Welcome to blockbuster season, where we finally get to see the films we’ve heard about all year! The Avengers exploded on the scene with a 207.4 million opening weekend, and has stayed at the top of the box office for the past three weeks. Apparently like many other movie-goers, I have been anxiously looking forward to its arrival since I first heard of its release last year. And since I first caught a hint of its coming at the end of Iron Man II. And since I first saw its trailer, waiting for another movie to play back in January. Come to think of it, I’ve been waiting for this movie to be released for a very long time.
The Mere Exposure Effect describes the process where introduction to something makes us like it more than if we had never seen it before. It can be true for products, food, and even other people. The more often we are exposed to something, the more we like it and anticipate seeing it again. It’s why songs we were initially ambivalent about grow on us after repeated radio play, and it may also be why movie trailers are such an effective method of advertising.
Movie trailers introduce us to the plot lines and characters before we even commit to seeing the film, giving the audience plenty of chances to decide they like what they see. Just as in the case for The Avengers, we’ve seen the posters, talked about the actors, and discussed the trailer months before the movie is released in theaters. It may even help that so many movies feature characters of a similar archetype (the good cop, the tough career woman, the drunken hero). We’ve been exposed to these characters over and over again, just in different formats. Perhaps studios realize that certain characters are going to sell a film, because we’ve already grown to like them in a different movie every couple of years.
There is a catch that filmmakers need to be careful of, though—this effect only works with limited exposure. If we are exposed to a product too many times, then the effect is reversed; our interest turns to irritation. That song that we were singing along to one month starts to sound like saccharine noise after three. If the characters seem too much like the protagonists from last summer’s blockbuster, and the blockbuster before that, and the blockbuster from five years ago, we’ve seen enough for our appreciation for the roles to turn into derision about their lack of novelty.
I’m sure skilled writing and good acting don’t hurt a movie’s chance of success, either.