alice footage from the end is actually from the end of RE1, isn’t it? So it actually shows you essentially nothing from RE2 and yet piques your interest. IMHO, that’s exactly what every trailer should do. Get you interested without showing you anything.

  • Everything in this article is so well said and exactly how I feel about the subject, I can’t comment further other than to say, awesome job.

    Oh, and to the people around me in a theater trying to watch the LOOPER trailer while I look at the floor with fingers in my ears and singing “I Want it Now” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory… sorry.

    • LOL, I was doing that too the last time the Looper trailer played in a theatre we were in. Strangely, that was several weeks ago, and I haven’t seen it since. It’ll probably be harder to avoid as we get closer to September, though. Inception was incredibly hard to not at least hear before it came out.

  • Nostra

    Great article, exactly the way I feel about trailers and movies as well. I skip as much information I can in advance, makes seeing something for the first time that more special!

    • Yeah, I generally know pretty quickly when I’m interested in a movie, and then I want to go blind after that. That little extra perk of having everything in the movie be new is just too good.

  • Dan

    Jandy, I’m with you on trailers. I won’t cover my eyes in the theaters or at home when they show up before DVDs, but I rarely seek them out online. They do sometimes help me to learn a bit more about the movies, but there’s always that danger of learning too much. I’ve noticed when I see comedies that people tend to laugh really louder when scenes from the trailer appear. That was true with Juno for sure, and it’s very strange. I think it relates to the thought process like you mention that happens after seeing the previews too often.

    • I almost mentioned the tendency for jokes that were in the trailer to get bigger laughs! I don’t know if it’s just that the trailers have conditioned us to laugh at those things, or if the very familiarity after a while actually makes things seem funnier, or if it’s just a kind of a self-congratulatory “oh, I knew that was coming” laugh. But it’s definitely true, and it’s an interesting phenomenon.

  • Emil

    I hadn’t seen that RE2 trailer before. That’s some really good stuff. I’m sort of fond of the movie itself too, which is at least goofy fun, unlike other Resident Evil films.

    Also, yeah, I totally agree with you on what you said about trailers in general. The key for me is that if I already want to see a movie, it doesn’t need to sell itself to me any more, and at that point a trailer will likely do more harm than good. I wrote a post about it some time ago myself.


    • I’m kind of a guilty-pleasure fan of all the RE films, but I think RE2 is probably my least favorite. Except for the trailer, which is my most favorite. :)

      And yes, that’s exactly right. A trailer is a marketing tool; if I’ve already decided to see something, I don’t need to be marketed to. Probably makes it a good thing I don’t run or write for a particularly news-oriented film site, since every post would be “I’m not watching this trailer/clip/featurette/whatever, but here it is.”

      Thanks for the link to your post! You’re right about all of those things, too. The misleading trailer thing I almost addressed; I can say for certain that if I just went by the trailers for John Carter and Thor, I would never have gone to see them. It was a few positive reactions from people I trust that made me interested despite really mediocre trailer campaigns, and I ended up enjoying both moves more than I expected to.

  • I’ve already watched the Cloud Atlas trailer three times. I know what your talking about when it comes to comparing scenes in the trailer to ones in the movie. I’m not opposed to watching trailers though and I really enjoy it most of the time.

    Sometimes I’ll just sit on my couch and watch trailers for a half hour. It’s fun to see what is coming out soon.

    • Once in a while I’ll go on trailer binges, but it’s generally for movies I really don’t plan to see anyway, or or that I don’t know anything about at all. Like, I’ll often watch trailers, or at least parts of trailers, before finalizing a festival schedule. But as soon as I kind of get a feel for the movie, I’ll often turn the trailer off.

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