A well-crafted movie trailer gives the audience just the right amount of information about the film they’re going to see. And, perhaps even more importantly, it establishes what the overall mood of the movie is — whether it’s a lighthearted comedy or a dark, thrilling drama. But sometimes, a trailer doesn’t quite match the movie it’s selling. More often than not, this is a tactic that is done on purpose. A marketing team can target a surprisingly wide array of demographics through a trailer’s edit, and they may even nudge a particular group of people towards a film they wouldn’t normally go and see.
This isn’t always a bad thing. After all, who wants to see a trailer that gives away too much of the movie? In some cases, being a little subversive isn’t a bad thing. As long as the trailer doesn’t feel too much like a bait-and-switch, viewers might actually be pleasantly surprised that the film isn’t exactly what they’re expecting. However, some audience members may end up feeling misled. Believe it or not, in some cases, they even end up suing over dishonest trailers.
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Below, we’ve rounded up ten trailers that are strikingly different from the movies they’re advertising. The same way you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, these previews serve as a reminder that not every film can be judged by its initial trailer.
- 1Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)Anyone who’s seen Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind knows that it’s a different kind of Jim Carrey movie. His performance is far from his goofy, affable norm — he’s the straight man, perfectly matched by an against-type performance from Kate Winslet. What’s interesting, though, is that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was marketed as just the kind of Jim Carrey comedy you’d expect. The overall tone is offbeat, quirky, and light. It’s a perfect guise for the kind of movie that will actually make you cry and relive every heartbreak you’ve ever experienced. Don’t believe what you see — this is not a good flick to watch on a second date.
- 2Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)With its enchanting visuals, it’s easy to peg Pan’s Labyrinth as a straight-up fantasy movie — based on its trailer, that is. What the preview clip fails to mention, however, is that this film is also steeped in elements of horror. The film’s protagonist, a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), has a sadistic stepfather who brutally hunts down political rebels in the forest. The creatures Ofelia encounters are more terrifying than inviting. The overall tone is very dark, and while there is some version of a happy ending, it’s really not of the Disney variety.
- 3Bridge to Terabithia (2007)While Bridge to Terabithia is rated PG — and was mainly marketed toward tweens — its subject matter isn’t exactly what you’d consider “light.” But by the looks of the trailer, you’d have no clue that there’s a grave tragedy at the very heart of the story. No, Bridge to Terabithia is not a charming fantasy adventure movie about a pair of friends who conjure up a magical realm to escape their turbulent reality. It’s really a coming-of-age movie about a boy named Jess (Josh Hutcherson) who must cope with the unexpected death of his closest companion, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb). Not really the kind of family-friendly fare the trailer is presenting, is it?
- 4Edge of Tomorrow (2014)To be honest, the problem with the trailer for Edge of Tomorrow is that it undersells what this film actually is — a smart, funny twist on the sci-fi genre and Groundhog Day-style movies. The trailer gives off the impression that this movie is bleak, and even somewhat generic. You won’t find any laughs, which is strange for a film that’s chock-full of them. There are probably people out there who saw the trailer for this movie and immediately thought that it wasn’t for them. But they might find themselves surprised at just how fun Edge of Tomorrow really is.
- 5Kangaroo Jack (2003)With a name like Kangaroo Jack, this movie has to be for kids … right? Not quite. However, the trailer for this poorly received buddy comedy actually tried to appeal to children. The presence of the titular marsupial was amped up for the preview, in an attempt to lure more families into theaters. So much so, in fact, that critics even accused the studio of false advertising. Reviewing the film for The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin wrote, “Kangaroo Jack’s premise, trailer, and commercials promise little more than the spectacle of two enthusiastic actors being kicked over and over again by a sassy, computer-animated kangaroo— and, sadly, the film fails to deliver even that.” Harsh. But true.
- 6The Green Knight (2021)As is the case with many A24 films, The Green Knight’s trailer was responsible for generating a ton of hype — and bringing people into theaters. Once those viewers were planted, however, few really knew what they were getting themselves into. The preview for the film made one expect an epic, cinematic retelling of the 14th-century poem, “Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight.” But this iteration of the tale strays far from the original, instead becoming an existential meditation on free will. And those cool giants shown in the trailer? They’re only in around 10 seconds of the movie. The Green Knight is beautifully shot and well-acted, but it’s much more of a philosophical mind-bender than a historical drama.
- 7Catfish (2010)If you were to watch the trailer for Catfish with no context, you’d probably assume it was a true crime documentary — after all, the genre has become hugely popular in the last decade or so. The trailer even chooses to highlight a quote from the Financial Times, which reads, “The Best Hitchcock Film Hitchcock Never Directed.” Doesn’t it seem like we’re about to dig into a suspenseful real-life crime story? But in earnest, Catfish is a thought-provoking, engaging documentary that doesn’t vilify anyone on screen. Its director and star, Nev Schulman, processes his unique experience in a way that feels relevant to all of us living in the digital age. Put it this way — it’s not the next Blair Witch Project.
- 8Drive (2011)If you went into Drive expecting thrilling car chases à la Fast and Furious, you were most likely disappointed. But it wasn’t entirely your fault — the trailer for the 2011 film depicted it as a high-octane action movie. In reality, however, it’s much closer to a neo-noir, art house drama. From the hyper-stylized imagery to the riveting violence, Drive is an exhilarating ride from start to finish. It’s just not the movie that the trailer depicted. In fact, one Michigan woman was so put off by her viewing experience, she sued the movie distributor over a “misleading” trailer.
- 9Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)While Sweeney Todd’s trailer perfectly captures the macabre tone of the movie, it fails to mention a crucial element — the fact that it’s a musical. Now, many viewers already knew that Sweeney Todd is based on a successful Stephen Sondheim musical, but there’s no way that everyone knew that. And for some, this might actually be a dealbreaker — plenty of people will head to the theater for a dark, chilling tale of vengeance, but not all would be ready to sit through a two-hour-long musical. Moviegoers should at least have been given a heads up.
- 10The Cabin In The Woods (2011)Interestingly enough, The Cabin In The Woods’ subversive trailer was actually part of its marketing scheme. Anyone who’s seen the film knows that it’s not the stereotypical slasher film it appears to be on the surface. But the movie’s trailer cleverly downplays the meta elements, while amping up the clichés and conventional expectations. It’s very possible that, after viewing this trailer, you still would be plenty surprised by the movie’s genre-bending twist. So actually, the preview accomplished exactly what it intended to do. And that’s pretty cool.