As we all know, the most exciting part of seeing a movie is the trailers of upcoming movies before the actual film (note, this is coming from an American point of view, I am uncertain if this occurs in theatres everywhere).

However, there doesn't seem to be much of a forethought given to what trailers are shown, besides making sure big movie trailers are shown before other big movies. For instance, the idea of seeing a Dark Knight Rises trailer before Avengers (two different production companies, let alone two rival comic book companies) doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

Is there a strict guideline trailers are released controlled by the MPAA or do the theatres have free run of what to show?

  • 3
    Interesting question. I wonder if the trailers are already on the film that the movie is on, or if those are seperate.
    – DForck42
    Aug 10, 2012 at 20:16

3 Answers 3


I have a friend who owns a (very) small theater... so some of this probably isn't "official" (I know they bend the rules a bit at times). Also, they operate only on film, I'm not for sure about digital

Anyway, one thing a lot of people don't realize is that film is usually shipped on 6 or so small reels. The movie theater then tapes together these reels into usually 1 or 2 big reels(depending on what's capable of the projector and the size of the movie). During this time, they add on small preview reels.

From what I can tell, usually 2 or 3 previews are shipped with a particular movie. It's not mandatory that theaters put them on, but they are usually the latest, so it gives theaters a good incentive. Unlike movie reels which must be returned, preview reels can be kept by the movie theater. So the movie theater can of course add on more previews if they wish as well. I believe it's allowed for them to add no previews on as well.

Of course, with digital there is much less choice. I believe the previews with digital movies are completely fixed.. So, it's completely up to the studios..

As for how they select which previews are shipped with blockbuster movies, see the other answers

  • 1
    Ah, I hadn't thought about digital vs physical which now lets me see that some places can be deadlocked into playing some trailers (I'll assume the digital files are uneditable)
    – Tablemaker
    Aug 11, 2012 at 2:44

Here's an article answering your question. In short:

  • Out of a typical 6 trailers, two are chosen by the studio that made the film you paid to see.
  • The other four are usually chosen by the theater which profiles the audience using a quadrant system (male, female, under 25, over 25).
  • Sometimes the choice will be based on rating (if you are at an NC-17 movie, you might get more NC-17 trailers) or format (at a 3D movie you might get other 3D trailers).
  • In selecting particular films, theaters try to be fair to all studios.
  • Though it is frowned upon, sometimes studios will pay big fees to get trailers shown with blockbuster movies.

This answer is based on some guesswork, but may still be of interest.

Here's a photo of a computer running a digital projector in a small cinema in France. It's running software called Cinelister and you can see the playlist on the right.

Digital cinema projector

It's part way through the showing of a film called Cloclo (2012). I didn't attend the screening, but I assume trailers were shown at the start. As far as I can tell from the playlist, there's no separate trailer section, so my guess is they were part of the main feature item.

  • @saurabhj: I took the photo :) We only popped in to admire the old analogue projector on display in the lobby when the projectionist beckoned to follow him up a narrow spiral staircase and showed us the new digital projector!
    – Hugo
    Aug 17, 2012 at 19:28

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