Top 10 Annoyingly Misleading Trailers

by Chris van Dijk
Misleading Trailers

I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of top ten lists. It’s the ideal format for nonsensical clickbait articles. But this topic had been on my mind for quite a while. Like many moviegoers, I had been deceived numerous times by trailers, expecting one type of movie, and getting another altogether.

The reason for such marketing deception is obvious. Disregarding artistic intentions, distributors also want a return on their investment. If they deem a film to not be commercially viable enough, they will tweak its presentation, use its imagery in a different context, all in the hopes of attracting more people. Often this leads to an actual betrayal of what the film is or is trying to say. At times, you might get a pleasant surprise out of it, but usually, you feel cheated and curse whoever edited the misleading trailer.

Therefore, I decided to indulge myself, exorcise some demons, and present to you, my top ten list (in no particular order) of the most annoyingly misleading trailers of all time.

Warning: Spoilers aplenty!

#10: Man of the Year (2006)

The Trailer

The President of the United States is an outspoken comedian and he’s played by the late great Robin Williams. Granted, this premise didn’t work so well for Chris Rock with Head of State, but with Barry Levinson at the director’s chair, this was surely going to be a contender.

The Movie

The basic premise of an outspoken comedian becoming the president of the United States is in the film, but during the second half, the focus changes rapidly to a much less engaging conspiracy thriller plot involving faulty voting machines.

Is it actually good? 

It’s the epitome of wasted potential. Despite everything it has going for it: a great director, some of the funniest people to ever graced the screen (Robin Williams, Lewis Black), a stellar supporting cast (Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, and even Jeff Goldblum), the film fails to make an impression. A film with such a great cast and premise shouldn’t be this unremarkable.

Even taking away the dull conspiracy thriller elements, the satire is frustratingly tame. Considering that Barry Levinson helmed Wag the Dog, a scathing political satire that remains poignant to this day, it’s shockingly quaint. Even though Williams makes the occasional funny jab, he feels held back by the PG-13 rating. It’s a film that should be angrier than it is. It could have been prophetic, even timeless. Instead, it rides it safe.

#9: Jungle Fever (1991)

The Trailer

A kooky, sweet, romantic comedy concerning an interracial relationship, and the numerous cultural misunderstandings that ensue. There might be a slight edge to this rom-com, but considering we hear the funky music of Stevie Wonder in the background, this does seem like a crowd-pleaser. Plus look at the all-star cast! It even has Anthony Quinn! Everybody loves Anthony Quinn!

The Movie

Rather than a breezy romantic comedy, we get a dark look at an interracial relationship. It’s less about their romantic attraction and more about the stereotypical perception of each other’s opposing races and how it defines their relationship. It’s a condemnation of decades-long mythologizing regarding the attraction of a strong, well-endowed black man as well as the black man’s pursuit of white women. Its content is incendiary, psychologically wrought.

Oh, and there’s also a harrowing subplot involving a crack addict (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and his relationship with his father (played by the late great Ossie Davis) which ends in tragedy.

The bizarre, wholly baffling final scene is also shown in the trailer. It’s shown with Stevie Wonder’s funky cheerful music in the background, making the dark connotations of this scene (how the crack epidemic is affecting the black community) seem comical and cutesy.

Is it actually good? 

It’s a minor Spike Lee Joint, take with that as you will. It’s filled with some noteworthy performances (particularly from the underrated Annabella Sciorra and John Turturro) and some stellar sequences (most notably the crackhouse sequence), and it does deliver food for thought.

Nevertheless, the film does suffer from deeply seething tonal issues. It doesn’t blend well as a whole. The whole subplot with Samuel Jackson feels like it belongs to a different movie, as if we are watching two movies stitched together.

The abrupt ending always made me laugh. I respect the message it wants to deliver, but its presentation is just too goofy and as unsubtle as a sledgehammer to the face (though admittedly, subtlety has never been Spike Lee’s forte).

#8: The Grey (2011)

The Trailer

It’s a Liam Neeson survival action thriller, continuing Neeson’s streak as an aging action movie star. The premise of this movie can be summed up as “Liam Neeson vs. wolves”. I can’t wait until we see the climactic battle between Liam and the Alpha-wolf. Did you see how Liam breaks the head of miniature bottles and using the remaining shards as sharp, Wolverine-like, knuckle busters? This is going to be one testosterone-fueled thrill ride!

The Movie

In actuality, the film is a harrowing, moving survival thriller, with a group of men (led by Neeson) having to survive the harsh wilderness. Instead of a badass action hero, Neeson is actually a tormented, suicidal man, haunted by the death of his wife.

Oh, and the climactic fight between the wolf? The film cuts to black before it even happens… Goddammit!

Is it actually good? 

Actually, the finished film far exceeds the misleading trailer. I think in time, it stands out as one of the better survival films. But since I expected more simplistic fare, something that could work wonders with a couple of beers, I was admittedly a bit disappointed.

In time, however, I have come to not just appreciate but love the film. Even if we don’t get the climatic Neeson vs. wolf fight, the ending is hauntingly moving. The climactic track, which is Jamin Winans’ “The City Surf” — which originally appeared in the noteworthy low-budget fantasy film, Ink — mingles perfectly with Neeson’s final resolve to keep fighting, to die on his feet rather than on his knees.

#7: It Comes At Night (2017)

The Trailer

Something’s lurking in the dark, haunting a family that’s isolated themselves in a remote cabin. A pandemic has raged outside the wilderness, and the patriarch (Joel Edgerton) is trying to protect his family at all costs. However, someone, or something, has secretly accessed their domicile. A demon? A ghost? There are flashes of horrific visuals, of creepy, art-house horror. What is really haunting this family?

The Movie

Instead of a slow-burning horror movie, we see a slow-burning drama about a family crumbling under the weight of paranoia. There is violence, some spooky, icky dream sequences, but at its core, it’s a family drama.

Is it actually good? 

Yes, it is. Though considering its depressive content, and its heartbreaking climax, it’s not exactly a feel-good movie.

#6: Everest (2015)

The Trailer

A thrilling disaster movie taking place on Mt. Everest. This is going to fit right along with cheesy disaster classics like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, Twister, or Dante’s Peak. It even has a star-studded cast to boot! This is going to be fun popcorn entertainment.

The Movie

If you’re expecting the traditional disaster movie tropes, think again. The film depicts the real-life 1996 Mt. Everest disaster and is true to history: there was nothing exciting, or even really typically cinematic about the lives lost. Characters don’t sacrifice themselves for others, people just die horribly. The loss of oxygen stops people from making rational decisions, resulting in their unceremonious deaths. There’s nothing glorious about any of it.

The lone survivor was just lucky. On all accounts, he should be dead and even his survival was at the cost of losing both his hands and nose due to frostbite.

Is it actually good? 

Far better than expected. I expected something conventional and what we got instead was a mostly faithful depiction of a horrific tragedy — though author Jon Krakauer, who wrote a book based on the real-life tragedy, Into Thin Air, disagrees vehemently. Instead of a typical Hollywood disaster movie, we get something far more interesting. It’s closer to films like The Impossible, though unlike that movie, there’s no real happy ending. The people in Everest, who faced the possibility of death willingly, weren’t victims of an act of God. At times, it’s an infuriating watch. None of these victims deserve such fates, yet at the same time, they knew the risks.

#5: Inherent Vice (2014)

The Trailer

Joaquin Phoenix plays a drug-addled private dick in the swinging sixties, investigating a missing person case. He seems generally zonked out of his mind, has one particularly comedic pratfall, and meets several eccentric characters. It seems to have shades of The Big Lebowski.

Basically, this seems like the perfect movie for a general audience.

The Movie

It’s an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel. Admittedly, this novel is probably the most accessible of his literary oeuvre, but even so, it’s an acquired taste. While the film does have its share of comic scenes, its idiosyncratic and highly faithful dialogue to Pynchon’s novel makes this far less accessible for the average viewer.

Is it actually good? 

It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film. So yes.

#4: Alien 3 (1992)

*Note: we are technically talking about the first teaser here.

The Teaser

The teaser to Alien 3, referenced the classic tagline of the original 1979’s Alien: “In space, no one can hear you scream”, with “In 1992, we will discover on Earth… everyone can hear you scream!”

The notion that the Xenomorphs would return on screen, this time wreaking havoc on Earth, was exciting. The teaser didn’t show much footage, but it didn’t matter. After the success of Aliens, this would surely be another crowd-pleasing, non-controversial entry to the Xenomorph saga.

The Movie

To start, it doesn’t take place on Earth. Instead, it takes place on some godawful planet called Fiorina “Fury” 161. So the basic premise that was sold to us by its teaser was a big fat lie. This is the consequence of rushing the production without a finished script.

Is it actually good? 

This is a tricky one. A part of me loves this film, but another part of me can’t accept how they treated the surviving characters of Aliens. In other words, it’s an insulting sequel to a great science fiction/action/horror classic, but it works much better as a standalone science fiction/horror film — with an added caveat that you should be watching the assembly cut, which is the closest we will ever see to David Fincher’s vision.

For all its flaws, it probably features some of Sigourney Weaver’s finest acting. Even with the consistent script rewrites, there’s some excellent dialogue, and it helps that the supporting cast features thespian greats such as Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton, and Ralph Brown.

You’ll rarely encounter such a big-budgeted studio film with such a bleak atmosphere. The haunting score by Elliot Goldenthal really adds to the dread that permeates the film. Instead of copying the sequel’s action-movie concept, as all the Terminator sequels have done beyond T2, it’s a return to the claustrophobic terror of the original Alien. It’s a descent into darkness, the violence is unrelenting. Ripley, our heroine, is stuck amid a group of prisoners, some of them with a history of horrific sexual crimes. The eventual solution to Ripley’s journey is a Christlike suicide. To my mind, it works as a nightmare that Ripley would have in her sleeping pod, instead of an actual continuation of her story.

#3: Godzilla (2014)

The Trailer

My impression of this came through several released trailers and teasers. It was going to be dark, presenting Godzilla as the terrifying presence he had been in the original Japanese iteration. Later, trailers were showing a shouty Bryan Cranston trying to warn people of Godzilla’s imminent presence. Could it be Bryan Cranston vs. Godzilla? Oh man, I can’t wait!

The Movie

Bryan Cranston dies before the fort- minute mark — rather anticlimactically as well. It’s obvious they hyped up Cranston’s presence due to the popularity of Breaking Bad. The main character is actually Aaron Taylor-Johnson who, try as he might, doesn’t have the screen presence or the skill of Bryan Cranston.

As for Godzilla, throughout most of the runtime, you only see glimpses of him. It’s not until the last 30 minutes that we see him in all his atom-breathing glory.

Is it actually good? 

Not really. The digital rendition of Godzilla is incredible, but the human characters, except the one played by Bryan Cranston, are painfully dull. If you don’t care about the characters, it doesn’t really matter how great the special effects are. The final monster fight is entertaining, but it’s quite a slog to get through.

Its sequel, King of the Monsters, has similar issues when it comes to the human factor, but there are more monster battles, so there’s that.

#2: Colossal (2016)

The Trailer

Oh, it’s a goofy comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. Anne Hathaway seems to be playing a Judd Apatow-like screwup, who seemingly gains control of a gigantic kaiju. This is going to be some silly fun!

The Movie

If you’re expecting a lighthearted comedy film, with some monster action, you’re shit out of luck. The film is a surprisingly heady exploration of a toxic relationship, in which the usual likable Jason Sudeikis plays the part of an abusive, gaslighting partner.

There’s some CGI monster action, but it’s overshadowed by its bittersweet content. It’s all in the service of presenting the demons of its main character. There also deathly consequences of controlling these monsters, which leads to some surprisingly heartfelt drama.

Is it actually good? 

It’s a gem of a film that even with its criminally deceptive marketing, was a box office flop. Personally, I would have liked to have seen people in rubber suits playing these gigantic monsters rather than its acceptable CGI rendition, but that’s a minor point. If you haven’t seen this film, give it a chance. It’s so much better than the trailer.

#1: Super (2010)

The Trailer

Ready for a goofy superhero parody? We see a schlubby, socially awkward guy, Frank Darbo (played by Rainn Wilson), donning a ridiculous superhero outfit calling himself “The Crimson Bolt”. He aims to fight crime with a pipe wrench and save his girlfriend (Liv Tyler) from a drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). During the ordeal, he also gets a maniacal sidekick, Boltie (Elliot Page).

It seems like a goofy, lighthearted comedy, parodying superhero tropes.

The Movie

In actuality, the film is shockingly violent and far closer in spirit to Taxi Driver than say, Kick-Ass. There’s nothing really heroic about its main character, Frank. Similar to Travis Bickle, he’s a dangerous lunatic with delusions of grandeur. It’s similar to how Jody Hill’s Observe and Report looked like a Paul Blart clone, even though it was actually a ferocious dark comedy about a mentally ill security guard.

Frank suffers from religiously inspired visions, depicting him as a vigilante savior. The hallucinations also include perverted, anime-inspired tentacle porn, as well as guidance by a Bibleman-inspired superhero, The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion).

Is it actually good? 

It’s great, actually. It’s an unfettered James Gunn film. This is before he became one of Marvel’s golden boys with The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Here, you can still see traces of Gunn’s Troma origins, especially with the dark, anarchic sense of humor — though Gunn dials it back just enough, never straying too far into tasteless territory.

The cast is filled with some of Gunn’s regulars; besides Fillion, there’s also Greg Henry and Michael Rooker. Each of the cast members makes an impression, with Kevin Bacon making a surprisingly solid bad guy. Ultimately, it’s Elliot Page who nearly steals the entire show as the psychotic Boltie.

There’s even a heartfelt climax to the proceedings, giving the main character genuine emotional growth. It’s a film that will always be near and dear to my heart.

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Anonymous September 12, 2021 - 10:06 pm

The Village. The trailer: straight up horror movie. The movie: “Period piece” (but, ya know, not really) with a love triangle, and a bit of fear mongering in the form of scary creatures. I see why people were so angry. Thankfully, I saw the movie before the trailer.

Bob Mann February 25, 2021 - 2:46 am

Agree 100% Re “Colossal” – made my Top 10 of the year list…. a dark hidden gem. Must check out “Super”. Thanks – very interesting article.

Danny O'Dea February 24, 2021 - 12:48 pm

What about the Suicide Squad trailer, when it misled us into thinking that would be a good movie?

Nick Kush February 24, 2021 - 12:17 pm

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Bookgirl February 24, 2021 - 11:57 am

Agreed on It Comes at Night. I love a good scary movie and thought that was what I was in for. Instead it was just depressing.


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