There was a time when the average moviegoer wasn’t familiar with the term “trailer.” It’s hard to believe today, because trailers have become an everyday part of our vernacular, and the most important component of a film’s marketing plan.
As the first real look at footage from a new movie, the trailer is all-important. A trailer deemed “good” by viewers can result in massive profits for a studio, while a “bad” one can usher in a disaster. The release of a trailer is the first time any aspect of a film is taken out of a studio or director’s control and placed in the hands of the viewing public, so watching those early reactions come in is cause for enormous amounts of sweat in Hollywood.
The 13 trailers listed here all fall into the “bad” camp, aka the ones that viewers had strong, negative feelings about. Most of them spelled doom for the film they advertised, while a few haven’t hit theaters yet, so the jury is still out. One thing’s for certain: people really, really hated them.
It’s hard to find a more hated trailer than this one — and that’s not hyperbole. At the time of this writing, YouTube has it ranked as the most-disliked movie trailer they’ve ever hosted. Ever. That’s a lot of movie trailers.
In the history of comedic cinema, the original Ghostbusters holds a place of tremendous significance. It was such a perfect storm of creativity, talent, casting, direction, and even world-building that it ranked as the highest-grossing comedy of all time for years, and still sits among many moviegoers’ personal favorites. Yet it was so much more than a comedy, delivering real thrills and scares. Most remarkably, in a day and age when modern filmmaking technology makes “classics” look amateurish, Ghostbusters still holds up. The script could have been filmed and released this year and it would still work beautifully.
Fans consider it sacred, so is it any wonder that a reboot has generated so much ire? It’s not that the new stars are unappealing. And as directors go, you could do a lot worse than Paul Feig. The problem is the legacy of the original. Had the new Ghostbusters, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, had no predecessor when it releases this summer, things would be different. But the trailer introduced the new ‘Busters with confusing language and strangely familiar situations that left viewers wondering if this really was a reboot — or a remake.
Add to that the fact that all four of these characters seem to be loose re-creations of the original four Ghostbusters (Wiig’s nerdy quantum physicist is a modern-day Egon Spengler, Leslie Jones’ streetwise subway worker is the non-scientist late addition akin to Winston Zeddmore, and so on) and you have a trailer that was practically going out of its way to give fans of the original the finger.
Bottom line: the trailer made the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man shoot himself. Enough said.
Star Trek Beyond
What were they thinking??
That’s the only thing Trekkies and the general viewing audience at large could say or think when the teaser trailer for Star Trek Beyond debuted. 2016 marks Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, and make no mistake: that’s a big deal. The majority of our most beloved franchises haven’t been around anywhere near that long. Beyond marks the third installment of the rebooted original series that was pioneered by J.J. Abrams. If you make it to a third installment, you’ve probably got a hit franchise.
So even though Abrams ditched Star Trek for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work on that other Star-franchise, with star and longtime Trekkie Simon Pegg on board as co-screenwriter and box office-proven Justin Lin directing, Beyond should be an anniversary slam dunk. It still may be, but it certainly won’t be because of this trailer.
Instead of tapping into fans’ love for the franchise and that 50-year landmark, Paramount delivered a trailer that looked like it was for Lin’s other franchise, The Fast and the Furious. With rock music blaring and stunts a-plenty on some kind of slave labor camp planet, not to mention a spoilerific shot of the Enterprise going down in flames, fans were left wondering if their Star Trek really had gone where it’s never been before. Even Pegg admitted he “didn’t love” the trailer, feeling that it didn’t represent the film’s tone and intelligence.
Gods of Egypt
Alex Proyas is a writer/director with a cult following that hopes to one day see him deliver a movie that rivals his gothic superhero thriller The Crow or his visionary, dark science fiction epic Dark City. That movie has not yet come, but he continues to make movies that do their darnedest to mine new creative ground.
Sadly, Gods of Egypt was not the one to turn things around; in fact, it may have been his biggest setback yet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of making a big-budget blockbuster out of Egyptian mythology, but the trailers were indicative of the uphill battle it faced. From the start, there were cries of whitewashing (ironic, since Proyas himself is of Egyptian descent), with British actors like 300‘s Gerard Butler and Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau cast as ancient Egyptian gods. And that doesn’t include the rest of the cast, most of whom play mortal Egyptians and are equally pale-skinned.
The problems with the casting may have gone deeper than racially inappropriate actors; Butler is in full-on, barking-loud King Leonidas mode, while Coster-Waldau is flashing Jaime Lannister’s well-worn smug charm. Maybe it’s partially viewers’ faults for not being able to separate character actors from their best-known characters. But the problems with the two leads seemed to underscore all of the issues audiences and critics had with this Clash of the Titans wannabe.
You know you have a problem when a movie’s director isn’t afraid to state publicly that he doesn’t like the trailer to his own movie. The first trailer for Warcraft fared pretty well, but fans cried foul following the release of the movie’s second trailer, which…let’s just say it didn’t exactly play to fans of high fantasy, or even the gamers that made World of Warcraft so popular to begin with.
For reasons impossible to fathom, Legendary Pictures — which has a pretty solid record with trailers — chose to cozy up footage from its big fantasy epic alongside dubstep rock & roll. Duncan Jones, writer and director of Warcraft, received much criticism for the trailer’s music, and finally took to Twitter to set the record straight. “For those asking, no… Music in the movie is not dubstep. It’s a magnificent Ramin score! So why in the trailer?” he wrote. When fans pressed him further, he clarified that the trailer was made and approved by the marketing department, and he had “very little” (i.e., no) control over or input into it.
“Ramin” is, of course, Ramin Djawadi, composer for countless films and a certain mega-hit high fantasy series on HBO. To be fair, it’s rare that original music written for a film winds up in that movie’s trailer, usually due to timing and availability issues. But it has happened on occasion; Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score and John Williams’ work on The Force Awakens both come to mind.
Regardless, with all eyes on what could be video game movies’ make-or-break moment in the spotlight, the dubstep Warcraft trailer was an epic fumble that didn’t just frustrate fans — it angered them.
If we’re being perfectly blunt, Johnny Depp’s career pinnacled with the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and we all know it. Not that he hasn’t had any good movies since then; Finding Neverland was heartbreakingly beautiful, and Sweeney Todd was a fun slice of Broadway’s darkest dreams. But for every Black Mass, there’s a Transcendence, a Lone Ranger, and another attempt to revive Captain Jack Sparrow’s glory days.
Most of those flicks had some watchable bits, but just the trailer for Mortdecai was bad enough to get headlines for… well, for being a really bad trailer. Depp was gung-ho, absurd mustache and all, and he had a game supporting cast that included Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Paul Bettany. Yet somehow, all those ingredients added up to something incredibly disappointing. So much hate was piled onto this slapstick take on the Pink Panther-style British detective farce that it barely moved the needle at the box office.
Jack and Jill
Somewhere in the world, there lives someone (or possibly even multiple someones) who enjoyed Jack and Jill. For the rest of humanity, it was the movie when everyone realized just how desperate Adam Sandler really is. In Jack and Jill, Sandler plays dual roles as successful, family man Jack, and his overcompensating, disaster-prone sister Jill. It was one of those rare cases where people were actually thankful for a bad trailer, because it kept them from wasting time and money on seeing the actual movie.
As Jack, Sandler is basically every “normal guy” character he’s ever played. As Jill, he recycles the lispy, speech impediment accent he’s used a hundred times before, only with some female Bronx overtones mixed in — or at least Sandler’s best approximation of “female” and “Bronx.” It’s boring, it’s offensive, it’s just dumb.
Based on the sheer volume of YouTube videos in which some famous person or film character “watches” or “reacts” to the Jack and Jill trailer with hilarious results, it’s very possible that that very trend began with this movie.
Let’s see… Was it Will Smith’s diminished role in favor of his insistence on making his son a movie star (whether we like it or not)? Was it the silly “Yes suh, no suh” accents used by both actors? Was it the dubious evolutionary science involving familiar Earth-bound animals supposedly evolving into human-killers? Was it the bizarre lynchpin of the story — something about suppressing fear to the point that you don’t actually feel it?
Was it the unfortunate stench of M. Night Shyamalan’s downward creative spiral? (Thankfully, he’s recently begun to turn things around.)
Whether it was one of those things or all, there was no getting around the fact that the After Earth trailer suffered from You-Know-It’s-Going-To-Suck Syndrome. It starts off well enough, with the image of Smith & Son trying to slow their breathing after a catastrophe kills everyone else on their spaceship, when Smith is suddenly sucked towards the back of the ship in a genuinely jarring moment. But it’s all downhill from there, largely because of all those reasons listed above. As for the movie, the poor thing limped its way through its run at the box office — not returning even half of its $130 million budget — before Sony finally put it out of its misery.
An idea seemingly born out of a play-on-acronyms (okay, that’s not true: it started life as a comic book) was probably seen by Universal Pictures as an opportunity to jump start another Men In Black-type franchise, something they’re apparently very desperate to do. With two appealing leads attached in the form of Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, what could go wrong?
Everything. That’s your answer. Everything could go wrong, and it was all right there in the trailer, starting with Bridges’ godawful caricature of a performance — made ten times worse because we know he’s capable of so much better. Reynolds, who looks as appalled as we are at Bridges’ accent, sleepwalks through his latest comic book movie while waiting for Deadpool to finally get the green light.
It’s not entirely clear what went wrong where with R.I.P.D. Was it a bad idea that should never have been approved? Did it fall apart during production? We’ll never know. What’s clear is that by the time the trailer dropped, it was way too late to derail this trainwreck.
Liam Neeson and Taylor Kitsch deserve better than a paint-by-numbers action movie that gave birth to a paint-by-numbers action trailer. Kitsch is the stereotypical, talented screw-up who serves under Neeson’s stereotypical hard-boiled officer. And for some reason, Rihanna was in it, too.
The trailer positively screams, “We’re Hasbro and we’re desperate to replicate our Transformers success!” With Battleship, Hasbro could have made a really cool, super tense naval warfare thriller, a la The Hunt for Red October. Instead they dumbed it up with aliens and turned it into Independence Day at sea. Most of the alien technology looks like it was based on Transformers art designs, and yeah, the trailer makes it clear that everything about it that makes you think of Transformers is one hundred percent on purpose.
It’s a shame Hasbro doubled-down on the alien rubbish in the trailer, because believe it or not, the movie actually had a few decent action beats amidst all the nonsense.
The Last Airbender
It pains us to see M. Night Shyamalan on this list twice. His early career showed incredible promise, and his masterpiece, Unbreakable, didn’t get as many viewers (or accolades) as it deserved.
But the faults of The Last Airbender, based on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon, are too many to list here. That Paramount Pictures was able to assemble enough cool-looking footage to give fans of the cartoon hope for a faithful adaptation is kind of amazing. (Never mind that the two-minute trailers contained every second of good stuff from the movie.) The problem is that Paramount never seemed very confident in any of said footage, because the studio delivered not two or even three, but four official trailers.
Making matters worse: Every single one of them suffered from excessive voiceovers from a gravelly narrator who seemed to think audiences were too dumb to understand Airbender‘s fantasy world and needed the basics spelled out for us. Again and again. Airbender was also one of the earliest modern cases of casting Caucasian thespians in roles that should have gone to ethnic actors, aka whitewashing.
Jonah Hex is a dark anti-hero from DC Comics who calls the Old West home. Imagine Wolverine without the ability to heal, metal skeleton, and claws, give him guns, and put him in the Wild Wild West. That’s a decent elevator pitch, but there’s more to this bounty hunter who lives by his own moral code and is just as likely to gun down a man whose irritating him as he is to say “hello.”
Hex has a rabid fan base who waited years for him to arrive on the big screen, and he finally made his debut in this trailer from 2010. The general consensus was that star Josh Brolin nailed the character’s take-no-prisoners/suffer-no-fools attitude, but just about everything else was a disappointment. Inexplicably, the creative team behind the movie decided to give Jonah a superpower: the ability to temporarily revive the dead.
Then there were the huge creative struggles behind the scenes, the massive reshoots, and in the end, the fact that everyone seemed to hate it — including the cast. Megan Fox later asserted the same thing that everyone who saw the trailer already knew: “No one should ever see that movie.” As for Brolin, his feelings were as simple: “Hated it.”
Let’s be honest: an entire article could have been written on the horrible B-movies — and their trailers — committed over the years by Nicolas Cage. Especially the last five or six years, where “direct-to-video-on-demand” appears to have become his genre of choice. It doesn’t help that his wacky acting faces have become fodder for some of the Internet’s funniest memes. So picking just one of his flicks for this list wasn’t easy.
Still, in the right role, Cage can be mesmerizing to watch. But this ain’t it. Outcast is a U.S./China/Canada joint production that mashes up medieval knights with feudal warriors, and Cage doesn’t even get first billing. That honor goes to Hayden Christensen, the actor formerly known as Anakin Skywalker. (That guy has to put up with enough hate as it is. It’d just be mean to pour more fuel on that fire.)
Christensen manages to come across better than he did in a single frame of Star Wars, but Cage is there to weird things up with a creepy maniacal laugh — and he’s one of the good guys. The story is cookie-cutter Hero’s Journey stuff: shamed warriors seek redemption by saving a future king.
The problem is that the movie and this trailer never attempt to do anything remotely original or even interesting. We’ve seen every detail of this a thousand times before. And for his British accent, Cage sounds like he studied Kevin Costner’s work in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s just another marble in the Nicolas Cage bag of weird.
Sometimes a movie is so bad, the greatest trailer in the world can’t make it look like anything but the stinking pile it is. And then there’s Catwoman, which was both an awful movie and a horrendous trailer. It was a venture doomed from the start — so much so that star Halle Berry condemned the whole thing, showing up to mock it in person at the 2005 Razzie Awards.
The trailer was so bad, it was as if the editors knew what they had on their hands and just gave up on trying to make anything good out of it — opting to mock the movie’s ridiculousness instead. And boy, did it show. From the terrible acting to the ludicrous costumes to the dreadful script to the laughable visual effects…well, it’s not like anyone was in danger of mistaking Catwoman for Shakespeare. But the trailer editors didn’t even pretend like there was quality buried in there somewhere.
It was for the best.
So what trailers would you add to this list? Which trailers in recent memory made you laugh or cry — for all the wrong reasons? Sound off in the comments section.