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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    It's not that movie trailers are too revealing, I think the problem is that story lines in general are too predictable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Trailers don't give away too much. Rather, the movies don't have enough content. A typical Hollywood film isn't much better than a well-funded television film these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Unfortunately, this has been going on for a while. The best trailers give the flavor of the film without giving away pivotal plot points. There are many films that I wish I had seen "cold" without any inkling of what was to come. In many cases the hard work the director has done to set up the mood of a scene or to build tension is diluted by something that you have already seen in the trailer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    That's why I liked the first trailer for the Dark Knight Rises. It gave almost nothing away, but you were on the edge of your seat with excitement, because you KNOW it has to be big.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Film comedy trailers "giving away too much" can actually be helpful: The trailers usually provide the best jokes/funniest quips/set-ups - thus if you don't find the best clips funny, don't watch the "comedy", because the trailer is probably showing the funniest scenes in the film. By the way, the funniest film ever is "The Room". Rent it now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I won't go into the actual seating area until after the trailers are finished, and at home, will not watch trailers on TV or when packaged with a rental movie. Recently I watched an older movie (older being relative, here, I think it was 30 yrs ago...) and the 30 seconds was JUST FINE - whet my appetite, didn't spoil, and left me wanting more. And 30 seconds is a long time.. put a lot in there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    If its for a movie I want to see I turn it off. Just like with Gary Lineker's desire to tell too much before games on MOTD. I would much prefer they write the script before results are known.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Movie trailers are great, with action movies, so much action crammed in makes them worth watching, you forget that each of the scenes they show are probabley in a 2 hour film, about 20 minutes apart, so you have to put up with the boring bits in between, too much chat, not enough action.

    I watch a trailer to decide if a films worth seeing, sometimes it is but most of the time its not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Watch the movie trailer and that's the best bit of the movie - no need to watch anything else as it's rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    OK, I started reading the article and immediately you launch into a spoiler : "One trailer for The Cabin in the Woods kicks off with scenes of a hawk slamming into some kind of force field etc etc......


  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Lately many trailers I've watched were better than the actual film.They're a pastiche of the most exciting scenes.The movie ,when viewed in its entirety, is a let-down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    but my least favourite is misleading trailers, films marketed as action films that totally aren't. Im thinking The Road and The Grey as recent examples, both great films that are not action films but were both marketed as one so people would not think "ooo this films going to be depressing".

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    ive been thinking exactly this for ages, trailers give ridiculous amounts of plot away espicially if its a rubbish looking film. I remember a trailer for the film Gone, which looked poor and the trailer went on for ages basically going through the narrative plot of the entire film. I just thought what is the point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Not a movie trailer, but I happen to have just started re-reading the Lord of the Rings. Several major plot outcomes are revealed in the 'prologue' section. It doesn't spoil the reading of the book(s) at all. I reckon that if the book or film is good enough then knowing what is going to happen does not detract. The trouble with recent films is that they simply are not good enough...

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Currently, one trailer not giving too much away but making the film look excellent - "Prometheus", i'm highly anticipating that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Yeah most trailers give the film away. Look at Clockwork Orange's trailer on Youtube, gives nothing away and is actually a good trailer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    It is frustrating when the trailer shows you all of the 7 or 8 jokes that are in most comedy films leaving nothing to look forward to when watching the film itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Plots are so thin it would not possible to give the story away - shouty people, car chase, and baddies with limitless ammunition who couldn't shoot fish in a barrel. That awful American accent they always use makes me reach for 'mute' anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    90% of modern films I don't rate anyway .
    As for the trailers, I feel it makes most films from Larry the Lamb to Terminator look and feel the same.
    Short 5 second `bursts' beginning and ending bongo drums, or heavy thumps and flashes. Actors whispering their lines etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    As I haven’t been to a cinema for years (to noisy) I can only judge from TV trailers. From that I’ve concluded that the shorter the clips the worse the programme. As for the plot – well that’s usually the same.


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