A long time ago, movie trailers actually trailed movies; they were played after a feature presentation to get audiences excited for whatever the next story in the chapter was or next release by the studio. Of course, the trailer has changed significantly over the last few decades and today, half a dozen or so are played before a film, there can be four or five per movie, and they even win awards.
They also ruin the viewing experience one way or another. Inherent in the trailer itself is the spoiler. That is, we are watching a preview of something and catching glimpses and dialogue and set pieces, and even some twists and turns, bundled up into some two and a half minute production. It has always been and forever will be a precarious balance between explaining the film and getting fans excited, while not telling too much. Too often though, it’s the latter. Some show so much that they utterly ruin the movie.
Now, a trailer often doesn't come out and declare that you are about to watch the climax or final clip, but if you are actually watching and taking in the preview, inevitably the scenes will stick in your mind. If you recall something from the trailer and you have yet to see it in a film, then you’re waiting for it. We can only watch a film for the first time once.
Just to prove how often this happens, we’re going to confine our list here to the last few years. We all know that Castaway was spoiled because the trailer had a conversation about Tom Hanks making it home. We’re also only going to look at films that generally are regarded as good or great (though everyone has an opinion), and we’re also going to stick to more mainstream studio films, because not only is it no fun to pick on indie films or smaller productions, but they really do need trailers to help get the word out. With that, here are 12 recent films of regard, whose trailers ruined the movie watching experience, in one way or another.
12 The Dark Knight Rises
This still remains a fantastic trailer. For all those who anticipated the final chapter in the Christopher Nolan Batman franchise, this was stirring in all the right ways, except for one: it tells way too much. We see a plane being hijacked (that’s the opening, so that's fine), we see a football field blow up and bridges fall (spoiling), we see Bane beat up Batman and the dark knight in some prison (more spoiling), and we know he returns for another fight because we see the two men not in some sewer, but outside in the snow amid a massive melee (the most spoiling). It’s hard to imagine anyone was on the fence about this movie; the trailer spoiled scenes for a movie no one was unsure about seeing.
Similarly, here we have another fantastic trailer in a series most people are familiar with and a case of telling way too much of the story. Irrelevant that James Bond being shot and coming back from the supposed dead is something that happens in the beginning and can be shown in the trailer. However, we don’t need to see an MI6 exploding, we don’t need to see Bond held hostage by Javier Bardem, we don’t need to see a subway careening underground, and we certainly don’t need to see a helicopter descending on a house in the middle of nowhere.
10 Fast & Furious 6
Firstly, for what it is and what it wants to be and what the audiences want it to be, this is a very fine movie. It’s energetic, mindless, wild, star-studded and absurd entertainment of the highest caliber. And if you watched this trailer, it probably ruined a bunch of fun (again, not sure how someone is on the fence about an established and blunt franchise). That’s because every set-piece from the movie is shown, including the finale where a group of cars take down a massive plane on a never-ending runway, a scene capped off with a car exploding through the form of the plane before the epic explosion. If you watched the trailer, you were ticking down the scenes as the film unfolded, and it was clear this runway scene was the end. And we already knew what was going to happen. This franchise is at least a bit surprising at times, when it comes to the narrative, and we all know what to expect in terms of action, so let’s not ruin it.
Most of the time when it comes to horror films, trailers ruin what are already pretty bad movies. In 2012 though, Sinister was a welcome surprised to the paranormal genre. Grounded by a believable and likable Ethan Hawke, Sinister tells the story of a writer who slowly realizes his house is haunted. It’s tense, dark, creepy, and effective. However, the trailer shows a bunch of the more alarming scares, including the chilling images of the entity, an attempt escape from the house, and worst of all, the final shot of the film. The very final shot! What are you doing?
This underrated action thriller from Steven Soderbergh is stylish and star-studded, a welcome satisfying tale of revenge. Unfortunately if you caught the trailer, which incidentally is quite poor and deceiving, we see everything that happens. It seems that trailers just don’t know what to do with revenge thrillers; because often, we see the hero or heroine betrayed, rise from the figurative dead, and wreak havoc on those who deserve punishment. And that’s exactly what we have here: Bill Paxton is her father who won’t turn against her, and hey, he is hanging out with evil guy Ewan McGregor when the lights go out and our heroine returns. Even before that, we see her dispatch Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum and again, we also get the very last scene of the film in which Gina Carano gets the drop on Antonio Banderas.
7 Captain Phillips
This incredibly tense and powerful film by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks, boasts a great trailer. That is for all but 10-15 seconds; the last 10-15 seconds. That’s because, for reasons unknown, after establishing a very tense set up and completely selling the film and what it aims to do, a series of quick cuts show much more than simply Captain Phillips and his crew being held hostage. We see (and hear) Navy Seals, we see a lifeboat fall into the water, we see the Captain inside it, we watch gunfire and swimming. All of this is superfluous. Sure, it’s a true story, but if you didn't know how it turned out, then you certainly get a pretty good idea here.
6 American Sniper
There are a few different trailers out there about this Oscar-nominated war film, starring Bradley Cooper. One of them is incredibly tense and fitting, showing what turns out to be the opening scene in the film, where sniper Chris Kyle is forced to decide whether or not to shoot a mother and her son, who may be holding a bomb; that’s a perfect trailer. It doesn't give away anything and it sets the tone. Another trailer however, shows Cooper’s titular sniper crying in a U.S. bar, telling his wife that he is back. We also see him say, ‘I’m coming home.’ What we have is what was already a great trailer that unnecessary added extra information that spoils the storytelling. If you've seen the movie, you know that these sequences are during the finale.
5 The Call
A nut and bolts thriller starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, was quite engaging and entertaining until its questionable third act. Still, this film about a 911 operator with a traumatic past who is thrust into action when a girl is kidnapped and thrown into the trunk of a car, is simple, effective and well-executed. However, its trailer gives away the entire ending, which, spoiler alert, finds Berry’s character no longer in her chair, but in the field at the capture creepy house, fighting fierce and rescuing the girl.
4 The Impossible
The true story of a vacationing family that is struck by a devastating tsunami in 2004 is a staggeringly powerful and visceral film. Its trailer is too, but unnecessarily gives away too much. There is no reason for this trailer to be any more than one minute long. Everything that needs to get across can be shown from the set up, the tsunami, and the subsequent destruction. Of course, the trailer decides to show members of the family reuniting and hugging, including a bruised Ewan McGregor smiling at his wife (Naomi Watts) as she lays on a stretcher, together again at last.
3 World War Z
The Brad Pitt-led zombie thriller from 2013, is three different types of movies: a family drama, a violent horror, and a medical thriller. What’s more, the film has three distinct parts to it, from the family escaping, to Pitt traveling the world and lastly, a tense standoff in a medical facility. The second trailer of the film lets us know the family escapes the city on a helicopter and that Tel Aviv is overrun with zombies and features explosions and helicopters crashing. Worst of all, the trailer concludes with a scene on an airplane where a zombie surprises everyone, an attack ensues, and the plane ends up with a giant hole in its side and heads for the ground.
This earnest and lovable fare from Jon Favreau, a project he clearly wanted to do and leveraged using his success from the Iron Man franchise, isn't quite a film, but more of a journey. And one full of food and fun. If you saw the trailer however, you saw the entire story unfold, albeit slightly distorted. We see our chef quit his job against what seems like a controlling boss, we see him fight a critic, we see him buy a food truck and we see him turn that into a successful operation working with his son and best buddy. That’s the movie. And everyone is happy. What’s more, we also catch all the cameos and small parts, including parts with Oliver Platt, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr., all of whom show up for a scene or two.
1 Cabin in the Woods
This is a tricky one. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s instant classic genre-bending horror film was hard to promote and confounded fans instantly. It looks like a straight forward horror piece, but those who know Whedon and Goddard couldn't help but feel like something was different. Well, the marketing didn't really know what to do, either. The trailer boasts the perfect set up, but gives away too much of the twists and turns with shots of a laboratory, unseen hands moving switches and worst of all, a shot of an elevator being revealed under the cabin. Going in, you already knew something was up, spoiling what would have been a genuinely terrific movie-going experience from a great storyteller.