In Hollywood, other than critic reviews, the primary device in getting people to see your movie is to release an effective trailer, one that hopefully entices without revealing too much. That’s easier said than done. Nowadays, audiences are becoming smarter and noticing the common flaws in otherwise decent trailers. We are no longer amazed by conventional Hollywood tactics.
The thing is, marketing a movie is not an elementary task; sometimes movies can be so complex and confounding that trailer editors and studio marketing teams may fumble in creating suitable promotion material. Other times, a movie can be brimming with so many twists and turns that the studio has to do their utmost just to show off anything that doesn’t spoil the plot.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out, and many times audiences are left with misleading and occasionally unintelligible trailers. That can damage a movie’s reputation and prospects more so than a scathing review. With that in mind, in no particular order, here are 15 Bad Trailers For Good Movies.
Pete Travis’ Dredd has developed a significant cult following since its release, and rightfully so considering this version of the famous comic book character is superior to the Sylvester Stallone version from the ’90s. The problem is, the movie flopped at the box office, and only managed to recoup its production budget when the movie released on home video. And according to lead star Karl Urban, Dredd‘s marketing was to blame. Judging by the B-movie quality of the trailer, it’s hard to disagree.
Even though it has been four years since it released in theaters, fans haven’t given up hope for Lionsgate to make a sequel, or for a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime to pick up the series. Unfortunately, despite interest from Urban, neither studio is involved in a potential follow-up. Producer Adi Shankar shot down fans’ hope when he revealed Dredd 2 is officially not in development last month.
14. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most mind-bending films ever released, and its cult status has elevated the reputation of Jim Carey over the years. Unfortunately, the film could have been more well-received if it was properly marketed.
The first 30 seconds of the film’s trailer are exposition in the form of a commercial, followed by footage of the actual plot. With the list of comedy actors, the laughter, and the song Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra playing in the background, the trailer painted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a run of the mill romantic comedy, not the emotional rollercoaster that it was. Going by this trailer, no one could have predicted the film would win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay or that Kate Winslet would be nominated for Best Actress. At most, one would have assumed this movie would be a flop. Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Although the movie made only $70 million at the worldwide box office, it more than tripled its production budget, thus making it an outstanding success from a commercial standpoint, in addition to its glowing critical reception.
13. Bridge to Terabithia
Of all the trailers on this list, perhaps the most misleading of them all is the official trailer for Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia, based on the iconic novel of the same name by Katherine Paterson. For those who have read the book, the trailer felt like a personal affront. Disney attempted to promote Bridge to Terabithia as a joyful, fantasy movie for kids, when in reality, it was an emotional movie grounded in reality. Despite being sold as an escapist fantasy movie, Bridge to Terabithia overcame its marketing shortcomings and was praised by critics and fans alike as a faithful adaptation of the beloved children’s novel.
Even David Paterson — who is the son of the author and the source of the novel’s inspiration, and also the film’s screenwriter — agreed the movie’s trailer was deceiving, having said: “We don’t really think that it’s an appropriate way of selling the movie, but they’re convinced that that’s the way to get kids interested, and hopefully they will be positively surprised. If they are anticipating a Harry Potter movie, then we are in trouble. It is not a Harry Potter kind of a movie.”
12. The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is one of those movies that was filmed years before releasing. In fact, Chris Hemsworth hadn’t even been cast in Thor — a movie released a year before this one — when he filmed his role in Cabin in early 2009. To add to the weirdness of it all, the movie released mere months before The Avengers, which was directed by Joss Whedon, who ideated and produced Cabin in the Woods along with Drew Goddard.
The trailer for Cabin in the Woods isn’t necessarily bad as much as it is misleading. It depicted the movie as being as a modern-day slasher with hints of comedic elements when the movie was actually a parody of the slasher genre with an unusual, peculiar twist. By trying to minimize the number of revealed twists in the trailer, Lionsgate ended up disinteresting audiences, whom likely didn’t know whether to laugh or scream.
Those who gave into the trailer and saw the movie almost universally enjoyed the end product, but getting audiences into the theater in the first place seemed like a problematic task considering the conventional nature of the trailer.
11. The Iron Giant
Before Brad Bird became a Pixar guru by directing films like Ratatouille and The Incredibles, he directed the animated classic The Iron Giant, a movie which virtually no one saw in theaters thanks to its appalling marketing campaign. In fact, The Iron Giant is only one of the many movies on this list to qualify as a full-on box office flop, having earned a measly $31.2 million at the worldwide box office on an estimated production budget of $80 million.
Bird has been outspoken about the failure of The Iron Giant, placing the blame on Warner Bros.’ initial reluctance to promote the film, followed by a poorly assembled marketing strategy, which lacked traditional tie-ins with fast food chains and popular cereal brands. Interestingly, The Iron Giant didn’t have a release date until April 1999; the movie released four months later. Still, even with a release date, the film’s trailer surely didn’t help build momentum; it gave away far too much of the plot without capturing the essence of the film. Though it’s not misleading, the trailer for The Iron Giant is one that doesn’t do the film justice.
10. Star Wars
Star Wars is undoubtedly the biggest franchise in the history of film, and unlike many of the other major franchises in Hollywood, Star Wars is entirely an original concept made for the cinema; it’s not based on any previously published material, like a novel or comic books. It’s fantasy, Sci-Fi, comedy, and drama. But you wouldn’t know that if you watched the official trailer for George Lucas’ first Star Wars film back in 1977.
When Star Wars released, there was nothing like it at the time, so 20th Century Fox was unsure of how to promote it. That is why the trailer they released featured an amalgam of various genres, for Star Wars could not be categorized into any one marketable genre. Of course, this didn’t help the film’s released, and since the studio was positive the movie would fail at the box office, they initially released Star Wars in less than 40 theaters before expanding nationwide.
Judging by the various movies on this list, it is apparently evident that promoting science-fiction movies in the ’90s was a grueling task for studios. Not only could they not adequately market the movies, but they also failed to recoup much of their production budgets. Andrew Niccol’s biopunk movie Gattaca — starring the likes of Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law — was no exception.
Set in a dystopian future, Gattaca raised ethical questions about the state of the scientific community and the beliefs in eugenics. All of that is abundantly clear when watching the trailer, but what exactly is Gattaca? The seizure-inducing first 20-seconds of the movie’s trailer are undoubtedly intriguing, but the entirety of the trailer is nothing short of incomprehensible to common moviegoers. Honestly, the trailer appears to have more in common with either an infomercial or a video typically shown in science classes, not a trailer for a theatrical audience.
8. Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds is arguably Quentin Tarantino’s best film, featuring a plethora of terrific actors including Christoph Waltz, who played the Austrian SS officer Hans Landa, which Tarantino considers to be the greatest character he’s ever written or ever will write. While the marketing for Inglourious Basterds wasn’t terrible, some of the trailers were misleading, and that is enough to justify its spot on this list.
The egregious mistake The Weinstein Company made with the second trailer for Inglourious Basterds is highlight characters — and promote actors — who either aren’t the leading characters in the movie or aren’t in the movie at all. They promoted Inglourious Basterds as being a Brad Pitt movie with Diane Kruger as his reluctant partner (which is partially true) and Mike Meyers as the architect of the plan to kill Hitler (which is also partially true).
Unfortunately, Hollywood seldom learns from their mistakes, which is why Warner Bros. did the same thing when promoting Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla in 2014, heavily showcasing Bryan Cranston (who was just coming off the final season of Breaking Bad) even though his character doesn’t make it past the film’s first act. That may have been on purpose though.
7. The Matrix
Despite recent shortcomings like Jupiter Ascending and Speed Racer, the Wachowskis will forever be revered for their ground-breaking film The Matrix, as well as its two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Inspired by various religious and philosophical conceptions, The Matrix sought to popularize the cyberpunk micro-genre by captivating the imagination of audiences in a new, emerging digital age. Unfortunately, the trailer for the movie — while accurate — didn’t do a great job of hyping the release.
The first part of the trailer insultingly lists the mundane tasks and activities people perform in their supposedly dejective lives. The trailer then attempts to convince the audience that there is another world out there, and the one they’re living in now is nothing more than a construct. Overall, the trailer for The Matrix relies heavily on exposition without offering any substance, and as a result, we’re left with a feeling of emptiness from a trailer for a movie that is nothing but the opposite.
6. American Psycho
Before Christian Bale became Bruce Wayne, he was Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s American Psycho, based on the controversial, somewhat satirical novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, about a Wall Street banker who commits acts of depravity without provocation or reason. The film is an intensely psychological dark comedy, elevated by a masterful performance by Bale and the rest of the cast. However, just like all of other entries on this list, the trailer does not do the film justice.
The trailer itself is as confounding as the mind of the film’s titular character. Despite that, the film was principally a success. Featuring an ensemble cast consisting of the likes of Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, and Jared Leto, American Psycho was primed to be a hit, which it was according to its return-on-investment, earning 5x its budget. But having grossed a measly $35 million worldwide, American Psycho wasn’t the box office hit the studio was likely hoping for.
5. John Carter
In 2012, Disney released Andrew Stanton’s John Carter — based on the iconic novel A Princess of Mars, the first book in the Barsoom series, by Edgar Rice Burroughs — which turned out to be the studio’s biggest flop ever. In fact, the resulting $200 million write-off led to the resignation of then-Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Rich Ross. Maybe the timing of the movie’s release wasn’t ideal, or maybe audiences simply weren’t interested in early-20th-century fantasy, particularly after experiencing wonders like Star Wars and Avatar. No matter the reason, John Carter‘s marketing surely didn’t help.
The trailer for John Carter is an excellent example of how not to promote a movie. Showcasing a science-fiction/fantasy adventure, produced by Disney, with electronic music playing in the background is not a fitting way to capture the attention of the studio’s target audience, many of whom grew up reading Burroughs’ novel before Star Wars even released in theaters. Perhaps Universal Pictures should have taken a look at John Carter‘s marketing campaign before releasing the second trailer for Duncan Jones’ Warcraft earlier this year — which, unfortunately, succumbed to a similar fate at the domestic box office.
4. Cast Away
The trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ classic film Cast Away falls into the ever-growing category of giving away too much in the trailer. The film stars Tom Hanks as systems engineer Chuck Noland, whose demanding job with FedEx eventually resulted in him being stranded on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. Of course, with a film like this, especially one titled Cast Away, the obvious focal point of the plot would regard him finding a way home (if he does).
Unfortunately, the trailer not only reveals that he got off the island and made his way home (after four years), but also progressively summarizes his experiences on said island. He made fire, he learned to catch fish, and he created a wooden raft, among other things. Also, the character with the biggest supporting role is also revealed — Wilson the Volleyball. Coupled with music from Braveheart, the trailer for Cast Away is one of the worst trailers of all time, especially one for featuring an Academy Award-nominating performance by Hanks. As the joke goes, the only thing the trailer doesn’t give away is whatever is in the coffin.
Speaking of Braveheart, the first official trailer made the film seem like audiences were in for historical romance — intermixed with a war with the English — not one of the goriest war films ever made. While the trailer touched upon virtually all aspects of Braveheart — directed by and starring Mel Gibson — including the titular character’s two romances, the trailer fails to capture the true meaning of the film. Furthermore, the trailer is cluttered with various conflicting genres, depicting the film as more of a B-movie than an Oscar contender.
Although several elements and plot points in Braveheart are historically inaccurate, the film presents a rich and compelling story about the Scottish warrior William Wallace, who led a rebellion during the First War of Scottish Independence in the 13th century. It’s too bad the trailer was terrible. Judging by what was shown, no one could have expected the film to come out on top and be nominated for ten Academy Awards, let alone that it’d win five of them, including Best Picture.
2. Minority Report
Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report — loosely based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick — is not an easy film to follow. Even though Spielberg had two-and-a-half hours to explain the film’s premise — centering on precognition — and Tom Cruise’s character’s place in the narrative, many people left the theater reeling with questions. So you can imagine the difficulty in marketing such a film with a two-minute-long trailer.
Minority Report is a thought-provoking, science-fiction, mystery-thriller that borderlines on being an action movie. The trailer, on the other hand, is an action movie that borderlines on being science-fiction. The trailer’s numerous cuts to various action scenes felt incoherent and mind-boggling. And the late ’90s/early 2000s trend of mixing action sequences with exposition to enlighten the audience as much as possible led to an overwhelming compaction of information.
1. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is inarguably one of the greatest trilogies ever made, having altered the landscape of the superhero genre when the first film, Batman Begins, released in 2005. Thankfully, the movie’s trailers were decent enough to convince people to see it, even though Batman is one of Warner Bros.’ most successful franchises. Where the studio fell short is in promoting the movie on television.
Although a TV spot is not exactly a trailer, this commercial for Batman Begins is so dreadful, we just had to include it. After the atrocity that was Batman and Robin, perhaps the studio was playing it safe and trying to capitalize on Katie Holmes’ fame amongst young adults, especially those who watched The WB. Still, no matter the circumstances, there is no legitimate reason for Nickelback to be playing in the background of a trailer for a Batman movie, even if it is just a TV spot.
Know of any great movies that were hampered by bad trailers? Let us know in the comments.