The late film critic Roger Ebert once admitted his personal disdain for movie trailers. To paraphrase his viewpoint, Ebert believed that the ads gave away the best parts of a movie and often misrepresented storyline, characters and performances. Sure, we love to pour over the details of whatever trailer has got us hyped. Yet the truth is the majority of us have walked away disappointed when a film failed to live up to the trailer. Ebert had a point, one that is about to be driven home by the following list. From false advertising to previews being better than the finished product, here are 15 films that did not hold up to their trailers.
The Social Network
Director David Fincher has a background in directing commercials for companies like Apple and Nike. When the typically gloomy filmmaker was hired to direct The Social Network, many questioned the Fincher’s motivations in taking a corporate drama. Then the trailer was released—set to a children’s choir cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” the preview presented a dramatic take on the website’s inception while also probing the lonely narcissism of the website, its makers and its users. Of course, the finished film couldn’t live up to the brilliance of the trailer, which may explain why the otherwise solid movie got mostly snubbed at the Oscars.
Drive is not an action movie, yet the film’s trailer promotes it as exactly that. Therein lies the film’s biggest problem—the movie posits Ryan Gosling as a stuntman-turned-getaway-driver that fits nicely into the Steve McQueen/Clint Eastwood mold. Of course, said Driver comes up against a group of low-level mobsters and a revenge tale plays out. All this is in the trailer, but is heightened to slam-bang proportions. In reality, the film’s action hero feels more like a serial killer than a traditional good guy. The difference between the ads and the film was so jarring that a woman actually sued the producers over false advertising.
Alien 3 is a film made legendary for not living up to its trailer. Though David Fincher directed the film, 20th Century Fox was responsible for the trailer. A brilliantly designed ad that recalled the original Alien preview, Alien 3 took its premise to the next level by suggesting the trilogy would end on earth. By the time the film was being fast-tracked, this was no longer true—Alien 3 was reset to a desolate prison planet, thus robbing viewers to see the titular creature ransack a futuristic earth.
Speaking of Alien, the film’s pseudo-prequel got a lot of hype thanks to its trailer. While the filmmakers and stars chose to downplay its connection to the Alien franchise, its trailer was designed in the mold of the series and heavily emphasized images of the creatures from the first film. What was promised to be a serious-minded, existential prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic actually turned out to be a stupidly written sci-fi B-movie with stock characters, bad plotting and tenuous connections to the far superior original.
Superman Returns’ trailer was mind-blowing. Using discarded narration the late Marlon Brando recorded for Superman II (which was dropped from that film due to a payment dispute), the eloquent speech built up to the final, God-like reveal of the new Superman (Brandon Routh) in full blue-and-red regalia. While the finished film was a tribute to Richard Donner’s original films, it emerged as nothing more—Bryan Singer’s movie lacked action and suspense, thus underwhelming audiences worldwide.
Iron Man 2
Iron Man was a breakout hit for Marvel and Paramount, who rushed Iron Man 2 into production. Despite a choppy time frame, the trailers promised the film was on the right track. With Mickey Rourke as a vengeful, Russian mafia menace and Robert Downey Jr. doing his best Bill Murray impression, Iron Man 2 was set to be a superior sequel. Sadly, the finished film trivialized the best aspects of the trailer and played more like an action figure commercial than a hit movie.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The guy in the photo above is Lincoln Gasking, the organizer of the “Countdown for Star Wars: Episode I.” If you ever saw the trailer for the film circa 1999, you would think he was doing humanity a service. The trailer was, in and of itself, an epic event. It had everything—epic lightsaber fights, a menacing villain, the Emperor’s return, pod-racing, Liam Neeson as a jedi, Ewan McGregor doing a perfect Alec Guiness—we could go on and on. The trailer was so huge people would pay for movie tickets just to see it on the big screen. If you saw the finished film, which has far too many problems to detail here, you know how sad that sounds in retrospect.
After Cloverfield’s cryptic, shaky-cam trailer premiered, moviegoers had one question on their minds: what in the name of all that is good is destroying New York City? The brief clip was all explosions, screaming and then the head of the Statue of Liberty rolled down a street. J.J. Abrams and company kept a tight lid on the film until its release. The opening weekend brought in huge box office, but left many disappointed that the film was little more than a found-footage Godzilla movie (albeit with no Godzilla).
If you’ve read Alan Moore’s graphic novel The Watchmen, you were pretty pumped after seeing the trailer. If you didn’t, well, you were still pretty pumped after seeing the trailer. Set to Muse’s “Take A Bow”, the trailer presented a dark, action packed superhero tale that played out on an epic scale. Those familiar with the book could recognize certain scenes and had a good idea of what the movie would entail. Those that didn’t and expected another 300 from Zack Snyder got a mostly talky, existential R-rated superhero movie. The film did disappointingly following its opening weekend, to no one’s surprise.
Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are seemed like a tough adaptation to undertake, elongating the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book into a feature-length running time. However, after viewing the trailer for the film, most of us were convinced Spike Jonze had achieved something great. The trailer, set to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” was a beautiful montage of imaginary monsters, fantastic landscapes, and brief, cruel reminders of the frustration of childhood. Well, it turned out these ideas were perhaps best communicated in an abbreviated fashion—many viewers were turned off by the film’s dark, sometimes scary, often depressing tone.
Mission Impossible 3
Photo: Daniel Deme/WENN.com
Mission Impossible was a decent summer actioner, adapting the classic TV show in a mold not unlike the film version of The Fugitive. MI-2 was John Woo’s take on the material, a ridiculously shallow spy flick that bore little resemblance to the source material. With Mission Impossible III, it looked like director J.J. Abrams (above) was getting things back on track. The trailer played up Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character as a villain to be reckoned with, while also showing the vulnerability of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. The finished movie had these elements, sure, but like Iron Man 2 they didn’t quite coalesce in the epic fashion originally pitched (Hoffman’s character especially).
Okay, before you go getting up in arms, let it be known that The Shining is a brilliant, absolute classic film. However, the film’s trailer summarizes the themes of Stephen King’s original story far better than Kubrick’s film does. The premise is simple—a text scrawl is overlayed onto the image of elevator doors as creepy music plays. After much waiting, it opens, thus emptying a wave of blood towards the camera in slow motion. The trailer plays up the movie’s haunted hotel premise which, ironically, was greatly diminished in favor of psychological horror by Kubrick’s finished movie.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
You may find this to be one of the cheesier entries on this list, but stay with us here. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was the last gasp of the A Nightmare On Elm Street series, a film that promised to put a cap of the franchise once and for all. At the time of its release, the trailer turned heads—not only did the preview promise to detail the dream-dwelling slasher’s back story, but it also promised substantially more action (re: Freddy fighting) than ever before. Though the finished film did make good on its promise, the story seemed more interested in recreating the success of TV’s Twin Peaks (briefly referenced in the trailer) than being a traditional Freddy film.
The Expendables was supposed to be every action fan’s dream come true. The pitch involved all of Hollywood’s biggest tough guy stars, old and new, rubbing shoulders and trading punches in the action film to end all action films. The trailer advertised this exactly, boiling down the film’s best moments while also boasting a serious turn from Mickey Rourke (who was intended to ground the film in some drama). While the trailer dropped jaws, the finished movie fell flat, boasting incomprehensible action, terrible writing, and thin characters. The sequel, thankfully, delivered on the promise of the original last year.
True Grit—the Coen Brothers 2010 adaptation of Charles Portis novel—was a great, great film. The performances, the script, the direction—the movie doesn’t have a bad bone in its whole body. Well, almost. If you’d seen the original John Wayne vehicle, you’d seen the Coen Brothers movie. That’s not a huge problem if you didn’t catch the film’s teaser—an elegant, thirty-second montage montaged the film’s darkest, most action packed moments, all set to Mosie Lister’s haunting “Where No One Stands Alone.” It looked more No Country For Old Men than John Wayne, and though the finished film was a satisfying retelling, the teaser trailer is a thing of absolute beauty.