Trailers have been around the film industry since the early 1900s, originally nothing more than a series of stills attached to the end of movies (hence the name). Today, they’ve morphed into something far more monstrous, giving us an industry in which we’re waiting on pins and needles for release dates for what amount to glorified two-minute commercials. It all came to a head fairly recently, when Marvel achieved Inception levels of layers and confusion with its ad campaign for the upcoming Ant-Man movie, starring Paul Rudd.
It started out with what Marvel dubiously titled “1st Ant-Sized Look at Ant-Man – Marvel’s Ant-Man Teaser Preview.” What we had was a miniaturized version of what amounted to a teaser for a teaser, followed shortly by a more visually legible, “human-sized,” version. The larger edition hinted at the release date for the actual teaser, which in turn acted a precursor for a yet-to-be-released full-length trailer. The layers of advertising here escalated very quickly from “building hype for a big release” to “psychotic teaser exhaustion,” leading us to ask: What in the name of all that is holy is happening?
The Ant-Man teaser fiasco was merely a symptom of a greater sickness that’s taken root in Hollywood. It follows a compulsion for building hype to unimaginable proportions, making it so that people mark their calendars less for the day an actual movie comes out and more for when a 30-second teaser is set to debut. The worst offender of this everlasting hype machine seems to be Marvel, but it’s proliferating out toward the four corners of the industry. The Super Bowl this year gave us a good indicator of our ballooning trailer culture, featuring upwards of 13 spots for upcoming releases from Jurassic World to Fifty Shades of Grey.
But Hollywood isn’t growing this industry in a vacuum. It’s simply meeting a growing demand of audiences for the instant gratification that a well-made trailer induces. Why wait months for a huge movie release when you can watch a three-minute trailer that essentially tells the whole story for you? It serves to get us excited as much as it does to advertise for the film itself. Already, the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer has almost 70 million views on YouTube, while the first teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron has netted 66 million. People are watching, so why not double down? Grantland wrote a wonderful piece on the rise of the franchise that details this phenomenon, citing our constant need for what’s next:
Movies are no longer about the thing; they’re about the next thing, the tease, the Easter egg, the post-credit sequence, the promise of a future at which the moment we’re in can only hint.
Despite this demand, there’s always a line that shouldn’t be crossed. When we’re launching teasers for teasers for trailers for movies, there’s a good chance that we’ve expanded far outside the realm of sanity. Even more recently, Marvel’s Daredevil released a 15-second teaser advertising a 90-second trailer debuting just a day later. It’s advertising for advertising that only serves to saturate the excitement, not build it, sending an odd message to viewers that seeing quickly spliced-together footage is just as good as the real thing.
The culture is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. As long as we continue to tune in, Hollywood will continue to look for ways to further exploit our want for any little drop of water before jumping in the ocean that is the release of the full movie. It’s very much a problem without a solution in sight, but here’s hoping that eventually people realize that commercials for commercials for commercials go far beyond the needs of any sane person.