Last week, Terminator: Genisys unveiled a new trailer that brought with it a MAJOR spoiler. And while giving up the goods so early and so quickly was surprising (and, in my opinion, stupid), it was also just continuing a trend that has infiltrated almost every big budget movie for the past several years – showing everything ahead of time. But maybe this isn’t an entirely bad thing. After all, if the job of promotions to promote, shouldn’t we first ask ourselves what are they promoting and whom are they targeting? (SPOILERS WITHIN.)
In the Terminator: Genisys trailer, they reveal that John Connor doesn’t just come back from the future to modern (1980’s?) day, but that he’s also some super advanced higher form of Terminator (or something new from SkyNet). These moments probably would have been GIGANTIC reveals in the move itself, yet months before it’s released, we already know that it’s going to happen. A really bizarre move, especially considering how it harkens back to one of the biggest complaints from Terminator: Salvation‘s promotional campaign – the reveal that Sam Worthington was a Terminator… and that his character was too. (And if you watch that movie again, though I recommend you don’t, pay attention to how not knowing that really would change how you approach the film.)
But does this huge reveal really matter? The first ads for Terminator: Genisys focused primarily on action and callbacks to the original movie (with a little bit of ambiance thrown in) than anything of genuine substance or emotion. It was clear from that point that whoever was charged with marketing this movie (hereafter “they”) didn’t seem to think that we the audience actually cared about the film itself as much as its placement as The Blockbuster Of The Week or, even more cynically, that we only cared about seeing Terminator’s Greatest Hits. With the exception of FOX’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, everything post-T2 has operated under the presumption that our love affair with the movies had less to do with our emotional connection to the Connors than to hearing, “I’ll be back.”
Looking at the approach in this light, it makes more sense why the marketers would readily give up such an important reveal so soon. If they think we only care about action and effects, then nothing else matters other than what would give us the biggest WOW factor. And considering how the hype surrounding Terminator: Genisys seems to be lagging behind all the other major franchise pictures coming out this year, why not give everything away and see what happens? Maybe they (mistakenly) thought “OMG! @JohnConnor is the #Terminator!” social media buzz could put them in contention against its more popular summer competitors… but that strategy has a very short shelf life (one that isn’t three months long). Moreover, it’s one thing to entice us with free samples, and an entirely other thing to give away the entire meal.
But then again, no one is going to Avengers for the story, so holding back that is essentially pointless. The ultimate defeat of Ultron is a matter of course; how it happens is irrelevant. The only real “surprise” they might have for the audience is a character living or dying. Even so, with a passing interest in Marvel’s plans you’ve already “spoiled” everything for yourself months prior. Captain America’s shield may appear broken in the Ultron trailer, but on May 6, 2016, we’re getting Captain America: Civil War, and Tony Stark will be along for the ride, so we know the two most important characters in the franchise are making it through Ultron unscathed. On November 3, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok is coming to theaters so that answers the fate of another of the main characters. And even if a character does die, that still doesn’t mean anything.
So do we watch Avengers for the characters and their interaction? Sure. The banter among the characters was a major reason why the first one became the third highest grossing movie of all time. But there are plenty of well written movies with good characters – that’s no reason to buy tickets months early to see Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo exchanging barbs.
No, the main selling point is the effects, which isn’t always the best tactic since almost every movie has fantastic effects and the amazing quality of home theaters have made many people reconsider taking the trip to an actual theater. But Avengers has successfully released some of its material to attempt to counteract this lethargy. Seeing a clip of Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor fighting the Hulk isn’t about getting us to want to see that moment happen – it’s about getting us to want to see that moment happen on the biggest screen we can with the best sound system possible. Multiple times, so after the roller coaster of the first time we actually dissect the thing blow by crushing blow. We want to have a sense of an experience that can’t be replicated on our HDTV.
Additionally, releasing a myriad of material bolsters the marketing effort. Instead of being relegated to a couple of trailers and TV ads that people may or may not see, Avengers is putting together a campaign that is simultaneously for the masses (by being available to everyone with YouTube) and targeted by highlighting different aspects of the movie.
But possibly most important, the desire people have to collect all the material leads to the audience doing the work of the marketing department. Movie sites promote the release of the clip. Fans argue what each bit means and how it fits into the overall story. It doesn’t just keep the movie in the public consciousness, but remarkably, it tells the studios something about us. The people who should most want to be kept in the dark (i.e. fanboys, people excited to see the movie for the first time) end up being the people most likely to give into temptation and watch all of this material beforehand. We want to be part of the conversation more than we want the classic experience of seeing a movie for the first time. So while we might blast the studios and commercials for giving everything away so early, we’ve kind of brought this on ourselves. They just play into our impulses, as good advertising ought to do.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe even had its own spoiler “blunder” during Iron Man 3. The one time they go off book by making The Mandarin failed actor Trevor Slattery, the audience revolted and they had to retract in the Marvel One-Shot Hail to the King. (Though I personally enjoyed it, finding it perfectly in tone with writer-director’s Shane Black’s previous work and a nice twist on The Marvel Formula amplified with great acting by Robert Downey, Jr./Don Cheadle/Ben Kingsley.) But for the most part, these are the exceptions, and might actually prove the efficacy of being revealing.
We also can’t forget what is being promoted before judging how it’s being promoted. These Interconnected Universe blockbusters are no longer about the individual film, but about keeping us aware of megafranchise they’re a part of. The percentage of people who want to remain in the dark (myself included) is relatively small compared to those who want to geek out in the weeks prior to the big release. Yes, it is disappointing that it’s become the burden of the movie fan to actively avoid spoilers, but we’re not obligated to visit movie rumor sites daily. If you want to know who’s being cast/who’s the director, it comes with the territory that you might get information you want to avoid. After all. we’ve come a long way from where we were even a decade ago when they peppered the Internet with everything you needed to NOOOOOOOOOO about Revenge of the Sith.