There are few things more satisfying for film lovers than a perfect marriage between trailer and movie. That is, a trailer so appetizing that that it creates a Pavlovian response for the film it’s promoting, and then having said film satiate that hunger. Originally slated at the end of the main attraction, trailers were once crudely made epilogues that were supposed to entice the audience to come back the very next week. This worked especially well for the serialized films of the silent era that ended unresolved, like 1913’s The Adventures of Kathlyn. In essence, trailers were the original “Next Time On [insert your favorite show title here]”. They were self-contained and designed to help the audience prepare for the next chapter of the serial.
But not for long. Movies got longer, profits got larger and trailers were tacked on to the front of the main attraction as a corporate commercial. Trailers suddenly had the cultural authority to make or break a movie, so studios carefully tailored them to appeal to the most general of audiences. The avant-garde filmmakers tried to disrupt that format, much to the chagrin of the money people. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove teased audiences with surreal, fantastical trailers that aimed to intrigue moviegoers by mystifying them, not pandering to them. Curtains up in 1996, when the Independence Day trailer became the first to premier during a Super Bowl. Nothing was the same: Trailers were about the biggest spectacle being seen by the biggest audience possible.
Now a multi-billion dollar industry themselves, trailers and teasers have become just as hotly anticipated as the movie they’re promoting. And when they’re cut right — with enough spectacle, with enough mystery— a trailer can create a reservoir of hype that may have not existed without it. A perfect recent example of this is Mad Max: Fury Road. I remember the lukewarm response to the announcement that a 30-year-old franchise was being rebooted. Then the trailer hit the Internet: Two minutes of pure muscular spectacle — raw, white-knuckle, and visually arresting. It became one of the most awe-inspiring and talked about trailers of the year. Luckily for moviegoers, the full movie did not disappoint; George Miller sustained that unrelenting, twisted-metal élan for the entirety of Fury Road’s duration. And now Fury Road sits at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and is in the Oscar conversation. A perfect marriage.
On the flipside, a trailer also has the potential to torpedo a movie. The self-sabotage can manifest in various ways. If the movie is a tough slog for the marketing department, the trailer might paint a completely misleading picture of what the movie actually is (i.e. Observe and Report: a brilliant, pitch-black comedy from Jody Hill which Warner Bros. unwisely decided to repackage as Paul Blart for adults). Or even worse, a negligent editor might cut a trailer rife with major spoilers. We all lose when that happens.
Here are six movies that fell victim to poorly executed trailers: