When Are Movie Trailers Considered False Advertising?


Paranormal Activity 3 hit theaters this past weekend, bringing the latest installment in the found-footage / haunted house franchise hit. This third film was actually a prequel set in the 1980s, and had a simple task to accomplish: show us the events from sisters Kristi and Katie's childhood that led to their house burning down, their mother going crazy, and a demonic entity coming back to haunt them in their adult lives - events all described in Paranormal Activity 1&2.

When the Paranormal Activity 3 trailers started to debut, it was strongly hinted that we would see all of the aforementioned events play out, and much more. Check out both the teaser trailer and full trailer below:

Just to be clear what the issue is, here: about 75% (if not more so) of what you see in those two trailers above doesn't actually happen in the movie. This includes developments like the house on fire; the mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), being all-too-aware that the demon does in fact exist; a demonologist revealing facts about the entity's connection to Julie's family; the girls' 'Bloody Mary' game revealing what is ostensibly a female-shaped ghostly silhouette in the bathroom, and so on.

Basically: the trailers showed off a completely different movie than the one we got in theaters. Imagine showing up for a date for someone you thought you liked, only to find their friend sitting there grinning at you.

We discuss the case of Paranormal Activity 3's marketing in the upcoming episode of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast, and as our editor Ben Kendrick pointed out: in terms of delivering what it promised, Paranormal Activity 3 didn't stray. This franchise is built on the idea of home video being used to record an escalating series of freaky supernatural events (typically at night), interspersed with daytime plot and character developments. As we said in our Paranormal Activity 3 review, that's exactly what this film (once again) delivered. But if a film like Drive is facing lawsuits over how it advertised scenes which are in fact in the movie - what are we to make of a film that advertised so many scenes that were not in the actual movie?

A case can be made for the fact that too often these days, movie trailers show too much of a movie. Not only do we get a detailed account of what the movie is about, we often get a pretty idea of how everything in the film is going to play out. We know the ending before it comes, the development of the characters, twists, character deaths, etc. When juxtaposed to movie trailer 'TMI,' it becomes clear why some viewers can view the case of Paranormal Activity 3 as "misdirection" rather "lying."

The 'Paranormal Activity 3' Ghost (Review)

To play devil's advocate: we know in a Paranormal Activity movie that we're going to get jump scares, a few twists, and freaky tricks of photography and sound that turn a home into a menacing realm of evil. If what we saw in the PA3 trailers still reflected those kinds of aforementioned tropes and occurrences, then weren't the trailers honest about what kind of film they were selling us (a creepy, scary one)? Isn't it a GOOD thing that the entire movie wasn't spoiled for us before we sat down to watch it? That all the scares used in the actual movie were fresh and surprising? Some would say "yes."

In my own opinion, this film crossed a line in terms a misleading us about what kind of movie we were going to see. Each of those unused scenes in the trailer represented a specific story beat or plot/character development, and those are the elements that define what a story is, and therefore, if it is a story we want to see. By showing us the deleted bits, Paramount was promising us a non-existent story; in my mind, that is deserving of the term, "false advertising." (See also: Catfish, a film no-so-coincidentally made by the directors of Paranormal Activity 3.)


The cases of Drive and Paranormal Activity 3 offer an interesting juxtaposition on the issue of movie marketing: One uses pieces of the actual film to arguably sell itself as something different than it is; the other uses extraneous pieces not actually in the film to sell itself as something it actually is, while keeping the experience of seeing the film fresh and unspoiled. Which is the better approach? Which tactic crosses the line between ethical and unethical (or do they both violate that line?). Is there no foul to cry in either case - is this all just part of the courtship dance between movie studios and their potential ticket buyers?

Let us know your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.

Drive and Paranormal Activity 3 are now playing in theaters.


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