Resist NATO: Keep Movie Trailers Long

Slate's Culture Blog
May 29 2013 3:39 PM

Don’t Make Movie Trailers Shorter!

rating-card
A happy, calming image.

In the latest skirmish between movie theaters and studios, the National Association of Theater Owners (yes, NATO) wants distributors to make movie trailers shorter. Most trailers now clock in at about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, an arbitrary standard set by the MPAA. The theater owners would prefer their own arbitrary standard: 2 minutes even.

Theater owners, ever the public advocates, claim shorter trailers would benefit moviegoers by cutting down on spoilers and reducing the wait before movies start. There’s reason to doubt their motives: Theaters began charging studios to show many of their trailers earlier this year, so shorter trailers presumably mean more spots and more revenue. (Or it could mean more showtimes if the change was radical enough, though that seems less likely.) Studios argue that the new rules would be a “paradigm shift,” and that 30 fewer seconds could fundamentally change how they sell movies.

Advertisement

Even if this is just another dressed-up fight over revenue, movie trailers deserve more consideration than they’re getting. Yes, they are advertisments, but the participatory experience of the coming attractions is an integral part of moviegoing.

Trailers offer invaluable lessons on what movies to see with an audience, whether they inspire hushed awe or the kind of confused laughter that means a movie will be perfect for a late show with smuggled beer. They code certain movies for certain audiences, helpfully making it clear when opening weekends will be overrun with teenage boys. More pragmatically, years of that 20-minute preshow block have given trailers special powers of hypnosis, wearing audiences out and shutting them up before showtime.

Beyond all that, there is reason to believe that the 2-minute, 30-second form is worth preservation. Granted, the MPAA’s guideline is random—as are all of its guidelines—but it has proven to be a reasonable standard. Why clamor for trailers that are more fragmented than they already are? No doubt there are theaters that get complaints for overlong trailers, but when moviegoers line up weekly for bloated blockbusters, it’s hard to take them seriously. (And spare me on spoilers—fanboys’ online rants against offending studios are protection enough.)

The endless posturing between studios and theater owners has already threatened to keep some movies out of theaters altogether. We shouldn’t let it shape our experience once we get there as well.

Jeffrey Bloomer is a Slate assistant editor focused on video. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.