Making trailers is an intricate art that can, in fact, make or break a movie. Just the right clip, edited in a certain way, can twist, turn and manipulate even the worst flick into a box office hit.
It’s not enough to just edit together a few choice bits of action and pithy dialogue and expect box office gold. These days, teaser trailers and first and second cuts of full trailers are all examined and reviewed just as much and even more than the movie. Currently, the internet is abuzz as it dissects every millisecond of the first new Star Wars trailer for clues as to plot, characters and possible failings.
Given the power of the trailer, it’s no surprise then that there have been plenty of trailers out there that outshone their long-form versions. Not that the movies weren’t sometimes okay, or even great. It’s just that the trailer is so gosh-darn fantastic, the final product was an inevitable anticlimax. Here are fourteen of the truest example of this phenomenon.
14. Matrix Reloaded
The much-anticipated follow-up to the sci-fi megahit – and the first of two sequels shot back-to-back – should have quit at the trailer. The trailer in question gave viewers an orgy of action that stepped up the now-familiar martial arts and bullet-dodging tenfold. Heck, Keanu Reeves didn’t just fight a couple of computer agents – he fought a hundred at once.
Unfortunately, the actual 2003 movie also had lots of talk – and way too much confusing philosophizing. It was a hit, yes, but a definite disappointment to Matrix fans. It earned a respectable 73 rating in Rotten Tomatoes (as compared to the original’s 87% rating), though finding someone who admits to liking it these days could prove difficult.
Some bright spark decided the best way to sell this 1993 mountain action with Sylvester Stallone was to jettison all the dialogue from the trailer. Instead, we got all the film’s action, packed into two breathless minutes and set to a tune by none other than Mozart. The trailer seemed to work as the film performed well at the box office (a quarter billion worldwide), and earned the usual critical barbs. Overall, it earned a 69 per cent approval from critics, not bad for a Stallone flick. Too bad they went with dialogue in the feature, however.
12. The Village
Remember when M. Night Shyamalan was scary? This trailer – about an isolated period village dealing with monsters in the woods – was pretty darn creepy. William Hurt, as the village elder, narrated a tantalising intro to the tale with great foreboding, and the images implied more than they showed. As for the 2004 film, many found it slow, and the ‘surprise’ ending underwhelming. Still, it will always be remember for a great trailer.
11. Pearl Harbor
Director Michael Bay is made for trailers. He barely can hold a shot for more than a second in a movie, but a two minute promo is long enough to fit in every one of his hit moments. The trailer is all style, flash and wartime action as Jon Voight (as President Roosevelt) lays on the patriotism in heavy-handed tones and blows things up.
Unfortunately, the hokey love story messed up the movie, as did the silly dialogue. It made a lot of money, despite terrible reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reports a measly critical approval rating of just 25 per cent.
10. The Blair Witch Project
It was one of the most memorable horror images of the last 20 years – that video close-up of a woman’s eyes as she tries to describe the horror she is experiencing. Much like the movie, the trailer sold the flick as a found-footage documentary. So did a then-groundbreaking viral campaign. And it all worked, though the actual movie proved a lot less fun than its trailer.
The 1999 low budget (well under $1 million) project was a huge hit, earning a quarter billion worldwide and an 87 per cent approval rating from critics. A sequel came (and went) soon after.
9. Terminator Salvation
Director McG is sort of a poor man’s Michael Bay. Both directors love lightning fast, shiny action. Not surprisingly, this 2009 trailer was loaded with apocalyptic explosions and epic robot-on-human carnage. It gave fans a lot of hope for this fourth Terminator sequel. Unfortunately, there was also the issue of the plot. You can’t just blow stuff up for two hours, though the feature did try.
Rotten Tomatoes says it got only a 33 per cent approval rating from critics. It also failed to open at #1 at the box office for the first time in the franchise’s history.
8. Superman Returns
This 2006 sequel-quasi-remake of the Christopher Reeve original had a serious, even epic tone in its trailer. Part of that was due to the use of Marlon Brando’s narration from the first movie. The improved flying effects didn’t hurt either. The film, however, left a lot of fans cold, as it featured little action. Superman didn’t even get to fight anyone, but dealt more with absentee father issues. And evil Lex Luthor was involved in some sort of real estate scam. Ho hum.
Critics initially gave this a decent rating (76 per cent), though its box office performance dropped off sharply after a good first week. Its reputation in subsequent years has declined, particularly after the release of the recent reboot, Man of Steel.
7. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Upon reflection, all the signs of why this 1999 film wouldn’t work were in the trailer – including Jar Jar Binks. But as the most anticipated movie in history, fans ignored it all, just happy to have a Star Wars movie to watch.
The action-packed trailer in no way reflected the actual movie, which bored and outraged a lot of fans with its lifeless performances and endless chat. Overall, the film earned a 57 per cent approval rating from critics, and huge box office revenue. It’s still viewed as the worst Star Wars movie to date.
Ridley Scott had a great idea for this prequel to Alien – why not imitate the original trailer, complete with that creepy, over-the-top music? And it did prove a good, fast-paced promo that had aliens and weird imagery to burn. The actual movie was less successful – a little too thoughtful and sedate for fans of the original.
Fans wanted the action the trailer promised, but the movie gave them something different. Just not in a good way. Overall, it earned a respectable 73 per cent approval rating from critics, but performed considerably below studio expectations at the box office.
5. Cloud Atlas
A complex movie based on a complex book got a simplistic trailer that drilled home the movie’s theme (everything is connected!). It also featured jaw-dropping images from the movie’s many different characters and time periods, looking like seven movies rolled into one.
Tom Hanks even sported no less than three different haircuts in the trailer alone. Movie goers ended up just being confused and bored by it all, as the film failed to come anywhere close to breaking even. Rotten Tomatoes says it has so far earned a 66 per cent approval rating from critics.
4. Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
A dryly comic, complex sci fi tale made for a tough sell – trailer wise. So, the makers of this 2005 film went with a promo that spoofed the very notion of trailers – with narrator Stephen Fry sounding a bit befuddled himself.
The trailer never quite got around to explaining what the movie was about – beyond being very British. Funny, but did it work? Not so much. It earned a slightly underwhelming 60 per cent approval from critics, and managed to eventually break even at the box office.
3. Sucker Punch
Wow. This Zack Snyder movie looked totally fantastic in the trailer – if not exactly coherent. Just why were all these gorgeous, scantily clad, dancing girls fighting Germans in the trenches of World War One? Does it matter? The trailer was more coherent than the movie though.
The feature failed to earn back its hefty price tag at the box office, and garnered a meager 23 per cent positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, it was a huge, hallucinogenic flop for everyone involved, but it was quite entertaining at two minutes in length.
This was another trailer that couldn’t help but blow viewers’ collective minds with its strange, comic book superhero imagery. Based on the complex graphic novel, many claimed it could never be made into a movie. But it was by Zack Snyder.
The trailer had a lot of material to draw from, it being a three hour superhero movie and all. You weren’t really sure what you were looking at in the fast-paced trailer, but it did look undeniably cool.
As for the movie itself, many praised the movie’s faithfulness to the source, but that wasn’t enough to draw in the huge crowds. After a big opening, the film dropped off the map, eventually falling short of turning a profit. Critics were also polarized by the film, though it earned a 65 per cent approval rating.
1. Guardians of The Galaxy
To be fair, this movie turned out incredibly well, with critics giving it a 90 per cent approval rating. Still, the full-length movie paled in comparison to its trailer – which featured a hilarious introduction of the strange characters in what amounted to a police lineup.
After the cast are described as ‘A-holes’, the trailer continued with a quick montage of action set to the decidedly-strange 1970s tune ‘Hooked On A Feeling’. It was a trailer that perfectly encapsulated the oddly comic tone of the movie, and it helped to increase the already wild hype surrounding the Marvel movie. GotG became the second biggest hit of 2014 – but still, the trailer was better.