As a frequent reader of (and super infrequent contributor to) Murphy’s Multiverse and Charles Murphy’s tweets, I come across one thing more frequently than any other: “When is the trailer for _________ coming out?” Inevitably Charles’ response is the same. “I don’t do trailer dates, I don’t know.” Now the reality here is that while directors have some say over the marketing of a film (ex. James Gunn appears to be particularly interested in picking which shots are available), ultimately production and marketing are not the same departments of a major studio. Asking a source with production sources when the marketing team is prepping a trailer just doesn’t make a ton of sense. So we should probably just leave Charles alone.
That doesn’t mean we’re in the dark, however. The reality here is that Disney has used a pretty consistent pattern over the years for releasing trailers to Marvel Studios projects. Now I want to be clear, all I’m sharing here are my observations of historical data. I have no more access to inside sources than you do. What I can offer is my spreadsheet. That’s right, I’m the kind of nerd who has a detailed spreadsheet listing all the MCU films and what days their trailers dropped on, as well as averages for how many days before release those come. Here’s what such info can and cannot tell us.
*A few notes on my spreadsheet data. Most of this I have compiled when things came out. Some of the older data is based on the dates of trailers posted on YouTube. Also, my data only goes back to the first Thor because that was the oldest data available. Finally, I refer below to first and second trailers because most Marvel Studios’ films only get a first and second. A few got a third. I do not consider TV spots to be trailers. I also have not included Super Bowl ads as trailers, because usually a studio is not going to pay for more than a 30 second spot in that expensive time slot. If a longer full trailer was released during the Super Bowl online, I’ve included that. Finally, at cons and such we will sometimes get a “sizzle reel.” These I have not included as trailers proper.
While things have changed over time there is a pretty steady pattern for the MCU. Nine MCU films dropped on the first weekend of May or last weekend of April. The date range for those nine films’ first trailers was October 11th to December 9th. The October trailers, however, are all grouped around Phase II. Since 2015 or so the preferred date for a first trailer for the big May releases has reliably been between Thanksgiving and the first week of December. The second trailer tends to come sometime in March. This is a pretty steady schedule.
For movies coming out in July, the date depends on the involvement of Sony. Marvel Studios tends to do something in late January or later. Sony’s preference has tended to be earlier. Both Spidey pictures got going on their marketing longer out than any other Marvel Studios July releases. Second trailers keep coming later and later for July movies as the years go on. They still tend to come in April and May in recent years. It’s worth noting that Black Widow follows that trend, though it’s fair to ask if we should consider the delay-rife movie as normative of anything.
November releases have been steadier than any other release window. So far every November release for Marvel Studios got their first trailer in April of that year. The second trailer then comes out in late July or early August. Particularly noteworthy are Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok, two movies where trailers came out on almost the exact same days compared to release date. Now it’s fair to guess that unless we’re really surprised, Eternals is going to break the steadiness of this pattern.
Finally, there is the relatively new strategy of releasing films in February and March. These dates are kind of all over the place so far. There’s too little data to suggest much of a pattern yet.
The other data point here to consider is the average date. On average, first trailers come about 155 days before release. The second trailer comes out on average 68 days before release. The average isn’t everything because of the peculiarity of the calendar. Disney tends to treat November releases a bit differently than May releases so that trailers hit during certain windows. As such it has been more accurate to look at the November-release data for an upcoming November release than to look at the average.
Disney+ shows are a new phenomenon and the data set is more limited. The averages are 133 days before release for trailer one and 48 days before trailer two. Loki has seen both of its trailers hit significantly earlier than the averages, and as a third of the data it actually skewers them much higher than the more similar dates for WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It does seem fair to assume that Disney+ shows have a more compressed marketing period than films.
The problem with the historical data is that exceptions exist and usually happen for good reasons. The major outlier would be Black Panther. We were all introduced to Wakanda for the first time on June 9, 2017, a full 252 days before the movie came out. This is by far the earliest a trailer has come out, by almost two months. This trailer was part of a promotion with the NBA Finals. While I’ve never seen anyone admit as much in the media, it seemed somewhat obvious at the time that Disney saw an opportunity to cross-promote their film and ABC sports broadcast. The NBA Finals have a higher percentage of black viewers than many other major TV events and thus the demographic fit well with the viewers they were targeting with Black Panther. What this data point shows us is that there is roughly a play book, unless they decide to just throw it out! Disney marketing is happy to call an audible if a special opportunity comes available.
Another more recent exception would be Loki getting its first trailer 183 days before its scheduled release. While this isn’t a totally unusual date for movies, it is much sooner than most streaming shows get a trailer, particularly on Disney+. But again there is a reason behind the exception. That first trailer was part of the Disney+ mega investors’ call back in November. This was a bit peculiar because Marvel Studios has not historically worried too much about forcing trailers into the con schedule. And when they do show footage, they often have chosen to show them in the room and not release the footage to the public. (D23 got some exclusive footage of Captain America: Civil War that stayed off the internet for some time. I also think of the Avengers: Infinity War shows from Titan that appeared at SDCC but didn’t get a wider release until much later.) SDCC is a great time to drop a second trailer for November releases, so they have been willing to bring something for all of us to San Diego. Regardless, the investor call was apparently too good an opportunity to be ignored and so they showed us the first trailer for Loki really early.
These exceptions matter because they make it really hard to predict any single trailer’s release date. We can always say “based on historical data we should see a trailer by…” But that’s different than knowing when one is coming. As such, I thought that we would see Loki’s second trailer in early May because the previous two Disney+ shows had trailers dropped 36 and 40 days before their release. Obviously, they did something else altogether for Loki (67 days before) and there is no clear reason why, particularly since the Black Widow third trailer had just hit.
COVID-AN EVEN BIGGER EXCEPTION
It is worth noting that COVID has made it even harder to predict trailer release dates. The general rule of thumb right now appears to be “wait until you are sure the movie is coming out!” Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is overdue for its first trailer but Marvel obviously didn’t know when that movie ultimately would come out. (They still might not!) The lack of a trailer for the movie before its move to September was a good sign they thought it was getting delayed. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now as it is in the sweet spot for a first trailer any day now…maybe even today!
While it isn’t a trailer, the title reveal for Spider-Man: No Way Home was similarly slower than expected. Sony tends to like to get details out as quickly as possible. The fever pitch for that title this year was in part due to how long it was taking for that info to come out.
SO WHEN’S THE TRAILER COMING OUT?
We have no idea. Do you want some guesses? I’m willing to guess. Remember this is ME guessing, not Charles. You can mock me when they’re (inevitably) wrong. Here’s my thoughts.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings-As I said above, we’re already on the other side of the average date for a first trailer. And we’ve never had a September Marvel Studios film. Assuming they feel confident that this movie will make it’s date then I’d still assume the first trailer would need to come out before the end of this month. If it doesn’t happen by May 1 I’d guess they are still considering a delay.
What If?-A real wild card. We don’t know the release date so it’s hard to count back, even if we knew how many days ahead the trailer was coming. Assuming this is a late Summer show, I’d think we’d see a trailer near the end of April and the beginning of May. Given the way they put out Loki and Black Widow trailers close together, it might be a similar Shang-Chi and What If? trailer party in a few weeks. Disney’s marketing team does seem to like to cluster stuff, like a recent drop of the Obi-Wan Kenobi cast and The Bad Batch trailer on back to back days.
Eternals-I know that the fans of this movie are dying! In a usual cycle they would have gotten a first trailer last April before release last November, but obviously the pandemic put an end to that. We have consistent data for when Disney likes to drop first trailers for November and that date would usually be…this week. Again, COVID delays are probably in effect here. It’s hard to believe that we’ll get a first look at Eternals before Shang-Chi. As such I’d think we won’t see anything from this movie until May or June. That’s compressed from their typical November schedule but the first weekend of June would be close to the average.
Spider-Man: No Way Home-This is a real wild card. Sony’s team may have the ability to do something a little earlier than these other movies. It seems that Sony has some freedom outside of the Marvel machine. My guess would be June or July and it could leapfrog Eternals. If I were in charge I’d put it out to play before F9 or Black Widow, though it seems that us fans think about that kind of thing more than the marketers. I’m constantly amazed how many times trailers drop on what feels like a random weekday at 7AM.
After that, I’d think that some more regular patterns would kick back up. Early fall trailer for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, then Thor: Love and Thunder around Thanksgiving. Then again, the addition of Disney+ and unusual release calendars means all this data might become sort of useless now!
Marvel Studios Feature Films Data
Disney Plus Streaming Series Data