In recent years, movie-marketing has transitioned from the good old days – where trailer narrator extraordinaire Don LaFontaine would spell out the setup for a film in plain detail while a sizzle real of funny moments, explosions, or heartfelt scenes of dramatic tension flashed on screen. It’s hard to blame studios, given that the movie industry has become increasingly crowded – not to mention that box office releases are now forced to compete with an ever-expanding streaming/digital marketplace of increasingly powerful home theaters.
As result, moviegoers have become more selective about which films they’ll spring to see on the big screen – and, with rising production costs, it’s easy understand why studios have resorted to longer trailers that reveal more about their films, in order to woo potential viewers to their project (over a competing title).
To that end, instead of preserving the experience for viewers who actually shell out money for a theater ticker, movie trailers have become increasingly more revealing – packed full of eye-popping visual spectacle and, in many cases, story beats that would, in an unspoiled viewing, be considered major reveals or twists. By comparison, one of cinema’s biggest surprises, the reveal in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, wasn’t outed by the movie’s pre-release trailers. Imagine if the film had, instead, been advertised as the story of a boy who teams up with a ghostly detective to solve crimes?
For context, re-watch the original trailer for The Sixth Sense below:
Yet, recent trailers have become especially cavalier about spoiling their movies ahead of time – as in the case of Relativity Media’s upcoming supernatural horror, The Lazarus Effect, which potentially ruins the fate of one character for no clear purpose.
In case you missed it (and don’t mind being spoiled), check out The Lazarus Effect trailer, below:
This completely careless, and unnecessary spoiler, got us thinking. What other films have outright spoiled their biggest twists, best moments, or the fate of a main character in pre-release marketing?
Of course, our list is not all-inclusive, so feel free to share your own list of movie moments (and twists) that were spoiled by their trailers in the comment section. It goes without saying, this post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for all of the films included in the list.
Cast Away (2000):
The Story: Cast Away follows the misadventure of Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) – who boards a FedEx cargo plane on Christmas Eve, to the disapproval of his girlfriend Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt), which crash-lands in the Pacific Ocean – and washes Noland ashore an uninhabited island. Unable to escape the island or signal for help, Noland settles in – breaking open FedEx packages that were scattered by the crash in order to build shelter, tools, and a companion, Wilson (a bloodstained volleyball). After four years on the island, Noland becomes an expert survivalist, dining on fish and local vegetation, while building a raft – one that could, with a little luck, overcome heavy waves that batter the island shore.
The Spoiler: Chuck Noland escapes the island, via his raft, and finds rescue.
The Trailer: Despite a dramatic buildup to Noland’s attempted escape, the trailer for the film made it clear that, not only does our hero find rescue, the footage outright shows Noland’s bittersweet reunion with Frears. Whether the reunion is a happy one, or not, is left for filmgoers to discover but Noland and Frears’ relationship status is about the only major plot development that isn’t covered in the trailer.
Dream House (2011):
The Story: Dream House centers on Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) – a writer who leaves his high-profile publishing job in order to spend more time with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and two daughters. However, following a series of awkward interactions with his neighbors and a group of local teenagers, Atenton learns that his idyllic suburban house was, years earlier, the site of a vicious murder – allegedly carried out by a father named Peter Ward (who killed his own wife and two daughters). When Libby and the girls both claim to have seen a man watching them through the house’s windows, Atenton discovers that Ward has been released from psychiatric care, and begins fearing the killer has returned to murder the house’s new residents.
The Spoiler: Will Atenton is Peter Ward (meaning Libby and the daughters are ghosts).
The Trailer: The trailer wastes no time in revealing the film’s biggest twist, that Atenton is a fake identity that Ward concocted in psychiatric care – to hide from the tragedy of his family’s murder. While the film isn’t quite as blatant about revealing that his wife and daughter are apparitions (rather than manifestations of his fractured mind), a trailer shot of ghost Libby opening the basement door plays a key part in the movie’s second big reveal.
REC (2007)/Quarantine (2008):
The Story: Quarantine is shot as found-footage – under the basic setup that reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman, Scott Percival (Steve Harris), have been assigned to shadow a pair of firefighters during their evening work shift. Responding to a 911 call, the firefighters and their reporter entourage, arrive at an apartment building in order to treat a female resident with life-threatening symptoms – bleeding profusely and foaming at the mouth. After the ailing woman suddenly (and brutally) attacks one of the firefighters, Vidal and Percival come to discover that the complex, and many of its residents, have become infected by a highly contagious strain of rabies – one that makes humans, not just their canine companions, bloodthirsty killing machines. Locked inside the building, as the CDC attempts to control the outbreak, Vidal and Percival capture the unfolding horror on camera – as they try, desperately, to escape with their lives.
The Spoiler: Angela Vidal is dragged away in the final shot.
The Trailer: While REC/Quarantine borrow heavily from superior zombie/rabies outbreak movies, their respective trailers still manage to ruin one major surprise – the fate of Angela Vidal (which occurs in the closing moments of the 2007 Spanish film and its 2008 remake). While Quarantine wasn’t the first horror movie to spoil the fate of a main character or use a climactic scene in trailers (we’re looking at you Paranormal Activity), given that Vidal’s screaming face is also plastered on Quarantine’s posters, it’s still a pretty crass and unrepentant marketing move (even by Hollywood’s standards).
For comparison, check out the trailers for Quarantine and REC, respectively, below: