Just because a movie is good doesn’t necessarily mean that its trailer is as well. Many times the filmmakers responsible for the film itself don’t have much input (if any) into the trailer. When that happens, the trailer can end up misinterpreting the intent of the film. At other times, the trailer may try too hard to get audiences interested in the film, going so far as to show all the best parts from the film. This includes giving away the twists or the ending, such that people who may have watched the trailer before seeing the film already know how it ends. This is a look at some of the worst offenders, those trailers that actually end up hurting their films.
Today, we all recognize the greatness of Blade Runner for what it is; a neo-noir slow burner. Back in 1982 when Star Wars and Indiana Jones were all the rage, audiences didn’t know what to think. Part of the problem was the advertising for the film, in particular, this sorry excuse of a trailer. Not only does it feature almost the same terrible narration that almost ruins the theatrical version of the film (and it’s not even Harrison Ford’s voice), but the trailer is trying to play off of the action and excitement in the film rather than those elements that are more intricate and thought-provoking, which is where the film excels. It ends with weird fast-paced music and quick cut shots that have no place to help describe a movie that is better known for its long tracking shots and slow transitions. It’s a case of advertisers and then audiences wanting the movie to be something that it is not, a trend that will show up many more times on this list.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Speaking of trailers that depict their film in a completely wrong light, this is a perfect example. This trailer makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind seem like it’s another wacky rom-com starring Jim Carrey. Another one of those high-concept flicks he did a lot of like Liar Liar or Me, Myself, and Irene. It seemed like we were getting another goofy Jim Carrey character. Well, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is nothing like that. In fact, although it’s about love, it’s more about the pain associated with that love than the happiness you would find in a typical rom-com. The tone of the film is actually quite sad and depressing, not happy and go-lucky like the trailer suggests. It’s no wonder audiences didn’t really like the film, the trailer sold them on a different movie.
Ok, before I start complaining about this one, watch the original Star Wars trailer from 1977, and then watch the trailer for Empire Strikes Back. Although they both follow a similar formula, it is apparent almost right away how much better the second one is. Simply put, the studio didn’t know how to advertise the film. The trailer certainly shows the special effects, and the action, but it doesn’t create any resemblance of a mood in the viewer. It doesn’t inspire or make you excited, it just seems like yet another sci-fi B-movie. Granted, there was nothing by which the trailer could draw similarities. This was indeed “a spectacle light years ahead of its time”, but you couldn’t really tell by this hodge-podge of action clips with no mention of the movie actually containing characters that we might care about. Luckily, Star Wars’ awesomeness spread by word of mouth, so the terribleness of this original trailer had virtually no impact on audience’s opinions of the film.
The original Star Wars trailer:
The Empire Strikes Back trailer:
Before Frozen, Disney hadn’t really been having much luck with its films that weren’t made by Pixar. It seemed like their past of richly animated, fondly-remembered musicals just didn’t have a place in modern computer-animation dominated cinema. Well, they were wrong. Although Frozen turned out to be exactly what those who love Disney wanted, you couldn’t tell from this trailer. Instead of celebrating the musical aspect of the film and the complex relationship between the sisters, it tries to make everything seem like a fun adventure. Nearly all of the footage in the trailer is taken from the middle part of the film. It just looks like another good vs. evil computer-animated cartoon, but actually, it wasn’t.
This isn’t a bad trailer by any means, it’s just completely wrong for the film that it’s trying to persuade audiences to go watch. Fight Club was an enigma. Studios did not know what to do with it. It was too controversial for the mainstream, normal people wouldn’t want to see it, and that was a problem because no people in the theater means no money. Against the wishes of David Fincher, they decided to pour a bunch of money into the advertising. They focused on the actual fighting rather than the counterculture and subversive themes that made the film great. People (mostly younger men) flocked to the theaters expecting to see a hard-hitting drama about an underground fight club. What they got was something different.
Not all of the Minority Report trailers are bad, just this one. It’s a mess, really. It makes the film seem like a Judge Dredd rip-off. It gives almost no explanation whatsoever regarding the premise before it jumps off into action scene after action scene. There’s no context for what the audience is viewing, and therefore, we’re not that interested. It’s understandable that the idea behind the movie might be a little difficult to convey to the audience quickly, but that’s no excuse not to just give up on doing it entirely. And then there’s the music. There is no excuse to have music that doesn’t match the tone and pace of the trailer. It makes it seem like the trailer is trying too hard to be dramatic.
The Princess Bride
There’s a reason this movie was a flop when it was released in 1987. That reason was the terrible marketing. Step one is figure out who you are trying to market the film towards. This trailer feels like it is marketed towards kids. This isn’t really a kids movie. It’s a spoof of fantasy films. Kids aren’t going to understand that. Second, a trailer is supposed to establish the tone of the film in order to intrigue the audience. This trailer is all over the place. Sometimes it’s a sappy romance, other times an action movie, and then at others a drama. That 80’s saxophone solo doesn’t help. What is it supposed to be? Audiences were confused. The absolute worst thing about this trailer, and it’s really quite inexcusable, is that they give away some of the best twists in the entire film. This is an epic failure of a trailer.
Polanski’s Chinatown is a great movie. It’s a 70’s interpretation of classic film-noir. A drama/thriller involving a private detective piecing together clues. You wouldn’t know from this trailer. It starts out well enough, but soon runs into trouble. It spends far too much time focusing on the relationship between Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway’s characters, almost to the point of seeming like a high-stakes romance film. These dramatic moments are interspersed with action shots, making the audience think like the movie is fast paced (it’s not). But above all, the worst offense of this trailer is that at the end it shows you a good chunk of the end scene of the film. That’s right, it tells you how it ends. So, if you’ve never seen this film, don’t watch this trailer.
The Third Man
The tone of this trailer is completely wrong for the masterpiece that it is trying to promote. It even goes so far as to proclaim it as “The First Great Picture of 1950” before making it seem like just another contemporary romance story. This film is not anything like that. To show you what this film really is, look at the 4K restoration trailer below. See the difference? The film in the new trailer is one that actually sounds impressive to watch. It highlights Carol Reed’s technical achievements. The trailer from 1950 makes it seem like just another “fun” little film that was typical for that time. Something to really help you escape from your hectic daily life. The Third Man is not like that at all. The trailer even spends a good amount of time trying to highlight the music in the wrong context BEFORE it even begins to tell you about what the movie is about. It mentions “intrigue” and “secrets” but not until the very end.
The original trailer:
4K Restoration Trailer:
This trailer may be close to par for action movie trailers in the 90’s, but it highlights many issues with the techniques used during that era. This trailer is pretty much a highlight reel of Total Recall. The only thing that it is missing are the talking scenes which help to make all of the action meaningful, but otherwise, the entire film pretty much plays out in this trailer. Not only does it show the climax of the film, but it shows many of the twists along the way. It also has a thing for wasting all of Arnie’s good one-liners. Most importantly for a sci-fi action flick, it shows off all of the film’s best special effects scenes. You’d think you would want to keep these a secret for audiences to discover and be “wowed” by, but nope, they’re all on display in the trailer. Sure, it does a good job of making the film feel fun to watch, but at what cost?
Want more? Check out the rest of this month’s Movielinx articles: