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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 a while, 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.

Cutting together a truly superb movie trailer is an art form all its own, especially when the material that the trailer editor is handed to work with is, shall we say, less than stellar. But the right combination of key visuals, seemingly significant dialogue, fast-moving action beats, and dramatic music cues can take even the most wretched two-hour (or longer) movie and turn it into two or three minutes of pure cinematic gold. 

The problem is when the audience, pumped by the trailer they've seen, actually sits down and slowly begins to realize that the lousy movie they're watching is not the mind-blowing film they were promised. That, unfortunately, happens far too often — as we can see by the incredible trailers below, and the rotten movies they promoted.

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. Then the trailer dropped, and 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.

Star Wars: Episode I -- 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 trailer for "The Phantom Menace" 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" trailer was damn good. The opening shot of a fog-covered swamp with the "Force Theme" playing 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: Dawn of Justice

Look away, DC fans, because we're just going to say it: "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" 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 that 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 the 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 (although a third film, "Tron: Ares," is finally on the way). 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 the trailer for "Sucker Punch." 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" 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 groundbreaking return to form for director Ridley Scott.

The first trailer does an amazing job finding the right balance 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

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 seemed to do that with "The Visit" and "Split," but more recently, "Old" and "Knock at the Cabin" have made us cautious again.)

"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 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. While that's been proven somewhat wrong, we're not ready to trust you again, 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 the plot of "Suicide Squad" was nearly impossible, and no amount of Jared Leto scenery-chewing could save it.

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 climactic 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.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse franchise has always made better trailers than movies, from that first "Godzilla" teaser — which revealed the coolest scene in the whole movie — to that incredible, rhythmic "Kong: Skull Island" trailer, inspired by the trailer to Park Chan-Wook's "The Handmaiden." 2019's "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is the series' worst movie so far by critical consensus, and yet its trailer made it look like a potential masterpiece.

Monster movies like these naturally make great trailers, since the trailers get to showcase the star attractions — the monsters — without getting bogged down in the often-mediocre human sides of the stories. The "King of the Monsters" trailer is extra impressive due to the use of the Claude Debussy composition "Clair de Lune." The classical music creatively contrasts with the bombast of the imagery and creates a feeling of emotional transcendence. The movie's actual score is just as bombastic as the action, but the results were more headache-inducing than genuinely exciting.

Only God Forgives

Nicholas Winding Refn films lend themselves to misleading trailers. The trailer for "Drive" actually became the subject of a false advertising lawsuit from a woman expecting a "Fast and Furious"-style action movie instead of a slow atmospheric drama, but that 2011 movie went on to become a favorite of critics and film fans alike. Not so with "Only God Forgives," Refn's 2013 follow-up collaboration with actor Ryan Gosling.

Where "Drive" won Refn a Best Director award at Cannes, "Only God Forgives" was greeted with boos at the same festival two years later. From the trailer, "Only God Forgives" looked like an awesome martial arts movie. The actual film made "Drive" look like a non-stop thrill ride in comparison, heightening everything that made its predecessor alienating to the mainstream (the long stretches of silence, the sporadic bursts of extreme violence) without the appealing story and solid emotional core that gave "Drive" its cult status. "Style over substance doesn't really tell the half of it," wrote Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "You can bathe a corpse in groovy light and dress it in an expensive suit, but in the end that rotting smell just won't go away."

Spider-Man 3

When "Superman Returns" hit theaters in 2006, even those who liked the movie often said that the best part of the experience was seeing the trailer for "Spider-Man 3." Sam Raimi's previous "Spider-Man" films were among the best in the whole superhero genre, and this looked like a culmination of everything the series had achieved. Between the intensity of the black suit scenes, stunning special effects for Sandman, and the promise of big payoffs for Peter Parker's romance with Mary Jane Watson and his friends-to-enemies arc with Harry Osborn, "Spider-Man 3" looked like the must-see event of summer 2007.

The actual movie couldn't possibly live up to all that hype. "Spider-Man 3" turned out to be a mess, packed with too many storylines and villains, unable to give each of them the attention they deserved. Raimi didn't even want Venom to be in the movie but was pressured by producer Avi Arad, and that lack of interest shows in the finished product. Raimi later described the film as "awful" on the Nerdist podcast (via Collider). The hatred for "Spider-Man 3" in some circles can be overblown — this deeply flawed movie still has some highlights of action and humor — but the sheer disappointment of it can't be overstated.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller's 2013 adaptation of James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is the epitome of failed Oscar bait. Coming off directing 2008's "Tropic Thunder," a wild satire of awards season that managed to get actual awards nominations for star Robert Downey Jr., "Walter Mitty" seemed like a move into something more serious and inspirational while still maintaining an element of humor.

The film's first trailer, set to the song "Dirty Paws" by Of Monsters and Men, made it look like Stiller was going to pull it off. Starting off with Walter Mitty's mundane routine of going to work at Life magazine, the trailer soon transforms into a surreal and epic adventure, with the images on the magazines' covers coming to life. It's a beautiful trailer.

While the movie itself was just as visually stunning as promised, the storytelling ultimately proved unsatisfying and mawkish. Bilge Ebiri's review for Vulture proclaimed, "Exquisitely produced, immaculately acted, and thoroughly uninvolving, 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' is a perfect nothing of a movie." Marc Mohan of The Oregonian felt similarly: "The movie is beautifully shot ... but it's also a blatantly manipulative piece of smarm." This was not the awards season behemoth it was set up to be.

Escape From Tomorrow

Writer-director Randy Moore's 2013 indie oddity "Escape From Tomorrow," a horror movie shot undercover at the Disney theme parks, is the type of movie that sounds much more entertaining in theory than in execution. It's no surprise that it plays a lot better as a one-minute trailer than as a 90-minute movie.

Instead of the typical MPAA disclaimer, the trailer opens by announcing, "The following motion picture has not been approved for all audiences by The Walt Disney Company." The black-and-white cinematography of Disney attractions with surreal twists is punctuated by press quotes emphasizing how amazing and unbelievable it is that this film got made.

Notably, those quotes aren't actually talking about the quality of the movie. Once the shock and awe of its initial Sundance premiere wore off, critics were decidedly less impressed. "None of it is as scary or as funny as it should be, and what starts out as a sly thumb in the eye of corporate power ends up as a muddled and amateurish homage to David Lynch," wrote New York Times critic A.O. Scott.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Long before movie lovers were sick of Disney churning out live-action remakes of all of its animated classics, the idea of a Tim Burton-directed "Alice in Wonderland" movie sounded potentially wonderful. Burton is at his best when he's able to let loose with strange imagery, and Lewis Carroll's classic children's books would seem like the ideal playground to indulge his creativity without worrying about his relative weaknesses in conventional plotting.

So of course the 2010 "Alice in Wonderland" looked awesome in its trailers, which highlighted the expectedly impressive production design and special effects. Despite these visual strengths, however, the actual movie went against the spirit of its source material by turning it into a painfully generic "chosen one" narrative. Basically everything that was appealing about the movie was showcased in the marketing, and all that was left for surprises in the theater were such unappealing sights as the Mad Hatter's "futterwacken" dance.


"Eternals" ended up being the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to get a "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. Its artistic failure was all the more disappointing because it had so much potential. After winning best picture and best director Oscars for "Nomadland," the idea of Chloe Zhao directing a Marvel movie was incredibly intriguing, and the film's teaser trailer only heightened that curiosity.

Despite its many failings, "Eternals" at least gets points for ambition, and this aspiration is on display in the teaser. This looked like the Marvel version of a Biblical epic, forgoing much of the green screen that's defined the MCU's generally bland visual style in favor of gorgeous on-location shooting. Elements that proved ultimately underwhelming in the actual film, such as Kingo's big Bollywood dance number and the centuries-spanning romance between Sersi and Ikaris, looked promising in the trailer as well. Many scenes in the trailer ended up being deleted or altered in the actual movie, leading one to wonder just how much "Eternals" changed in editing and reshoots.

Wonder Woman 1984

"Wonder Woman 1984" was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2020, and ended up being arguably one of its worst, certainly one of its most disappointing. The trailer did an excellent job selling the movie, combining the girl power action that made Patty Jenkins' 2017 "Wonder Woman" so refreshing with a new, colorful and nostalgic 1980s setting and style. How could you not get hyped up by that remix of "Blue Monday" from New Order?

Not having to reveal the film's more questionable plot elements makes everything look better than it was. When the new villain Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) talks on TV about getting everything you want, you might think you're in for a commentary on the excesses of '80s capitalism rather than a silly "Dreamstone" plot line. When the trailer shows Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back from the dead and reuniting with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), you wouldn't even guess that their romance would involve violating a total stranger's consent. But yes, that's actually in the film.

Triangle of Sadness

The inclusion of "Triangle of Sadness" on this list is sure to be controversial. Enough people loved Ruben Östlund's class conflict satire that it won the Palme D'or at Cannes and was nominated for three Oscars, including best picture. But this was a divisive movie: those who hated it hated it, and even many of the more relatively positive takes on it found it ultimately shallow and meandering.

The trailer falls in that category of comedy trailers that spoil almost all the best jokes the movie has to offer. The male models switching between grumpy "Valenciaga" and smiley "H&M" expressions, Woody Harrelson as the captain debating socialism vs. capitalism, and the explosions of vomit and excrement on the ship are the comedic highlights of the film, and all get showcased in the trailer. When a comedy is two and a half hours long, it's not hard to find enough laughs to make a killer three-minute trailer. But just because you laughed all the way through the trailer doesn't mean you won't get bored during the actual movie.

The Mummy (2017)

The most entertaining thing to come out of 2017's "The Mummy," Universal's failed attempt at kickstarting a "Dark Universe" of monster movies, wasn't supposed to be released. By accident, the IMAX trailer for Alex Kurtzman's film was released with large chunks of it missing music or most sound effects. The result is simply hilarious.

How could you not love the pilot's weak grunt as a swarm of birds silently break through the window of the plane? Is there anything more amusing than Tom Cruise and company screaming while being flipped around the crashing plane? Even if the movie turned out well, it would still struggle to match the entertainment value of this borderline-experimental "so bad it's good" trailer.

This version of "The Mummy" was not good. Lacking both the gothic chills of the 1932 version and the campy adventure of the 1999 update, this "Mummy" failed with both critics and general audiences. Today, it serves as a cautionary tale for any producers so desperate to build a cinematic universe that they forget you need a movie people will actually want to see more of.