There’s a special art to a movie trailer — that’s why they even have their own awards ceremony. The best previews present us with the overall tone of a film, along with a brief introduction to the major players and the basic premise. We should be intrigued and inspired to watch the whole movie, without knowing everything that’s to come. That’s why some people have even sworn off watching movie trailers altogether, so they can watch a movie with no expectations. After all, is there anything more disappointing than a trailer that’s actually more entertaining than the movie it’s advertising?
While the past decade has been filled with memorable trailers that left us wanting more, it’s quite common for a movie trailer to reveal too much to its prospective audience. It’s been happening since the early days of filmmaking. Whether it’s an omnipresent narrator that describes every plot point up front, or a montage of nearly every pivotal moment to happen to the main character, it’s easy for a trailer to go overboard. It’s a difficult balance — on one hand, a trailer should be enticing enough to convince viewers to watch it. When a trailer is too vague, it can leave you feeling confused and disinterested. But on the other, knowing too much going in can tamper with the first-time viewing experience.
Surprise villain reveals, major ending spoilers, and iconic lines of dialogue can all make their way into a final trailer. Below, we’ve rounded up 12 famous movies whose trailers gave away too much of the plot.
As was the case with many movie trailers back in the 1970s, Carrie’s preview features an omniscient narrator who gives a play-by-play of the film’s entire plot. We learn that Carrie is an unpopular high schooler with a religiously zealous mother, and that she very well may be telekinetic. Then, we learn that she’s asked out to the prom by the most handsome boy in school. While at the dance, we see the teens go through with their cruel prank, covering Carrie in pig’s blood. Lastly, we see her wreak havoc on everyone in the school gym. Yep, that’s the plot of Carrie. Those who read the novel by Stephen King already knew what to expect, but those who watched the trailer are also given the same background info going in.
The trailer for Roman Polanski’s Chinatown also features expositional narration, but even without it, you could still make out the whole plot just by watching the snippets of pivotal scenes. Los Angeles private eye J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband’s activities, but all is not as it seems. We essentially get a rundown of the Chinatown story beat for beat, including the film’s most iconic line: “Forget it, Jake… It’s Chinatown”. Hopefully, enough audience members could forget enough of the trailer before walking into the theater.
Cast Away (2000)
Cast Away stars Tom Hanks as obsessively punctual FedEx executive Chuck Noland, who gets marooned on a deserted island after his flight to Malaysia goes awry. In the trailer, we see Chuck’s beard grow out, we see him successfully find food, and eventually, we see him construct the raft that brings him to safety. Alright, so we know he escapes from the island. But the trailer goes even further to show Chuck as he’s reintroduced to society, including a key moment between him and his wife. The preview’s final shot also happens to be the movie’s last frame, basically solidifying the fact that this trailer gives away everything.
The main thrilling force behind Speed is the ongoing question of: Will these hostages stuck on this careening bus get off in one piece? After Los Angeles police officer Jack (Keanu Reeves) angers retired bomb squad member Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), Howard retaliates by arming a bus that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. Fraught with tension, Speed does an excellent job of keeping you guessing until the end. However, the final resolution is spoiled by a shot of the bus exploding with the hostages watching from safety. Oops!
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
If you watched every single trailer and promotional clip in advance of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, odds are you knew exactly what was going on throughout the entire movie. Superhero movie trailers often have to remain vague in order to keep spoilers at bay, but not in this case. As the title suggests, Superman and Batman go head-to-head, but there’s a much larger evil force they must both fight. The second trailer released for the movie reveals who the real villain is — Superman’s nemesis Doomsday. This plot twist would have had more of a gut-punch effect if viewers discovered it while they were watching the movie.
Children of Men (2006)
In a world where women suddenly find themselves infertile — and humanity teeters on the brink of extinction after 18 years of no new births — disillusioned bureaucrat Theo Feron (Clive Owen) becomes the world’s reluctant savior. Theo is employed to deliver a young woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) into the hands of the researchers at the “Human Project”. While her name is a bit of a giveaway (she’s the “key” to humanity’s survival), the trailer made the mistake of revealing Kee’s pregnant status. Watching the actual film, you’ll notice that this information is cleverly concealed until the second act. But if you watched the trailer beforehand, you knew to expect it.
Friday the 13th (1980)
A lot of a horror movie’s suspense comes from the unknown. A shocking murder can come out of nowhere, and the less time we have to mentally prepare, the scarier it is. However, Paramount didn’t try to conceal any of the film’s horrific deaths. In fact, they fully showed every killing, one by one. For even more clarity, a narrator counts off the murders as they happen, so you can keep track of just how many people die in this film. Despite this unconventional marketing technique, audiences were still freaked out by Friday the 13th, and a successful franchise was born.
Alfred Hitchock is known as the “Master of Suspense”, and his experimental work Rope is definitely tense. Just like its titular weapon, the movie stretches out its conflict until it’s frayed and close to unraveling. Rather than simply cut together scenes from the movie itself, he crafted a different sort of preview for the audience. We see a man (Dick Hogan) and a woman (Joan Chandler) engage in witty banter in an idyllic park, before the man leaves her sitting on the bench. A smash cut reveals Jimmy Stewart directly addressing the camera, in which he gravely recalls the events of the next several hours, which includes the murder of the man in the park. What’s more, there’s also an included scene in which Stewart’s Rupert Cadell weaves together the details of the crime.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods is a sharp satire of the horror genre, taking well-trodden clichés and flipping them on their heads. Upon a first watch, these plot twists come completely out of left field, which only adds to their effectiveness. The bait-and-switch premise is slowly unveiled over the course of the film, until those last final moments that are truly bizarre. But if you watched the trailer before seeing the flick, chances are you noticed the suspicious lab activity, monsters, and other tidbits of information that are better left discovered while watching the movie for yourself.
Groundhog Day (1993)
The tricky part about comedy trailers is that you want to make audiences laugh, without wasting all the best jokes in just a couple of minutes. While Groundhog Day is a celebrated film that has withstood the test of time, the trailer really does pack in the most memorable jokes at breakneck speed. While it’s common for trailers to set up a movie’s premise — in this case, jaded weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) gets trapped inside a time loop — this one even spells out the resolution. In order for Phil to win Rita (Andie MacDowell), the girl of his dreams, he must relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right. Thanks to the trailer, we see exactly how Phil does this — little is left to the imagination.
Free Willy (1993)
Alright, so a movie titled Free Willy is likely going to involve — well — a free Willy, at some point. Still, the entire premise of this movie is centered on the question of whether or not this orca named Willy will ever get to roam the open sea. Well, we won’t have to wonder for long, because the trailer includes the most iconic shot of the entire movie. Y’know, the one where Willy jumps the rocks and escapes into the ocean. Even the poster for Free Willy gives away the ending. And yet, despite all this, Free Willy remains beloved by viewers everywhere. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
When the James Bond franchise returned after a six-year hiatus in 1995 with GoldenEye, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was determined to make it a hit. Pierce Brosnan was making his debut as 007, and it was imperative that the trailer was everywhere. In order to pique audiences’ interest, the studio decided to spill as many juicy details about the movie as possible. While the premise of the movie isn’t explained, we learn the identity of Bond’s villain — his former friend and colleague Alec Trevelyan, also known as “006” (Sean Bean). Some of the film’s most exciting moments, including a tank chase scene and Q’s ingenious pen-bomb trigger, are revealed right in the preview. However, the strategy worked, and GoldenEye grossed an impressive $352.1 million against a $60 million budget.