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Is This the End of Movie Trailers As We Know Them?

Theater owners are trying to shorten up trailers to preserve the moviegoing experience. Or something.

If you'll permit me to begin this article with a personal declaration: I love movie trailers and think they are a sacred part of the in-theater experience. So this news from The Hollywood Reporter that theater owners are seeking to mandate shorter trailers — cut down to two minutes, down from two and a half — has me a bit concerned. But, okay, they must have a good reason for wanting to slim down trailers, right?

Theater owners, who feel the brunt of complaints from the public, believe trailers are often too long and can give away too much of the plot. It's not uncommon for many circuits to play seven or eight trailers before a film. That translates to 17.5 minutes to 20 minutes, on top of in-house advertising. Exhibitors believe the new rule could boost ticket sales by making the theater-going experience more attractive.

Sorry, Man of Steel trailer. You're about one minute too long under these proposed restrictions.

So we've got a couple issues at play here. 1) Movie trailers give too much plot away. 2) Movies are starting about 20 minutes after their listed start time. Both certainly annoying elements of the moviegoing experience. Let's take them one at a time:

Trailers Give Too Much Away: Yes! Lots of them do! Lots of them are also pretty great and properly tease out the movie while giving a tantalizing hint of the plot. It's true that most of these more teaser-y clips are shorter in length (my two favorite trailers of the year — Frances Ha and The Bling Ring — would both clear the 2:00 bar). But overly-explainy trailers became the rage, I'm guessing, because some marketing genius somewhere calculated that audiences are more likely to see movies where they have a good idea of what they'll be seeing.

It doesn't say anything very flattering about mainstream audiences and their lack of adventurous tastes, but it does suggest that, if given a two-minute cap, big mainstream movies will still find a way to give away the farm that much quicker if it means selling the movie the way they want to sell it. (Also, wouldn't movie studios just start cutting internet-length trailers that are longer? The way there are so many more red-band trailers now that studios aren't limited to merely theatrical distribution?)

Moves Start Too Late: Also true! And fixable by about a billion other methods that don't involve shorteneing trailers. Some might say just show fewer trailers. To be clear: I AM NOT SAYING THAT! 80% of the time, I'd probably rather watch 90 minutes of trailers than the movie I'm about to see. (That's not true. But, like, 30% of the time might be.) But how about just starting the trailers sooner? Ten minutes before the movie starts, start rolling those trailers.

Of course, this would cut into the 20 minutes of TNT network promos that now run during that time, but if theater owners are really serious about improving the experience, that would do it. (Also, I might add that if theater owners are this concerned about start-time adversely affecting the theater experiencing, they better be prepared to field my complaints when latecomers are still trampling over me to find a seat at the 40-minute mark.)

Complaints aside, though, it's good to her that theater owners are looking at ways to improve the theater experience for viewers. If only because it means we're one step closer to my billion-dollar idea of putting headphone jacks into the seats.

Previously: Cannes Excitement Index


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