Cabin in the Woods: Do movie trailers now reveal too much?

Scene from The Cabin in the Woods

Highly anticipated horror film The Cabin in the Woods comes out on Friday in the UK, but some may feel the trailers have given away a little too much. So are today's teasers getting a bit over-explanatory?

(Spoiler alert: Key plot details revealed below)

Trailers are meant to provide tantalising teasers to lure audiences in. But these days many seem to offer major plot twists.

One trailer for The Cabin in the Woods kicks off with scenes of a hawk slamming into some kind of force field and men monitoring their young victims from a control room. The shots divulge a key detail - that the movie is not a typical wrong-turn thriller, but a sci-fi "metanarrative" with a Truman Show twist.

Another trailer goes even further, strongly implying which two of the five central cast members survive at least until the final section of the movie.

But The Cabin in the Woods is far from the first trailer to show too much for some moviegoers.

In 2000, Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks as a stranded plane-crash survivor, gave viewers a glimpse of the final scene in its trailer - where Hanks returns home. Viewers could rest assured before even setting foot in a cinema that Hanks would make it off the island.

Paramount Theatre during premiere of The Cabin in the Woods in Austin, Texas The Cabin in the Woods is marketed as a new type of horror flick

Audiences of the trailer for What Lies Beneath (2000) only have to wait two minutes to learn the identity of the ghost haunting Michelle Pfeiffer. It's the woman from her husband's affair.

And the trailer for Terminator Salvation (2009) didn't spare the identity of Sam Worthington's mysterious character. He's a terminator.

The trailer for Barney's Version (2010) takes viewers through all three of his wives, and even airs a pivotal scene where Barney meets the love of his life during his second wedding. She's not the bride.

Most recently, movie fans took to blogs and forums to decry the spoilerific Dream House (2011) trailer, which reveals two major turning points. Main character Daniel Craig is both the asylum patient and the murder suspect for his family's deaths. And he's innocent.

Critics' picks: Best trailers

Seven: "It misleads you about what the film is. It makes it look almost Lethal Weaponesque and not in any way like what you're actually in for." - Helen O'Hara, Empire editor

Inception: "From the trailer you knew it was going to be spectacular, but you didn't know it was going to be a movie for your brain as well." - James King, film critic

"The trailer for that was brilliant, absolutely superb because it didn't actually tell you anything about the film, but it completely piqued your interest." - Xan Brooks, film critic

Alien: "I had no reason to suspect that the entire cast wouldn't be killed off in the first scene, which made it a must see." - Fiona Cole, trailer producer

Trainspotting: "I remember thinking when I first saw it, 'I totally, absolutely have to see that film immediately." - Cole

In recent years the movie industry has shifted towards sharing more and withholding less, according to film critic James King. "More and more they are now showing the better bits in the trailer and the twists because they don't want to risk people being indifferent to it.

"In my job you always wonder about what you can say, how far can you go. My rule of thumb is if it's in the trailer, then I'm allowed to say it. I actually get quite a lot of leeway," he says.

Audience opinions about revealing trailers are mixed. Movie blogs and forums are littered with comments lamenting over-explanatory trailers that spoil the whole experience, but other moviegoers say they appreciate knowing what they're getting into.

User posts on for the 2012 The Cabin in the Woods trailer are telling.

Commenter Zee finds the sci-fi scenes "a bit spoilerish", and says he would have been better off "skipping the trailer altogether". Whereas, Raul M writes: "Honestly, if they didn't reveal what they revealed in the trailer, I wouldn't have been interested in seeing the movie in the first place."

A   crowd outside Terminator 4  premier in Tokyo on June 4, 2009 A character's terminator identity is revealed in the Terminator Salvation trailer

Offering audiences everything upfront can backfire, according to Xan Brooks, a Guardian film critic, who rarely watches trailers before screenings. "I'm always kind of stunned at how it's almost like a little abridged version of the film," he says.

"I'd be absolutely incensed to sit down and basically see the same thing I'd seen on the trailer but just kind of cranked out to two hours."

For producers the divide between divulging too much and not enough is a "fine line", says Fiona Cole, a freelance trailer producer.

"You have to show the jeopardy so that the audience will 'need' the resolution, but the second you've shown too much, the audience disengages," she says.

The ailing economy and pricey cinema seats also encourage oversharing trailers. Movie marketers must work harder to get audiences in the door, and viewers increasingly rely on trailers to decide which movies are worth their money.

Trailer trivia

flim clapperboard
  • Trailers originally followed films - hence the name
  • Trailers started in 1912 as black cards with white text
  • Film critic Gene Siskel famously hated them
  • No longer just ads, trailers attract millions of viewers
  • Trailers can cost more than £600,000 to produce
  • Audiences watched more than 5.3 billion trailers worldwide in 2011

Source: IFC Entertainment and Los Angeles Times

"It's expensive to go to the cinema - you don't want to take a risk on something that you're a bit uncertain about," King says.

Helen O'Hara, an editor at Empire, says a similar aversion to risk may have compelled The Cabin in the Woods team to include the sci-fi tip-off in the trailer.

"The problem is that this is such an unconventional horror movie, they were worried people would feel misled if they didn't give you any hint of that in the trailers," she says.

For Cole, there's no excuse for over-explanatory trailers. Those that give away the game are "lazy" and fail to achieve their purpose - to inspire audiences. "It's maddening. I feel myself muttering 'stop now, stop now' before the trailer just about wraps the whole thing up for us," she says.

The internet has also pushed the scales toward revealing more about movies. Now filmgoers can click through their choice of trailers, teasers, TV spots, interactive websites and pictures online.

"Marketers have to be very careful that you can't basically build up a quilt of the entire film from all of those sources," O'Hara says.

If trailers fall flat, it's not for lack of effort. Trailers have evolved from short clips to mega marketing campaigns that generate their own waves of excitement, according to King. "Now the art of making a trailer is almost as complex as the art of making a feature," he says.

Cabin crew hope to keep the film secret

And there's nothing accidental about it. "The style they choose is deliberate. What they highlight is deliberate, and if they give away plot points or if they give away special effects, there's a lot of money making sure that that's in there as planned," he says.

Fans of the Cabin in the Woods trailer say the sci-fi scenes attract new viewers and don't spoil later surprises.

"The trailer does a great job of letting people know it's more than just a stereotypical slasher movie, without giving away the twists and ending (which is really awesome)," writes IMDB message board commenter Horrorwatcher. But he still cautions audiences to "stay away from any other trailers that might come out".

For O'Hara The Cabin in the Woods trailer "doesn't go the whole way" but could have held more back.

"There's still a load of stuff that isn't in the trailer, but it certainly gives away more than I consider completely optimal," she says.


More on This Story

In today's Magazine


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Trailer spoilers are terrible.

    What's worse is when a trailer outright lies about the genre/content of the movie.
    Pan's Labyrinth was marketed as if it were a Narnia style kids fantasy

    TV Tropes has a pretty extensive list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    You've seen the adverts... now watch the fillers that were not good enough for the advert that get us up to the 90min film run time for just the price of a ticket!

    ... or am I just cynical?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I don't watch trailers, nor do I like to read a long paragraph about what the film entails. I usually go off the title and one line about a film - as I can tell from that if it's going to interest me or not. I like to be surprised!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Prometheus is a good case of this,

    Anyone who wants to see it has seen some if not all of the alien films, and the trailer already tells us how the Alien ship come to be crashed.

    it also shows so much linked imagery between the Space jockeys and the Aliens that anyone with a good understanding of the alien universe can figure out what's going to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Also...Lauren this is the UK. We call them films and adverts. A trailer is something that is dragged behind a moving vehicle. I'm just saying...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I always thought the third Trek film - The Search for Spock - pretty much confirmed he'd be found from the title alone.

    Along the way though a lot of trailers have put me off going to see the film - it works both ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Why do most of them start with 'This year.....'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Sometimes even the title gives it away! Titanic, I knew what would happen even without the trailer and Kate Winslet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Movie trailers show you the best bits to make you part with your hard earned cash to watch, what is in effect, a poor movie. The power of advertising at its best.... or worst!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is particularly a problem with comedies. I get horribly overexcited about seeing a comedy that looks good, to find that I laughed more at the trailer, which I was able to watch for free in my living room.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Without a doubt YES! However even worse than that are US TV shows which spare nothing like Kitchen Nightmares USA or Extreme Home Makeover. At least with British shows like the long last families they save the best bit for last, rather than trying to keep your attention over another advertisement break.

    Less truly is more. I believe that this is a chance for the director to showcase his talent!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The simple answer is mostly yes. Its the same for most series these days which like to show you whats in the next episode which i really dont like and turn over ASAP..

    The genre of the film and who's in it, thats all i need to know.

    There have been good trailers which build up whats divulged over several weeks and those really get you interested in watching the film.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I used to enjoy watching trailers before films, but I agree and now, too much detail in trailers actually puts me off seeing it at the cinema. Why pay £10 to see the good bits you've already see, with some padding around it? I just wait until it hits the rental market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I hate trailers and agree not only do they often show too much, or key elements of the film causing watching the film to be completely pointless, (the trailer for real steel focused around the final fight scene alone), but also sometimes the trailers show the only good bits in the film and you arrive expecting a damn good experience only to find the film is nothing like the hype.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I remember seeing the advert for Star Trek Generations which shows the Enterprise being blown up and the saucer section crash landing on a planet - quite an important bit of the film! I find more and more that I decide not to watch films after seeing the trailer because I think I'll know how it ends and therefore lose interest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    A bit ambivalent about this, really. I've seen some trailers that have saved me the cost of watching the movie, either because they told me the whole story, or because they showed me enough to decide it wasn't worth watching. I expect a trailer to be crafted in such a way that it peaks my curiosity and tantalises me with what's to come. Giving the plot away is, in my opinion, just bad editing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Heck yes they do. Too often I see an advert and think, hey that looks ok. Then I see the movie and there is nothing to surprise me. I've seen it already. Considering the price of cinema tickets, I expect every film to offer up something that makes me think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Trailers give away so much of the plot it is infuriating.
    If I'm going to see a film why would I want to see 5 minutes of exciting bits beforehand? Often several times.

    On a similar matter, I also hate "Next time..." trailers after TV programes. I'm going to watch the next episode anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I hate it when trailers (and reviews) take you through most of the plot of a movie, especially ones that give twists away. We've actively avoided reading or watching too much about Cabin in the Woods (I skipped over most of this article for that reason!) and also Prometheus because we want to enjoy them when we see them for the first time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Some people actually like to know the plot in advance. It's not as if Disney hasn't been making money hand over fist by retelling many old fairy tales [though they also put in their own "improvements"].

    In any case, many movies are scripted formulaically, so they're often not giving away any great secrets, because they don't contain any.


Page 12 of 12



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.