Scott Mendelson , Contributor
I cover the film industry.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
James Wan had to debunk rumors this weekend that there were ever any plans to debut a teaser trailer to Aquaman either at this weekend’s WonderCon or with prints of Ready Player One. As is often the case, especially with DC Films flicks, rumors became narrative became damage control. While there was never any intent to have that first teaser trailer ready to go around nine month-prior to the film’s Dec. 21 release date, the mere fact that there wasn’t a trailer led to another round of “Is this DC Film doomed too?!?” chatter.
For the record, I liked Dawn of Justice and Justice League a little more than you. But, I can understand that there is plenty of reason for any rumblings of any DC flick being in peril to be taken with perhaps less salt than rumblings about any other ongoing franchise. However, presuming Wan was telling the truth when he stated that he himself wasn’t comfortable enough with the quality of the footage (specifically stuff requiring extensive special effects work), then the worst thing WB and friends could have done is to debut an early teaser at this juncture.
It’s no secret that big franchise flicks can end up being less than they can be to hit a preordained release date. Who is to say what might have happened had Justice League been delayed a little bit to account for changing directors and a poor audience response to Batman v Superman? Conversely, what would the Star Wars franchise look like if Disney forced Lucasfilm and friends to hit that initial May 2015 release date? Blockbusters shouldn’t be anchored to a release date at all costs, we should make the same allotment for trailers for these big blockbusters.
There are few things more damaging to a big movie’s marketing campaign than debuting a premature trailer for a major movie to hit a convenient “release date.” The most obvious example is when Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. dropped a choppily-edited Green Lantern teaser, one filled with incomplete special effects to boot, to attach said trailer to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. Later trailers, including the WonderCon sizzle reel, were better, but the damage was done, and moviegoers viewed Green Lantern from November of 2010 to April 2011 primarily through that lousy first theatrical trailer.
But, you’re probably going to argue, Green Lantern was not a good movie. And, for that matter, Fox waiting until that had a solid first teaser for Fantastic Four didn’t save that movie when later trailers revealed the film’s obvious shortcomings. A knock-out first teaser can only hide the flawed final product for so long, as was the case with Superman Returns. And, for example, if Solo stinks, it won’t matter that Walt Disney waited until Super Bowl Sunday to launch the marketing campaign with a solid TV spot and a decent trailer.
At the end of the day, the movie is the movie. Even if you (wrongly) argue that the Frozen marketing hid its true self as girl-powered musical fantasy or that Wonder Woman didn’t kick its marketing into gear until late in the game (not quite true), the movies were huge hits because they were good, and the word got out. If Solo works as a meat-and-potatoes crowdpleaser, all the rumors, delayed marketing and behind-the-scenes melodrama won’t matter. And if Aquaman works on a primal “underwater Lord of the Rings” way, then there is zero incentive to release a too-early first teaser.
If Aquaman stinks, then there is no reason to let the cat out of the bag. If Aquaman works, then there is zero incentive to release a trailer filled with unfinished footage just to appease a fan base that has become spoiled by early marketing campaigns. That sense of entitlement has created a cultural sense that a movie is in trouble because we didn’t get a teaser trailer nine-months before release. Either way, if WB and Wan feel like waiting for SDCC, then, well, I’m sure they wished they had done that for Batman v Superman.
Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson and Willem Dafoe, opens Dec. 21, 2018. As always, we’ll see.
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