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Controversial Trailer Moments That Went Too Far

Trailers are meant to stimulate the mind and get people excited. Whether it's teaser trailers that lure people in on the promise of a vaguely defined, intriguing atmosphere or more fully fleshed-out theatrical trailers full of memorable images, trailers are incredible works of art that get the general public stoked about the future of moviegoing. However, for a variety of reasons, there can also be moments in trailers that instill the opposite reaction in people. Rather than generating palpable eagerness to see an upcoming motion picture, these trailer moments are the centerpieces of a maelstrom of controversy.

The reasons for all that movie trailer controversy can vary wildly. Sometimes, a joke in a trailer just ends up being way more offensive than actually amusing. Perhaps the trailer contains an action beat or actor that isn't in the final cut of the actual movie, thus inspiring retroactive irritation in viewers. Still, other trailer moments can end up spoiling big plot twists in movies that rely heavily on the elements of surprise. These trailer moments that went too far illustrate that there is an endless array of reasons why trailers can just as easily get the masses upset as they can get moviegoers excited.

The Dilemma

Throughout the 2000s, gay panic jokes were incredibly common in mainstream American comedy movies. While the 1990s had brought mainstream comedies with queer leads like "The Birdcage" and "In & Out," the following decade was dominated by movies where 20-something-year-old men asked each other "Do you know how I know you're gay?" This trend was never cool and always reeked of both intolerance and sheer laziness. Frustration with the normalization of these gags reached a tipping point with the release of the first trailer for the 2011 Vince Vaughn and Kevin James comedy "The Dilemma," which began with Vaughn's character announcing that "electric cars ... are gay."

After proceeding to emphasize that electric cars are gay in the "my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay" way rather than being explicitly homosexual, the trailer moves on, having used this moment to emphasize the "coolness" of Vaughn's character. In the wake of this trailer, an outcry emerged from queer commentators and LGBTQ+ organizations about the marketing for "The Dilemma" leaning so hard on such a cruel joke. Eventually, director Ron Howard took to the press to announce that the original trailer would be pulled, but that the original "electric cars ... are gay" line would be kept in the final film, explaining that removing the gag would "endanger comedy as both entertainment and a

provoker of thought." It was a very extreme response to criticism of a joke seemingly lifted from any number of 2000s bro comedies.

Gangster Squad

Initially, there didn't seem to be any problems with the first trailer for the period-crime drama "Gangster Squad," including a beat in its home stretch depicting a bunch of gangsters bursting through a movie theater screen to shoot everyone in the auditorium. It all looked like the standard sort of violence you'd seen in a gangster feature ... or at least it did prior to July 20, 2012. On that fateful day, a gunman opened fire on a movie theater during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado. It was a horrifying event that claimed 12 lives and shook countless others to their very cores. In the wake of this tragic massacre, that movie theater sequence from the "Gangster Squad" trailer took on a whole new level of eerie real-world relevance.

On the same day as the Aurora, Colorado shooting, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that the initial trailer for "Gangster Squad" (which was set to play on certain "Dark Knight Rises" showings) was being pulled from theaters. A few days later, Warner Bros. delayed the release of "Gangster Squad" by four months to allow for reshoots that would cover a replacement sequence for the initial movie theater shootout. It's not uncommon for movie trailers to get pulled. However, the horrific circumstances surrounding "Gangster Squad" led to its trailer being a special case where its removal preceded drastic changes to the movie it was promoting.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Kevin Smith has long been enamored with the internet and the way it can spread his artistic visions out into the world. Just look at his modern podcast empire, which has been made entirely possible due to the World Wide Web. His fascination with the digital realm was reinforced in 2008 when he dropped a teaser trailer for his then-upcoming movie "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" which was designed for online consumption only. The teaser didn't contain any footage from the final film but did offer a tease of what the tone of "Zack and Miri" would be like as well as the chemistry shared between lead actors Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks.

However, in June 2008, shortly after the teaser trailer was uploaded, Kevin Smith announced that the MPAA had forced the takedown of this piece of promotional material. Per a post on Smith's News Askew site (via First Showing), Smith said the MPAA claimed that the trailer couldn't be released because its board hadn't vetted it. Since previous internet-only trailers for Smith movies had never inspired MPAA ire, the director said, this decision was incredibly baffling. Apparently, though, the raunchy material contained in the teaser was considered just too transgressive for the folks at the MPAA, and the trailer was taken down. The internet has given Smith many gifts, but even it couldn't help the "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" teaser avoid the iron fist of this gigantic ratings organization.

The Hangover: Part II

The first full trailer for "The Hangover: Part II," released on the last day of March 2011, certainly tees up plenty of raunchy hijinks for the Wolfpack to get into in Thailand. The trailer showcases everything from Stu waking up with a gigantic tattoo on his face to a gun going off in a strip club to some kind of brawl happening in a monastery ... all this mayhem suggests that the creative minds behind "The Hangover" are indeed back in action. For many moviegoers, all this chaos was like catnip, promising a new movie that could heighten the laughs and mania of the original "Hangover." However, the MPAA board was very frustrated with the trailer and specifically what movies it was being attached to in theaters.

Roughly a week after it was released, the first "Hangover: Part II" trailer was pulled from movie theaters because it had been screened on the PG-13 movie "Source Code." This violated a rule from the MPAA about R-rated movies being promoted in front of PG-13 titles. At the time, Warner Bros. emphasized that it was cooperating with the MPAA and had gotten a new "Hangover: Part II" trailer approved to go out on the R-rated horror sequel "Scream 4." The Wolfpack has often gotten into lots of trouble thanks to their debauchery, but the ruckus caused by the full trailer of "The Hangover: Part II" was certainly some of the tamest commotion caused by their antics.


Compared to other trailers that generated lots of conversation and discourse, the brouhaha that surrounded the full trailer for "Nope" was pretty tame, especially considering the kind of material within the trailer itself. This critical piece of marketing for Jordan Peele's third directorial effort wasn't criticized for being homophobic or raunchy, but rather for featuring moments that viewers considered too spoilery. In the wake of the trailer's release, think pieces emerged on how many "Nope" plot turns and developments had been given away, including a big set piece involving the UFO known as Jean Jacket spilling gallons of blood on the Haywood family house.

While these trailer moments were perceived by many to have gone too far in trying to get general moviegoers excited to see "Nope," it's doubtful Peele himself was very flustered by the presence of such obvious spoilers. When his feature "Us" was being released," Peele explained to Digital Spy that he had enough confidence in general moviegoers that they wouldn't spoil the experience of seeing one of his movies for others. He said that making movies with surprising twists means that you have to see it for yourself, so any worries about spoilers, including concerns of overly informative trailers, seem to roll off this filmmaker's back. The internet, on the other hand, was much more upset over certain scenes being given away in trailers for "Nope."

Slender Man

Once upon a time, the prospect of making a low-budget horror movie based on the popular scary internet figure Slender Man must've sounded like a license to print money. However, the process of creating a feature centered on this character became infinitely more complicated after the 2014 Slender Man stabbing, in which a pair of 12-year-old girls stabbed a friend 19 times purportedly to please Slender Man. The horrific event made national headlines and forever tainted the perception of the Slender Man character. This tragedy was so well-known that it was still fresh on the minds of people when the first trailer for "Slender Man" premiered.

The trailer's emphasis on surface-level jump scares involving teen girls and their encounters with the Slender Man entity inspired the father of one of the two girls arrested for the Slender Man stabbing to criticize the very existence of the movie, trailer included. While "Slender Man" wasn't based on the disturbing events of 2014, this father still saw it as a way of exploiting terrible real-world violence. A piece from The Hollywood Reporter on the father's comments also noted a particularly controversial moment in this teaser trailer came from a shot lingering on sketches of Slender Man that evoke real drawings made by one of Slender Man stabbers. With such eerie and uncomfortable real-world parallels, the "Slender Man" trailer reinforced the pitfalls of making this movie in the wake of everything that happened in 2014.

Suicide Squad

There were lots of trailers for "Suicide Squad." Like, a lot. Heck, the movie managed to debut two radically different trailers at two separate San Diego International Comic-Cons. While these trailers generated lots of excitement for the then-upcoming DC Extended Universe feature, these trailers weren't devoid of criticism. Specifically, the various trailers for "Suicide Squad" were criticized for moments that were perceived to objectify and dehumanize Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. A moment in the second trailer lingering on Quinn's butt as she bends over to pick up a stolen purse and another scene in a separate trailer holding the camera on Quinn's exposed chest as she changes her shirt especially earned people's ire.

Sometimes, movie trailers offer misleading perceptions of the features they're promoting, with the final film being much more nuanced than a brief trailer. Unfortunately, these uncomfortable moments involving Harley Quinn in the "Suicide Squad" trailers were harbingers of the final product's dismal attitude toward women. Upon the release of "Suicide Squad," a barrage of articles emerged critiquing this comic book movie for treating its female characters poorly and especially letting down Robbie's committed performance as Harley Quinn with subpar writing. Tragically, those sexist moments involving Harley from the "Suicide Squad" trailers were a perfect microcosm of larger problems in the movie they were promoting.

X-Men: Apocalypse

By the time the "X-Men: Apocalypse" marketing campaign kicked off in 2015, this superhero movie franchise had been going on for a little over 15 years. Audiences had seen these merry mutants duke it out with a wide array of villains and adversarial forces ... so how do you keep these adventures feeling fresh? The plan for this newest installment was to have Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and company square off against Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an ancient mutant with limitless power. To emphasize just how enormously formidable this fellow was, the first trailer for "X-Men: Apocalypse" had Apocalypse revealing that he'd been perceived as various gods over the years, including the Hindu deity Krishna.

The idea of Krishna actually being a wicked X-Men villain didn't sit right with some folks, with various Hindu organizations around the world claiming that this line was offensive to their culture and people. Others also claimed that this dialogue was indicative of a general trend in Hollywood of major American movies failing to treat Hinduism with any sort of respect. In many cases where a trailer generates backlash from the public, studios will often send out a meek statement standing by the marketing material or just not respond at all. However, the outcry over this line proved so gigantic that Apocalypse's reference to Krishna was deleted from the final cut of "X-Men: Apocalypse", a development praised by figures like Hindu statesman Rajan Zed.

The Tigger Movie

On paper, it's hard to imagine that any moment from a trailer for "The Tigger Movie" could be perceived as "controversial" in any sense of the word. However, the initial trailer for this film stirred up some discourse thanks to its song of choice. Initially, the primary trailer for "The Tigger Movie" was set to Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," a bouncy tune with a chorus of "do do do's" that sound, devoid of context, like they're perfect for matching the energy of Tigger. However, anyone anywhere of the lyrical content of this 1997 tune knows it actually covers darker material about drug use (specifically crystal meth) and one's existence crumbling into pieces, complete with phrases like "she goes down on me" explicitly referencing sex acts.

That's not the kind of material one immediately associates with the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, and an outcry followed the trailer's release. Eventually, a Disney spokesperson came forward to claim the studio had no clue about the darker implications of "Semi-Charmed Life" and that the trailer would be pulled. Ironically, this whole controversy feels so old-fashioned in the modern world, when adult-skewing tunes like "Bad Guy" are used as needle drops in animated kid's movie trailers. It appears this divisive element of that "Tigger Movie" trailer was just ahead of the curve.

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Saw 3D

It's no secret that "Saw" movies are not for the faint of heart. Each installment in this franchise is packed to the gills with violent material intended to leave horror fans reaching for the nearest barf bag. Naturally, then, kids and younger viewers are not the target demo for any aspect of this franchise. However, controversy arose over the trailer for "Saw 3D" in the United Kingdom over a 10-year-old who was scarred after watching this piece of marketing on television. Specifically, a moment in the trailer where a theater full of moviegoers are restrained in their seats before a terrifying figure reaches out from the movie screen to grab somebody in the audience was deemed especially traumatizing for this kid.

After this incident and other complaints over this moment in the "Saw 3D" trailer, U.K. broadcasters banned this piece of promotional material from being aired on television in the country before 9 p.m. This maneuver was meant to limit the number of kids who could be exposed to any kind of marketing related to this entry in the "Saw" saga.

Paranormal Activity 2

The "Paranormal Activity" franchise is not about rampant blood and guts spilling out all over the silver screen, but rather lengthy periods of domestic normalcy suddenly getting upended by supernatural frights. These jump scares aren't every horror fan's cup of tea, but they've certainly proved popular enough to garner the "Paranormal Activity" movies a huge fanbase. These kinds of scares have also garnered the franchise a lot of notoriety, as seen by the first trailer for "Paranormal Activity 2." This piece of marketing is mostly composed of security footage of a family's seemingly empty house until, suddenly, the camera cuts to a shot of a shadowy figure in a baby's room. It's a moment meant to give viewers a massive jolt, but for some moviegoers, it was too much scariness to handle.

After debuting in theaters on screenings of "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," a slew of Cinemark theaters in Texas pulled the "Paranormal Activity 2" teaser. This development came after moviegoers registered a slew of complaints with the theater chain about how uncomfortably terrifying the trailer was. The younger core demo of the PG-13 "Eclipse" was likely not an ideal audience for the first teaser for an R-rated horror movie. Nevertheless, this "Paranormal Activity 2" teaser reinforced how this franchise's specific brand of frights can wring very pronounced reactions out of any moviegoer.


Typically, trailers for massive wide-release movies generate the most controversy. After all, these are the trailers that are being seen by the most people and are connected to instantly recognizable titles that can be referenced in eye-catching news headlines. However, the trailer for the 2015 Roland Emmerich indie movie "Stonewall" was an extremely notable exception to this rule, with this tiny movie generating lots of noise with its first big piece of marketing. The trailer for "Stonewall" is full of controversial moments, including its emphasis on cisgender white gay men doing all the important events in the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots.

This seminal moment in queer history was actually made possible through trans women of color like Marsha P. Johnson, making the erasure of the "Stonewall" trailer unspeakably insulting. The trailer instantly became a lightning rod for controversy, with many pointing out how the "Stonewall" trailer reflected the larger erasure of trans folks from the LGBTQ+ community. Emmerich's defense of the feature to Buzzfeed, in which he said that "Stonewall" needed to focus on certain characters to appeal to straight viewers, only exacerbated all the controversy. The eventually disastrous reviews for "Stonewall" confirmed that all the worst qualities of the initial trailer were only more apparent in the final feature. In trying to make a broadly appealing project, Emmerich only generated trailers and a movie that became punchlines.

Peter Rabbit

The first trailer for "Peter Rabbit" could've easily been cobbled together by an artificial intelligence program. Beginning with serious narration, accompanied by a chorus of angelic bird singers, intoning that this is the story of Peter, the titular critter soon rams into those singing birds and kick-starts the trailer's irreverent tone. From here, the first trailer for "Peter Rabbit" depicts Peter and all his animal comrades partying the night away. Peter himself is especially rambunctious, doing a rabbit version of twerking and throwing out lettuce leaves like they're dollars at a strip club. The whole trailer ends with lengthy screaming, like so many other trailers for modern kids' movies.

Needless to say, the endlessly generic "Peter Rabbit" trailer was not popular with many people, especially since it felt like a sacrilegious adaptation of the classic children's book character crafted by Beatrix Potter. Major British media outlets like The Guardian were especially disgusted by the trailer, viewing it as an excessive and misguided attempt to "Americanize" a distinctly British and kindhearted literary icon like Peter Rabbit. The fact that the whole trailer felt so cribbed from other modern family movies (right down to the casting of James Corden as Peter, fresh off his roles in "The Emoji Movie" and "Trolls") only exacerbated the flames of hatred that instantly greeted countless moments from the first "Peter Rabbit" trailer.

Terminator: Genisys

Midway through the second trailer for "Terminator: Genisys," this movie's incarnation of Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) suddenly encounters an adult version of her son, John (Jason Clarke), from the future. This happy reunion is cut short once John is shot and it's revealed that this freedom fighter is now part-robot. John Connor has turned evil, and the trailer teases him as the big baddie of "Genisys." The savior of the world in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is now positioned as the person who could ultimately destroy all of existence. When putting this trailer together, some Paramount Pictures executive doubtlessly thought revealing this plot twist would immediately get folks excited for this new iteration of the "Terminator" story.

Instead, online chatter about the trailer criticized why this big plot turn had been given away months before "Genisys" reached theaters. Even the director of "Genisys," Alan Taylor, told Uproxx that he'd directed the film with the intent that John Connor's big reveal would be a surprise to the audience, not something they'd already witnessed countless times in marketing materials. The choice to reveal this plot detail in promotional entities dominated the pre-release coverage of "Genisys" and tainted the feature's overall image rather than get people stoked for a new "Terminator" adventure.


Back in 2009, every new movie starring high school characters was perceived by studio executives as a new attempt to get some of the mountains of cash generated by the "High School Musical" franchise. It didn't matter whether or not the feature itself fit that mold — the studio was still going to market it in a manner that evoked memories of Troy Bolton and company. This phenomenon was especially apparent in the trailer for the 2009 film "Bandslam" (starring "High School Musical" alum Vanessa Hudgens), which tried to sell the motion picture as something breezy and light. "Bandslam" ended up tanking at the box office, a far cry from the financial success of "High School Musical," leading people to critique the trailer for promoting the title as something it wasn't.

In the wake of the box office failure of "Bandslam," Deadline ran a lengthy piece analyzing the various failing of the film's trailer, particularly how this piece of marketing sanded off the edges of the feature's appealingly adult tone. There were also complaints about how the trailers misled audiences into thinking Hudgens was just playing a rehash of her "High School Musical" character instead of an exciting, new, and more complicated figure. The trailer was just a mess and made "Bandslam" the rare example of a movie trailer that garnered controversy after the film it was promoting had been released. After all, the "Bandslam" trailer seemed egregiously inaccurate once folks saw the final product and liked it much more than its generic marketing.

Basmati Blues

Many pieces of internet criticism centered around Brie Larson tend to be outright nonsense. Her comments about feminism, sexual assault survivors, unequal pay, and other weighty issues have often made her a target of online trolls and misogynistic rants. A rare instance of a Brie Larson movie getting more valid critiques on the web, though, came with the release of the first trailer for "Basmati Blues." A 2017 feature from writer-director Dan Baron, the feature centers on Larson's character, a rice scientist who goes to India and ends up rebelling against her employers and falling in love with the son (Utkarsh Ambudkar) of a local farmer. It's a standard white savior narrative that filters the struggles of Indians through the eyes of a white American lady.

Upon the release of the first "Basmati Blues" trailer, criticism ran rampant over various moments in the trailer critiqued as further stereotypes about India, including gags entirely centered around mocking the fractured English spoken by the film's Indian characters. Everything about the film's first big piece of marketing was perceived as being wildly out-of-touch with reality and furthering harmful stereotypes that Hollywood had been peddling for decades. The eventual reviews for "Basmati Blues" indicated that the initial flaws apparent in the trailer were in the final cut of the film. That deeply offensive "Basmati Blues" trailer made this the rare occasion where rampant criticism over one of the "Captain Marvel" star's movies was actually justified.

Jack Reacher

Before Tom Cruise's first movie as Jack Reacher was unleashed into movie theaters in December 2012, the biggest controversy surrounding the feature was about Cruise's height. Fans of the books took the internet in anger over the perception that Cruise was way too short to portray a fictional character whose supposed to be 6-foot-5 in the original novels penned by Lee Child. 

However, after the debut of "Jack Reacher," another aspect of this production caught the ire of people. Specifically, a shot from the trailer involving an explosion didn't make it into the final cut of "Jack Reacher," an omission one moviegoer sought legal action over. In 2013, just months after "Jack Reacher" premiered, a New Zealand moviegoer filed a complaint after Paramount Pictures dared to include that memorable exploding cliff in the trailer for "Jack Reacher" but didn't feature the stunt in the actual movie. Paramount Pictures eventually gave this fellow the money he spent on a "Jack Reacher" ticket back, but the controversy over this omitted action beat is now forever etched into the history of the Jack Reacher character. Considering all this noise over this particular "Jack Reacher" trailer moment, Paramount and everyone else involved in this Tom Cruise star vehicle likely wish all the controversy over this action film had remained centered around the leading man's stature.


In 2019, Ana de Armas blew up to a new level of prominence thanks to her leading role in "Knives Out." Though she'd been appearing in major movies like "Blade Runner 2049" for a few years at that point, her work as Marta in "Knives Out" pushed the actor into stardom. However, originally, de Armas was supposed to appear in another major 2019 film, "Yesterday." In this feature about a world in which everyone but one man has forgotten the Beatles, de Armas was supposed to play another love interest for protagonist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel). This subplot was eventually deleted after test-screening viewers thought this romantic affair diluted their investment in Malik as a character. De Armas remained in the film for so long that she even appeared in the trailers for "Yesterday," which eventually got the movie into some hot water dissatisfied moviegoers.

In 2022, a lawsuit emerged suing Universal for misleading trailers that featured moments emphasizing the presence of de Armas. Some viewers alleged that they were convinced to rent "Yesterday" from digital retailers because de Armas had shown up in the trailer. By 2023, the lawsuit had been dismissed by a U.S. district judge. Still, the very existence of the lawsuit showed how riled-up people can get over misleading trailer moments, especially when they involve actors as beloved as de Armas.

The Creator

Since the earliest days of his filmmaking career, "The Creator" director Gareth Edwards has always loved shooting his movies in real locations. Back when he was promoting his directorial debut "Monsters" in 2010," Edwards explained to D Magazine that he believed there was an authenticity to the performances and scenery captured in shooting on location that you couldn't replicate on a soundstage. Since those days, Edwards has shot his biggest blockbusters in real places and then added CGI monsters, droids, and mechanical humans on top of those recognizable locales. Unfortunately, the marketing for "The Creator" went in a much more controversial direction in merging reality with sci-fi imagery when it came to the film's second trailer, which reportedly employed footage of an actual devastating explosion that occurred in Beirut in 2020.

Given all the deaths and destruction that was caused by that real-world event, many found it to be in incredibly poor taste that footage from this explosion would be used to promote a big Disney blockbuster. Edwards later explained in a Reddit Q&A that the footage had only appeared in the trailer as an accident and a result of VFX artists often using archival footage as a basis for temporary VFX. He also clarified that this footage is not in the final cut of "The Creator." Still, even with this clarification, the trailer of "The Creator" provided a darker example of what happens when reality and sci-fi cinema collide.