A common complaint uttered by moviegoers is that film trailers nowadays spoil far too much of the film they are trying to advertise, removing any trace of surprise from the final feature. Just take the backlash over the second trailer for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice which was released earlier this year. It revealed a great deal about the upcoming blockbuster superhero punch-up: namely, the specifics of a major new character’s arrival in the film and a new baddie that the squabbling heroes will eventually have to band together to fight. Disappointed by the amount of what they deemed were spoilers in the trailer, die-hard fans were motivated to edit their own, ‘spoiler-free’, trailers. It appears that Warner Brothers have conceded to these cries, resulting in the release of a new, ‘final’, trailer which actually features less plot detail than the previous one.
What’s arguably even worse is when a movie trailer misleads the audience completely, portraying a film that is completely different to the final version released in cinemas. Often this occurs when studios fear the marketability of a film, and so attempt to present it as something more conventionally crowd-pleasing. Take the trailer for Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods, which presented the film as a generic horror flick without any signal of its satirical streak. The marketing for the newly-released Deadpool plays on this potential to mislead for great comedic effect, by presenting the crass, irreverent, hyper-violent superhero as a charming romantic lead.
Yet this is far from a new phenomenon: trailers have been misleading their viewers and spoiling the biggest laughs and most shocking twists of hit films for decades now. In fact, there is a strong case to suggest that they used to be even worse! American Pie’s trailer spoils the most iconic gag of the film, Castaway’s showed Tom Hanks’ return to civilisation from the very end of the movie, and Carrie’s gives away a blow-by-blow summary of one of cinematic history’s greatest horror movie endings.
Of course, this spoiler epidemic probably isn’t the fault of the filmmakers. One of the directors who is most vocal about the need to minimise spoilers is J. J. Abrams, who believes in what he refers to as “Mystery-box” filmmaking (i.e. minimising plot details in marketing, so audiences go in to see the film fresh). Yet his draconian attempts to conceal plot details in films such as Star Trek: into Darkness have met with mixed reactions from critics, who claim it is an attempt to neuter discussion of whether or not the films themselves actually work by making reviewers afraid of stepping into “spoiler’”territory.
It’s a perfectly acceptable impulse to be afraid of spoilers and wish to go into a film as free from background information and trailers as possible. In my experience, watching trailers often leads to overly inflated expectations of what a film has to offer, which are quashed either when they are revealed to be false or when the film really did have nothing better to offer than the moments in the trailer.
But do spoilers have to ruin films? Or are they really more of a state of mind? I can’t count the number of films I’ve had ‘spoiled’ to me by a talkative friend, only to wholeheartedly enjoy when I go to see them myself despite knowing the ending. I’m reminded of a passage from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner: “In Afghanistan, the ending was all that mattered. When Hassan and I came home after watching a Hindi film at Cinema Zainab, what Ali, Rahim Khan, Baba, or the myriad of Baba’s friends…wanted to know was this: Did the Girl in the film find happiness? Did the bacheh film, the Guy in the film, become katnyab and fulfil his dreams, or was he nah-kam, doomed to wallow in failure? Was there happiness at the end, they wanted to know.” Maybe Hosseini has a point. Or at least we can console ourselves with the idea that the experience of watching a film in full is more important than knowing the key moments and details of the plot.