This summer’s movie slate is loaded and competitive, and trailers often play a big part in how moviegoers make their choices. With that in mind, we asked the experts to weigh in on this summer’s most intriguing previews.
The majority of the season’s most promoted and anticipated movies are sequels, whose trailers must be judged by how well they navigate the conflicting — and occasionally impossible — demands made of them.
Since audiences are already familiar with a given franchise, “the danger is not so much of spoiling ‘surprises’ but of neglecting to convey what makes a film interestingly different, while at the same time similar to an enjoyable experience audiences have had before and want to have again,” Dr. Frederick Greene, a visiting assistant professor at UCLA Film School, told TheWrap.
Greene produced the documentary “The History of the Film Trailer” and, along with Keith M. Johnston and former journalist Ed Vollans of the U.K.’s University of East Anglia, created the web site WatchingtheTrailer.com, where they’ve just released their 2nd Annual Survey of trailer audiences.
Sequel trailers arrive with a fair amount of baggage, however.
“Instead of openness and curiosity, sequel trailers face high expectations from emotionally invested audiences who are ready to judge. On the plus side … because the subject and genre are familiar, sequel trailers have more time to spend on story, character and best bits,’” Johnston said.
In all fairness to the artistry of trailer makers, “official release” trailers are the work of a committee: producers, distributors, researchers and test audiences have a say in the final product. In the effort to resolve multiple conflicting demands, creative integrity is often sacrificed to marketing effectiveness, Vollans pointed out.
Here are summer 2015’s blockbuster trailers, broken into three admittedly arbitrary groups: Sci-Fi/Action (Vollan), Comic Book and Action Adventures (Johnson) and Comedies and Rom-Coms (Greene). Our experts offer their takes on which best understand their audiences, present their features, engage viewers and close the deal.
Top 5 Sci-Fi/Action Trailers
“Pixels promises to be great fun as a movie, but the trailer is very middle-of-the-road. The campaign had a “Dark Knight Rises” Joker-style Pac-Man teaser that was really effective, but they missed an opportunity to expand this into a series of really cool video game-themed trailers. Setting up an opposition between the heroes and the video games sent to attack earth affords some cheap laughs, but for me this trailer lacks heart. Though it broke the previous record for most views in 24 hours, (34 million, smashing “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and its paltry 22 million), I can’t see the appeal.”
“The latest trailer sets up the characters nicely and there is a sense of the kind of narrative we can expect from the family-friendly movie without an obvious ending. The narrative pace is set up well, but there’s a lack of that “wow factor” visually. We know that keeping the storyline out of the trailer where possible is a big thing for fans, but here it seems like the emphasis on setting up a narrative premise without any further development restricts the spectacle of the trailer itself; there’s no gut-wrenching moment, or arresting imagery.
3. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation
“This trailer has all the hallmarks of being the best moments of the movie sutured together into a stylish montage. Nice, but the endless combination of action shots used are the kind of thing that distracts audiences in the cinema. As one of our respondents put it: ‘I find that some trailers are just compilations of the best action sequences/jokes in a film. When you actually watch the feature, you feel you have already seen all the best bits.’ I suspect this is going to be a criticism of ‘M:I 5.’”
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Forget the deep, classic ‘In a world …’ voice — this trailer strikes a much darker, sober tone that we saw with the rebooted “Batman” franchise: ‘I’m the one who runs from both the living and the dead, a man reduced to a single instinct: survive.’ The subdued operatic overtones match well with the imagery, but it lacks the kind of hook that makes trailers go viral. Having a talking point increases the chatter around a trailer, but this one feels subdued when compared to previous ‘Fury Road’ trailers.”
1. “Jurassic World”
“Perhaps the most anticipated trailer on the list, this one checks all the boxes: plot, pace, subtle nods to previous installments, even a dinosaur attacking children from behind glass. It’s the kind of trailer that will be watched, re-watched and heavily discussed by the fan community. As our research suggests, the movement to trailers online is vital in allowing them to be heavily scrutinized and it looks like this is going to be no exception. This is a wonderfully well-rounded trailer appealing to fans and non-fans alike.”
Top 5 Comic Book and Action Adventure Trailers
“This is about as bland as superhero trailers get. The Thomas the Tank Engine gag at the end appeals, but this misfires on several levels, not least its apparently mundane narrative arc. Based on trailers, our research revealed some audience uncertainty about the recent raft of Marvel films. While most respondents were positive (‘intriguing and explanatory,’ ‘funny, concise, and memorable, without spoiling any major points from the narrative’), some were not (‘just another franchise crow-barred into the Marvel Universe’).”
4. “Terminator Genisys”
“This trailer plays a similar game around visual and aural nostalgia as ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ featuring old and young versions of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Terminator. There are also nods to known catchphrases, visual cues to prior installments and the original film’s percussive theme. Yet there is a danger that ‘Genisys’ has not learned the lesson of predecessor ‘Terminator: Salvation,’ which one respondent said, ‘completely ruined the twist.’ Time will tell whether ‘Genisys’ has more twists up its cybernetic sleeve.”
3. “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”
“It is tempting to see this trailer as proof of the tonal and stylistic approach Warner Bros. is taking to its interconnected superhero franchises: atonal chords, darkly-lit images and jeremiads on the threat posed by Superman. This contrasts with the pace set by the ‘Man of Steel’ teaser, which was praised in our research for having ‘a better story … pacing … music and … emotions than the film did.’ Whether this teaser is defining a new tone on which the new DC cinematic universe will be built remains to be seen.”
2. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
“Our audience research suggests viewers prefer these subtler teases over the more narrative main trailers that are often accused of featuring ‘spoilers.’ This one raises more questions than it answers — arguably the purpose of any good teaser — offering a visual and aural link back to the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy rather than the embattled prequels. One respondent noted that the teaser ‘didn’t spoil the movie … it still gave an impression of what [it] will look and sound like,” while another called ‘haunting’ and ’emotional.’”
1. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Trailer 3)
“This campaign has been fascinating to watch and the tone has been consistent: blockbuster fun with a side of character angst. This final trailer does little to up that ante, but unlike the teaser for ‘Batman vs. Superman,’ it’s littered with enough one-liners and snarky comments to offset any downbeat tone. In terms of our audience research, one respondent felt it looked like “an advancement on the original ‘Avengers,’ which is what the producers of a big franchise sequel trailer want to hear.”
Top 5 Comedies and Rom-Coms
“In this 1:55 trailer for a high-concept spy comedy, the setup involves 40 seconds of misdirection before Melissa McCarthy enters the scene opposite Jude Law. A heavyweight cast supports McCarthy as she does her thing, but the premise is clunky, the physical comedy is minimal and while the dialogue is amusing, McCarthy’s big prat fall is lame. Bottom line, there are no “must-see” or “laugh-out-loud” moments. There’s cause to be concerned about the feature if this was the best they could do with all the talent on board.
4. “Pitch Perfect 2”
“This trailer positions the film as a farewell to college, the words, “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone” providing narration within the opening music cue. With Anna Kendrick again in the lead, the verbal and physical comedy — with the exception of the magnetic Rebel Wilson — is modest and feeble, the pacing is slow and the energy low. Still, for the presumably teen and 20-something female target audience, bonding, empowerment and choreographed harmonies may be more important than belly laughs and slapstick.”
3. “Ted 2”
“The ‘Ted 2’ teaser shown during the Super Bowl told us that Ted needs a sperm donor; in this official trailer, we learn why. Gross-out and bro humor abounds and Amanda Seyfried steps in for Mila Kunis as a romantic partner for Wahlberg, but the online commentary is not enthusiastic. Is the trailer sophomoric and raunchy? Is the repartee between Wahlberg and Ted the most compelling aspect of the trailer? Yes, and yes. The studio and their trailermakers seem to know what their young, male audience wants to see.”
2. “Magic Mike XXL”
“The first ‘Magic Mike’ debuted to low expectations and stratospheric ticket sales. ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ due June 30, has yet to release an official trailer. The teaser reveals no story or conflict, relying instead on muscle, moves, music and mojo. While not uncommon in a teaser, this seems especially smart given audience ambivalence online about the need for a sequel. It doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously, a worthy decision when selling a film that’s more commercially than artistically motivated.
“Skip the Red Band version and watch the Green official trailer which covers the same territory, minus the f-bombs. The graphic design is noticeably fresh, LeBron James makes an impressive debut and this sharp-edged rom-com delivers the bitter-sweet comedy that has made Judd Apatow rich and popular. This trailer lets the dialogue and actors do the selling, a smart choice given the writing and the performances. Let’s just hope there are more “funny bits” where these came from.”