Movie trailers are meant to be promises of what the director has to offer, but, in an industry that's brimming with options, they can sometimes take on a life of their own. Just as often as they tease viewers with the full-length thrills to come, trailers create the best possible story out of the films they publicize—even if that requires some creative distortion. In some cases, this results in phenomenal previews that lead to mediocre films.
Here are a select number of trailers that manage to outperform the movies they promote.
1. Spider-Man 3
Oh, Spidey, if only Uncle Ben could see you now. The Spider-Man 3 trailer was a medley of villains, love interests, and internal struggle that looked like an appropriate addition to Sam Raimi's superhero films. The movie itself, however, didn't exactly know what to make of all these moving parts. Of course, this trailer almost entirely leaves out "Emo Peter Parker," who became notorious around the internet for his hair flips, not-so-slick dance moves, and unironic finger guns.
2. The Dark Knight Rises
The last film in the Dark Knight trilogy had so much promise, and all that potential shows in the trailer. Coming off of the incredible success of The Dark Knight, the trailer for [The Dark Knight Rises](movie:39011) adds way more classic characters, large-scale action sequences, and the final battle for control of Gotham. What could be better than that, right? Well, let's just say that the trailer features all of the movies best parts (and none of the half-assed death scenes).
The score! The visuals! The talent! How could director Ridley Scott's return to the Alien franchise be anything other than spectacular? Ultimately, [Prometheus](movie:40483) is an entertaining and thought-provoking ride through the cosmos, but it just doesn't quite live up the trailer. This is not to say that the movie is not worth a watch, but the trailer condenses the action into an anxiety-ridden thrill ride that harkens back to the original Alien.
4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Hindsight is always 20/20, but let's try to think back to a time when we as a society did not pretend the Star Wars prequels never existed. The release of the Phantom Menace trailer in 1998 was pretty much a landmark event, and many of us were excited about the new trilogy's direction. It also highlighted the return of beloved characters like Yoda, C3PO, and R2D2. The almost complete lack of Jar Jar Binks certainly didn't hurt, either. Alas, this turned out to be one early bright spot in a dark history we prefer to forget.
Maybe it was just Lana Del Rey's haunting version of "Once Upon a Dream," but this trailer really sold me on the Sleeping Beauty tale from the villain's perspective. Angelina Jolie absolutely nails Maleficent's voice and persona, no easy feat considering Eleanor Audley's unforgettable performance in Disney's animated version. In the finished product, however, Jolie was the only standout among overwrought visuals, a sleepy storyline, and a supporting cast of one-dimensional characters. I'll stick to the trailer and consider it a super high-budget music video.
6. Little Children
Unlike most of the films on this list, Little Children is a truly phenomenal movie; it just so happens that its trailer is one of the best ever made. Menacing, provocative, and mysterious, it's the type of preview that leaves you with a skeletal idea of the plot but still manages to convince you that this movie is worth your time and money. The film itself maintains the unnerving tone, but its the element of prolonged suspense that makes the trailer a superior experience.
7. The Purge
At a time when Americans seem to be in a constant state of panic, [The Purge](movie:765477) appeared to be the perfect combination of cathartic horror and social commentary that we all needed. The trailer successfully sums up the brilliant premise (one night a year, all crimes are permitted in the US) and manages to set the scene for some heart-pounding scares. Unfortunately, the movie fails to deliver and becomes more about the conventional "stranger in my house" narrative.
8. Battle: Los Angeles
Battle: Los Angeles turned out to be a pretty straight-forward war movie, just with humans battling another species instead of each other. The trailer, on the other hand, creates an eerie and chaotic catastrophe on a worldwide scale, leaving the human race one step behind the most powerful enemy we have ever faced. Maybe it was the impeccable song choice, but the trailer somehow manages to instill some heart behind the survival story in only two minutes.
9. The Blair Witch Project
Before the dominance of social media, this trailer (and the online marketing behind it) pretty much kicked off the "found footage" horror genre and made The Blair Witch Project a full-fledged event. Pretty incredible stuff for a movie that featured a bunch of kids haphazardly running around and left most viewers scratching their heads. The trailer helped fuel the "is it real?" controversy that only made the subject matter more terrifying.
10. Superman Returns
Superman Return's trailer featured the spaceship, the famous curl, and the kinds of primary colors we don't see in superhero movies anymore. It struck an appropriately optimistic tone that makes sense for the lawful good hero and foregrounded the immigrant story for the alien on Earth. Unfortunately, the movie did not offer Superman much of an adversary or conflict, making Marlon Brando's voiceover in the trailer the most epic part of the whole journey.
What are some of your favorite trailers that turned out to be better than the finished product? Let us know below!