In January of 2016, Austin Lugar and Nick Rogers decided to take part in a contest to see who could see the least amount of movie trailers. They wrote about it on the site and even bothered to updated their journey. Twice. Now they’re returning to see what they’ve learned. Or haven’t learned. Whatever, they’re heroes for doing this.
So here we are. It’s just a couple of days after January 1st and our contest is over. For all of 2016, we had a bet to who could watch the few trailers. It turns out it was both of us. Or neither of us. Whatever, we didn’t watch a single movie trailer in 2016. We noted our thoughts from the beginning of the year when we thought that we would have enough to say month to month. Turns out, “Nope, still truckin'” didn’t make for the best reading.
Now that it’s over, it does feel like we can look back a little bit. I stand by my thoughts from January where I did feel exhausted about how ever-present they are. It’s only been a few days, but simple things are less stressful. When I have The Daily Show on at work, I no longer need to remove headphones when a Hulu ad appears to be more cinematic. Watching TV with people is less isolating as I don’t have to start going “La la la la la” during certain commercials. Not because I’m stuttered about the new Ryan Gosling film, but because the sounds and images may spoil the film for me.
But did it? During the year, it was pretty cool to sit down for a Star Wars movie having not seen any footage from it. Same with a Marvel film and a Star Trek film. It’s fun to see something expensively stunning. But with those three films, I didn’t like Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond was fine and I had a lot of fun with Doctor Strange. The latter was the only movie this year that I actively thought it paid off not knowing how exactly how trippy it was going to be.
After I saw the movies, I almost never went back and watched the trailers because I didn’t care. So it may be the case that it’s great that I didn’t see any spots for comedies like The Nice Guys or Popstar which made me laugh a lot.
Trailers, for me, do tend to spoil things but that’s just a fraction of the pie chart. The other pieces are more important to me. Namely, the way to inform me about smaller films, the ability to excite me further about films I want to see and to have that communal experience.
I do like to go to random films at the Music Box or the Gene Siskel but I do need some sort of hook because I’m not a billionaire who can go to every movie. So it could be because of good buzz or an artist I like, but in 2015 I saw a number of great films just because the trailer. I don’t know if I would have seen The Second Mother without something like that. I feel there were a number I missed this year, because I didn’t have those exciting discoveries this year.
In fact, I felt myself less excited about cinema this year. Don’t worry–I still watched an unnecessarily large amount of movies. But all the films that I was looking forward to, even ones I mentioned earlier like The Nice Guys or Doctor Strange, I ended up seeing really late into their runs. I heard they were good from people I trust, but it turns out having some sort of visual assurance yourself does have value.
So maybe this experiment was successful because I don’t care as much about spoilers. I still will not go on Twitter until I’ve seen the new Doctor Who episode, but I’m not going to be as worried if I know something from the second act of a blockbuster.
I remember when I saw Casino Royale in the theatres, I knew there was going to be more to the movie because they hadn’t blown up a building like I saw in the trailer a thousand times. And yet that actually caused some suspense as Bond is settling into happiness. Outlander Season Two played with similar concepts. To (weirdly) avoid spoilers, that show had a very bold premiere where they told you the outcome of the season. It changed the environment to how we were approaching the goals and it made for a more complex and more fulfilling seasons beyond “will they or won’t they succeed.”
When it comes down to it, trailers are just ads. They aren’t trying to be assholes and make it so you don’t want to see the movie. It’s a marketing team overthinking it to make you want to go to it. That often compromises artistic intent, but how a film is marketing does not change the film itself.
So I went a year without trailers and I say that you shouldn’t. For even though they are just capitalistic brainwashing designed to make us think it’s a normal thing that Chris Pratt is now apparently always in a movie, they’re also a three minute piece of popcorn to share when you’re in the theatre. Something loud, silly and hopefully compelling that cause you to turn to the person sitting next to you and say, “That looks good.”
AND NOW FOR THE COUNTERPOINT, HERE IS NICK ROGERS!
Nick Rogers with the counterpoint is right.
But first, some anecdotes:
1) I have greater appreciation for hallway benches (or, in one case, comfy oversized chairs) in. Waiting out trailers in comfort is easier.
2) Only once did a theater employee ask why I was in the hallway when “the movie had started.” I kindly told them I didn’t want to see previews – a sufficient answer to deem me a weirdo with whom they chose to no longer engage.
3) I lost track of how many times I said “Oh, yeah. That looks good” before realizing I had zero visual reference whatsoever … and how many times “Well, I can’t say it looks good, can I?”
4) That whole thing about advance critic screenings not having previews? Of course that ended in 2016. Thank you, Sony and Warner Brothers, for showing your films early. Damn you, Sony and Warner Brothers, for making me sit with head down and ears jammed, mumbling nonsense to fill my head with sound other than whatever Inception whomp you were presently peddling.
5) You’re right, Austin, in the uselessness of monthly dispatches, mostly as it became clear neither of us was going to cave unless strapped down Clockwork Orange– or Parallax View-style. But also after a while, at least for me, neither watching nor worrying became muscle memory.
6) I have, since 2017’s dawn, watched TV spots for Underworld: Blood Wars, Split and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (on Hulu and thus unskippable). The only teaser I’ve sought: Blade Runner 2049. Hey, girl. I’ve gotta get Ryan Gosling in my wrap-up, too. Besides, Deckard lives in a desert now. Big whoop.
7) Here are 10 films for which I was elated to go in fresh: Rogue One, Doctor Strange, Ghostbusters, Sausage Party, Arrival, The Nice Guys, Sing Street, La La Land, Toni Erdmann, and Moonlight.
Now to your thoughts and mine:
I never felt isolated while watching TV or even movies with anyone. I liberally advance through ads when possible and almost exclusively watch TV with my wife – whose support, if not understanding, was indispensable. Honestly, she was more upset at watching so many ads for crappy movies by herself.
If I went to the movies with someone, it was often with colleagues and friends who understood and, in some instances, jumped onboard. (Follow me to freedom!) The only real issue with saving seats at a crowded show? Deadpool, and that was nearly a year ago.
I also stopped watching trailers after the fact, for the most part, after religious revisits at the outset – mainly from having cut through a thicker thicket of end-of-year titles.
As for smaller films, I hear you on The Second Mother. But I am an easier mark on money (for it’s cheaper to go here, or in Indy, than in Chicago) and marketing. Give me a synopsis, a cast, a director, a writer and, hell, sometimes a composer or a cinematographer and I’m sold … or not. I don’t recall the last film of which I had no existing knowledge for which I saw a trailer and said, “Hell yes.” Maybe The Good, the Bad, the Weird?
If anything, avoiding trailers made me more excited to see movies in 2016 – for it was, quite literally, a blank slate every single time I walked into the theater. Did I sometimes wish I’d seen a trailer to know that, say, Jack Reacher: Fucking Terrible would be so disappointing? Sure. But that was rare.
To your point about Casino Royale: That reinforces my rationale for proposing this in the first place. If I know a building explosion is going to interrupt his happiness, I can’t immerse myself in the patience and pace with which the filmmakers are guiding me. (Say what you want, I guess, about the Rogue One trailer, which had, what, 50 shots that weren’t in the actual movie to anticipate.)
Clearly a marketing team isn’t actively trying to discourage anyone from a film (although they often try to trick you). Plus, great movies have shitty trailers and vice versa (ahem, Suicide Squad) all the time. But overly revealing trailers can – at least for my photographic memory of stuff I find cool in them – deeply, and irreversibly, dampen my enthusiasm. When I was watching trailers after the fact, it was tough work to find any I thought were fine. Even with Arrival, it shows you the one damn explosion. I would have been waiting for it from the jump. Not knowing? Emotionally and narratively revelatory.
So … I went a year without trailers and I say you should!
Where do I go from here? If I go to / watch a movie by myself, I’ll just wait out / skip the trailers. (I will no longer subject my wife, friends or family to my antisocial isolation – no matter how oversized or comfy the chair.)
Unwilling to go all in? Here’s a methadone option: On the fence? Go for it. Never heard of it and a friend, sibling, parent or someone you really like and want to impress wants to go? Go for it.
Do you already know – with irrefutable ardor and simply by knowing said film exists – that you want to see it? Consider what you really have to gain by peeling back the wrapping paper.
Spoiler alert: Not much.
So … having arrived at a draw: What movie do we see together but pay for our tickets ourselves?
What are you talking about? You’re still paying for my ticket. I’ll happily pay for yours because I did not see fewer trailers than you, but you are definitely paying for my ticket.
As for what movie, I’m not sure. The one trailer that I turned on an hour after midnight was Nine Lives and that is no longer in theatres. We may have to keep people in suspense on what we choose which will probably just be you talking me into xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. For we all know you are strangely influential with cinematic challenges.