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The Reasons These Movie Trailers Were Banned

Movie previews, or "trailers," as they're still called (they used to run after the movie decades ago, not before), are one of the most fun parts of the moviegoing experience. The lights dim, the screen lights up, and audiences are treated to an advance look at films that will play in that very theater in but a few months time. They're essentially advertisements, but the good ones are put together so well — all the best, funniest, and flashiest parts of a movie all encapsulated right there for maximum marketing potential and delectability — that an audience can't help but create lofty expectations for that coming attraction (which the film can't possibly live up to).

Previews are supposed to be innocuous yet enticing, and definitely not controversial. But once in a while, a tease of a yet-to-be-released movie goes too far, and audiences react negatively. Here are some times when studios had to remove movie previews from public view.

The Nun really took the idea of a "teaser" and ran with it

It wasn't even a full trailer for The Nun, the latest creepy movie in the unsettling Conjuring universe, that got pulled in a matter of days. It was a teaser, a six-second long publicity builder and proof of concept clip that's probably the shortest thing to ever cause so much trouble that it got banned. Why? This ad for a horror movie was too scary. 

Sure, a horror movie is supposed to frighten and its trailer should too, but the problem with this one was that it automatically played, a "pre-roll" ad that ran unprompted before other YouTube videos. Its jumpscare tactics positively terrified unwitting viewers who weren't looking for a scare. The clip starts with a "volume down" icon, tricking viewers into thinking the video will be silent. But then, after a dark screen, the monstrously rotting face of the titular, bloody-mouthed nun appears (along with some scary noise), and that's when people screamed at their desks or watching their phones on the subway. A jumpscare warning went viral, amassing more than 100,000 retweets and leading YouTube to pull the teaser clip.

A Canadian theater chain didn't Feel Pretty

The Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty is a little heady and complicated for a rom-com. Schumer plays a woman who hates her appearance and considers herself overweight... until she suffers a head trauma. Her brain gets scrambled, and when she comes to, she believes she's the most beautiful woman in the world, which gives her the confidence to pursue both her dream job and her dream guy. All that is hard to summarize in the short running time of a trailer.

A man named Mike Mitchell took his nine-year-old daughter to a screening of the PG-rated The Miracle Season, an inspiring sports drama about a girls volleyball team, at the Cineplex Colossus in Langley, British Columbia. Before the movie, the audience saw a trailer for the PG-13 I Feel Pretty, which included a lot of examples of the things that got it a PG-13 rating, including drunkenness and a wet t-shirt contest scene. "I don't want my daughter exposed to that," Mitchell told Global News. "It's just not appropriate, period." In response, the Cineplex chain removed the trailer for I Feel Pretty from all B.C. screenings of The Miracle Season.

The Hangover hung over studios' heads

Before it can play in multiplexes around the country, a trailer has to get approval from the Motion Picture Association of America, the same organization that rates movies for content with a G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17. The MPAA summarily gave the okay to a trailer for The Hangover Part II in 2011, clearing the way for Warner Bros. to include it on prints of the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code. That trailer ran for just a few days, until Warner Bros. told theaters to not only immediately remove the Hangover preview from Source Code screenings, but to also destroy the footage. 

Warner released a statement, explaining that in their "haste to meet the placement schedule for this trailer, we failed to properly vet the final version with the MPAA." There was a lot of ribald material in that trailer, mostly bad language — it was for a Hangover movie, after all — but neither Warner nor the MPAA said exactly why the preview suddenly didn't fly.

Art accidentally imitates life

During a 2012 screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, James Holmes opened fire on the audience, killing 12 and wounding 70. The next day, Warner Bros., which distributed The Dark Knight Rises, made some changes to its slate. It didn't pull that hugely popular Batman movie out of theaters, but it did remove a trailer playing with screenings of that film. 

A preview for Gangster Squad had played before many showings of The Dark Knight Rises around the U.S. Based on the true story of the Los Angeles Police Department's fight against organized crime in the 1940s, the movie — and trailer — included a scene where bad guys indiscriminately shoot their tommy guns into a packed picture house. The clip eerily mirrored what happened in Aurora, although that Gangster Squad preview did not play before The Dark Knight Rises that horrible night. Warner took the trailer off Dark Knight prints and also ordered it off of iTunes and YouTube.

Supernatural and Paranormal don't mix

The numbers don't lie: the most popular vampire movie series ever is the Twilight saga. Despite detailing different factions of bloodsucking, human-killing immortals at war with one another, the Twilight movies are not particularly scary. They aren't horror movies at all — they're romance stories with a supernatural bent made for (and about) teenagers. 

They were so extremely popular that they got the "late night" showing treatment (this was a few years before theaters started showing just about every movie the evening before its "official" release). Theaters can honor a movie's  official Friday release date, for example, with midnight or middle-of-the-night screenings for hardcore fans. Blockbusters like Twilight movies screen that way, and so do horror movies, such as the Paranormal Activity series. 

There were apparently enough similarities between the two franchises that a trailer for Paranormal Activity 2 ran in front of some late-night Twilight: Eclipse screenings. According to Deadline, at one such Cinemark theater in Texas where this took place, management received multiple complaints from Twilight fans that found the footage from the found-footage movie just too scary. Cinemark didn't ask Paramount Pictures for permission to do so, but they removed the trailer from Eclipse screenings anyway.

It was just too soon for United 93

United 93 hit theaters in 2006, less than five years after the real-life September 11th attacks it depicted in often uncomfortably and traumatic detail. As one of the most devastating events in history, 9/11 was still fresh in the minds of Americans, particularly those who lived or worked on the East Coast, close to where terrorists killed more than 3,000 people.

The Paul Greengrass movie takes place on board the plane that hijackers may have intended to crash into the White House, but which was diverted by heroic passengers into a field in Pennsylvania. A trailer for United 93 played in front of Inside Man at an AMC Loews movie theater in Manhattan, where management fielded several complaints, including at least one from a sobbing patron. That theater pulled the trailer from all screenings, while the movie's distributor, Universal, restricted it to run before only R-rated movies or PG-13 films targeted toward adults.

Tulip Fever was too hot

This erotically-charged period piece set in 17th century Amsterdam amidst the rise and fall of tulip speculation took years to even hit theaters. Stars Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz finished filming in the summer of 2014, and a 2015 release date got pushed back to the summer of 2016, but just before that could happen, Tulip Fever got a new release date of February 2017. Some more delays meant it didn't actually screen for the general public until late in the summer of 2017. 

It fared poorly at the box office, perhaps in part due to a lack of promotion. After all those false starts, when it came time to promote Tulip Fever, the seemingly cursed movie had its trailer revoked. Ironically, it was for telling viewers exactly what kind of movie it was. It's about a married woman of means (Vikander) who cheats on her husband (Waltz) with her portrait painter (Dane DeHaan), and to show that, the trailer depicts the young lovers in bed, tastefully nude and frolicking horizontally. The Motion Picture Association of America approved the trailer, but Fox refused to air itFox refused to air it on its many TV outlets.

A trailer even more frightening than the movie

Released in 1973, The Exorcist still ranks among the most unsettling and terrifying movies ever made. It also proved that people really like getting scared at the movies — The Exorcist was by far the highest-grossing movie of the year. Whoever put the film's original trailer together definitely tried to let audiences know in advance what they'd be dealing with, namely an assault on the senses and the psyche with the story of a little girl (Linda Blair) possessed by a demon. It starts off with a narrator describing the plot of the movie over some ominous footage, before descending into a seemingly endless montage of pulsing, washed-out, black-and-white images of ghostly, monstrous, and pained faces.

It's set to a haunting tune by composer Lalo Schifrin, who told Score Magazine that "the mix of those frightening scenes and my music, which was also a very difficult and heavy score, scared the audiences away." A lot of theaters reported people hit by that trailer walking out... or running to the restrooms so they could throw up. The trailer quickly disappeared from theaters, and Exorcist director William Friedkin thought Schifrin's score was so over-the-top frightening that he fired him, and got Mike Oldfield to write new music for the finished film.

A real dilemma for The Dilemma

Despite the direction of Academy Award-winner Ron Howard, it's easy to forget that the 2011 movie The Dilemma ever existed, probably because of its sitcom-ish premise. The plot: a guy (Vince Vaughn) sees the wife (Winona Ryder) of his best friend and business partner (Kevin James) kiss another guy (Channing Tatum), and he struggles with how (and if) to break the news. The Dilemma did middling business, earned middling reviews, and the only thing it made the news for was an off-color joke in its preview.

Vaughn's character quips, "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay." Around the time that trailer debuted in late 2010, CNN's Anderson Cooper had just hosted a special series about bullying and the bullying-related suicides of gay teens. He called out the trailer during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, saying that he was "shocked" that filmmakers "thought that it was okay to put that in a preview for the movie to get people to go and see it." After bringing attention to it on a very popular TV show, Universal Pictures had to respond, and they did. The studio pulled the trailer, cut the offending line out, and re-released the preview.

A tragic title

Neighborhood Watch was scheduled to hit theaters in July 2012. A sci-fi comedy in the realm of Men in Black, it's about a group of goofy suburban guys who team up to protect their community from an alien invasion. But no matter how silly the movie may have been, it couldn't escape the shadow of a tragic real-life incident that sullied the phrase "neighborhood watch" forever, or at least to the point where it would be entirely tasteless and commercially nonviable for a movie to use that premise or title for a while. 

In February 2012, Florida neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman shot unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin to death because he looked "suspicious" ("suspicious" to Zimmerman meaning Martin was walking at night and wearing a hooded sweatshirt). A few weeks later, Fox removed all posters — and trailers — for Neighborhood Watch from Florida movie theaters. A few weeks later, the studio went a step farther and renamed the movie to just The Watch.

It's good to be the King

Once NBA superstar LeBron James proved he could act in Judd Apatow's Trainwreck, it was only a matter of time before he'd succeed fellow "greatest basketball player ever" candidate Michael Jordan where it really counted: shooting hoops with cartoon aliens and classic Looney Tunes characters. Yep, Space Jam 2 is coming, and crews have actually been at work on the King James movie since 2014, with few details revealed since. 

According to Basketball Society Online, James had plans to make headlines twice just after the end of the 2017-18 NBA season. First, he'd announce where his free agency would take him, and then he'd reportedly debut a teaser trailer for Space Jam 2 via Instagram's "IGTV" video feature. James momentously left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the (Hollywood-adjacent) Los Angeles Lakers, but then the Space Jam 2 teaser never materialized. The leaked report by Basketball Society Online led James and his management team to cancel the trailer's debut. It would seem that he'd wanted it to be a surprise, and when it wasn't anymore, he took his ball and went home.