It seems somewhat bizarre that a director would spend months carefully crafting the tone of a film, only to have a marketing department deconstruct clips into an attempted viral video; yet increasingly audiences are complaining that the film they see is not what was promised. The sheer number of film releases today means finding an audience is becoming increasingly competitive, and a trailer could make or break its chances.
For a studio, misleading trailers often present an opportunity to salvage what they think will be a potential box office bomb. This doesn’t necessarily mean the film is bad – they may just be worried that their film won’t naturally appeal to a large commercial audience. Take Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd, where the trailers almost entirely neglect the fact that the film is a musical in order to capitalise on a more widely appealing theme of adventure.
Recently, the fantastically suspenseful It Comes At Night made back eight times its $2.5 million budget, by any accounts a successful box office performance, but the disparity between audience ratings (44%) and critic ratings (88%) on Rotten Tomatoes is telling; some will likely have been expecting a zombie horror romp given the trailer, so could be understandably upset by the sizeable amount of its 90 minute run-time taken up by sitting at a dining table or chopping wood.
Less cynically, sometimes there is no sneaky ploy to deceive audiences. Trailers are often needed before a film has fully finished shooting, and particularly in post production there can be changes made to the tone of the movie itself. Zack Snyder’s Justice League suffered from this when Joss Whedon took over from him to finish the project, and brought his more light-hearted style with him, resulting in a rather inconsistent tone. And while the promotional material for Kingsman 2 heavily featured Channing Tatum’s stetson-wearing agent, he doesn’t feature for the majority of the film due to scheduling conflicts.
But, paradoxically, a misleading movie trailer is often in itself a good trailer. Designed to be captivating and likeable, trailers that sacrifice representing their film have more scope for making something that excites an audience regardless of if they go to see it or not. Whether you liked Suicide Squad or (hopefully) thought it was boring and generic, the trailer synced to the soundtrack of Bohemian Rhapsody probably deserves an Oscar in itself. Granted, it failed at a trailer’s main purpose – being an informative teaser – and falsely positioned the Joker as the main antagonist, but was as much a part of the films cultural impact as the film itself. If viewed as a standalone hype piece it epitomises the fact that the use of deception shouldn’t always be frowned upon.