“The best bits were in the trailer…” You’ve heard it said – or perhaps you’ve even said it yourself – it makes perfect sense if you really think about it. They’ve got less than two minutes to wow us. Of course it’s gonna be a "greatest hits" medley. But hearing the chorus of a Beatles song in isolation won’t spoil your enjoyment of the verses. Not so with film.
Seeing Iron Man hurtling to his apparent death at the end of The Avengers would be a genuinely gripping sight to behold, that is… if we hadn’t already had the image of Hulk rescuing him burned into our collective retinas by trailers, TV Spots and stills.
Worse still than showing the whole film, is when we’re shown a completely different film; Sweeney Todd’s previews touted a snide, murderous Edward Scissorhands, prompting many to actually get up and leave when the cast burst into song. Imagine also being promised a wacky "fish-out-of-water" comedy featuring Bill Murray and then being faced with the thoughtful and touching Lost in Translation. Less "out of water" than "completely different kettle of."
Whatever the offence, by this logic, film-makers need not actually make films we will love. They are only required to provide a product which can be packaged and made to *look like* we might love it.
Here’s a look at ten films whose trailers promised us one thing but instead delivered either something completely different or nothing at all.
10 Godzilla (1998)
Picture this: crushed, mangled cars litter the streets of major cities. Commuters are bombarded with posters warning that “His foot is bigger than this bus!” We are faced with fear and destruction on a devastating scale. And this was just the guerrilla advertising campaign.
The first teaser trailer led us on a museum trip with schoolchildren who stand in awe of an impressive T-Rex skeleton. It doesn’t take long for the aforementioned foot to crash through the ceiling, crushing the display. Amazingly, the 30 second teaser cost over $600,000 and its footage didn’t even feature in the film itself.
The second showed an old man fishing from a pier and telling his drunken friends that “he has a bite.” A view of the behemoth is only barely glimpsed as he wades out of the ocean, destroying boats and making literal waves of devastation.
Godzilla brought trailer-making about as close to a competitive sport as it had ever been, seemingly so obsessed with publicly bettering (and sometimes imitating) Jurassic Park that it’s a wonder Spielberg didn’t sue. The creature himself is still a marvel of CGI wizardry. In fact, for a movie filled with impossible visual effects and unimaginable devastation, it’s fascinating that it was the human element which was unconvincing.
With its horribly written dialogue spat by clunky acting performances, it made Independence Day look like Shakespeare. Broderick spends the entire film like a deer in headlights, whilst co-star Maria Pitillo explores never-before-seen kinds of annoying. Even king of cool, Jean Reno, is reduced to bumbling comic relief so much that we’re made to cringe ourselves in-half as he impersonates an American army officer.
9 Van Helsing (2004)
“Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, the one name they all fear.” Cut to a shot of Hugh Jackman looking every inch the bad ass in a full length leather coat and hat brandishing a crossbow – Van Helsing. The most iconic movie monsters of all time facing off against Jackman, who was emerging as a bona fide superstar and Kate Beckinsale, riding the crest of her Underworld wave which had been released the previous year. How could anything go wrong? As the Underworld sequels would show, simply throwing Vampires and Werewolves together doesn't guarantee a fun movie; The Twilight movies would go on to prove just how little fun you can have with that concept. Viewers going in expecting a crossover event for the ages instead found themselves watching a screaming, noisy, over-edited mess of a movie. With writer and director Stephen Sommers less interested in developing the legendary characters and more interested in smashing them into things with god awful CGI.
The trailer promised a mean, moody monster hunter, tracking down three of the biggest names in cinema history. Instead, we get an awkward medieval version of a buddy cop movie where the Vatican is recast as a religious MI6 and Van Helsing is a less charismatic James Bond complete with a variety of gadgets that look woefully out of place. Perhaps most surprising is that the budget of the movie was north of $150 million. For that money, you expect at least one memorable scene. There is a certain nobility in a spectacular failure, but a limp, lifeless, instantly forgettable movie is unforgivable.
8 Super 8 (2011)
Nobody quite does trailers like J.J. Abrams does trailers. The teaser for Cloverfield was a lesson in how to build anticipation without giving the slightest plot detail away. His Star Trek trailer was a fantastic merging of old and new that ensured that there would be more than just hardcore Trekkies in the cinema come opening day. His masterpiece however, may just be the one for his most underwhelming film. With Abrams swapping the producer chair on Cloverfield with the director’s chair and none other than Steven Spielberg on producer duty here, expectation was already high before a single frame was shot.
The teaser trailer would be attached to Iron Man 2 and fans awaiting another Abrams enigma were not left disappointed. The text sets up the premise of a section of Area 51 being closed down in 1979 and its contents being transported by freight train to Ohio. It is then spectacularly derailed by an oncoming pickup truck before its contents begins to smash its way free from one of the carriages. Viral marketing fans analysing the trailer, like most Abrams productions, were rewarded for their perseverance and patience, finding the words “Scariest Thing I Ever Saw” hidden in the final frames of the trailer. Much like Cloverfield, Super 8 was a scavenger hunt filled with little clues and hints of what would make up the highly secretive plot. When one such trail led to a clip of an alien reaching through the window of its cage and snatching a doctor, it looked like Spielberg had returned to his horror roots with his enigmatic protégé adding a layer of mystery this was set to be a movie event for the ages.
The Scariest Thing I Ever Saw, it certainly was not. It’s hard to recall a film that starts so promisingly and ends so dismally. The film looks more like a tribute to former Spielberg films, with its broken families and overly grown up child leads, than a film of its own. Having avoided replicating any of his mentor’s traits since being the latest director to be anointed “the new Spielberg” here under his gaze, he plagiarizes at will. His oft maligned lens flare is never more prominent than here, to the point where I felt genuinely concerned I would be blinded. The horror film that the trailer portrayed is far from what appears in the finished film. Abrams instead tries to mix E.T, Close Encounters and Jaws into one film. The result is, predictably, a muddled mess of a film that was far removed from the excitement and promise teased at in that wonderful trailer.
7 Spawn (1997)
The important thing to remember when viewing this trailer is context. And it’s a context that today’s younger audiences may not know of or ever even appreciate: the three comic book movies that preceded it were Batman & Robin, Barb Wire and The Phantom. No Iron Man. No Batman Begins. Even Blade had yet to hit screens.
Considering this, once the trailer for the movie based on Todd McFarlane’s unfathomably successful comic landed, it was seen as something entirely new and different: a grown-up, darker superhero that appeared to be sticking close to its own source material.
Its "nineties-ness" is entrenched in the dulcet tones of a pop-culture hero many of us know only as “Trailer Man”: “Evil has a new enemy. Justice has a new weapon and the world… has a new hero.”
The dark, violent trailer featuring kick-ass action, demonic clowns and a hero fresh from hell itself made the movie seem like The Crow’s satanic cousin.
What was delivered was instead a hopelessly redundant action gross-out that kept none of the lustre of its source material. Its familiar plot was one of morose heroism, clichéd perma-rain and a few token explosions thrown in as an afterthought. It’s a film that improves in your head every few years, but when revisited is found to have aged about as well as mayonnaise. In the sun.
I’d much rather have seen a movie about “Trailer Man”.
6 The Simpsons Movie (2007)
As the show continues to wheeze on as a barely recognizable shadow of its former self, it is hard to imagine that when the oft rumoured Simpsons Movie was finally confirmed in 2006, it was already considered far removed from its best days. Fans’ apprehension was offset with the arrival of two magnificent trailers that seemed to be a throwback to the sharp writing and high concepts of the show’s heyday. The first was a classic misdirect as a trailer for another cutesy 3D animated movie is interrupted and The Simpsons logo, adorned by Moe, lands on a bunny. This is followed by a genius visual gag were Homer is quite literally caught between a rock and a hard place. The final shot where the wrecking ball inexplicably launches Homer one more time into the rock face was pure Simpsons gold, capturing the wonderful mix of the ridiculous and the sublime that the show was famous for.
The second trailer was one that would become instantly iconic and would be responsible for raising Simpsons fans’ expectations to meteoric levels with just two words… Spider-Pig! With Marge musing how pig tracks got on the ceiling, she is interrupted as Homer enters the scene walking the pig upside-down across the ceiling singing “Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, does whatever a Spider-Pig does.” It was looking like the writers were rising to the big occasion and The Simpsons movie, we had been hoping for, would not disappoint.
But disappoint is exactly what it did. It is by no means the worst movie on this list, but was far from the level of the best or even the good Simpsons episodes. It committed one of the biggest crimes in cinema, it was average. It figuratively – and literally – moved the show away from what made it great in the first place. Moving the family to Alaska was a woeful mis-step and favored characters who found themselves with little or, in Sideshow Bob’s case, no screen time. The film undoubtedly has its defenders (it holds an inexplicable 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) but honestly, how many times have you watched it since? Given the choice between this or the episode with Hank Scorpio, who had been rumored to be the main villain of the movie, I would pick the bearded bad guy every time.
5 The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
In almost any field of endeavour, a sequel can either reaffirm or refute its predecessor. The original had been the surprise hit of 1999, leaving even the highly anticipated Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace in its shadow (in terms of its quality, at least). With the promise of a bigger budget, more action and not to mention an already green lit third movie, The Matrix Reloaded trailer seemed to be in competition with itself to top the previous moment. From Morpheus’ voiceover teasing that the war between man and machine was imminent, to Neo shown to now be in total control of his powers, to the point where he can now fly around like Superman. The stunning looking freeway chase which, to be fair, delivered in the film. But the coup de grace was the return of the villainous Agent Smith, though not just one Agent Smith, hundreds of them (Smiths? Smithies?), with the final shot of Neo planting a pole in the ground as the camera pans 360 while he kicks the multiple incarnations of his nemesis in the face was nothing short of breathtaking.
The finished product however, left audiences scratching their heads as the Wachowskis delivered a convoluted and, worst of all, boring follow-up to one of the greatest action movies ever made. Completely forgoing the original concept of human enslavement by technology and, instead, replacing it with po-faced dialogue largely concerning the political structure of Zion, which ironically calls to mind the Star Wars prequel. By the time the nonsensical rave scene comes around, most had lost interest. Revolutions would arrive just months later and would turn out to be an even further removal from what made the original so good. As such, The Matrix Reloaded would be ever remembered as “bad, but not as bad as the third one,” which is a long way from the promises made in its brilliant trailer.
4 The Village (2004)
Spielberg, Scorsese, Shyamalan! It is incredible to think now but less than ten years ago, the latter did not look out of place on that list. Following his global smash hit The Sixth Sense, a wonderful take on the comic book hero genre with Unbreakable, and with an intimate alien invasion story in Signs, he seemed well on his way to living up to the "New Spielberg" crown he had been anointed with. His new film The Village promised more of the supernatural tension he had made his name with. He had assembled a wonderful cast with William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix and Sigourney Weaver, among others.
The moody, atmospheric trailer teased that a small, isolated countryside village and their alliance with the mysterious creatures that inhabit the forest around them is coming to an end. The nerve shredding trailer gave little away, the creatures are never seen, instead relaying on reaction shots and narration from his talented cast. The eeriness is played beautifully as the creepy score rising with the tension peaks with the chilling moment when Phoenix removes his hood and enters the woods. Opinions were very much “I want to see that, but not alone.” Shyamalan, taking his story into the much used horror gold mine of a haunted woods, looked like it would be another hit for the talented Philadelphia native.
Shyamalan however, veered wildly off course. Perhaps due to the pressure of living up to his reputation as the king of the twist ending. He completely neglects the first 100 minutes of the movie and focuses everything on trying to deliver another stinger of an ending. Audiences certainly felt stung by the ending, but not in the way its creator intended. The movie itself is dangerously dour and humourless and devoid of any tension or scares promised by the trailer. The concept, including the twist, seems better suited to a twenty minute Twilight Zone episode (or a two minute trailer) rather than a full feature. The film is padded with pointless sub plots and shots of the wind blowing, something he would use to an even more disastrous effect in the Mark Wahlberg and rubber plant headlined follow up The Happening.
3 Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 2 improved on every conceivable aspect of its predecessor. The action was balletic, the story was on a grander scale and, in Doc Ock, Sam Raimi and Alfred Molina had crafted perhaps the best villain seen thus far in a comic book movie. Any leaking details from Spider-Man 3 would deservedly be met with feverish anticipation. In April 2007 we got exactly what we asked for; a trailer which would ask a deep breath of anyone tasked with explaining it.
Opening with the revelation that Thomas Hayden Church’s Flint Marko was in fact responsible for the death of Uncle Ben, his Sandman had been ripped straight from the pages of the comics. Harry Osborn steps up to assume his father’s mantle as Green Goblin, as was teased at the end of the previous film. Spider-Man dons his black suit. Intercut scenes of Mary Jane and Aunt May each in peril, as if to say one or both will not make it to the end credits. As it fades to black, still it refuses to end; the sound of bells can be heard.
Any fan of Spider-Man familiar with the Venom Saga feels a rush of excitement in anticipation of what was to come and it didn’t disappoint. Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock sees Peter Parker frantically trying to remove the symbiote before Brock himself is then doused in the black goo. Dragged to the ground, he eventually rises, leaping to devour the camera and spawning a million GIFs.
Had anyone been offering to show the finished film there and then, they could have named their price. The trailer for this instalment moved to turn the entire franchise on its head. And so it would, just not as it intended.
Months later, the film promised to us in the trailer was not the one shown in the cinema. In its place was some sort of EMO dance movie. One of the most loved Spider-Man villains had been relegated to little more than a cameo and with the added indignity of having his scenes narrated by a god awful English journalist. The Spider-Man/Goblin team-up is set in motion by a horrendous scene with Harry’s butler, eventually wilting any hope for tension or excitement in the final scenes. By the time Snow Patrol start singing over the closing credits, just to hammer home its EMO credentials, audiences felt like Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects: angry and confused but almost impressed at how spectacularly they’d been fooled.
2 Man of Steel (2013)
Trailers can only allow enough time to showcase a movie’s style. That being considered, Zack Snyder might then have been the perfect choice to direct it. Or maybe they should have just had him direct the trailer…
When Zack Snyder was announced as the surprise choice to take over the reins of the Superman franchise, the number one criticism he faced was that he was all style no substance. 300 and Watchmen had looked stunning and had delivered money for the studios but few would argue that they felt much emotional resonance with any of the characters. With Watchmen especially, being accused of “ripping the heart out of the characters.” All these fears were to be cast aside, albeit temporarily, when the frankly stunning trailer for Man of Steel hit. We had been burned before with Superman Returns, which also boasted an action-packed trailer, a Marlon Brando voice-over and that glorious shot of the crowd looking to the sky in awe.
The surprisingly earnest trailer in which Superman questions his place in the world and how humanity would react to knowledge of his existence is complimented by scenes of Clark’s childhood and when Kevin Costner is asked “can’t I just keep pretending to be your son?” his voice breaks as he embraces the child with the heart-breaking line “you are my son.” Wiping the tears from my eyes just in time to have any fears, that this might be Superman Returns part two, alleviated by the rising score as Superman takes flight and smashes the sound barrier. This looked to have nailed every aspect of the character and I was all in.
When the movie finally arrived, all my initial fears were proven correct. A series of woefully misjudged character moments, including letting Pa Kent die and a finale that seemed to have the hero and villain smashing into each other for days, without any concern for anyone else, this left audiences feeling lukewarm towards the revived franchise, with the movie falling well short of its billion dollar estimates. No longer confident that the man from Krypton could carry the weight of the box office alone, Warner Brothers paired him with their other big money maker, Batman. Ensuring that the Man of Steel will be snapping necks and cashing cheques again for a while yet.
1 Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Pre-internet, for me anyway, The Phantom Menace trailer was unexpectedly announced during a segment on MTV news. Showing no concern for what was in the VHS player, I hit record (sorry Kickboxer 2) from the second the familiar Lucasfilm logo appeared, I was transfixed. The iconic John Williams score kicks in as the boy who would be Vader races his Pod across the sands. Sam Jackson mused about the prophecy of balance in the Force, while this was tempered by Yoda’s ominous warnings.
Everything we had hoped for and more was contained in those 90 seconds, R2-D2 and C-3PO, the music, Ben Burtt’s iconic sounds of laser gunfire, old favourites like Ben Kenobi being reimagined for a new generation. The kicker would be when “duel of the fates” would sound and we are introduced to Darth Maul brandishing… a DOUBLE lightsaber, fighting TWO Jedi! When the trailer finished it is not an exaggeration to say I was shaking with excitement. That trailer would be replayed so many times that by the time the movie came out it was reduced to an unwatchable, jumping nightmare that required a deft use of the tracking button to make out anything. A distinction shared with only one other film in my collection; Under Siege (you know the scene). The cinema trailer would be attached to the Bruce Willis vehicle The Siege, which resulted in me and my friends sneaking from one screening to another just to see the trailer and leaving before the movie started.
When the film was eventually released it was met with almost universal disdain. While not quite the “childhood raping” disaster that some believed, those expecting a fun continuation of action, excitement and fun were instead met with a dull, talk-heavy movie that seemed more concerned with trade sanctions than a good blaster. The following movies would be a slight improvement but would not scale the heights of their illustrious predecessors. Hopefully the upcoming J.J. Abrams directed movies continue the fun and excitement of the originals and not the Dawson’s Creek with Jedi films that the prequels became. If so I’d rather stick with Kickboxer 2.