Hell hath no fury like a hoodwinked moviegoer, though. Anyone who's walked into a movie expecting a laugh riot and found themselves being tear-jerked doesn't forgive and forget. Here are some of the most egregious examples of trailers that completely mis-sold their films from the past few years.
Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone co-wrote this star vehicle, and while the results were wildly uneven, there's more to it than the slapstick-y shtick in the trailer. Movie fans are familiar with McCarthy's physical comedy from her roles in Bridesmaids and The Heat, but Tammy squeezes in some more emotional moments with co-stars Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Mark Duplass.
Would movie-goers have been confused if they'd known that there's more to this comedy than poor physical hygiene and Crocs? What if there was even a hint that Duplass' character — who is kind, funny, and cute — is a love interest for our protagonist Tammy?
The critical response to Tammy feels personal — okay, it feels sexist, as if people were just waiting for McCarthy to make the slightest misstep so they could declare her career over when plenty of male writers, directors, and actors churn out mediocre stuff year after year. At least Tammy is holding her own at the box office against Transformers and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Based on this trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking this was only a slightly scary fairy tale, right? You get a glimpse of a monster or two, but mostly it's this creative little girl who's living in Spain during a war. It's a fun night out at your local indie movie theater! If you're familiar with the work of writer/director Guillermo del Toro, however, you know that things are about to get real for young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) — even tooth fairies are a menace in del Toro's world.
He delights in the fabulously twisted childhood stories that he was told in his youth, and Pan's Labyrinth is about the disturbing inner world to which a young girl retreats when surrounded by the death and violence of Spain under Franco's fascist rule in the '40s. It's a beautiful and utterly crushing film that I went to see by myself one Sunday afternoon, because I enjoy sobbing alone in public.
The Family Stone (2005)
Sarah Jessica Parker stars as a frigid, fancy-pants woman who, though fairly loathsome in her own right, is bested by the awfulness of her boyfriend's "cool" family. It's got a fine cast that includes Dermot Mulroney as her boyfriend Everett, Luke Wilson as Everett's charming, slacker bro, Rachel McAdams as his bespectacled snarky sister, and Diane Keaton as the liberal matriarch of the family.
The trailer shows pratfalls and holiday squabbles that could be construed as good-natured, but it's actually surprisingly mean-spirited and dark, with a subplot about terminal illness. I found out the hard way that it wasn't a particularly cheery movie to watch with my mom over Christmas, which is just when we're missing my late dad the most.
Here's another arthouse flick whose marquee names and action-packed trailer caused some consternation among viewers. One woman even filed a LOL-worthy lawsuit alleging that, among other things, the trailer "was promoted as very similar to Fast and Furious," and it "bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film, for reasons including but not limited to Drive having very little driving in the motion picture." She's not entirely wrong; director Nicolas Winding Refn does favor a saturated color palette and shocking violence over vroom-vrooming through the streets of Los Angeles.
This is more a case of buyer beware, though. You might be lured in by Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks, but if you don't know what you're getting into with Refn — who also directed Tom Hardy in Bronson and Gosling in Only God Forgives — that's on you.
Spanking the Monkey (1994)
Way before he was doing the American Hustle, David O. Russell wrote and directed this clammy comedy about a college student (Jeremy Davies) who gets stuck taking care of his incapacitated mom over summer vacation. When I took my crush to see this in high school, I had no idea that there would be more to Ray's dismal life than brushing his dog's teeth or carting around his mom and her broken leg.
Sure, he seems to be fooling around with a high schooler, and there's a pretty dark sight gag about suicide, but Spanking the Monkey also violates one of society's biggest taboos, which isn't something you want to come up when you're hanging out with an unrequited crush. I wasn't able to listen to the band Morphine for years without feeling incredibly sad about Ray and his terrible summer (or, you know, my unrequited love).
Jennifer's Body (2009)
There's no two ways about it; this would have been a hard sell no matter how the trailer was cut. Jennifer's Body, which was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama (Æon Flux, Girlfight), is a surprisingly bad-ass feminist horror movie that explores the dark side of high school female friendships. The twisted body horror would make David Cronenberg proud, and the razor-sharp insights into girl-on-girl crime and the aftermath of sexual assault will make you cringe. The former would probably not sit well who know Cody from Juno, and the latter would send genre fans running from theaters. It's much easier to show Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried share what looks like a sultry kiss in some sort of slumber party situation, right?
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
In the same vein as Pan's Labyrinth, the trailer for this Disney kids' film screams imaginative coming-of-age story about two kids named Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) and Jess (Josh Hutcherson) who find adventure and refuge in a magical kingdom they dub Terabithia. There are all sorts of amazing creatures in the action-packed trailer, but there's little mention of the bullying and other terrible crap that drives Jess and Leslie to create their own imaginary haven. Plus, have you read the book? Seriously, have you? It is sad as hell!
World's Greatest Dad (2009)
If you're not familiar with Bobcat Goldthwait's filmmaking career, gird your loins for some truly black humor. The trailer looks like your average indie comedy about a put-upon beta male: Lance is a frustrated writer turned poetry teacher who's used to putting a cheery spin on things, from his unpopular classes to his unsatisfying relationship and, most importantly, his utterly loathsome son. Revealing more would defang Bobcat's creation, but this is really a case where it pays to be an educated viewer and research what you watch if you're easily offended. I mean, try watching Bobcat's dramedy Sleeping Dogs Lie after a break-up and not blubbering like a maniac — and that's a movie that hinges on an act of bestiality.
Young Adult (2011)
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody made twee magic with Juno, so it stands to reason that Young Adult was marketed as a dramedy with a little bit of romance thrown in. NOPE. Mavis Gary, who's played to icy, deluded perfection by Charlize Theron, is more than your prototypical high school bitch all grown up. She's the kind of awful female protagonist that most movies and books are scared to touch, which is what makes Young Adult so remarkable. Certain details make her disarmingly human, like when she slumps to her fridge in the morning to suckle from a giant bottle of Diet Coke, or when she falls asleep with reality TV droning on in the background. This movie also has one of the most awkward, heart-wrenching sex scenes I've seen in years.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
To be fair, this trailer isn't misleading per se, and to give away more of the story would be a disservice to the movie and the viewer. The Cabin in the Woods is a delightful deconstruction of the horror genre, so of course its trailer would read as your typical slasher about dumb college kids. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard co-wrote the script, with Goddard also directing, and it's the kind of sharp, funny script that you'd expect from these Buffy alums. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to spoil the joys of Cabin for yourself; journalists were asked not to reveal one of the particularly cool cameos, but a brief look at IMDb reveals all. Sad trombone.