The main issue most of us have with movie trailers is that they show us *too much* – recently, I myself wrote up an article about Pet Sematary‘s second trailer and its insistence on spoiling an interesting little change to Stephen King’s story – but the truth is that trailers can sometimes have the exact opposite problem. When walking that tightrope of trying to show enough without showing too much, sometimes studios just plain don’t show enough.
Over the weekend, many horror fans took to social media to complain that Happy Death Day 2U‘s trailers misrepresented the film as a straight up slasher-horror movie, when in actuality it was more of a sci-fi/comedy… with a sidelined slasher element. Personally speaking, I’m confused about the fact that anyone ever expected a sequel to Happy Death Day, itself a very comedic take on the slasher sub-genre, to be a full-on horror movie, but I digress. If there was any problem with the film’s marketing campaign, I’d argue the issue was that the trailers actually made Happy Death Day 2U seem far less interesting than it turned out to be.
Mind you, there are no doubt many, many movie-goers who prefer to know next to nothing about new movies before they see them, but the reality is, general audiences are only going to pay to see new movies when they’re bit by a particular hook being marketed. The first Happy Death Day, centered on a college girl who’s stuck in a time loop and has to relive the day of her death over and over again until she finds her murderer, had a killer hook, so it was no big surprise that it was such a hit at the box office. Back in 2017, the film’s domestic opening weekend take totaled $26,039,025, ensuring a sequel wasn’t far behind.
But Happy Death Day 2U, well, it didn’t fare quite as well. The film made just shy of $10 million in its traditional opening weekend – the current Wednesday-Monday estimate, however, brings the total up to around $15 million – which is far below the roughly $30 million estimate that projections had suggested heading into the weekend. Granted, its $9 million budget ensures that Happy Death Day 2U will be profitable regardless, but one has to wonder why the sequel to such a hit movie under-performed to such an extent.
My best guess? If you go back and watch Happy Death Day 2U‘s trailers, they mostly suggest that the sequel is the exact same movie as its predecessor. And while the two movies do indeed feel cut from much the same cloth, what the marketing did not divulge is that Happy Death Day 2U’s storyline is a bit more of a deviation than it probably seemed to be.
In Christopher Landon’s sequel, Tree doesn’t merely get stuck back in the same time loop for a second time, but rather, she’s actually transported to a whole new dimension entirely. In this alternate universe, things are different than they were/are in the first film’s universe, and the main storyline in the film centers on Tree’s struggle to decide whether she wants to live in Universe A or Universe B. Confusing things, Tree’s mom is still alive in Universe B.
Now that’s an interesting hook, and I can’t help but wonder aloud if maybe, just maybe, “spoiling” that hook would’ve gotten more people interested in seeing Happy Death Day 2U this past weekend. And I have to imagine that the reason many fans of the first film didn’t plunk down the money for a ticket is because the trailers convinced them that the sequel was basically going to do little more than rehash what they had already seen back in 2017.
(In many ways, it kind of does, so maybe the problem is the film itself, not its marketing.)
Another recent horror movie that perhaps suffered from this same marketing issue was Orion’s The Prodigy, which made just $5,853,061 during its opening weekend. The marketing was heavily built around the question “What’s wrong with Miles?” and it wasn’t unless/until we paid to see it that we found out. But what’s strange about The Prodigy is that the answer to that question isn’t actually even a reveal in the movie. It’s outright stated in the opening scene.
We find out *immediately* at the start of The Prodigy, before we even meet Miles, that his body was inhabited at birth by the soul of a sadistic serial killer, which would seem to be a second or even final act twist but is actually presented within the film as an opening act story beat. The film’s marketing, rather than divulging this hook, instead made us think The Prodigy was just another creepy kid horror movie, and I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my head around the decision to be so secretive about what is actually the film’s first scene.
With a marketing campaign that played up The Prodigy’s compelling “past life regression” storyline, would more people have purchased a ticket to see it? Can we chalk up the film’s under-performance at the box office to an unnecessarily vague marketing campaign?
One thing I can say for sure is that I certainly don’t envy anyone in charge of marketing movies for studios, as it’s very difficult to strike the perfect balance and get people interested in seeing a movie while at the same time retaining secrets best discovered inside of a theater rather than on the computer at home. And no matter what, let’s be real here, most of us (myself included) are going to complain either way. All I’m suggesting is that when a movie has a killer hook going for it, maybe it’s not a bad idea for the trailers to spoil it.
But I’m just thinking aloud here. Feel free to chime in below with your own thoughts.