Some trailers prove that marketing companies will do just about anything in order to sell a movie. It’s bad enough leaving the theater of one of the most anticipated funny movies to find that the trailer has spoiled all of the good gags, but sometimes previews can mislead audiences entirely, promising an experience that the film just does not deliver.
Trailers and television spots are designed to excite viewers about upcoming attractions, but sometimes they can be deceiving for moviegoers. Marketing may suggest that a film is within the horror genre, when it is really more of a romance, or perhaps hide aspects of the film that might be less appealing to mass audiences.
This list highlights the most egregious offenders – the trailers that most deviate from the film’s actual content.
Here are the 14 Most Misleading Movie Trailers of All Time.
14. Rules of Attraction
Rules of Attraction looked to be one of the funniest comedies of 2002, in line with American Pie and other sex-obsessed coming-of-age films. The trailer features James Van Der Beek one-liners, skirt chasing, and partying – everything required for a raunchy, young-adult comedy.
While the trailer does warn audiences that the film was created by the minds behind Pulp Fiction and American Psycho, the tone of the preview promises a film that deviates from that of the aforementioned titles.
13. Spongebob: A Sponge Out of Water
In the case of Spongebob: A Sponge Out of Water, both the trailer and the title suggest that a hearty portion of the film will take place on land. Television spots and theatrical trailers for the movie show Spongebob and friends on land for an animation/live action crossover, but the film does not quite live up to the promise of its respective marketing.
Moviegoers may have been surprised to discover that their favorite sea creatures failed to make it to the surface until the movies final act. When all was said and done, the famous Bikini Bottom residents spent only a fraction of the film’s run time on land.
Yet another children’s film makes the list at number 12, but it should be noted that only the teaser for this film was misleading. The first official teaser for Frozen featured only two characters, and they may not be the two characters that you would expect.
Olaf the snowman, and Sven the reindeer were the unequivocal stars of the first teaser, while the film’s two protagonists, Elsa and Anna, were nowhere to be found. Anyone who caught this promotion for the Disney blockbuster could have been forgiven for assuming that the film was a charming film about a snowman and a reindeer.
As previously stated, only the teaser was misleading to audiences, but the reason that Frozen makes this list is the fact that this teaser was the only promotion that ran ahead of movies in UK theaters.
11. Cabin in the Woods
Horror fans got a little more than they bargained for with Cabin in the Woods. While the trailer makes this film look like an average, run-of-the-mill horror flick, audiences quickly found out that Cabin in the Woods was anything but.
The trailer for Cabin in the Woods showcases every scary movie trope in the book, but what was not apparent from the marketing was the fact that this film was a satire. All of the classic horror cliches from the previews were just the filmmakers attempt to pay homage to all of the great genre films that came before it.
10. Observe and Report
Observe and Report was marketed as a knock-off of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but turned out to be an underrated comedy with a lot more content than suggested by the film’s trailer. The preview features all of the Seth Rogen-isms that one would expect from a comedy starring the Hollywood funnyman, but the seasoned comedian actually provides a more serious and disturbing performance as a security guard with delusions of grandeur and hopes to become a fully-fledged cop.
Instead of the two hours of classic gags that one would expect from the Anna Faris, Seth Rogen duo, the film instead surprised audiences and critics with its more adult and dark sense of humor. Fans of these two were most certainly expecting a film more similar to Scary Movie or Knocked Up but the film was closer to Taxi Driver than Rogen’s other films.
9. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
For audiences unfamiliar with the work of writer/director Werner Herzog, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans may have caught moviegoers off guard. The trailer promises a generic cop thriller starring Nicolas Cage, but provides moviegoers with much more.
This film – which found its way on to Roger Ebert’s Top 10 Movies of 2009 – left many viewers scratching their respective heads when this film finally came to a close. Nothing in this preview misrepresents the film, but the actual movie is much stranger than one could have guessed by simply watching the trailer. Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans is also much funnier than you may guess, and not for the reasons that you may think. Dark humor, an unhinged Nicolas Cage, and scene upon scene filled with Herzog weirdness, make this cop drama a must watch.
8. Red Eye
It is sometimes difficult to decipher whether or not a film is a straight horror film, or a kind of thriller hybrid, but Red Eye elevates the confusion to new heights. Maybe it is the score that runs through the first half of this trailer, or just the overarching tone, but this has to be one of the most peculiar marketing choices for a film that, frankly, had a fairly intelligent plot.
The marketing campaign must have been trying to appeal to fans of the director, Wes Craven, because the actual film, although marketed as an offbeat monster movie, feels almost nothing like this trailer. Not to mention, Cillian Murphy’s character never actually has red eyes in the film. Instead, the title refers to the late night “red eye” flight that the film takes place on.
It is almost a staple of Nicolas Winding Refn films at this point to be somewhat misrepresented by its respective trailer. Perhaps his particular directing style does not sit well with mainstream audiences, or perhaps his tone is hard to sell in under three minutes. Either way, anyone who judges a Refn film by its cover is certain to be in for a surprise.
In the particular case of the movie, Drive, audiences were promised a movie in the same vein of the Fast and the Furious franchise, but soon found out that this film had much more depth than the average, mindless, action blockbuster. Ryan Gosling surprised audiences with a gutsy, intimate performance in an intensely meditative, stylish drama that eschewed car chases in favor of something deeper
6. Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers was the polarizing film of 2013. Some critics praised its accurate depiction of today’s reckless youth culture, while others complained that the movie simply bit off more than it could chew. What everyone seemed to agree on, however, is the fact that the film delivered much more than what was suggested from the film’s trailer.
While Spring Breakers did provide adolescent debauchery, skimpy bikinis, and James Franco as a gangster, it offered audiences a much smarter film than one would expect from the film’s marketing. Perhaps cinema fans familiar with the work of director/writer, Harmony Korine, could have predicted that there was more to Spring Breakers then met the eye, but the average moviegoer, judging strictly by the trailer, was surprised to see these ex-Disney stars as such compelling characters on screen.
5. World’s Greatest Dad
From all accounts, World’s Greatest Dad looked to be a quirky Robin Williams comedy about a rocky father and son relationship. The reality of this film, is a much darker truth.
World’s Greatest Dad might be another case of a director who is widely unknown by the average moviegoer and consequently, may be hard to sell to mass audiences, because the tone of the trailer is so far removed from the actual film that it is hard to believe that these scenes are actually from the same movie.
Now, this film is comedic, but it is a much darker comedy than what is portrayed in this trailer. It is understandable that the marketing wanted to save the mid-film twist, but the result ends up in the trailer misrepresenting the tone of the entire film.
4. Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak is the most recent offender on this list. The 2015 film was marketed as a horror film, but ended up being something else entirely. Trailers for the film featured an unnerving score, a creepy house, and ghosts. So, why wouldn’t audiences expect a horror film?
Writer and director of the film, Guillermo del Toro, later stated in an interview that Crimson Peak was not a “ghost story,” but rather a film with a ghost in it. This certainly turned out to be the case as Crimson Peak was actually more of a Gothic romance film rather than a horror film. Although ghosts played an important role in the film, they barely appeared, and the film played out as more of a twisted love story.
3. Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia is another film based off of a popular book, so perhaps some audiences knew what they were getting themselves into, but for the rest of viewing public, this film may have come as quite a shock. Trailers for this film based off of a children’s book looked similar to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but moviegoers found out early in the film that the respective tone and themes of the film were far different.
Film marketing promised a magical adventure in a Narnia-like setting, but this was only part of the story. The film spent next to no time in this mysterious world, despite the trailers focusing heavily on this aspect, and the film was much darker than advertised.
Bridge to Terabithia was actually a heartbreaking, coming-of-age story about coping with loss. The magical land of Terabithia was an escape for these suffering children rather than a magical adventure into the unknown.
2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of the most egregious offenders of misleading trailers on this list. The film was marketed as a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp team up, revenge thriller, and while this was most certainly the case, the trailer failed to mention one key fact: This film is a musical.
Some may argue that Sweeney Todd is an adaptation of Tony Award winning musical, and while that is true, the trailer in and of itself makes no attempt to convey this fact. Actually, it appears as though the marketing team is trying to hide the fact that this movie is a musical due to the fact that, other than one line, there is absolutely no singing in the trailer.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth
Yet another Guillermo del Toro film makes the list, and this time at number one. Who knows what it is about the Mexican director’s style that marketing agencies find so hard to convey honestly in a concise trailer? But apparently it is not too easy as they have failed twice now.
If musicals are a tough sell to the average moviegoer, then foreign films have to be even more difficult, as Pan’s Labyrinth trailers seem to just overlook the minute detail that this film was entirely in Spanish. Instead, a generic (English speaking) voice-over narrates the plot of the film. In the entire two and a half minute trailer, there is absolutely no subtitles and no characters conversing in Spanish. Moviegoers must have been in for quite a surprise when they arrived at the theater only to find out that they had to read dialogue for almost two hours. At least they were treated to a fantastic film.
Have you found some movie trailers to be misleading? Let us know in the comments below.