Easily the most important aspect of pre-release movie marketing is releasing a trailer to sell the movie to audiences: it needs to let potential customers know who's starring in it, what the story is, and crucially, convey the tone of the piece.
However, sometimes studios know that they're working with something a little more challenging (or terrible) to sell to a mainstream audience, and so will flat-out lie in the trailer to give audiences a different impression about what the movie is. Everyone's gone to see a movie only to leave two hours later bemused that it was nothing like the trailer, and though it can sometimes be pleasantly surprising, it's often irritating because it reeks of false advertising that studios have lied in order to sell more tickets.
There's certainly a question to be asked about the legality of such practices (and numerous lawsuits have sprung up over the years about the honesty of movie trailers), for though a vague trailer is sometimes necessary to disguise a clever plot twist, it's not quite so noble when it's blatantly shifting the goalposts to appeal to a more mainstream audience who would otherwise not be so interested in the film.
These 15 trailers rearranged plots, misrepresented the action content and simply didn't prepare audiences for the movie they were about to watch.
15. Iron Man 3
What Was Advertised: Another kick-a** entry into the Iron Man series, with Ben Kingsley playing the classic comic book villain The Mandarin, who will prove to be Tony Stark's most fierce threat to date.
The Truth: Though there was plenty to like in Shane Black's movie, Kingsley's character is the total opposite of what audiences were expecting: after an intense build-up, we find out half-way through Iron Man 3 that he's actually an actor employed by the real Mandarin (later revealed to be Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian) to act as a mouthpiece. As such, rather than being the terrifying villain we were expecting, Kingsley's part is pretty much relegated to comic relief, while Pearce's take on the villain is simply too left-field to be satisfying for comic book fans.
Some defend the creative decision to so grossly subvert expectations, though others attest that Marvel a) took a giant dump on a classic character and b) simply didn't deliver what the trailer advertised. After looking forward to Kingsley's Mandarin becoming Iron Man's most challenging foe, to see that completely ditched for the sake of a running joke was hugely disappointing to many.
14. Any Nicolas Winding Refn Movie
What Was Advertised: Valhalla Rising was marketed as a Norse action adventure, Drive looked like a Fast and the Furious-type action film, and Only God Forgives seemed like a kick-a** martial arts flick.
The Truth: Indeed, Nicolas Winding Refn has earned quite the reputation for deceiving audiences with intense, entertaining trailers which simply promote a more mainstream, straight-forward film than is actually the case. Valhalla Rising was an incredibly slow-moving film with brief bursts of violence, Drive featured barely any driving and deferred mostly to shots of Ryan Gosling staring into the middle-distance (to the point that one American woman actually sued the distributor for false advertising), and Only God Forgives was pretty much a reprise of just the same...but set in Thailand.
Audiences probably should have been aware of Refn's deliberate directorial method by the time that Only God Forgives trailer dropped, but it just looked so stunning visually that people couldn't help but be drawn in by it. Whatever he makes next, there's no excuse for getting seduced by a sublime trailer only to be disappointed when the final results are infinitely more pretentious...
What Was Advertised: An alien invasion takes place over Central America, and two protagonists desperately attempt to survive a relentless series of attacks from the beasts.
The Truth: The marketing team behind Gareth Edwards' Monsters simply did a superb job downplaying the fact that Monsters was conceived on a shoestring budget of less than $500,000, with Edwards composing most of the visual effects on his home computer. The final movie is much more of an art-house film than a typical monster flick, revolving more around the relationship between the two central characters, set in front of a war-torn landscape that mostly just implies the presence of the monster rather than actually showing it off.
The money shot arrives at the end of the film, when we see two of the monsters up close for a sustained period of time... though it turns out all they really wanted to do was mate, and there's no big action climax that audiences may have been expecting. Smartly (and manipulatively), all of the cool-looking shots implying an action film (such as planes flying overhead) were thrown into the trailer to give the impression of a very different film. The final product was still a fine work, though more casual filmgoers expecting something less artistic would have been right to be annoyed.
What Was Advertised: A thriller about a young man learning the perils of building a romantic relationship on Facebook, culminating in a slasher film-type payoff.
The Truth: Firstly, trailers heavily downplayed the fact that Catfish is a faux-documentary (not that this really matters), though unlike what the trailer suggests, it doesn't nearly begin to take the dark turn audiences will be expecting. The trailer implies that Nev and his buddies end up being stalked by some sort of axe-wielding hillbilly, though the end result is something completely different (if still totally disturbing): it turns out that the girl he chatted with doesn't exist, and was a fake profile created by a lonely, depressed middle-aged woman looking for a little escapism in her life.
Granted, the final movie still turned out to be pretty great, but the trailer was clearly contrived in a way to draw in the horror movie crowd, who were likely disappointed when the end result was something else entirely.
11. The Grey
What Was Advertised: Liam Neeson attempts to survive the aftermath of a plane crash in Alaska, resulting in him spending most of the movie punching packs of wolves in the head.
The Truth: Joe Carnahan's The Grey turned out to be a much better film than pretty much anyone was expecting, largely because the marketing suggested a dumb action film to appeal to the Taken crowd. The final result is, in fact, a far more intelligent survival flick as Neeson's character and his fellow survivors find themselves standing toe-to-toe with nature, as death breathes down their neck constantly and they must own up to their own mortality.
The climactic scene in which Neeson appears to punch a wolf is, in fact, only implied in the film's final shot: Neeson gets ready to fight the wolf and the movie cuts to black, leaving his fate ambiguous. This would undoubtedly anger those who paid money to see Neeson fighting wolves (and rightly so), even if the end film was something a lot more ambitious and memorable. It's easy to see why Universal downplayed the existential content in favour of the apparent action, but it's patently dishonest to sell the film on something it blatantly doesn't deliver.
10. Spring Breakers
What Was Advertised: The ultimate movie about teen hedonism: sexy girls in skimpy bikinis, plenty of drinking and drug-taking, and... James Franco as a grill-totting gangster called Alien. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Truth: Though Spring Breakers delivered pretty much all of the above, it was also a much more different, smarter film than most who saw the trailer initially gave it credit for, especially if they weren't aware who director Harmony Korine was. It's perfectly-broached between being a vapid Hollywood leer-fest and something more artful: it's got the young lithe female bodies and rampant debauchery, but it's also beautifully filmed, features strong characters and boasts probably the most dementedly brilliant use of a Britney Spears song in the history of everything.
Because the movie still delivered on its sexy mayhem, boozed-up audiences going in for the boobs and guns likely didn't feel too short-changed, though the art-house affectations most certainly surprised many. Still, the marketing worked, as Spring Breakers made an impressive $32 million against a $5 million budget, which is far more than the bizarre movie on its own terms should ever have made.
9. The Cabin In The Woods
What Was Advertised: Yet another generic horror movie that takes place in a cabin in the woods, with a group of brainless teenagers who quickly succumb to the same pitfalls that every horror movie character before them already has.
The Truth: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's comedy horror film is a gleefully self-aware attempt at taking the genre to task for its lack of originality, leaping into the realm of sci-fi, as the central scenario is actually engineered in order to appease a group of beings living under the Earth known as the Ancient Ones. Every year, horror movie-inspired rituals take place to sacrifice hapless young folk to these creatures, and the movie's insane third act features a literal menagerie of familiar horror characters, such as giant spiders, killer clowns, Cenobite-type baddies and so on.
Though the trailers did, in its defense, show several hands pulling levers to activate several cliched elements of the cabin scenario as well as the money shot of the eagle crashing into the magical boundary wall, the trailers were smartly circumspect about explaining exactly what was going on, and the movie was all the better for it. The generic scenario drew in the more casual horror movie crowds, yet the final product was infinitely more impressive, hilarious, clever and surprising.
What Was Advertised: An epic adventure flick depicting the most awesome moments of Hercules' life as a warrior, including taking on the Nemean Lion, the Erymanthian Boar, and the six-headed Hydra, with Dwayne Johnson realising the mythic figure at his most brilliantly superhuman.
The Truth: Brett Ratner's unexpectedly ambitious action flick takes a weirdly subversive look at the title character, painting him as an actual strongman rather than the inhuman legend audiences will know. The three awesome scenes mentioned above are all neatly packaged into a montage in the first three minutes of the movie, noting how Hercules' legend has been wildly embellished, and then transforming itself into more of a straight-forward (and less exciting) political war film.
Though the end result still isn't bad, it's not exactly what audiences signed up for when they bought their ticket: they wanted brutal CGI battles against giant, mythic creatures, and the final result was decidedly more plain, all the more a shame given how perfectly cast Dwayne Johnson was in the lead role.
7. Magic Mike
What Was Advertised: Here's one for the ladies: a male stripper movie which features the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum bronzed, oiled up, and not wearing very much for the majority of the film's run-time. Check your brain at the door and just enjoy the visual spectacle.
The Truth: Much like Spring Breakers, Magic Mike delivers plenty of beautiful bodies, but for anyone who isn't familiar with the name Steven Soderbergh, the movie's devotion to an actual storyline and character development may prove surprising and even disappointing. Indeed, Tatum and co. aren't just slabs of meat to ogle: they're living, breathing human beings with motivations and desires beyond their vocation, to the point that some audiences inevitably complained that the movie was too... smart?
A streamlined story that just focused on the stripping would have reaped pretty much the same tremendous box office results with a shorter run-time, and though the movie is infinitely better for its character work, it's easy to see how some viewers were clearly expecting to switch critical thought off and just enjoy the show without having to think at all.
6. World's Greatest Dad
What Was Advertised: A quirky, offbeat comedy about a man struggling to raise his obnoxious teenage son, tinged with a little black comedy but... not too much.
The Truth: Bobcat Goldthwait's outrageously daring, devastating drama is a much better film than its trailers suggest, because while they entirely misrepresent the tone of the film, they at least don't give away its shocking mid-film twist. You see, at the half-way point, Robin Williams' character finds that his son has died in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident, and then uses his son's death to sell his own failed writing (under his son's name), exploiting the cult of dead celebrity that emerges to further his own creative success.
The more upbeat trailers didn't help its box office, though: it still made less than $300k against a $10 million budget, even if it's a great film and easily Williams' last truly great performance. Still, audiences who went in expecting a father-son comedy with a few edgy jokes surely weren't counting on a masturbation death and everything that follows.
What Was Advertised: Another dumb Adam Sandler comedy, this time about a guy who has a remote control to alter time, and as you can guess, mostly uses it to look at bouncing boobs in slow motion. Who wouldn't?
The Truth: Though Click is far from perfect, it's generally held up as one of Adam Sandler's better comedies from the last decade, not that this is really saying much. Yes, it's silly, but it's got less of Sandler's irritating comedic instincts (namely those nails-on-a-chalkboard voices he loves to do), and is at its climax unexpectedly sentimental.
When an older Michael (Sandler) uses his dying last words to convince his grown son to put family first, the film takes viewers on an unexpected feels trip, and though Michael is ultimately given a second chance at life at the end of the movie, who seriously expected an Adam Sandler movie to have them wiping away tears? Most went into Click expecting a silly, brainless comedy with a few light laughs, but it actually turned out to be surprisingly emotional (for a moment), and more to the point, was actually frighteningly effective at it.
It's far from Sandler's best, but kudos to him for trying something a little more ambitious than just the usual lazy joke-getting.
4. The American
What Was Advertised: A sleek, sophisticated action thriller starring George Clooney as an American assassin leaping around the world taking on various jobs and putting down anyone who gets in his way.
The Truth: Anton Corbijn's thriller is far from the fast-moving action flick audiences were expecting: it's an artistic, slow-moving, character-driven effort that focuses more on Clooney's dialogues with a parade of beautiful women than gunfights and car chases. Though there are occasional bursts of action, they're incredibly brief, as no doubt disappointed anyone who went in expecting to see Clooney kicking a** and taking names (which was just about everyone).
It's not a bad film exactly, but given what the trailers promised, the end result is a pretty far cry. Was there really any reason beyond greed to market this to the casual audiences rather than the art-house niche?
What Was Advertised: Inspired by a true story about "the world's most prolific serial killer", Primeval is a slasher flick with a difference: it takes place in the African wilderness, as a group of tourists find themselves hunted by an enemy who has claimed over 300 victims to his name. "He is real, but he is not human". Wow, this guy sounds scary.
The Truth: Though the trailer tried to play slightly fair by declaring the serial killer to be "not human", it's safe to say that most viewers probably expected the killer to be a supernatural humanoid of some kind, rather than a 20-foot crocodile. The croc is very briefly shown off in the trailers, though most audiences likely assumed that this was just a set-piece in the movie rather than the reveal of the "villain".
Also, using the phrase "serial killer" was very clearly intended to steer audiences away from guessing that the baddie is an animal, though was this merely in the interest of intrigue, or because they realised how stupid the movie really was? Either way, the revelation that the characters were dealing with a crocodile rather than a bada** warlord was both tremendously disappointing and totally hilarious.
2. After Earth
What Was Advertised: An Avatar-style action adventure flick starring Will Smith and co-starring his son, Jayden, in which the pair must team up to survive the planet's deadly flora and fauna, and escape with their lives. Couldn't tell you who directed it, though...
The Truth: Will Smith's character (preposterously named Cypher Raige) has his legs broken in the initial crash sequence, and so spends the rest of the movie strapped to a chair, talking to his son and guiding him on what to do next. Given that most viewers were drawn to the film by the presence of Will rather than Jayden, to see his son take the reigns for the most part while Will just sits around is incredibly annoying. Why take the most charismatic actor in your movie and give him absolutely nothing to do?
Then there's the fact that the trailers heavily downplayed the involvement of director M. Night Shyamalan, as even to the most casual viewers, his name conjures nothing but sighs and groans. Those who don't trawl movie news sites day-in and day-out likely only realised Shyamalan was at the helm when the movie's end credits rolled, and "An M. Night Shyamalan Film" is not-so-proudly displayed.
1. Kangaroo Jack
What Was Advertised: A fun buddy comedy about two guys traveling to Australia, when all their money is suddenly stolen by a hoodie-wearing, sunglasses-clad, talking kangaroo, leading them on a hilarious, wild chase to get it back.
The Truth: The titular kangaroo simply isn't the movie anywhere near as much as advertised, and though the trailer suggests that he can talk and rap, this only occurs in a dream sequence in the final movie, which was added late in production intentionally to fool family audiences into seeing it. Whenever we actually see the kangaroo, he simply hops around and doesn't talk. Plus, though the marketing implies something aimed at children, the banter between the two main characters and the general tone isn't really appropriate at all.
While some of the other movies on this list provided pleasant surprises or we can at least see where they were coming from marketing-wise, this was just blatantly dishonest beyond any reasonable excuse, and more infuriatingly, it actually worked: the movie took #1 at the box office, and though not a massive box office hit, made its excessive $60 million budget back. Are there any other movie trailers which totally misled you? Spill it in the comments!