Ten Brilliant Trailers of Terrible Movies

Movie trailers are the tip of the sword when it comes to the cinematic experience.  They’re the leading argument, the initial point, the first move in the game of, “hey, you should spend your money on this,” that movie studios play with audiences.  In a perfect world, movie trailers would be compelling and present you with a tantalizing glimpse of a new movie that’s enough to enthrall, but not to give away important plot points.

Of course, most trailers fall short of perfection.  But even more heartbreaking are the trailers that actually are very, very good – they paint a picture in 2 minutes, they get your heart racing, they leave you wanting more – but then, when you see the movie, it completely fails to live up to your expectations as set by the trailer.  That’s a sour feeling indeed.

Here are my personal top 10 movies that failed to deliver on their trailers.  Caveats: It’s a personal list, not an objective one.  Some movies on it aren’t ‘bad,’ they just aren’t as amazingly good as I thought they’d be based on the trailer.  And finally, spoilers for all movies mentioned.

1. Your Highness (2011)

What was in the trailer: Danny McBride and James Franco swinging swords and cracking wise, Natalie Portman being dry and sarcastic (also in a very revealing bikini, which, let’s be honest, does not hurt at all).  A swords and sorcery stoner comedy of epic proportions.

What it actually was: A regular stoner comedy that tried to be an epic fantasy movie at some point and failed at both.  The laugh-out-loud lines were all in the trailer.  The short, fast-paced and musically charged trailer hid the fact that the movie had some major pacing problems.  It was caught in the middle of genres in the worst way.  It didn’t lean into the inherent absurdity of the situation a la Hot Rod and it didn’t have nearly enough plot to be a legitimately epic adventure.


2. Hanna (2011)

What was in the trailer: A combination of The Bourne Identity and The ProfessionalA waif of a girl kicking all kinds of ass.  The trailer itself is paced incredibly well; the slow, drawn-out reveal, a break in the middle for a nice, slow beat of “look how this killer with no social skills interacts with normal people,” and then some nitty-gritty action to really seal the deal.

What it actually was:  A pretty good movie, actually, but one that suffered from pretty severe plot holes.  A quick and easy test after you’ve watched a movie is to go back and play it again in your head from the villain’s perspective, or a secondary character’s.  With a good story, everyone’s motivations and actions are organic; they stem from the characters themselves, their personalities, their goals.  In a bad story, a character does or doesn’t do something because the plot demands that they do it.  (Prometheus is a well-known and egregious example of this)  Hanna, unfortunately, suffers from this to a certain degree, enough to make me like it, but not love it.


3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)


What was in the trailer: I admit it, I was deceived.  The trailer was fairly gimmicky, in the end.  It’s just that I so badly wanted to like this movie.  With an impossible standard to live up to, the best you can ask for the movie is that they have fun with it, and it certainly seems that way in the trailer.  I mean, Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def?  Seems like a perfect cast on paper.

What it actually was: A movie that was so lifeless I’ve tried to watch it twice and haven’t been able to get through.  In trying to translate the sublime humor of Douglas Adams from the page to the screen, the writers took perhaps the worst option available and used lines from the book verbatim.  Books and movie are quite different, and the best ‘imports’ take advantage of the medium.  This one didn’t.


4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

What was in the trailer: A truly brilliant way of conveying tone and style without saying anything about plot, which was fine because the book it was based on was read by approximately everybody.  The music is truly inspired – Trent Reznor and Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is dark, frigid, and industrial, just like the books.  The choice to have zero dialogue and simply feature quick-changing scene flashes, timed to the beat of the music, makes the trailer all the more engaging.

What it actually was: For a David Fincher movie and a psychological thriller, it had surprisingly little tension.  The movie definitely dragged in places.  It captured the methodical, frozen, sinister flavor of the books, but had little of its own.  A movie that was technically very good but altogether impersonal.


5. Watchmen (2009)

What was in the trailer: A gritty, visually striking adaptation of a much-beloved graphic novel.  A faithful rendition of a stylish, subversive work of art.

What it actually was: A stylish but uneven movie.  “All sizzle and no steak” isn’t quite fair, but for a premise as radical (for the time) and inflammatory and thought-provoking as the source material, there really wasn’t much meat.

Similar Posts


  1. I feel that this article title is very misleading. Most of these films aren’t terrible and some of them are even great. I suppose that it’s just an opinion, but I’m sure there’s a majority out there that would agree that some of these movies are good.

  2. Watchmen, Kick-Ass and the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are hardly “terrible” movies. Actually I quite enjoyed all three. The only truly horrible movies on this list are Your Highness and Hitchhiker’s Guide.

  3. @Lord Tywin that is why this list was personal, Its in the intro

    “Here are my personal top 10 movies that failed to deliver on their trailers. Caveats: It’s a personal list, not an objective one. Some movies on it aren’t ‘bad,’ they just aren’t as amazingly good as I thought they’d be based on the trailer.”

    Also Hitchhiker’s wasn’t terrible just misguided. And I haven’t seen Your Highness but I would be willing to say none of the movies on this list were terrible just not as good as they could have been. But it would be hard to name the list top 10 brilliant trailers of decent films but not as good as they could have been: A personal list.

  4. I’m with justin_d and Lord Tywin on this one; the title of this article is slightly misguided. I personally wouldn’t label a list “10 Brilliant trailers for terrible movies” and then in my intro say “It’s a personal list, not an objective one. Some movies on it aren’t ‘bad,’ they just aren’t as amazingly good as I thought they’d be based on the trailer. And finally, spoilers for all movies mentioned.”

    What the article title says is that the ten movies on this list are terrible, but had amazing trailers. What the intro, and even the comments on the movies themselves, say is that these ten particular movies had great trailers but the movie itself just wasn’t as great. Indy numerous times in this article even says things like “not that this movie sucked” and “I enjoyed movie x.”

    Other than that, great article, and I agree with much of it’s content!

  5. In this case, “terrible” is graded heavily on a curve. I didn’t think Kick-Ass sucked objectively, but the difference between the standard set by the trailer and the movie was quite large. I’ll agree that it’s a slightly misleading title for an article, however, “Ten Movies Whose Trailers Created A Large Disparity In Expected Versus Actual Enjoyability,” seemed a little awkward.

    Let’s be clear, while I don’t think all these movies are objectively terrible, I have big problems with all of them. Even the ‘best’ movie on here – Dragon Tattoo, in my opinion – dragged in places and was pretty dull.

  6. I still haven’t watched the rave scene from Reloaded since I saw the movie in the theater.

    I know it’s not saying much, but ROTS was the best of the prequels.

    I never even heard of the Knights of Badassdom, but they did put together an awesome trailer, hopefully it’ll actually be as good as it looks

  7. @Erik N – That’s actually a pretty solid title. I think people have a point that my original title is misleading.

    @Sean Fast – Never saw Sucker Punch; the trailer looked like it could be crazy good or really stupid, and the overwhelming consensus was “really stupid,” so I never watched it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.