Epic trailers that were wasted on the worst movies

Most movie trailers follow a fairly obvious formula—and many movies are nowhere near as entertaining as even their predictable trailers suggest—but every once in awhile, we're given a movie trailer so amazing that it transcends pure advertising and becomes something special. Unfortunately, that still doesn't mean the movie is any good. Sometimes, even the most epic trailers are wasted on lame, garbage movies.

Zoolander 2

In an era of unnecessary sequels, it's a surprise Zoolander 2 took so long. Fifteen years after the first installment morphed from box office bomb to cult comedy classic, audiences were ready to see Blue Steel flash across the screen again. The trailer dropped. It was great. All of our favorite characters were back, Benedict Cumberbatch looked like an androgynous alien (possibly his true form), Mugatu's hair was looking fresh as ever and we even got to see Justin Bieber get assassinated, a dark fantasy of more than a few people who survived the Bieber era. This was the triumphant return of early 2000s nostalgia. With 21 million views (more than the population of Romania) and 82,000 likes on YouTube, the world was clearly ready.

And then we saw the movie. It was…okay? There wasn't much to laugh at, and the movie just rode on a wave of nostalgia, only offering twists on the same jokes from the first movie. Honestly, we should have known when, in the trailer, we saw Mugatu throw coffee on his assistant again. Everybody in the movie looked bored, just going through the motions, and no amount of Justin Bieber cameos could save it. Even the Magnum look couldn't stop the bad reviews. Everybody forgot they saw the movie within a week, sending any hope of further sequels up in flames faster than a freak gasoline fight accident.

The Phantom Menace

In the pre-YouTube dark ages, watching movie trailers was hard. You had to know which films the trailers were attached to, and hope your theater was showing the right ones. When The Phantom Menace's trailer dropped, fans were so hyped that they bought tickets to other movies just to see the trailer, not even staying for the movie afterwards. All through November 1998, theaters sold out tickets to movies like A Bug's Life, only to have seats empty out before the opening titles even rolled. Star Wars was back!

Despite how the end product turned out, The Phantom Menace's trailer was damn good. The opening shot of a fog-covered swamp with the Force Theme is still spine-tingling. All the visuals look awesome, and even the awkward Yoda lines feel epic. It's so good that it almost makes us want to go back and watch Episode I again. Almost.

Nobody needs to be reminded of how the movie actually turned out; by now, it's achieved meme status as a symbol for incredible disappointment. But if you're really a glutton for punishment, just watch this hourlong deconstruction.

In the Heart of the Sea

Whaling doesn't top many lists of "Things I Want To See in Movies," but In the Heart of the Sea looked like it was ready to change that for us. This trailer had everything: beautiful cinematography (look at those vistas!), cool special effects shots without revealing the monster, and Thor looking badass holding a spear! What's not to love? The trailer was so good that four million people watched it—many of whom never even knew they wanted to see a whaling movie.

Turns out, the only good things about the movie were in the trailer. Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson are talented actors. Ron Howard is a competent director, and knows how to put together an interesting story. But it never connected with the audience on an emotional level. Most of the movie was just characters yelling at each other—and since none of the characters were fully developed, In the Heart of the Sea was ultimately just a slog. All it did was prove that not even Chris Hemsworth's rippling muscles and sexy hair can save a bland script—something we should have already known from Thor: The Dark World.

Battle: Los Angeles

Most movie trailers are just slapped together scenes from the movie, but a few are so expertly made that they become pieces of art on their own. Battle: Los Angeles had such a trailer. Opening with shots of UFO sightings from around the world, it gave us a feast of the best visuals from the movie, set to Johann Johannsson's haunting "Part Five." The movie looked breathtaking, but also grounded in realism, promising a mixture of Saving Private Ryan and Independence Day. This was going to reinvent the alien invasion genre.

Or so we expected. Sadly, in reality, Battle: Los Angeles was a bland hodgepodge of tired tropes from war and science fiction movies. The action scenes were fine, and the alien invasion story was mildly interesting, but there wasn't much else to talk about—and all the cool parts of the movie were in the trailer.

The trailer was so good, in fact, that two years later, Edge of Tomorrow copied it shot-for-shot and even used another Johann Johannsson song as its soundtrack—only this time, the movie actually delivered on its trailer's promise.

Batman v. Superman

Look away, DC fans, because we're just going to say it: Batman v. Superman was terrible. The movie was an utter mess, feeling like a bunch of people randomly mixed multiple scripts into one movie. Character motivations were unclear, acting was subpar, and the dialogue was laughable. Worst of all, it was utterly forgettable. Well, except for Batman and Superman bonding over the names of their mothers. Nobody will forget that.

We have to hand it to DC, though: the trailer for Batman v. Superman is super rad, and it pulled in 53 million views and 306,143 upvotes. (Many of its dislikes came after the movie was released.) It's easy to see why people loved this trailer: Batman looks awesome, and seeing him ready to fight Supes made everybody giddy. The voiceovers paint a chilling and realistic picture of how the human race would actually react if Superman lived among them. We wouldn't just hold hands and love our alien savior—many people would be terrified. Sadly, even though that was technically a theme of the movie, the light-and-punching show overshadowed everything else. Zack Snyder has an eye for storyboard design, and that makes for great trailers. Solid films, on the other hand, are a completely different story.

Tron: Legacy

1982's Tron was steamrolled at the box office, but acquired a cult following over the ensuing years—a belated success 2010 Disney tried to capitalize on in 2010 with their stylish, Daft Punk-scored Tron: Legacy. Decades after the original whiffed, the studio tried hard to make Tron trendy—and with their awesome trailer, they almost succeeded.

There are so many things to love about this trailer. It shows enough of the movie to get audiences interested without giving too much away. The music is great. All that bright monochromatic neon looks awesome as hell. And who could forget Olivia Wilde in a tight black catsuit? Picking up 11 million views and thousands of upvotes, the world was ready for a Tron sequel.

We have to admit, the movie wasn't that bad—but it wasn't great either. Sure, it was pretty, but visuals can only take a movie so far. At some point an interesting story has to keep the audience hooked, and with Tron: Legacy, that never happened. Despite its excellent trailer, it failed to win over critics or restart the franchise. Even today, people only really remember it for its soundtrack, and maybe that's the best way to look at it: an overlong Daft Punk music video.

Sucker Punch

If we were to draw up a list of ingredients for a cool movie, you'd find most of them in Sucker Punch's trailer. World War I dogfights, dragons, machine guns, trench warfare, B-25 bombers, attractive girls fighting with guns, zeppelin crashes—this clip has it all. Why was that bomber plane fighting a dragon? Who cares? It looks cool.

In the days before DC movies, having Zack Snyder's name attached to a project actually helped build up hype. After the success of 300, we were ready to see Snyder step into a gritty, more modern world, and if its trailer was anything to go by, Sucker Punch stood poised to redefine the action genre by bringing steampunk into the mainstream.

Nope. With a budget of $82 million, Sucker Punch failed to even earn back half of the studio's investment domestically (although it made up much of the difference overseas). Scathing reviews and accusations of sexism poisoned the well early on, and nobody ended up seeing it. Snyder's next gig? Directing Man of Steel. Why Warner Bros. watched him botch Sucker Punch and then hired him to start the DC Cinematic Universe remains a huge mystery, but you can't say they didn't know what they were getting.

Prometheus

Prometheus isn't terrible. But what ultimately made the movie so disappointing is that the teaser trailer made this Alien prequel/side story look like the coolest science fiction movie ever, and a ground-breaking return to form for director Ridley Scott.

The first trailer does an amazing job balancing between getting the audience comfortable with "things we know" while introducing new elements. The name fades in just like Alien, and we catch glimpses of all the trappings of the original movie. It shows off stunning new visuals while setting a tone of ominous mystery, all within one minute. It's a masterclass in visual storytelling. Tons of trailers have copied the same format.

Like we said, we don't hate the movie, but it never hits the same highs as Alien. Somehow the mysteries in the movie feel less profound. Prometheus has the odd misfortune of not really elevating the source material but also not destroying it (a la The Phantom Menace). It's basically the after-dinner mint of the Alien franchise: pleasant at the moment, but utterly forgettable once you're done. Judging by the trailer, however, it could have been much, much more.

The Last Airbender

Classic joke: what's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

When it comes to M. Night Shyamalan, the whole world is insane. We keep giving this hack director chances! He cranked out junk for a solid decade after Signs, but for some reason, we kept thinking he'd turn it around and redeem his career. (He seems to have done just that with the recent Split, but we're staying cautious.)

The Last Airbender seemed like the movie to save Shyamalan. Literally all he had to do was adapt the story of a hit franchise, write semi-competent dialogue and ride the brand-recognition gravy train all the way to the bank. This was a slam dunk, and the trailer tricked us into thinking he'd score. The trailer had all the elements that we loved from the cartoon show, faithfully adapted to live action. It actually looked good. This movie was highly anticipated—and it bombed.

At 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is the lowest-rated Shyamalan film, and that includes The Happening, the movie where the trees were the villains. His utter inability to turn even a surefire success into a hit suggested irrefutable evidence that Shyamalan would never make a good movie again. (Again, he seems to have turned things around with Split…but he could still whip out a crummy twist in the form of a terrible sequel. We're not ready to trust you yet, M. Night.)

Suicide Squad

The definition of insanity applies to DC movies too. After slogging through Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, everyone should have known Warner Bros. wasn't ready to deliver a great DC adaptation, but that didn't stop us from getting hyped about Suicide Squad—and it started with the trailer.

In a common theme among good trailers for bad movies, this first promo clip made the film look much deeper than it actually was. With slow, haunting music, dreamlike visuals and an ominous voiceover, this looked like the movie that finally nailed the dark tone DC was aiming for. Jared Leto was delightfully creepy as the Joker, and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn looked like she'd stepped right off a comic page. Hot off Deadpool, we were all ready for another adult-themed superhero movie. What could go wrong?

In a word: post-production, where the movie was edited to the point of being incomprehensible. Following Suicide Squad's plot is nearly impossible, and no amount of Jared Leto scenery-chewing could save it. Maybe one day, DC fans will finally get a competent movie, but we aren't holding our breath.

Man of Steel

Out of all the Zack Snyder movie trailers on our list, this one hurts the most. The third trailer for Man of Steel might be the best ever made: it's perfect. Starting with slow piano music, the trailer pulls at our heartstrings, fills us with wonder, and is more tearjerking than a commercial for a movie has any right to be.

Anybody who doesn't feel chills when Superman launches into the air needs to check their pulse. The music perfectly builds to the moment and the immaculate editing drives the trailer to its thrilling climax. Really, it's a mini-movie. Too bad the full film never lived up to it.

Instead of an epic and inspiring Superman, we got one who moped around for most of the story. Plot holes wrecked the script, and the ending 45-minute fight scene was so loud and terribly edited that it was impossible to walk away from Man of Steel feeling satisfied. After all that pent-up demand and anticipation, it started the DC cinematic universe off with a whimper, not a bang.

Still, the trailer exists, and it's worth watching again. In fact, we still like to imagine that Man of Steel never came out, and this is for a better Superman movie still in production. Please, DC, give us something as good as this three-minute short.