Movie Micro-Teasers: A Short History of Trailers to Promote...Longer Trailers

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‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ teased its upcoming full trailer with a clip of its flaming logo

If you’re excited about an upcoming movie, you’ll probably watch a trailer. Maybe you’ll even watch a shorter teaser trailer. But is it silly to watch a teaser trailer for a teaser trailer?

As studios look for any way to get their films noticed in a crowded marketplace, we’re seeing more of these micro-teasers, barely-there clips that sometimes stand alone but frequently are just to let us know a longer trailer is on the way. Unlike standard movie trailers, which generally run between two and three minutes long, and teaser trailers, which are usually about half that length, micro-teasers clock in at 30 seconds or less. At first, they would pop up for highly anticipated tentpole films, generally targeted to franchises with an eager audience of young adults — and signifying a coming trailer as an event almost as momentous as the release of the movie itself. Lately, however, movies of all kinds are adopting the strategy and jumping on the micro-teaser bandwagon. Here’s a quick history of the teasiest of teasers.

The micro-teaser arguably started with Pixar, for understandable reasons: Every Pixar film takes years to produce, so the normal promotional timeline just doesn’t apply. Beginning with 1998’s A Bug’s Life, Pixar has produced a few seconds of original footage to promote each of their films. (See a fan compilation below.) However, there’s an important distinction here: Each of the super-short Pixar teasers is a promotion for the film itself, not for a forthcoming trailer.

It was The Twilight Saga that started the trend of releasing micro-teasers before trailers. For the first film in 2008, Summit used a three-second trailer simply to announce the release date; subsequent full film trailers were preceded by ten-second teasers. Here’s one for Breaking Dawn: Part 2.

The Hunger Games upped the ante in 2013 with a Catching Fire teaser that was just 30 seconds of an flaming animated logo.

Fifty Shades of Grey released multiple micro-teasers beginning in 2014, fitting with the film’s “teasing” theme…

…And in 2015, Ant-Man delivered this 17-second trailer, fitting with the film’s “tiny” theme.

Also in 2015, The Force Awakens boosted its considerable hype by revealing a few plot points in a 15-second trailer, originally posted on Instagram.

Jurassic World and Deadpool were among other tentpoles to serve up a bite-sized first promo. But in the past year, use of the micro-teaser has expanded to films of all kinds hoping to build online buzz. Bad Moms — a relatively low-budget comedy — premiered micro-teasers before both of its trailer debuts, as part of a (quite successful) viral campaign. The trailer for February’s Jesse Owens biopic Race had a 15-second teaser, as did the Oscar-bait psychological drama Nocturnal Animals (in theaters this November; watch the micro-teaser below).

These micro-teasers usually reveal very little in terms of film footage; what they accomplish is building anticipation for longer trailers by getting them on fans’ radar. And while it’s not a reliable box-office builder (Race and Warcraft are among the flops that used the micro-teaser strategy), it occasionally pays off in a big way. Take the micro-teaser for Fifty Shades Darker, below. Despite being little more than a shot of a mask in a box, it was viewed more than 2 million times. The subsequently released teaser racked up 144 million views on its first day, besting The Force Awakens for the most trailer views in 24 hours. Would it have generated such immediate interest without the help of the 15-second walk-up? Impossible to say — but it’s likely to further convince studios that a little tease can go a long way.