The hype machine is now as much a part of the fabric of a big budget tent pole movie as the director, cast, special effects and, more often than not, the script.
The relentless drip, drip marketing campaigns for such pictures generally kick off months ahead of release before reaching a crescendo of wall-to-wall promotional blitz targeted at winding audiences up into a collective frenzy of well coordinated anticipation.
One of the oldest, but still most reliably effective weapons in a studio’s armoury is the trailer. Once upon a time, a film got by with just the one trailer to sell itself to the masses. However, as the campaigns for blockbusters have got longer, the number of trailers produced has in turn increased, to the extent that Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise Man Of Steel managed a whopping five trailers (not forgetting the numerous teasers and TV spots etc) prior to its release.
When so many trailers are produced for a single film, with each one focussing on a slightly different plot or character aspect, the chances of giving away way too much to the audience are pretty high. Even films that have just one or two trailers are now cut in such a way that you feel like you’re watching the entire movie, or at the very least the best action scenes or the most amusing gags (stand up Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III).
Just as damaging are the trailers that idiotically give away major plot points, thus spoiling the experience of watching the film. In the right hands, a trailer shows you just enough to whet your appetite for the main feature.
In the wrong hands, trailers such as the ones below can end up ruining a movie before you’ve paid for a ticket.
Warning: The following trailers give away the entire film
The Negotiator (1998)
Probably one of the very worst offenders in Hollywood history, the trailer for this decent action thriller featuring Samuel L Jackson as a hostage negotiator turned hostage taker who only wants to talk to fellow negotiator Kevin Spacey ended up totally ruining the movie when a critical plot point was senselessly revealed at the end. To make matters worse, the offending spoiler-filled line of dialogue spoken by Spacey in the trailer didn’t even make the final cut of the movie!
It seems whoever put together the trailer for Brian De Palma’s horror classic assumed everyone in the world had read the Stephen King book on which the film is based, as absolutely every plot point is crammed in. It may not have revealed the very final shot, but that’s about the only surprise that was spared.
Cast Away (2000)
Robert Zemeckis’ survival drama about an Average Joe stranded on a deserted island remains one of the director’s very best films and sees Tom Hanks at the top of his game, but do we really need the entire plot layed out before us in a single trailer? Anyone in any doubt as to Chuck Noland’s fate need only watch the trailer to realise everything’s been helpfully spelt out for you.
Terminator: Salvation (2009)
The fourth installment in the Terminator franchise managed the double-whammy of being not only uninspiring, but also ruined by its spoiler-tastic trailer. Sam Worthington’s role as Marcus Wright is just as integral to the film as Christian Bale’s resistance leader John Connor, so it was only right to have featured him prominently in the trailer. What wasn’t as smart was the decision to spoon feed us a key character development involving Marcus that pretty much ruined the whole movie.
The Island (2005)
There just had to be a Michael Bay movie somewhere on this list, and while this Philip K Dick-esque dystopian sci-fi is far from his worst, whatever twists the film has are well and truly blown by the trailer. Impressively, it not only gives away the film’s central conceit in one swift line of dialogue by Steve Buscemi, it goes on to ruin another key moment involving Ewan McGregor’s Lincoln Six Echo in between the explosions, chases and leering shots of Scarlett Johansson. Way to go.
Anyone who watched the far superior Spanish language horror film REC will know exactly how this slavish American remake turns out, but to the uninitiated a semblance of surprise would have been nice. Instead, the trailer serves up all the grisliest details in true bloodthirsty fashion and can’t even resist chucking in the climatic shot, just to make sure there are no surprises.