What’s the Endgame: Examining How to Make an Effective Movie Trailer

On December 7, Marvel Entertainment dropped the first trailer for its upcoming film, Avengers: Endgame. Within 24 hours, the trailer had already amassed 289 million views, breaking the previous record of 230 million views held by Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame’s new record shows how far movie trailers have come: indeed, even as the movie industry has declined in the past few years, the trailer industry has reached its heyday.

The movie trailer has come into prominence in recent years for a few reasons, the primary one being that trailers compose of one of the most important marketing devices a film company can use. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between reactions to trailers and the film’s performance at the box office. With the rise of social media platforms, trailers are traveling farther than ever before: people now post their reactions to trailers and even upload analyses online. The trailer is no longer a simple marketing device, but rather, it has become an entire phenomenon that travels across the internet at lightning speeds.

So, considering that movie trailers are so important, how do editors go about creating the best movie trailer possible to tailor to the needs of the modern audience? Since the first trailer was released in 1913, the artistic format of the movie trailer changed almost completely. Instead of being shown after the movie, it’s now shown before the movie; instead of having narration over the trailer to explicitly tell the audience in which direction the trailer is going, people now expect the trailer, with its mishmashed scenes, to tell a story itself. Most importantly, however, trailers now have to market towards a new audience, who possess a shorter attention span, want instant gratification, and favor authenticity and realism.

Almost all movie trailers have caught on to at least some marketing trends: for example, on the whole, trailers nowadays are much shorter. Additionally, the trailer will often reveal major storylines in order to gratify the audience, but this still doesn’t account for why we find some trailers much better than others. Infinity War and Endgame both churned out trailers that received great reception. Here are just a few and the lessons that can be gleaned from them:

  1. Hook.

    Both trailers start off with the exact same thing: Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) looking miserable. The audience starts to wonder—why? How did he get to this place? And it works. With a shorter attention span, if the hook doesn’t work, people won’t continue to watch further.

  2. Buildup.

    The trailer starts off slow and gets faster in three ways: the music (which starts getting more intense), the length of the shots (which get shorter), and the action in the shots (going from non-action shots to action shots). This perfectly plays to the short attention span of the audience since the increasing intensity keeps the audience hooked and willing to watch until the end. Advertisers need to understand how to use this tactic to maintain audience attention throughout an advertisement.

  3. Instant gratification via audience pandering.

    There are several ways in which both trailers accomplish this: first, the majority of the first shots are of the original Avengers (that is, Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye), and other other fan-favorites (i.e. Spider-Man, Loki, Black Panther) are featured as well to engage the audience. The post-title-card shot in both trailers feature unexpected characters (the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Infinity War trailer and Ant-Man in the Endgame trailer), ending the trailer on a high note. There are also dozens of callbacks to older films: for example, the beginning of the Infinity War trailer features a line from the 2012 Avengers film; music in the Infinity War trailer is the original Avengers theme song; the Endgame trailer features a prop from the original Captain America movie. All this effort enables the trailer to connect with the audience, pander to the fans, and get them excited. Similarly, advertisers can learn from Marvel’s tactics by inserting more nostalgia into their marketing to achieve the same instant gratification that the Marvel trailers do.

  4. Authenticity and realism via high stakes.

    This sounds a bit strange considering that the Avengers movies are all highly unrealistic, but the trailer fools you into relating to the characters. Both trailers use shots where the stakes seem impossibly, yet realistically high, and the heroes respond not by acting magnanimously, but by acting defeated. Both trailers purposefully use clips where the characters look serious and the Avengers appear to be losing. The audience, in a sense, knows how the characters are feeling. This is key in advertising—the consumer needs to be able to relate to the advertisement if they are to buy the product.

In all, the Avengers trailers demonstrate what advertising looks like when a company understands its audience, and it’s not applicable to just the movie trailer industry. Other advertisers and companies should take note as well.

Sources: CBS News, CNET, Vice, inc., Hollywood Reporter, Infinity War Trailer, Endgame Trailer