10 Misleading Film Trailers

Last year when it was revealed that Tom Cruise would portray author Lee Child’s famous fictional character Jack Reacher on the big screen, there was a lot of speculation about the different physical attributes of Cruise and Reacher. Nonetheless the film made over $200 million at the box office and received mainly positive reviews, including Cruise’s acting from both the critics and fans. However there was someone who was so unsatisfied with the film that he filed a complaint stating he was mislead after learning that an explosion scene from the trailer for the film was not in the final film. Paramount Pictures said that the scene was “a single split-second element omitted from a 130-minute long action film” and that it is a common practice in the film industry to cut trailers before completing the film’s final editing, but they did offer a refund in the end. Unfortunately this is something we, the audience come across often. The main job of a film trailer is to attract as much audience as possible; therefore the best scenes in a film end up being featured. Here are 10 other misleading trailers.

10. Lost In Translation

Lost In Translation trailer

Sofia Coppola wrote and directed Lost In Translation in 2003. It was nominated for four Academy Awards in total, including Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, which was awarded to Coppola. It won 3 of the 8 BAFTA nominations with Best Actor going to Bill Murray, Best Actress going to Scarlett Johansson and Best Editing going to Sarah Flack. Including 5 nominations for Golden Globe Awards the film has been nominated for awards 33 times. These nominations do not include the Guild nominations, Film Festival Awards and Critic Groups nominations. Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to them and the amount of analyses of the film cannot be measured. The film received huge amounts of positive reviews from critics and the audience. So then why is the trailer for the film so misleading? The film is about an American actor named Bob (Murray) and a recent graduate named Charlotte (Johansson) and the unexpected bond they form after meeting at a hotel in Japan. The film covers several areas, such as loneliness and the question of existence in a rather slow and gloomy way. However the trailer shows laughter, confusion, happiness and even more laughter, but the most misleading part is that it claims the film to be about a simple actor named Bob.

9. In Bruges

In Bruges Trailer (HD)

Theater writer and director Martin McDonagh made his film debut in 2008 with In Bruges. After wining an Academy Award for his short film Six Shooter in 2006, the director went on to write and direct the Oscar nominated film starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. The film follows two hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) who are sent Bruges by their boss Harry (Fiennes) after Ray accidentally kills an innocent person. Guilt driven Ray thinks they are hiding out in Bruges until things quieten down, but Harry has other plans for him as he has ordered Ken to kill him for his mistake. Praised by the critics, the film went from being shown at limited 28 theatres in America to 163 theatres in 3 weeks. With a budget of $15 million, the film made over $33 million worldwide while earning a cult following. Once again this is a film with several awards and nominations, yet the trailer gives it a different plot entirely as we are told that Ray goes into hiding because he has killed a priest. Any reference to the black comedy that has helped the film earn the positive praises has been completely left out.

8. Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia - trailer

Adapted from Katherine Paterson’s children’s novel, Bridge To Terabithia is a truly powerful film. Directed by Gábor Csupó and starring AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson in leading roles, the film is probably one of the saddest films made for children. Many critics praised the film, especially for its loyalty to the book and the performances of Robb and Hutcherson. The trailer however has received criticism for deliberately misleading the audience. We are made to believe that the film is about two friends Jesse (Hutcherson) and Leslie (Robb) who discover a magical world in the forest near their house. This world becomes their playground as they discover magical creatures and even defend some against the bad ones. For the audiences who have not read the book, the film seems to only take place in the magical world but the truth is far from it. The children hardly spend any time there, with going to school and being with their families occupy most of the film. Escapism is a strong theme in the film alongside adult themes like abandonment and death but the trailer wants us to think that this is a light-hearted children’s film. This was noticed by many reviewers who criticized the marketing strategy of the film. Writer David L. Paterson also acknowledged the misleading trailer but said that he understood the reason behind it: to attract as much audience as possible.

7. The Road

The Road - Trailer

The Road is an amazing film, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s astounding novel of the same name. Directed by John Hillcoat, the film follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The film is slow with limited dialogue and at times quite miserable but there are tender moments between the father and son, which emphasises the importance of those moments. The film received many positive reviews with several awards and nominations. It was praised for the successful creation of a post-apocalyptic world and the eerie cinematography. The film also has several cameos from incredible actors, like Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce and Michael K.Williams. Adapting novels to films have always been troublesome, with successful adaptations being limited but The Road is in those limited numbers of movies except for one difference between the novel and book. In the film Charlize Theron appears as the mother in flashbacks as she committed suicide shortly after the catastrophic events and her character is given more importance in the film then the book. So why does the trailer show the film as though the mother is present throughout the film? The story about the relationship between a father and son is thrown away and another plot of a man trying to look after his wife and son is made-up along with the additions of the action genre.

6. Midnight In Paris

In 2012 Woody Allen won his third Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Midnight In Paris, which also became his most successful film in the United States surpassing his previous film Hanna and Her Sisters. This is a personal film for Allen, revealing that he wanted to make a movie about Paris through his eyes. It involves time-travel, nostalgia, culture and modernity with some of the best actors in the industry. Owen Wilson portrays Gil, an unsatisfied Hollywood screenwriter visiting Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil is successful at his job, but his dream is to finish his novel and he hopes he can capture some inspiration from Paris, where he wants to move to someday much to his fiancée’s dismay who is keen on living in Malibu. While Inez enjoys wine tasting and dancing with her ‘sophisticated’ friends, Gil prefers taking walks and enjoying the real Paris. The real fun starts when Gil travels back in time to the 1920’s era he so loves and meets some of the most influential writers of the decade including Zelda (Alison Pill) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and even painter Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody).  The trailer shows most of the important parts of the film, like Gil’s preference to explore Paris instead of hanging out with others and his dislike towards Inez’s friends, but misses out the vital information: time-travel. It is easy to assume that the time-travel might be considered as a spoiler but after watching the film its clear that its an essential part of the film, which the audience should be aware of.

5. The Tree of Life

THE TREE OF LIFE | Official Australian Trailer

In 2005 it was revealed that Terrence Malick would direct his script called The Tree of Life. The production for the film took several years and in 2011 after a long delay, the film premiered at the 64th Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d’Or. It was also nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Picture and Best Cinematographer. The film created great debates among the critics and the audience, most to do with the fact the film was experimental. Half of the critics loved and praised the film for its bravery and imagination while the other half criticised the non-linear narrative and experimental scenes. The same goes for the audience, while some embraced the strangeness, others left the cinema as soon as they realised the film’s true genre. The film follows a middle-aged man (Sean Penn) and his childhood memories in a non-linear narrative and limited dialogue. We see the birth of the universe, volcanoes erupting, the dinosaurs and even the asteroid that destroys them. The interpretation of the film is left entirely to the audience and it is up to them what they make of it, but the trailer takes things into its own hands and decides to give the film a plot of a tough father (Brad Pitt) and his relationship with his family. We are shown the famous scenes of the ocean and the galaxy from the film but the trailer hides the abstract ones. The film is a Terrence Malick film, so those who know him might expect a challenging film but those who do not know him will definitely find the film confusing.

4. Drive

'Drive' Trailer HD

One of the most popular films of 2011 was Drive. Adapted by Oscar nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini from James Sallis’ novel and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the film received a rare standing ovation at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. With a budget of $13 million, the film made over $77 million at the box office. Although it only received one Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Editing the film received 4 BAFTA nominations and the director won Best Director Award at Cannes. The trailer explains the plot correctly, as the film follows Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver who also works as a getaway driver for robberies. Refn successfully created an incredibly artistic action film, with keeping the action scenes sophisticated yet dangerous and the dialogue minimum, instead relying on the acting and directing. So it is a great surprise to see the film promising an action film with including most of the action scenes. A woman from Michigan sued the distribution company, FilmDistrict for this very reason. She claimed that the trailer promised an action film similar to the Fast and Furious and that she was mislead. Her case was overruled just like Jack Reacher’s. 

3. Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning - Theatrical Trailer (High Quality)

Sunshine Cleaning premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to positive reviews. Directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as two sisters who starts a crime scene cleaning business. Despite being an independent film with a budget of $5 million the film made over $15 million at the box office and received many positive reviews. Adams was greatly praised for her performance as a single mother in a relationship with a married man and Blunt was praised for her supportive role. Jeffs created a drama film with enough comedy to keep the harsh reality of life forefront and the critics highly praised the film for it. However the trailer took on a different approach and marketed the film as though just a comedy. Ironically the film takes on quite a dark turn towards the endings.

2. The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element (original trailer)

Directed by Luc Besson, The Fifth Element is a science fiction film starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman. It is a film which has received mixed reviews and even today some critics have claimed that it has become a cult classic in the science fiction genre while others claim it is one of the worse film of the genre. Despite the mixed reviews the film made more then $250 million with a budget of $90 million. The film follows ex-military taxi driver Korben Dallas (Willis) who rescues Leelo0 (Jovovich) who falls into his cab. Leeloo turns out to be humanity’s last chance of survival and the only thing that can stop a huge meteor from crashing into Earth and killing all mankind. While Korben and Leeloo try and save the world, there are evil people like Jean-Baptiste (Oldman) who wants to stop the pair from saving the world. The film explores themes from evil to the power of love, while making the audience laugh yet consider the consequences of actions. Among all these themes, the trailer just gives us an action film while showcasing random scenes which also makes it extremely confusing.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth full length trailer

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth won 3 out of the 6 Academy Award nominations with Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Makeup. It won the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup & Hair at the BAFTA’s, 9 Ariel awards and several others. One of del Toro’s most personal films, he came up with the film from his own notebook, which he used to scribble pictures and ideas in to. This is another rare film which received a standing ovation at not only the Cannes Film Festival but also the Toronto International Film Festival. Loved by critics and audiences, the film is a fairytale for grownups with adult themes, including death, war and betrayal. We follow a young girl Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother moving into with her stepdad Captain Vidal (Sergi López). Soon after arriving at her new home, Ofelia starts seeing magical creatures including fairies and a Faun (Doug Jones) who tells her that she is the lost princess Moanna. In order to to prove herself to be the true princess, she is given three tasks which has to be completed in three weeks. The trailer however makes it look like Ofelia is actually a lost princess in a magical world, neglecting to include the sinister adult themes, which mislead the audience into thinking this is a children’s film.

He are ten great films with misleading trailers and marketing. Clearly, receiving positive reviews isn’t enough to attract the audience so the most common thing is to create a misleading trailer to attract a wider audience. All of these films already have a fanbase, whether its the fans of the director or the actors but what the trailer’s aim to do is widen the audience and attract fans of other genres as well. Although we are used to watching trailer that include all of the best parts of the film, misleading trailers are unacceptable.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Jon Lisi
    Jon Lisi

    An interesting idea for a list that points out the disconnect between marketing and actual product. While I often get irritated at trailers which spoil the entire movie, I don’t know how I feel about misleading trailers.

    If the only way to get people to see movies like Drive, or this fall’s August: Osage Country, is to mislead them with a trailer, then I’d rather have that than audiences never seeing the movies because the trailers don’t appeal to their close-minded interests. The hope is that when they’re in the theater, instead of complaining, they’ll open their minds to what is on the screen. As your examples show, that rarely happens.

    • Violeta

      EXACTLY! But trailers are made to advertise the film, and the purpose of advertising in the film business (or general) is to make as many people as possible to watch it (and pay 🙂 ). But in a perfect world, it would not be as such.

    • If only people would try and appreciate new things more often 🙂

  2. Jonathan

    In Bruges. Best film ever? You got it.

  3. Kevin Licht

    I don’t think I’ll ever get used to consumers not taking responsibility for their own choices. It may be risky to have a misleading trailer, but hopefully lawsuits like the ones you mentioned keep getting thrown out.

    Speaking of ridiculous lawsuits…


    • Although the law suits are clearly ridiculous, I think some trailers like The Road take it too far, I mean Charlize Theron isn’t even part of the film properly yet she is all over the trailer and wow that is the first time I’m seeing that piece of news. People have so much free time on their hands and money.

    • I thought you were building up something along the lines of “With great power…”, you know.

  4. Nicholas Devin

    Very good list you have here. I like the idea behind it too. I wasn’t a big fan of the Road. I loved the book and then watched the movie and it didn’t really compare for me. I agree with Drive as well. I watched the trailer and then saw the movie, and I was confused to what was going on. I still loved Drive though.

    • Thanks, I loved the book and the film for The Road, but I understand the difference between them. I didn’t need to watch the trailer for Drive, the teaser was enough to make me want to watch it and I’m glad I wasn’t mislead by it.

  5. Taylor Ramsey

    I actually really enjoy catching moments in trailers that are not in the film.
    There is a single shot from Twister, cruddy schlock that it was, that didnt make the film, but was the ‘money shot’ of the trailer. A huge tractor tire coming right at the viewer and smacking the windshield of the truck you are ‘in’.
    Sometimes catching that kind of stuff is fun and very interesting.

    • I just watched the trailer for Twister and that is definitley the best scene. I think sometimes that is fun to do, but some trailers mix the scenes to make it look like a completely different plot and I think that can be annoying sometimes.

  6. Jordan

    As soon as I read the title of this article I thought “The Bridge to Terrabithia better be on here”. 😛 I’m so glad it was! I hadn’t read the book so was very disapointed by how different the film was. I still loved the movie, but it took a while to adjust my expectations. Great article.

    • Thanks so much. I remember watching it without watching the trailer or even looking it up, so not only did the theme catch me off guard, but the death of one of the children devastated me so I can’t imagine little kids watching it.

  7. Claire Macallister

    I agree with most of the films on your list, especially In Bruges. What a great, darkly comical film.

  8. Nellie

    The trailer for Bridge to Terrabithia was shockingly different!!

    I think, the problem with giving misleading trailers is that, more often than not, I am then disappointed by the film (or by the fact that I was hoping to watch something more [how it’s shown in the trailer] than what it was really like). So it’s almost unfair, as I might have liked it more otherwise (these are films I often give a second watch!).

    Luckily, I don’t tend to watch trailers or even read synopses often. But from that trailer for Drive, I feel like a lot of audiences must’ve felt disappointed or confused when they went to see it, ha ha.

    • I totally I agree with you, despite the film being good it’s easy not to like it or get annoyed because you’ve been mislead.

  9. Kathryn Graham

    I hadn’t seen the trailer for “Lost in Translation” before but that is surprisingly different. Especially as I love the film, I wouldn’t have been as desperate to see it if I had’ve seen that trailer before as it doesn’t capture the tone or message of the film at all!

    • Same, most of the trailers I had seen but some of them including Lost In Translation was a great surprise to me too.

  10. J. Bryan Jones

    Oh, yes. Bridge to Terabithia. Made it look like crap, but it was actually quite good. Perhaps it’s just because they upset me, but I would put Amazing Spider-man and Iron Man 3 in here. I hate it when the trailer affects my enjoyment of the movie when I’m totally misled or I’m waiting for something that’s not actually in the movie.

    • I’m not sure about the Amazing Spider-Man, but I remember I could hardly wait for a new release of trailer or footage for the Iron Man 3 and it definitley exceeded my expecatations.

  11. Jemma Baddock

    Great article! I work in a cinema and always have so many disappointed customers that say “the only funny parts were in the trailer” haha.

  12. Ben Meredith

    Nice article and I agree with most of the points you’ve made. One thing I would bring up is what do you think of trailers which are misleading because of an artistic choice? So they’re deliberately misleading and treat themselves as part of the movie experience, designed to give the audience false expectations that the feature can prey on to it’s advantage. I’m thinking of stuff like Cabin in the Woods which shows a trailer for a standard horror flick, then has the feature deconstruct the genre in front of an audience who expected standard horror. Or even Pan’s Labyrinth, so that the audience is already questioning the content of the film (since they expected a classic children’s fairy tale) when the movie starts to bring it’s own account of events in to doubt.

    • Ben Meredith

      Oh also, yeah In Bruges is amazing (just thought I’d throw in my support with the rest of you ;))

      • I understand your point and agree with the exception of the Cabin In The Woods, but the majority of the misleadings seem to be made by the distribution company as a way of marketing instead of an artistic choice and yes In Bruges is amazing 🙂

  13. Alex Jose

    Really enjoyed this article, I often base my decision on whether or not o watch a film from the trailer so this really proves how misleading they can be!

    • Thanks so much. Trailers are the only way to get a glimpse of a film so it can be really annoying, and a lot of people do the same.

  14. Zujaja K

    I completely agree with your comment about Bridge to Terabithia. The film’s beauty is derived from the friendship that formed outside of their ‘magical kingdom’, and the loss of that friendship is even stronger when the escapism Jesse seeks from the forest doesn’t change that Leslie is gone. To market it as a magical adventure is detrimental to the film’s legacy, and ignores the story’s message- that you need to find and hold onto the good in the world you live in rather than a fantasy because only that can be truly fulfilling.

    And great article, your choices were spot-on!

  15. A non-misleading trailer for “El laberinto del fauno” would have ruined the movie.

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