10 Good Trailers for Bad Movies
Movie trailers are important. They’re the first moving images audiences get to see of a film, and as such are meant to generate the appropriate amount of hype. Cutting together trailers is an under-appreciated art form, designed to distill a movie’s essence into a couple of minutes, showing just enough to get people interested without giving away all the good parts.
We all remember the truly great trailers: The first Fellowship of the Ring teaser, “THE FEEL BAD MOVIE OF CHRISTMAS” trailer for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the Mad Max: Fury Road trailer that blew the roof off of Comic Con 2014.
Trailers are meant to go pretty hard — getting people excited is advertising’s job — but sometimes they go a little too hard, promising something we never end up getting in the finished film. You never forget your first theatrical disappointment, and great trailers for bad movies contribute a lot to that feeling of progressing disappointment that blankets the theater as people in the audience start realizing, oh no, the thing we thought would rule actually sucks.
Still, it’s fun to look back on what could have been, so for this list we’ve selected ten of the best trailers for ten of the most disappointing movies of the past 20 years, from a James Bond stinker to everyone’s second-least-favorite Star Wars movie and everything in between. Why watch something bad for two hours when you can spend just two minutes watching something great?
Quantum of Solace (2008)
It’s partly because Casino Royale was such a hit that Daniel Craig’s Bond follow-up Quantum of Solace looked so sick, but it also has a lot to do with its promotional material, which made it look like a vengeful action-thriller we never got. The trailer for Quantum of Solace does what all trailers for doomed movies always do: It sold all the good bits, relying heavily on snappy pieces of dialogue and that first, great fight scene to convince us this one was going to be at least as good as the first. Mathieu Amalric’s villain treads the appropriate line between scary and gross, Olga Kurlyenko is the picture of an action heroine, and when the twangy rock cover of the James Bond theme kicks in near the end you’re ready to buy your front row tickets. It’s just a shame the trailer itself isn’t two hours long.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
It’s never a great sign when trailers show pretty much the whole movie, and the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen hits you with so much plot and lore you feel like you’ve already seen the whole thing. Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is heading off to college; some weird Transformers stuff gets in his brain and turns him into Zachary Levi from Chuck (remember Chuck??); somehow, Megatron returns and the Decepticons hunt Sam down; Optimus Prime says some cryptic stuff about keeping secrets; robot fights ensue. It’s exciting, and also kind of exhausting. Crucially, this trailer also leaves out Mudflap and Skids, the irritating “comic relief” Autobot twins who are possibly the worst additions to the whole franchise.
The Last Airbender (2010)
Given how awful M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender turned out to be, it’s kind of crazy how incredible its first teaser was. It doesn’t show any of the movie (a good strategic choice), instead relying on vibes, impressive VFX scenery, and James Newton Howard’s fantastic soundtrack. Noah Ringer’s Aang does some flashy airbending moves inside an Air Temple to blow out some candles (foreshadowing the funniest moment in the film) while the camera slowly zooms out to reveal the fleet of Fire Nation battleships and legion of soldiers climbing up the rocks ready to start a fight. If you’re a fan, everything looks good so far. What the trailer does not show is the terrible acting and perplexing casting choices that wrecked the rest of the movie.
Man of Steel (2013)
This trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel will go down in history as one of the best movie trailers of all time, regardless of the quality of the product it was advertising. If there is a Criterion Collection just for trailers, this one will be in it. The clips weave together a story about an outcast seeking his purpose on a planet that wasn’t meant to be his home, while a terrifying alien villain hunts him from afar—in other words, a great movie! It also owes a lot to Hans Zimmer’s moving, rousing soundtrack—a deconstruction of the original Superman theme. (Warner Bros. were clearly confident about this one: the first teaser was scored to The Fellowship of the Ring score.) Say what you will about Snyder’s work, but he is a pro at crafting Images: shirtless Henry Cavill saving people from a burning, sinking ship; a red cape against a frozen landscape; Superman breaking the sound barrier. Just listen to Kevin Costner’s voice crack when he says, “You are my son.” Doesn’t it make you desperate for a better movie?!
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
The reason Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad movie wasn’t because of its subject matter or its source material (which is, admittedly, terrible). It’s because its leads have zero chemistry together, despite the fact that they’re consummate professionals Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, two utterly charming actors in any other scenario. The trailer for the movie expertly sidesteps this giant roadblock using a sexy, slowed-down cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” (sung by Beyoncé, of course) as the background beat for a sweeping, sensual love affair. The movie, in which a mumbling waif is tossed into the world of hardcore BDSM by a cringey businessman who talks like a robot, just couldn’t measure up.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
As great as Andor is, we can’t let ourselves forget that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was kind of bad. It definitely did not deliver on the hype of its trailers, every one of which is fantastic. The teaser alone, timed to the haunting blasts of a Star Destroyer alarm, sets up a darker side to Star Wars (and ends on that sick shot of Jyn Erso in Imperial tactical gear). But it’s the following trailer that really gets into the meat of the movie and includes the best shots and the coolest lines of dialogue — Ben Mendelsohn saying, “POWAH,” Donnie Yen saying, “The Force is strong,” Forest Whitaker’s breathless “Save the Rebellion! Save the dream!” The mood is perfect, setting up an action-packed sci-fi heist we know is successful, even though its main characters are doomed.
The trailer for Geostorm also commits the cardinal sin of giving away most of the movie in two and a half minutes, but in cases like these—idiot-brain disaster blockbusters—that’s normally a good thing. We don’t really care about the plot of a movie like Geostorm, we just want to see the titular Geostorm. The trailer, set to a “trailerized” cover of “The Time Has Come” by the Chambers Brothers, gives us a quick run-down of what’s going on: In the future, the world’s weather is controlled by a network of satellites that drop bombs on hurricanes. Gerard Butler is an astronaut stuck up in space while the network is hijacked and the planet’s weather spins itself up into a superstorm. Andy Garcia plays the President. Iconic “where have they been lately” stars such as Jim Sturgess and Abbie Cornish are also there. It all sounds great, but the movie itself is immensely boring.
The gap between the anticipation the trailer for Duncan Jones’ Mute drummed up and the quality of the final product is a vast abyss. Jones heads who loved Moon, Source Code, and even Warcraft were hyped for a noir detective story set in a neon-lit Blade Runner future, starring Paul Rudd in a mutton chop mustache, Justin Theroux in a blond wig, and Alexander Skarsgard as a weird guy with a blue-haired girlfriend. The trailer has great vibes, a gorgeous color palette, and a dreamy, melancholy tone that the movie simply lacks: the plot is hard to follow, the characters are awful, and every contrived “twist” just makes things worse for everyone, especially the audience.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
It’s a bold choice to set a trailer for a Godzilla movie to Debussy’s “Clair de lune,” but Warner Bros. did just that with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and it honestly feels appropriate. The trailer captures the awe and beauty of a world run by Titans the way the movie should have, giving all of its beastly stars their own cool introductions. Come for the alternating shades of fiery Rodan red and atomic breath blue, stay for Vera Farmiga playing a monster-obsessed blockbuster villain. The movie ended up being kind of dumb and overcomplicated, but at least we’ll always have that crescendo shot of Mothra opening her sparkly wings.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
The trailer for Hobbs & Shaw is hype in a bottle—and, incidentally, much more coherent than the actual movie. You basically get the whole thing here: frenemy hijinks between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Idris Elba as self-described “Black Superman,” characters using cars to do things cars shouldn’t ever do, a bona fide Māori haka led by Johnson and Roman Reigns, Vanessa Kirby looking cool and dangerous. It looks awesome, released at the height of the late 2010s Fast & Furious resurgence, but the movie itself is just off. The action is bad, the constant quippy dialogue is vexing, and the story is dumb, even by F&F standards. Still, Dwayne Johnson saying “The music’s already started” when the music has, indeed, already started is just the kind of inspired stuff this franchise was built on.