6 Ways Movie Trailers Always Lie (That You've Never Noticed)
The purpose of trailers isn't to give you an accurate impression of a movie or TV show or game so that you know whether you'd enjoy it -- it's to get your money, whatever it takes. Once they have that, you're someone else's problem. So trailer editors have come up with a series of tricks intended to disguise the true nature of what they want you to pay for. For example ...
Showing Dream Sequences As If They Were Really Happening
By 2014, fans of HBO's Game Of Thrones had already been waiting three years to see some real, no-bullshit full-size dragon battles (for readers, it had been even longer). So it was no minor thing when the Season 4 trailer opened with a shot of a shadow passing over King's Landing, accompanied by the unmistakable shriek of a dragon about to fuck some shit up:
Or at the very least, drop a massive fiery turd.
It was as if millions of voices cried out "HOLY CRAP, IT'S HAPPENING" ... only to be silenced when the season started and the "dragons in King's Landing" moment turned out to be nothing but a hallucination. It's a quick shot in the middle of a "mystical vision" sequence. Much like the upcoming books in the series, it wasn't real at all. Adding insult to injury, the moment in the show proper is shorter than it is in the trailer, and there's no dragon roar.
Bran falling did accurately foreshadow the quality of the writing for season seven, though.
Trailers pull this dirty trick entirely too often. When the internet-breaking teaser for Avengers: Age Of Ultron debuted, the most shocking part wasn't the dramatic Pinocchio cover; it was a shot of someone's (Thor's?) body lying next to Captain America's broken shield. That's the ultimate "Shit's getting real" sign in the Marvel Universe.
After "Spider-Man shutting up for one second."
Cap's shield is supposed to be unbreakable -- without that feature, it's nothing but a very heavy Frisbee -- so this was a huge deal. They even used the broken shield as part of the marketing campaign, so you knew it was an important part of the movie and not, say, a magical fever dream Tony Stark has. Wait, no, that's exactly what it was. It's an illusion created by Scarlet Witch. The shield doesn't so much as get scratched during the real story.
There's also the epic vampire showdown in the The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 trailer (magic vision) and the Luke and R2-D2 moment in the Force Awakens trailer (Force vision). And then there were all those post-apocalyptic shots that made up, like, 5 percent of every Batman v. Superman trailer:
Whoops, sorry, this is from the superhero-themed Fifty Shades Of Grey porn parody.
That turned out to be ... well, who the hell knows. Probably some bad chili Bruce Wayne had. But hey, at least all these scenes were technically in the stories ...
Throwing In Scenes That Aren't In The Movie
Despite all the creepy digital necromancy, Rogue One worked when it was showing us the Star Wars universe from angles we'd never considered, both narratively and visually. For instance, one of the most memorable moments is the scene in which Jyn and the Rogue Gang charge toward a bunch of giant imperial walkers on foot, without the aid of snowspeeders, tow cables, or mischievous space bears.
The bear thing is open for debate, however ...
That shot alone really sells you on the idea that this isn't some cartoony fantasy conflict -- it's a gritty, scary war. Another striking visual was Jyn facing off against a TIE Fighter on her lonesome, armed with nothing but a blaster and lots of slogans about hope.
That life jacket probably won't help her much in this situation.
Iconic stuff. The only problem? Neither of those moments are in the movie -- they're from the teaser and the first trailer, respectively. Despite the filmmakers' assurance that the Rogue One reshoots were only minor stuff, one fan compiled a list of 46 freaking shots from the trailers that were left out of the final film. This includes entire lines of dialogue that hinted at a slightly different, possibly darker plot. On the other hand, they also got rid of that cringeworthy "I rebel" line, so maybe it was all worth it.
At least this particular movie still ended up being worth watching. Can you imagine being one of the people who went to see the latest Fantastic Four exclusively because of that cool shot of Thing being air-dropped from a plane like a sentient atom bomb ...
"This Dr. Strangelove remake is weird as hell."
... only for that entire scenario to be cut from the film at some point during its clusterfuck of a production? It's like when people put something incredibly sexy on their dating profile, and then you meet them and it turns out they look nothing like the Thing being air-dropped from a plane.
As large-scale reshoots become more of a thing in Hollywood, this is probably an annoyance we'll have to get used to. Take Suicide Squad, whose trailers featured quite a bit of Jared Leto's Joker -- including a shot of a post-helicopter-crash Mr. J waving bye-bye (presumably set sometime around the climax). Ironically, after the studio handed the movie to the people who edited one of these trailers, most of that Joker stuff got thrown out, and he basically disappears from the movie after a certain point.
The regrettable part in this case is that they didn't make the entire movie disappear.
Leaving Out What The Film Is Actually About
No one wants trailers to spoil everything that happens in the movie. Simply tell us the gist of the story, who's in it, and whether any helicopters blow up at any point. Unfortunately, some trailers fail even the "gist of the story" part. Take Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, which had a unique plot compared to his usual fare. It's about Owen Wilson getting caught in a bizarre time-traveling phenomenon and hanging out with some of the greatest artists who ever lived.
Please sign our petition to give Adrien Brody's Dali his own spinoff.
But the trailer leaves all of that out and makes it look like a movie about boring rich people being insufferable (aka a standard Woody Allen movie).
"A movie about a guy escaping his dull reality? Let's focus on the dull reality."
It takes the trailer over a minute to get to the time travel, and even then, it only shows the past in a six-second montage, and it's not clear what we're looking at; Wilson could be visiting a '30s-themed restaurant for all we know. The rest is about Wilson's in-laws wondering where he goes every night, because obviously that's what everyone wants to watch. This would be fine for a teaser, but this is somehow the only official trailer for this movie.
The same goes for Hook, the '90s adventure film about Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan who goes back to Neverland to rescue his dork-ass children. The trailer shows no Neverland, no Captain Hook (other than his titular appendage), and no green tights -- it's mostly two minutes of Williams in a very un-Peter-Pan tuxedo wondering where his children went. And again, this was the only theatrical trailer. The teaser shows even less.
But the worst offenders are today's horror movies. Any film that tries to push the limits of the genre ends up getting saddled with the most generic trailer possible. The Cabin In The Woods is a fun deconstruction of horror movies that shows you right from the beginning that the "horror" is being controlled by some goofballs in a lab. The trailer makes it look like one of the dumb slasher flicks it's making fun of but, like, more tech-y. It even teases a "secret" that the movie reveals in literally the first scene.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies errs in the same way, in that the trailer is super-duper serious, while the film itself is, believe it or not, a horror comedy. There's also It Comes At Night, a riveting post-apocalyptic film that scrutinizes the breakdown of civilization and what living in fear and isolation can do to a person. It's a deep psychological chill-fest, but no, let's pretend that it's yet another straight horror movie about people fighting supernatural evil in a cabin in the woods.
Not Letting The Characters Talk To Hide That It's A Foreign Film
Distributors of foreign movies in the U.S. face a conundrum. It's an accepted fact that American audiences don't like reading subtitles, but dubbed films are considered an even bigger abomination. So how do they promote these things? Should they be honest about what they're selling and take a risk in the name of artistic integrity, or try to con people into thinking these are totally English-language films? That's a rhetorical question.
The easiest way of doing this is simply adding an English narrator and making sure no one else talks during the trailer. That's what they did for Pan's Labyrinth, which is completely in Spanish. The trailer looks like they took every shot from the movie in which the characters have their mouths closed and edited them together.
At least the narrator still says it's from Guillermo del Toro and not "William of the Bull."
The same happened with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. No, not the David Fincher version -- the original Swedish one which was released in the U.S. to get people hyped for the David Fincher version. Banking on the fact that both Noomi Rapace and Michael Niqvist had been in English-speaking films since this movie was made, the trailer made sure to show their faces as much as possible without ever letting them speak. Who's to say they aren't two more American actors who picked artsy names?
To be fair, they did let one line of dialogue into the trailer: "AAAAAAAIIIEEEEE!!!"
This is not a new technique. Remember Amelie? If you've seen the movie, you know it's in French. If you've only seen the trailer, with its hokey English narrator, you'll wonder when Tom Cruise or Matt Damon is going to pop in and show all those foreigners how it's done.
Making Dramatic Movies Look Like Upbeat Comedies
There's a time for ruminating about the sad realities of modern life, and a time for laughing at silly bullshit until our brain cells come squirting out our noses. That's why it's a real dick move when a trailer comes along and tricks us into thinking we're in for one big laugh-fest, when things are in truth about to get quite depressing.
Take Lost In Translation, a movie about two strangers trying to find meaning or themselves or whatever while feeling out of place in the world (or in Tokyo, at least). It's got some funny moments, sweet and sad scenes, and a good wallop of existentialism tying it all together. So of course the trailer makes it look like a fast-paced comedy by taking all of Bill Murray's best zingers and omitting the long, introspective silences between them.
But that's still a relatively accurate trailer compared to the one for Marley & Me, a comedy-drama that features a miscarriage, postpartum depression, and that gut-punch of an ending. (SPOILERS: It rhymes with "the frog dies.") The extremely Hallmark-Channel-like trailer, on the other hand, features every "crappy family movie" cliche, from the song "Bad To The Bone" to a faux-western moment to giving the dog a Scooby-Doo-like voice in a scene that isn't even in the movie.
Which is inaccurate. Marley couldn't talk until the direct-to-video prequel which holy shit actually exists?!
Putting Unrelated Scenes Together To Look Meaninglessly Badass
Before Clint Eastwood's directorial motif became "stuff he heard about on Fox News," he directed the early '90s Kevin Costner movie A Perfect World. The film features an escaped criminal (Costner) taking a kid hostage, but befriending the kid so that he doesn't even know he's being taken hostage. It's an intriguing concept for a movie, easily demonstrated by short sequences like this one:
Perfect trailer material right there. Unfortunately, that's not the trailer; that's a VHS promo. Here's the same scene in the real trailer:
The kid doesn't seem to care much, so now they both look like psychopaths.
The "Oh yeah" is taken from another, totally banal part of the film, before the kid's even introduced (and no, the other scene doesn't involve Costner shooting a different kid). This is just the result of trailer editors getting a little too creative and making up "badass" moments by combining different scenes -- a bad habit that hasn't really gone away. More recently, the Breaking Bad Season 4 trailer made it look like Walter White was about to do something extremely off-character and kill someone in a way that wasn't insanely convoluted.
SPOILERS: This guy probably wishes that's really how he went.
It's easy to miss it because it's so quick, but the shot of Walt aiming the gun is from another scene in his house, when he's having a little Taxi Driver self-hype moment. The gun in question is never even shot for the whole duration of the show.
And finally, we can't have an article about terrible trailers and mention Batman v. Superman only once. In the movie, Wonder Woman saves Batman from being laser-blasted by Michael Shannon's sentient nutsack:
OK, we were only half paying attention to the plot of this thing.
It's a genuinely cool moment, not to mention a perfect visual representation of Wonder Woman's effect on the DC Extended Universe. But it wasn't cool enough for the trailer. So they threw an unrelated nuclear blast into the middle of the sequence ...
... which makes Batman magic, we're pretty sure. If he survived being in the middle of that, he didn't really need Wonder Woman's help. Plus, he's got teleporting powers:
"... The fuck did you get here?"
Then again, we can't say an awful, disjointed trailer full of baffling decisions isn't representative of this movie. Dear lord, they were trying to warn us.
Michael Battaglino is a new contributor to Cracked. Be sure to check out some of his other work if you enjoyed this article. Zanandi is on Twitter.
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