Terminator Genisys was actually made worse by it’s spoiler-filled trailer. One of the biggest plot points to the movie, the reveal that John Connor was actually the film’s villain, was spoiled very clearly in the trailers for the film. This meant that when that moment occurred, which was written to be both a shock and a slight red-herring to begin with, all the work both the writer and director did to produce this was undercut by the audiences previous knowledge. It took away potentially the best twist in the film.
This isn’t the only recent case of this. Ridley Scott’s upcoming movie The Martian looks great. The story of Matt Damon’s astronaut who is left stranded on Mars when his mission hits a devastating complication. That should be it. That should be all we know. Unfortunately, on viewing the trailer, most of the story beats were given away, with major plot points and the direction the movie takes.
It is hugely frustrating because I love trailers but hate spoilers. I love getting a feel for a movie, particularly one I know nothing about. I think there is a great skill to a trailer which can tell you just enough about a story without giving anything away. These trailers do exist. Ask Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams or Christopher Nolan. Their more recent movies have teased enough to get a whole host of people excited without truly telling the story at all.
I do understand why studios release these spoiler-filled trailers though. In the case of Terminator Genisys, rumours of the film being less than brilliant (substantiated and accurate rumours to be honest) meant the studio wanted to demonstrate the film did something new. There is also an argument from the studios, one I don’t really believe, that people “want to be told the story before they see the film.”
Nothing is going to stop the studios releasing spoiler-filled trailers so maybe it should come with a warning. The trailers in America often have the green/red band which offers a brief warning of the trailers content. This is specifically about the content, be it adult, violent, swearing or scary. This is where we could add our warning.
Three levels would do: no spoilers, mild spoilers and major spoilers. They are pretty self-explanatory but to avoid any confusion and to help begin the discussion, it would go plainly like this. One of the more recent, exciting and most consumed trailers are the two that have been released for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. These trailers offer no plot points, introduce the theme and style of the film and peak interest – No spoilers.
The second would be the more recent Suicide Squad trailer. Even though this is only a teaser, we get a bit more story, a good look at some of the characters and even get a glimpse of a character that could well have been a surprise the studio weren’t willing to keep hidden. Regardless, nothing is really “spoiled” – mild spoilers.
Lastly we get the aforementioned The Martian. Lots of plot points, huge reveals and pretty much the story of the film up on the screen in a three minute clip-reel – Major Spoilers.
All you would need to do is put a sentence on the green/red band before the trailer begins: “This film contains ______ spoilers.” It would be that simple. The people who want to know as much about the film as possible can watch and the more cautious like me would avoid the major spoilers trailers and could watch the mild and no spoiler trailers with little to no worries.
Finally, who makes the decision on what constitutes a spoiler-filled trailer? The director would be perfect. Terminator Genisys’s director Alan Taylor already complained that the trailer gave away too much about the film. At least this way he would have more creative control and could warn audiences that the trailer gives away too much of the story he has expertly crafted.
Overall, placing spoiler warnings on trailers could actually help the movies they are promoting. Terminator Genisys would have been improved, albeit slightly, by not knowing the central twist and I’d be much more excited to see The Martian had I not known the whole film’s plot beforehand. This would mean the studios could produce their spoiler-filled trailers but the audience members who still like to be surprised can avoid if the waning contains the words “major spoiler.”