by Jason Koenigsberg
Trailers are meant to make movies look great. They are designed to sell the picture and make audience say “Wow! I can’t wait to purchase a ticket to see that!” Movie trailers sell hype and anticipation as much as the product they are advertising. After watching the new Godzilla in theaters it made me start thinking more about the trailers themselves. Although Godzilla was not a horrible movie it certainly did not meet my expectations of what it should have been. Read my review here to understand why. Despite this, I cannot deny its marketing campaign is genius. All of the trailers, especially the first one are very well cut and show just enough moments in just the right order to make viewers inspired to need to see more. Even after seeing the film, which I thought was a disappointment, I find myself impressed with the television spots I catch and think to myself what a shame that movie was not a good as its previews.
Then I started to think of movies from the past that really disappointed me, films far worse than Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. So I compiled my 5 greatest trailers for hugely disappointing movies for me. This is just my opinion so you will not see anything for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace or Spider-Man 3 on here. Keep in mind these are not my least favorite or most disappointing movies I have ever seen but they are movies I thought were terrible coming from seeing trailers that made me salivate for these films.
1. Hulk (2003) directed by Ang Lee
Perhaps the greatest teaser trailer ever made. I recall seeing this my freshman year in college this right before the first Spider-Man film, which was also a huge disappointment to me, but it did not have anything as spectacular as what I had witnessed moments before the Columbia Pictures logo appeared for Spidey. The fact I had to wait 13 months before I would get to see Hulk on the big screen was worse than when Cartman had to wait to buy the Nintendo Wii. Plus it was the first film Ang Lee made since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (200) which I still think is his best film. I did not even know who Eric Bana was at the time and I could not have been more pumped for this film. You can only imagine the disappointment in June 2003 when I finally saw Hulk but I still remember the first time I saw its teaser trailer and it was all my friends and I talked about on the car ride home.
2. Proof of Life (2000) directed by Taylor Hackford
A trailer that had my name all over it the first time I saw it. Fourteen years later most people probably have forgotten all about this movie other than the infamous real life love affair it created between its stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe and how it ultimately lead to Ryan and then husband Dennis Quaid ending their marriage and Crowe with a short-lived reputation as a home wrecker. But Proof of Life hits a home run with its trailer. For starters, this was the first movie Crowe headlined since Gladiator (released in May of 2000, Proof of Life came out in December the same year) had made him a legitimate box-office star and a household name. Second, it starred David Caruso who was then and is still one of my favorite actors, so his presence in the trailer alongside Crowe was enough to sell me. Add some cool looking action moments with big guns and explosions, exotic jungle locations, the great character actor David Morse (The Rock, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Negotiator) and one of my favorite U2 songs “Until the End of the World” playing in the background, there was no way I ever thought Proof of Life could possibly disappoint. To my dismay it did. The film bombed most likely due to the tabloid controversy between its leads, not because it was such a schmaltz-fest. Only David Morse gives a compelling performance. Taylor Hackford directed this like hack and in the end we were duped with a bad remake of Casablanca and some mediocre action sequences thrown into a mundane script. But it remains one of the best trailers I have ever seen.
3. 300 (2007) directed by Zack Snyder
I previously wrote how much I loathed 300, read here to see why. I do not want to go on and on about a film I already wrote as being one of the most disappointing cinematic experiences of my life. I hated almost everything about this movie. But there is no denying that the trailer cut for the film is incredibly exciting and made me hyped about a film months before it premiered. It looked to me like it had the plot of Gladiator (2000), the look and style of Sin City (2005), and the direction of the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004). That combination of three films I loved seemed like it would be one of my favorite films of the decade. Warner Brothers had my money the day I first saw the trailer edited masterfully to a great Nine Inch Nails instrumental from their album “The Fragile”. Years later I still think about this film and it makes me angry, however I cannot deny, they sure chopped a terrible film into a fantastic trailer.
4. Planet of the Apes (2001) directed by Tim Burton
Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite science-fiction films. As a film series it has been uneven but all of its sequels and spin offs have a special place in my heart. When I found out Tim Burton was directing a remake I was sold. He had just come off making Sleepy Hollow (1999), which I thought was one of his very best films so I was beyond intrigued. I thought Mark Wahlberg was an interesting choice to play Charlton Heston role as the lead human, but after Boogie Nights (1997) and Three Kings (1999) I had faith in Wahlberg. The initial trailer for Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake was the just what I needed to be sold. It showed the perfect amount of images that looked like they paid homage to the 1968 classic and added fun and exiting new images that made me want to see more. Even though it made a lot of money, this version of Planet of the Apes was reviled by critics and met with apathy by most audiences. Today it is mostly forgotten when discussing the careers of its director and star or the many talented actors that made up its supporting cast such as Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Giammati and Michael Clarke Duncan (his iconic “Bow Your Heads!” moment comes right before they say a prayer at dinner for crying out loud). This film has none of the thematic elements from any of Tim Burton’s movies other than a misfit lead character being a stranger in a strange land. Plus this was the first of a few terrible remakes from Tim Burton such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010) where Burton seemed to care less about telling interesting dark, quirky stories and more about making a log of money. It failed as a remake of both Pierre Boulle’s original novel and of the 1968 film so badly Burton had to state it was a “re-imagining” and not a remake. Plus, its ending served no purpose other than to set up for a sequel that we will never see. 2001’s Planet of the Apes is a terrible movie in every way… but the trailer is pretty awesome.
5. The Life of David Gale (2003) directed by Alan Parker
Kevin Spacey had a rough decade after winning the Best Actor Academy Award for American Beauty (1999). It was his second Oscar in four years and seemed as if there was nowhere for him to go but up. However his career choices in the new millennium appeared as if he was picking roles trying to win awards and nominations and not just act. Even when he picked parts attempting to make money as Lex Luthor in Superman Returns (2006) the result was the same, a flop. It was not until his recent role in the Netflix series House of Cards that Spacey would earn any type of praise and respect for his acting. While going through his rough patch one of the lowest points of his career was The Life of David Gale. Originally supposed to be released in the fall of 2002 to compete with the other prestige pictures during Oscar season, the studio had such low expectations for the film they pushed its release date to February 2003. This is one of the rare times the studio got it right. The Life of David Gale is a wretched film with a script so off base it is laughable and I am shocked so many talented people were involved in this movie. But you would never know it from the trailer. Deceivingly well edited and cut together to a strong emotional song by Alex Parker, the directors son, (I remember looking up who it was by and having trouble finding the correct result years ago) it looked like an intellectual and suspenseful, political drama. Spacey’s career would eventually get back on the right track albeit through a different medium and Kate Winslet would escape this train wreck virtually unscathed with some of the best roles of her career right around the corner. The same cannot be said for Alan Parker, its director, because this movie essentially ruined his career, he has not directed a film since David Gale. Parker helmed the great moral dramas Midnight Express (1978) and Mississippi Burning (1988) but since The Life of David Gale was such a disaster no studio has given him money to make a film ever again. Whoever edited the trailer for The Life of David Gale is the one who deserves an Oscar, making something as unwatchable as this garbage look like it could be gripping, smart and entertaining.