The preponderance of excitement which greets the arrival of even nine-second microteasers makes it needlessly difficult to remember that, in the most basic sense, movie trailers are nothing more than advertisements. They’re enormously successful advertisements, of course—ingratiating themselves so deeply into the fanboy market that their rapid dissemination more or less takes care of itself—but they’re nevertheless created with the exclusive intention of convincing you to spend money.
That we should be skeptical of movie trailers, particularly those promoting multi-million dollar blockbuster entertainments, really ought to be a given for everyone, which is why it’s always disconcerting to see the internet foam at its collective mouth any time we’re handed down, say, a spot for some new Superman nonsense or the nineteenth twenty-minute preview clip for “Star Trek Into Lens Flair” or whatever. It’s not contentious to suggest that the quality of a given trailer has no real bearing on the ultimate quality of the film it’s advertising, especially since, as we all know, the entire purpose of an ad is to make a product seem appealing. To that end we surely expect some deceit.
But one can only tolerate so much deception before what’s being marketed seems like a different product altogether. Hollywood has long had a tendency—ever increasing in frequency—to exaggerate a film’s more saleable qualities while suppressing the presence of what might be off-putting, but sometimes canny misdirection starts to look like blatant misrepresentation. Below we’ve gathered some of the worst offenders.
The Film: “Drive”
The Pitch: “Fast and the Furious” meets the sexy dude from “Breaker High”. It has it all: high-octane thrills, explosive action, 80s fonts, etc.
The Truth: A contemplative slice of cinema-loving nostalgia from a pretty haughty hipster auteur. Though hardly hardcore arthouse, “Drive” wasn’t the action thrill-ride it was sold as, and those looking for a feelgood blockbuster surely felt ripped off.
Ed. Note: So we accidentally embedded a clip from the opening of the film instead of the trailer, but the screen-grab is so good that I just can't bring myself to change it. Here's a link to the actual trailer.
The Film: “Like Someone In Love”
The Pitch: Sort of a Japanese “Harold and Maude”, only more silent.
The Truth: It seems as though the distributor simply didn’t know how to present the new film from Abbas Kiarostami, but in case they didn’t make it out to be the thoughtful, oblique drama it is. For a good laugh, compare the trailer above with the international spot cut for the film's Cannes debut.
The Film: “Jack Reacher”
The Pitch: An action-packed blockbuster full of explosions and car chases.
The Truth: Basically just that, except without the explosion. A man even filed a lawsuit after learning that a half-second clip of a giant rock formation exploding was in the trailer without being in the final cut of the film. Because the absence of a wall blowing up was obviously the only disappointing thing about this.
The Film: “A Good Day To Die Hard”
The Pitch: Sex! Explosions! An aging movie star!
The Truth: Just an aging movie star. There’s actually more partial nudity in the trailer for “A Good Day to Die Hard” than there is in the film itself, improbably, and we all know the only thing that gets teenagers and middle-aged dudes into the theater is the promise of beautiful women showing a bit of skin.
The Film: “Lost In Translation”
The Pitch: A lighthearted romp in which Bill Murray has zany adventures abroad, and also maybe sleeps with Scarlett Johansson.
The Truth: A serious film about ennui and disenchantment, more dreamy than zany, with some of the driest humor and most understated punchlines this side of a Jim Jarmusch movie.
The Film: “In Bruges”
The Pitch: More zaniness abroad, only this time it’s two British hitmen and their action-packed follies.
The Truth: “Waiting for Godot” with guns, which go off with decidedly non-zany consequences. Come for the antics, stay for the existentialism.
The Film: “The Rules Of Attraction”
The Pitch: “American Pie” with the kid from “Dawson’s Creek”, and please disregard the names “Roger Avary” and “Bret Easton Ellis”.
The Truth: Well, a film by Roger Avary and Bret Easton Ellis, with about as much gleeful misanthropy as you’d expect from guys like that. What is it with trailers making dark comedies look light?
The Film: "Baby's Day Out"
The Pitch: Fun for the whole family.
The Truth: Fun for nobody. “Adorable pratfalls” are, in practice, scenes of surprisingly brutal violence, made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that they’re carried out by a baby.
The Film: "Certified Copy"
The Pitch: A slightly more adult (but still poppy!) version of "Dan in Real Life," accentuated by European flair.
The Truth: "Dan Doesn't Even Know What Real Life is, Anymore." Abbas Kiarostami's masterpiece is hardly a light rom-com, but rather a decidedly cerebral meta-drama that questions the very nature of personal identity. Instead of a flimsy Ed Burns whatever that Miramax might have put out in the late 90s, you get one of the best films ever made. There have been worse surprises.
The Film: “The New World”
The Pitch: A historical epic featuring swashbuckling and exploring and valiant adventure.
The Truth: A tone poem about nature and grace and two entwined souls discovering one another’s secrets—in other words a Terrence Malick movie. A great film, to be sure, but a far cry from the one they were selling.
The Film: “Miami Vice”
The Pitch: “Bad Boys II” with one white dude.
The Truth: Uh, the best movie ever? But seriously, a much headier formal exercise and exploration of the digital image than anybody could have been anticipating, especially given how amped-up and overblown the trailer made this thing out to be.
The Film: "The Blair Witch Project"
The Pitch: "One of the creepiest films since 'The Exorcist.'"Three (real) morons go camping in the woods of Maryland and then very bad things happen to them. Presumably, these (real) people were never seen again.
The Truth: "One of several hundred films that is creepier than 'The Exorcist II: Heretic.'" Dogme 95 in hell. Three bad actors walk in circles while one of them suffers from an unstoppable nasal discharge.
The Film: "Contempt"
The Pitch: A sexy romantic drama that finds wickedly dry auteur Jean-Luc Godard returning to a more "traditional" mode of filmmaking.
The Truth: A thrillingly modernist examination of love and industry that subverts the narcissistic opulence of the film industry – "Contempt" doesn't just bite the hand that feeds, it chews it right off. In a way, this trailer is as blunt and honest as they come, but any preview that simply refers to Fritz Lang as "the old man" is probably having some fun at your expense.