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Movies That Were Marketed As Something Totally Different

When it comes to filmmaking, there are really two teams of people that work on a movie. There's the team that produces the actual film, and there's the team that is responsible for marketing it to consumers. Most of the time, the people who make the trailer for a film weren't involved in the actual production, and the directors and producers of the movie themselves often serve as consultants to the editors – if they're involved in the trailer-making process at all. 

It's up to studio marketing teams and trailer editors to get people into theaters to see a movie, and sometimes they interpret that to mean that they need to fit every movie into a proven formula. High-concept sci-fi films become monster movies, heartbreaking indies become romantic comedies, and gothic romances are marketed as straightforward horror flicks. Editors and marketing departments can often do their films a disservice by oversimplifying structure and genre, and end up causing audiences to feel confused and disappointed because the film they saw advertised was nothing like what they ended up watching in theaters.


"Gattaca" is a science fiction thriller directed by Andrew Niccol, starring Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, and Jude Law, all of whom were still in the early stages of their careers. The film was released in 1997, at a time when action-packed sci-fi was dominating the box office. It makes sense that Sony wanted to capitalize on this trend with "Gattaca." In theory, a future-set sci-fi film about an aspiring astronaut sounds like it fits the ticket, but "Gattaca" is actually something very different.

The film follows a young man (Hawke) who was born at a time when everyone was designing the genetic makeup of their children before birth. His parents decided to birth him naturally, but soon regretted it when he was born with numerous genetic defects. "Gattaca" is a thoughtful, meditative film about eugenics and the idea of nature vs. nurture, but it was advertised as a much more straightforward science-fiction movie. It didn't take long for audiences to figure out that "Gattaca" had a narrative incapable of being captured by a two-minute trailer. 

"Gattaca" had a production budget of $36 million, but ended its box office run with a domestic total of $12.5 million – a pretty big flop, despite the fact that it was relatively well-received by critics.

Jennifer's Body

People might remember "Jennifer's Body" as the comedy-horror film starring Megan Fox that came out in 2009. They also might remember that many of the teenage boys in their lives were pretty excited to see it. The folks advertising the film took advantage of Megan Fox's status as one of America's most desired women at the time (thanks to her exploitative role in "Transformers") and decided to market it entirely to those teenage boys, despite the fact that it had an almost entirely-female creative team behind its production. 

The film was written by Diablo Cody — who also wrote the movie "Juno" — and directed by Karyn Kusama. Both Kusama and Cody made "Jennifer's Body" specifically to critique the use of the male gaze in the horror genre, as well as provide nuanced commentary on the high school experience for teenage girls and their friendships with each other. 

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Kusama explained that she vehemently objected to the idea that the film should be marketed to teenage boys. "I kept sort of reminding everybody, 'Guys, we can't market this movie to boys,'" she said. Even Fox herself has said that she believes the marketing for the film is the reason it didn't do well at the box office.

The film ended up with a mediocre box office result and mixed to negative critical reception, although it has since gained a cult following.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

By the time "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was released in theaters in 2004, Jim Carrey had already made a big name for himself as a successful slapstick comedian, giving great performances in comedies like "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "The Mask." He was enough of a household name that Focus Features was able to advertise "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" on Carrey's star power alone. But "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," written by Charlie Kaufman, wasn't much like the other films that audiences had seen Carrey headline at that point.

The film definitely has an offbeat sense of humor — after all, Charlie Kaufman is one of the most famous comedy writers who has ever lived. But mostly, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is a lot more like a melancholy rumination on the unique and seemingly unbearable pain of a break-up with a long-term partner. It was marketed as a comedic vehicle for Carrey, albeit more in the vein of a romantic comedy — not totally unfamiliar territory for the actor.  

Carrey, who plays Joel, erases his memories of his ex-girlfriend of two years, Clementine, after finding out that she'd erased him from her mind first. But when he suddenly changes his mind, he goes on a madcap romp through his subconscious in an effort to cling to the memories. While the film manages to eke out a happy ending, it's vulnerable and tenuous, and one that feels too similar to real-life relationship closure to be the ending of a light-hearted Jim Carrey comedy.

Fight Club

Despite the fact that David Fincher's 1999 movie "Fight Club" is now one of the most revered cult-classic films of the last several decades, it actually bombed in domestic theaters when it first came out, grossing only $11 million dollars on a $65 million budget during its opening weekend. Fincher loathed the marketing of the film (based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk) because it lazily relied on the star power of its leads, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, and then presented its unique brand of dark humor as the central motif of the film. While "Fight Club" has its funny moments, it's also a cynical, violent condemnation of capitalism, the establishment, and toxic masculinity.

The 20th Century Fox marketing team couldn't wrap their head around a movie where Brad Pitt's role was both intimidating to male viewers and too gritty for women to enjoy.  They marketed the movie at wrestling and boxing venues, not allowing David Fincher to screen the PSA-style ads with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt that he recorded himself in order to accurately express the artistic tone of the film. The marketing team didn't get it, so they made sure that no one else would either, and "Fight Club" didn't become the beloved movie it is today until well after its theatrical release.

Bridge to Terabithia

The tagline for 2007's "Bridge to Terabithia" presents a magical, heartwarming premise to parents and kids: "Discover a place that will never leave you and a friendship that will change you forever. The beloved novel comes to life. Close your eyes, but keep your mind wide open." Sounds sweet, right? Just wait.

The film follows a young boy named Jess as he navigates the end of elementary school and makes a friend in his new neighbor, Leslie. Jess has a difficult life. His family is struggling to stay above the poverty line, and he deals with constant bullying at school as well as a distant relationship with his father. He finds some solace in his time with Leslie, when the two of them travel to a magical land called Terabithia — which really just exists in their imagination, though the film provides some CGI giants to help it come to life for the audience. 

One day, Jess doesn't go to Terabithia with Leslie because his music teacher invites him on a special field trip, and when he comes home, he finds out that Leslie has died. This poor kid, who only had a few good things in his life, has to grapple with the fact that the one day he wasn't around to go to Terabithia with Leslie, she fell from a rope vine and cracked her head open. Many kids were traumatized watching this movie, and the marketing did not make it clear to parents what they were getting themselves into.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is a 1996 animated Disney film based on the 1831 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Hugo's original story is incredibly tragic, as most of the characters wind up dead by its end, so obviously Disney had to alter it quite a bit in order to make it more palatable for their young audiences. But even in writing a much happier ending for the movie, Disney still couldn't offset the inherently dark themes that prop up the entire story. 

It's not just that Frollo, who is the movie's main antagonist, is interested in Esmeralda, it's that he is specifically overcome with lust when he sees and interacts with her — lust that, perversely, he blames her for. Quasimodo is a good man who loves Esmerelda for treating him with kindness despite his physical disabilities, but ultimately Esmeralda still falls in love with the much more conventionally attractive Phoebus instead. Quasimodo is hailed as a hero by the people of Paris, but he still doesn't earn Esmeralda's love. And all of this is to say nothing of the anti-Roma sentiment on display from many characters in the film, especially Frollo, which makes "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" historically accurate but not exactly a fun romp for kids.

Disney made the cartoon a musical and used the movie's most upbeat numbers in its marketing, as well as a trio of talking gargoyles for comic relief. This meant that a lot of parents took their kids to see what they thought would be a straightforward successor to Disney's past animated features, but what was actually an incredibly dark story.

Good Morning, Vietnam

Similar to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," 1987's "Good Morning, Vietnam" was marketed as a vehicle for a comedic superstar — this time, that superstar was Robin Williams. Williams' career had a similar trajectory to Jim Carrey's: He went from being the comedic lead in goofy projects like "Mork & Mindy" and "Popeye" to becoming a more layered, critically acclaimed actor with films like "Dead Poet's Society" and "Good Will Hunting." A big part of his transition from Professional Funny Man to World-Renowned Movie Star was his turn as Adrian in "Good Morning, Vietnam."

The movie was marketed as a war spoof thanks to Williams' comedic reputation, but it was actually meant to be a darkly humorous reflection on the Vietnam War, which was an incredibly traumatizing and divisive experience for both soldiers and civilians alike. It's a funny movie, but it's still about a terrible war that created discord on the home front and led to one of the United States' most notable military defeats in the 20th century. The movie has gone down in history as a well-regarded film, and it's still listed as the fourth most profitable film in 1987, but all of that is in spite of its oversimplified marketing.

Edge of Tomorrow

"Edge of Tomorrow," a 2014 sci-fi action film starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, had a positive reception, landing a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences who saw the film liked it too, but many opted not to see it in theaters, which led to a disappointing domestic gross of only a little over $100 million — less than its production budget. The movie did far better at the international box office, earning back its production cost two times over, but that had more to do with Tom Cruise's star power than the marketing of the film.

In the U.S., many moviegoers were perplexed by the film's title, "Edge of Tomorrow." It sounded like sci-fi, yes, but it could just as easily describe an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury short story as it could an action-packed Terminator sequel. 

The film's narrative, in which the human race finds itself at war with a race of aliens that are able to predict the future, is based on a Japanese story called "All You Need Is Kill," and that's what the film was called up until 2013, when Warner Brothers decided to change the name. This, combined with a collection of trailers and promo materials that did nothing to convey the unique strengths of the movie's writing and plot, had audiences expecting a pretty generic action film.

Crimson Peak

You may be surprised to know that "Crimson Peak," a gothic romance from 2015, was directed by Guillermo del Toro. It's surprising because "Crimson Peak" came to and left theaters without very much fanfare, despite the fact that del Toro is one of the most prominent directors working in Hollywood today. 

The film made way less money than the studio anticipated, grossed $74.7 million worldwide against a production budget of $55 million, but was well-received by critics, thanks to del Toro's direction and fantastic acting performances from Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, and Jessica Chastain. 

"Crimson Peak" was marketed by Universal Pictures as a horror movie set in Victorian England, and while that description isn't necessarily incorrect, it fails to capture so much of what made it such an interesting and engaging film. "Crimson Peak" is sort of like if Edgar Allan Poe had written "Jane Eyre" with his own short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher," as inspiration. It's a gothic romance with beautiful set design and costumes and a well-executed twist ending. It's not so much a horror movie as it is a nuanced, haunting picture about the perversions of a disturbing tight-knit aristocratic family with closets full of skeletons — so you can see why audiences would go into it not knowing quite what to expect.


You might only have a vague memory of the film "Annihilation," released in 2018 and featuring a cast of mostly women led by Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson. Based on a 2014 sci-fi horror novel by Jeff VanderMeer, the movie is set in a strange, alternate reality where a meteor has landed on Earth and caused the spread of something referred to as the "Shimmer." 

"Annihilation" is a high-concept, low-exposition story about a team of military personnel (mostly scientists) and their interactions with a strange new kind of life. It received favorable reviewers from critics, but didn't do particularly well at the box office. That probably had something to do with the fact that the studio distributing the film, Paramount Pictures, chose to capitalize on the plot's inherently mysterious premise and present it as a monster movie with a "Cloverfield"-esque lack of detail in its promotion. 

This isn't necessarily a bad description of the movie, but it doesn't really encompass "Annihilation" as a whole. It's not exactly a movie about fighting monsters, but rather about human arrogance and our narrow understanding of life. As with many science fiction films, its PR team struggled to find a way to market its unique storyline without spoiling it for audiences.