Untruths in Advertising

What are some of the most successful flim-flam movie marketing campaigns of all time? Ad and trailer campaigns, I mean, in which the content of a certain film was almost completely hidden and/or ignored, and the marketing guys sold a film that didn’t really exist — at least not in the way it was represented by the one-sheets and trailers. A marketing campaign, in short, that didn’t exaggerate this or that aspect of a film (which all movie campaigns do) as much as one that pretty much deliberately lied about what a film actually was.

And got away with it, I mean — that’s the important part. People showed up and then realized ten of fifteen minutes into the film that they’d been hoodwinked by the ad guys, but they stayed anyway and liked the film and came out and told their friends to go see it. Normally I’d come up with two or three examples to start things off, but let’s just toss it out and see where this goes. And if you can’t think of any strong examples, name some films that maybe should have used a deceptive marketing approach — i.e., films that suffered from an overly sincere and truthful campaign.

An oldie but goodie to start things off…fake, of course, but a satiric example of what a fair number of campaigns have done or tried to do. Successfully, I mean.

71 thoughts on “Untruths in Advertising

  1. George Prager on said:
  2. There were quite a few dragons in REIGN OF FIRE as I recall, though that kind of hustle is typical of horror films.

  3. I’m having trouble remembering a successful case, however, there is one film that pops to mind that fully devolved into something different than promoted…at least for me.

    Event Horizon.

    A decent cast, eerie trailer, and a sharp visual style had me eager for an intellectual sci-fi ghost story… Something in the realm of Tarkovsky’s Solaris or even Scott’s original Alien.

    The first hour delivered, and I was hooked, and then KERPLOW!! It devolved into a ludicrous, low rent gore-fest.

    I understand the intent was a horror film, but, the marketing steered everyone toward psychological scares not another pedestrian splatter film.

  4. I gotta go with CABLE GUY, which was sold as Ace Ventura With Wire Cutters but was actually a very disturbing black comedy about stalking (and whose original ending featured Carrey bloodily impaled on a satellite dish).

  5. I’m in the pro-Basterds camp, but Ithe campaign is focused on a small portion of what’s actually in the movie. This weekend is when we should have seen a steeper-than-normal drop if audiences felt they’d been bait-and-switched… it appears that it hasn’t hit that kind of backlash. So either audiences are more sophisticated going in, or they’re happy with what they’re getting. (End of IB in this thread, I hope.)

  6. I can’t vouch for it, but a recent LA Weekly article said “Bandslam” was a victim of this. Summit sold it as something in the “High School Musical” vein, and apparently it isn’t.

  7. When I was a kid I was pumped to see “Juggernaut” with Richard Harris because of the poster. This was when, or shortly after, disaster movies were the thing and I loved disaster movies.

    The poster depicted the cruise ship being blown to smithereens by bomb planted by someone trying to extort money. I thought the whole damn thing was going to explode and then promptly sink in a fiery morass of twisted steel and flaming bodies.

    Instead I got a suspense film about a group of crack bomb diffusers, not unlike a recent film whose name escapes me.

    Not a bad movie at all, actually. But when you’re a kid, you want wreckage, dammit…like they show on the poster.

  8. THE VILLAGE comes to mind…

    The trailer looked like a supernatural frightfest, instead it was, well what was it (in addition to being boring)?

  9. Re: THE VILLAGE

    Huge opening weekend: $51m
    Second weekend: -68 %
    Total just $114m (= more than 60 % saw the movie in its first seven days)

  10. You beat me to it. THE VILLAGE is the one that always comes to my mind. Great spooky trailer.

    But the film? Horrible. And he ripped it all off from a children’s fairy tale book. William Hurt speaks in old english throughout that film, just one of the many examples of M. Night fucking with his audience.

  11. “Eyes Wide Shut”…… though I don’t mind a bit. Anyone who knows Kubrick knew what they were getting, but the general populace, (the Popcorns, Joe, his wife Jane and their kids Todd and Alice Popcorn), was led to believe it was a sexy, almost-naughty bit of fun with that hunky Tom and his cute wife Nicole.

    “What the HELL is this?!” – I’m sure was uttered many times in many theaters.

  12. I agree with all of the choices listed above (especially Event Horizon, The Village and Eyes Wide Shut). These seem to happen the most with thrillers (and comedies). One such thriller where the trailer seemed to promise an interesting, possibly supernatural story was Cold Creek Manor. Instead, it was just a terrible movie in every imaginable way.

  13. The king of the last 30 years is still NEIGHBORS with Belushi and Aykroyd. The had a film with Belushi cast against type as a befuddled middle aged suburbanite and the trailers pushed the usual “wild and crazy guy” Belushi.

    But, it got them their opening weekend and that’s all they cared about.

  14. The Thin Red Line comes to mind. The PR guys said ‘BIG, STAR STUDDED WAR MOVIE!!!!’ The public got a Terrance Malick film. Trees, birds, lots of narrative contemplation. Many forgot what that the name Malick meant and even more didn’t even know the name to begin with.

  15. Does anyone remember THE MINUS MAN?

    The marketing strategy pushed it as a movie everyone would be talking about, down to trailers of people talking about it all night. Then the movie was just a slow-paced flick about Owen Wilson poisoning people.

  16. In recent years? Hands down, THE PHANTOM MENACE.

    Remember the hype for that trailer? People were camped out at theaters to just see the trailer and left when the feature started (something I think Cameron was trying to emulate last week on “Avatar Day”). And it delivered; watch it again and it’s an amazingly well-cut trailer; virtuoso editing and it actually makes you think that LucasInc. had produced an exciting chapter to the saga instead of the steaming pile of poo that we now know…

  17. GREMLINS.

    I was only around nine or ten when it came out, but I seem to remember my mom and I being under the impression that it was a movie about the Mogwai, a kind of “alien pet” movie like E.T. Neither she nor I knew anything about the actual gremlins the mogwai became, and the fact that it was in some respects a horror movie really pissed her off at the time.

    I, of course, LOVED it.

  18. Almost any promo for the next week’s episode of The Sopranos. It would make you think something violent or important or exciting was happening and then you’d watch the episode and it would be something mundane.

    Tony would say something threatening to someone, making you think he was about to whack somebody, and it would turn out to be some kind of little domestic argument with his son or something like that.

  19. I remember watching the trailers for that Ed Norton flick ” Keeping The Faith” and thinking what a good comedy it looked. Boy, was I surprised when I saw the damn thing.

  20. The trailer for Gone in 60 Seconds played up Angelina Jolie but she was only in it for ten minutes. Too bad because she’s never looked hotter than she did in that movie.

  21. THE answer to this query is HIGH TENSION. Opening weekend was pretty crowded…. with people who had NO IDEA it was a French film with subtitles. I remember a lot of walkouts. They got ROPE-A-DOPED.

  22. How about when a comedy has only three big laughs and they give them all away in the trailer?

    Throw Momma From the Train, for instance.

  23. Who da fuck watches da “next week on the Sopranos?” bullshit? Huh?!

    What, like you might not grace it with your presence? Getdafuckouttaheres with that.

  24. Marley and Me was sold, imo, as a dog movie for kids and got away with it. The trailer for The Break Up similarly omitted any serious treatment of adult themes present in the movie.

    There’s definitely examples of campaigns being reworked around a star with newfound fame. Post Matrix, i know The Watcher was the No. 1 movie after the they took Spader out of the trailer and made it all about Keanu.

  25. Just easier to think of examples where I was completely duped…

    Apt Pupil. My college buddies and I were so pumped to see it, thinking it was going to be some kind of nazi-in-hiding harboring an ending-of-’Rec’ type thing in his basement.

    8 MM

    Superman Returns. Promised a superman movie, got a chick flick.

  26. Good thread, here – lots of possible choices.

    I think an very successful bait-and-switch has to be Dead Poet’s Society – for obvious reasons, they marketed it as more comical than it really was and you can’t really blame Disney for hiding the fact that a major character’s suicide drives the last third. But the fact was, it was really en ensemble – Robin Williams does not dominate the film like you would expect. And yet audiences really responded the damn thing got a Best Picture nomination.

    Another successful fool, though more out of quality reasons, was Cliffhanger – they actually sold pretty much the best of what the film had to offer, visually, which is really what any trailer should do. However, I saw that operatic trailer set to Mozart and was expecting “Die Hard on a Mountain,” and what I got was “Cobra on a Mountain.” If they had actually portrayed any real dialogue or plot points, the crap would have shown through. Lithgow’s British accent was terrible and the the pacing of the screenplay was just awful – there was no momentum to rival that trailer.

    A more recent one and it’s fresh in my mind, because I have seen it so much on cable, lately, is Eagle Eye.

    SPOILER ALERT

    The whole last third of the movie revolves around a super defense computer pulling all of the strings that is actually a gold disco ball-looking thing – it’s fun, but about as ridiculous as it sounds, not just as a concept, but visually.

    Cleverly, the previews really just showed scenes in the early part of the movie (making it seem more like a conventional “man falsely accused” thriller) before this stuff gets really goofy – if they had even hinted at this or especially showed what Eagle Eye looked like, I think there would have been a lot of unintnentional laughs and the film would never have gotten traction. But people did seem to like it.

  27. I thought a major part of Jeff’s criteria was, “…and got away with it.”

    Except for Inglourious and Gremlins, most of the 42 examples above were films that tanked or dipped after the public caught on.

    But I’ll join the chorus with a recent one: MAX PAYNE, which was advertised as some Constantine/End of Days man vs. demon supernatural hardcore horror flick… but was really a bland terrestrial detective movie where one character has a HALLUCINATION about a valkyrie/demon thing that isn’t even there.

  28. Since it’s so recent, I’m surprised no one has said Gran Torino. It was pitched as “Clint cleans up the neighborhood by putting the smackdown on a bunch of gang punks,” but turned out to be a meditation on racial tolerance.

    But, Clint being Clint, it was so entertaining, no one seemed to care.

  29. There are two that come to mind for me. The first is Knocked Up. This was advertised as a great comedy and sure, the trailer had some good laughs. However, I thought most of the second half of the movie was really depressing. Paul Rudd’s character lies to his wife so he can go to a movie by himself and says he feels trapped in his marriage. Yeah, I can’t stop laughing at that. Also I don’t care how drunk Katherine Hegil’s character was there is NO WAY she would hook up with Seth Rogen. Maybe now that he has lost a lot of weight, but not then. I certainly thought it was way more serious then advertised. The other is The Sixth Sense. I might catch some heat for this because I see how much other people here love Shyamalan. However, I remember seeing the original trailer and thinking I was not going to see a movie about the little kid from The Jeff Foxworthy Show seeing ghosts. I remember thinking the trailer was kind of vague. I thought it looked stupid. Anyway, I was persuaded to see it, and I thought it was great. Say what you want about Shyamalan’s other stuff, but he delivered the goods here. Right at thd end when the twist was revealed people in the theater were audibley suprised and shouted stuff like “no fuckin way’ and “you have got to be shittin me”.

  30. “In 7th grade, I was sincerely pissed that 90% of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan took place on a boat.”

    AGREED.

    Man, finally someone else admits it.

    I think I was in third or fourth grade (snuck in), but even at that age it felt like such a rip-off.

    The title says he “takes Manhattan.” YOU CAN’T LIE IN THE TITLE!

  31. Mccool — just curious how you thought the marketing campaign for 8MM was misleading?

    I’m certainly not going to defend it as anything but fun trash (although I’d argue it certainly is one of the better films to successfully rip-off the Fincherian visual style), but I think I got pretty much what I expected from that movie.

  32. I hate to go up 20 posts but, Joe….the movie is CALLED GREMLINS!! You were a kid, ok, but your mom should have known better.

    Cable Guy- cited way up above – is a good example of pandering marketing. It’s not really a bad movie but it’s dark and people wanted to see more Jim Carrey talking with his sphincter so that’s what the marketing people threw at them. Luckily, Mr. Stiller and Mr. Apatow eventually recovered.

    I don’t think Phantom Menace is absolute shit but I will say that the people at Lucasfilm know how to cut a trailer. I don’t think they put out a bad one – no matter what you think of the final films – during that whole prequel run.

  33. Gran Torino and the Sixth Sense are both good examples of movies that advertised themselves as one thing and ended up being something else that audiences liked even better.

    For other suggestions, I think that last “Mary Poppins”-looking trailer put out for Sweeney Todd was among the worst offenders as it seemed to be pitching the movie to kids. It’s true that it showed the film as a musical whereas the earlier trailers did not, but content-wise it was much further off the mark. Ang Lee’s Hulk was an impressive effort to do something different with the comic book genre, but the trailers made it look like another Spiderman-style entertainment and audiences were pissed.

    The Day the Earth Stood Still definitely oversold the disaster movie aspect and audiences walked away after the first weekend.

    Reaching back, I think Halloween 3 definitely shocked a lot of people in that it had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the series. I’m not sure how much of that came through with the advertising though.

    And DavidF, no one knew what Gremlins were when the movie came out.

  34. As long as we’re going in the other direction, how about DICK? A smart, clever what-if? satire of Watergate was sold like a dumb-teen comedy. The people who would’ve liked it stayed away, and the knuckle-draggers who came hated it.

  35. Deathtongue_Groupie wrote:
    The king of the last 30 years is still NEIGHBORS with Belushi and Aykroyd. The had a film with Belushi cast against type as a befuddled middle aged suburbanite and the trailers pushed the usual “wild and crazy guy” Belushi.

    But, it got them their opening weekend and that’s all they cared about.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing a restoration of NEIGHBORS to what Belushi and Aykroyd intended, with the horrible Bill Conti score removed.

  36. Didn’t Belushi want FEAR to score Neighbors instead of Bill Conti?

    Also, for a beloved composer, Conti in his discoed-out early 80s days created some truly horrible movie music.

  37. The Breakfast Club. The original trailer made it look like it was just a teen comedy, but then audiences discovered that hey, these kids have feelings and more than the stereotypes people think they are.

    The opposite direction would be What Lies Beneath. It could have been a great movie, but anyone who saw the trailer and then saw the movie knew the first 80 minutes was a giant red herring. Has any other movie-marketing campaign ever so heavily hammered home the third act?

  38. “Has any other movie-marketing campaign ever so heavily hammered home the third act”.

    CAST AWAY

    Great idea. Let’s let potential moviegoers know going in that he makes it off the island.

    Brilliant

  39. To bad the actors could live up to the over hyped
    Gone with the Wind. I was expecting a real classic
    from beginning to end, but instead got a couple of good scenes in another wise boring melodrama. being a code
    movie did it get screwed over like Forever Amber.

  40. Sorry cit … forgot about this post.

    I cant really remember why my friends and I were so amped for 8mm. As the movie began one of my friends stood up and screamed “LET THE GAMES BEGIN!”. Could be we talked ourselves into believing it was going to be the end-all of thrillers/horror movies….but we walked out all asking each other what the hell we were so excited about…

  41. I feel the ads for EXTRACT are making it look like some silly stoner comedy, when that’s only one scene in the movie, and not what it’s about at all. But I don’t think anyone is going to see that movie anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

  42. When it came to bait-and-switch marketing, nobody, but nobody outdid the Weinsteins
    Mirimax video releases…..a neverending series of slow, dull depressing films about death and dying …all packaged and sold as ‘feel-good’ heart-lifting comedies….I still remember the one called, I think, “The Wedding Gift”…marketed by Harvey as some kind of sex comedy, when it’s actually about Jim Broadbent tending his wife(Julie Walters) who’s slowly, agonizingly dying from some degenerative brain disease. What a laugh riot.

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