Spoiler Free

A life without movie trailers

By Jeremy Seeliger

I have been living a completely spoiler free life now for over six years, and it has dramatically improved my movie going experience. I am still very into movie culture. I get excited for movies, and am interested in learning who the writers, directors, stars, etc. will be, but I refuse to watch trailers. Anything that includes footage from the actual film, I avoid as much as I can.

This is a lifestyle that I fell into somewhat accidentally. For seven months I lived in Pittsburgh where I was staying in corporate housing that had no television service. I had the internet and so I was able to get all of my content streaming, but this was the first time I was really consuming content without commercials of any kind. I decided one day to go see a movie in the best theatre Pittsburgh had to offer, but I had gone a long time without seeing any trailers, so I looked at Rotten Tomatoes, picked the highest reviewed film with 96 percent, and went in knowing nothing.

That movie was Argo.

This is a movie that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, of which it won three. The amount of recognition it received is so vast that “List of accolades received by Argo” is its own Wikipedia page. A major plot point for an episode of South Park was how good Argo is. If you haven’t seen this movie, do. I was blown away by it.

When I got home after leaving the theatre I watched the trailer and was completely underwhelmed. It didn’t do a bad job of conveying the film necessarily, but it revealed so much more than I wanted it to. Jokes that I laughed at, dramatic moments I was impacted by, and major story beats were all given away in the trailer. And the way the footage was cut made it look a lot more action packed than it was. Frankly, I probably would have skipped the movie if I had seen the trailer before going.

Contrasting this with my experience when seeing Marvel’s The Avengers, which had only come out earlier that year, I realized how much more enjoyable the experience of seeing Argo was. I remember sitting in the theatre watching Avengers thinking about which scenes had been in the trailer and keeping track of which scenes hadn’t happened yet. Once I saw something that had been in the trailer, the recognition pulled me out of the immersion. There was even the famous “Genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” line that had been changed from the trailer version, despite being delivered better in the trailer. There was no part of seeing the trailer that made seeing the movie better.

And this makes sense. Trailers are intrinsically filled with spoilers. They are basically a highlight reel from the film. They are the thing made to show you the best parts to get you to buy a ticket. It’s about marketing. It’s about selling you on the idea of a good experience, which in this case is in opposition to actually giving you the best experience. Trailers diminish the movie in a significant way because you have already seen the highs, so the only thing left for you to experience is the lows.

Filmmakers are crafting their stories to be revealed in the order it’s presented. The writers tell a story so that there is a clear line from buildup to payoff. The editors meticulously put a story together so as to flow in a way that is satisfying and engaging. Every piece you are shown out of order is a slight to the efforts that went into making the movie in the first place. And this is to say nothing of the actors who want you to understand their performance in context, or the composers who have done their best to compliment the picture with a score.

And then there are the times when a trailer just doesn’t reflect the final film at all. The trailer for Rogue One was over half comprised of shots that didn’t make it into the final film for one reason or another. People went in with an expectation set by a highlights reel for what turned out to be a different movie altogether.

Avoiding trailers does require a little preparation. YouTube videos sometimes have commercials in front of them I am trying to avoid, but it’s not hard to mute and look away for the duration of the trailer. Commercials on TV are easier to avoid than ever with streaming services and DVRs. Actually going to the movies was the biggest hurdle, but I now I make it a point to wear a baseball cap and bring headphones with me to the theatre so I can blast “Call Me Maybe” and stare at the floor until the lights dim and the trailers are over.

I felt vindicated in my stance on this with the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War. After the movie I watched the trailer and there was a standout scene to me. (Warning: The rest of this paragraph contains potential spoilers.) At the end of the trailer we see in the Battle of Wakanda all of our heroes running toward the camera, and among them is the Hulk. You might remember that at this part of the movie, Bruce Banner is unable to conjure the Hulk. This shot was built to lie to the audience members. They knew they had to sell the movie with a big action shot of the good guys, but they didn’t want you to know what was going to happen in this scene.

I propose you might be happier to let them keep their secrets.