What can’t be denied, however, is that Hollywood does have a bit of a habit of including huge spoilers in movie trailers. Before the internet, this was more common. Audiences didn’t have a way to easily rewatch trailers to analyze every frame. In most cases, filmmakers anticipated that the average moviegoer might only see the trailer for their movie a single time. Cramming in all the selling points was necessary, even if it gave away some third act elements.
But this isn’t strictly a phenomenon for older movies. It continues to this day any time a studio determines that a movie might not draw enough of a crowd. To drum up interest, they insert spoilery shots of surprises and twists the filmmakers would probably have rather saved for people who went to see the actual movie.
Here now, from past and present, are 19 of the most spoilerific movie trailers ever…
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Six years after Terminator 3 bombed with critics, the series jumped to the future to depict the war against the machines and an adult John Connor (Christian Bale). The trailer centered on Sam Worthington, who appeared to be some kind of resistance fighter in Connor’s army. Except — Surprise! — turns out he’s really a robot underneath. That comes as a huge shock in the movie, but for audiences who saw the trailer, not so much.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Aside from the spelling of the word Genisys, the biggest secret the 2015 installment in the Terminator franchise had up its sleeve was the identity of the killer robot sent back in time. The movie starts in the future with John Connor (Jason Clarke) triumphing over the machines and sending Kyle Reese back in time. That tracks with the first Terminator movie, but then something attacks John as Kyle gets bamfed away. It was a huge surprise to discover that the attacking Terminator had taken John over and used him to go back in time to make sure Skynet became a reality. Or rather, it would have been if the trailer hadn’t shown John getting all roboty. Sensing a bit of a theme here. Even the director agreed.
Audiences unfortunate enough to see Daredevil probably could have predicted that Colin Farrell’s villain Bullseye would die. But, just to be sure, the trailer included a shot of Bullseye falling to his death so everyone would know what to expect.
Cast Away (2000)
Remember that part in Princess Bride where Fred Savage’s grandfather stops the story to assure him the princess doesn’t get eaten by the eels? The trailer for Cast Away is a little like that. It would have been enough to show Chuck Noland surviving a plane crash and learning to survive on a deserted island. But then for some reason — perhaps so audiences didn’t worry that Tom Hanks was still on that island — the trailer shows a trim Chuck reunited with his girlfriend, clearly after being rescued.
Free Willy (1993)
The leaping orca from the final moments of Free Willy looked pretty cool, which is probably why it was included in the trailer. Still, probably not the best way to maintain suspense for moviegoers who weren’t sure if Willy would, you know, get free.
Speed was a great action movie, packed with thrilling set pieces. That’s why it’s hard to understand why the trailer features the big finale where the bus crashes into a cargo plane. It’s probably an unwritten rule that if your movie has an explosion, you better put it in the trailer. But this one had so many things go boom, there was no reason to show the bus explode, especially immediately before a shot of the hostages reacting to the blast from a safe distance.
Everyone knows the joke about how Sean Bean dies in virtually every movie he’s in. Goldeneye upped the ante by killing him not once but twice, except the first death wasn’t permanent. Pierce Brosnan’s 007 was shocked to discover his former friend and colleague, 006, was not only alive but also the bad guy. Audiences, however, weren’t surprised at all, after the trailer explained this “twist” in detail.
The Negotiator (1998)
The trailer for The Negotiator starts with Samuel L. Jackson as a hostage negotiator who, for reasons known only to him, one day decides to take hostages of his own. Kevin Spacey, another hostage negotiator, gets called in and the two match wits. Pretty decent premise. But then the trailer heats up an actiony montage that culminates with Spacey threatening, “Now you’re going to have to deal with both of us!” The two opposing negotiators join forces because they’re both good guys, you see.
The Island (2005)
The Island had a pretty cool twist: The people living in the world of the film are really clones kept prisoner until their originals need spare parts. Too bad in the trailer Steve Buscemi’s character says all that almost word for word.
Funny People (2009)
Judd Apatow’s drama-comedy hybrid is all about an A-list comedian who gets diagnosed with a terminal illness. Except, as the trailer tells us, he recovers. The characters and story are solid enough that knowing that doesn’t ruin the movie, but it does give away a huge plot point.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
It would have been hard to properly sell the meta masterpiece The Cabin in the Woods without showing some glimpses of the puppet masters pulling strings behind the scenes. But the trailer went a little too far when it showed monsters attacking the control room, which gave away the movie’s surprising third act turnabout.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Fans of the books wouldn’t be surprised but for those who believed Gandalf was permanently dead after Fellowship, seeing him in the trailer for The Two Towers would have been a huge spoiler. Even if you already knew Gandalf would come back, seeing him in all white in the trailer reduced the impact of his reintroduction. In the film, because of that outfit Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn think they’re about to face Saruman, only to find that it’s their old friend instead.
Total Recall (1990)
If you didn’t want the trailer for Total Recall, you’d never know that Quaid’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) loving wife (Sharon Stone) was actually a secret agent sent to watch him. If you did see the trailer, not only did you know she was working against Quaid, you’d also know he files for a very permanent divorce from the barrel of a gun.
This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of spoiler but it’s there nonetheless. If you watch closely you can see Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd pushing the villain Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) out a window. When the next shot is a slow motion perspective view from someone falling from that window, you know Ma-Ma is a goner.
Superman III (1983)
Superman III wasn’t a great movie, but it was the sequel to two blockbusters so audience expectations were high. Imagine how disappointed moviegoers were then when they learned that, in addition to falling far short of the quality of the previous two installments, the movie’s entire plot was in the trailer, including bad Superman and the goofy team-up between Richard Pryor’s quasi-villain Gus and Supes at the end.
There were two twists in 2013’s Oblivion. While the big one — that Tom Cruise’s character Jack is a clone who is unwittingly helping wipe out what’s left of humanity — isn’t revealed in the trailer, the other one is: The monstrous alien scavengers Jack thinks he’s saving humanity from are actually human resistance fighters led by Morgan Freeman.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Batman v Superman had a lot riding on it. The sequel to Man of Steel featured both Batman and Wonder Woman and was expected to boost the DC movie universe to MCU heights. With all that pressure, it makes sense that Warner Bros. decided to include a shot of the surprise big bad Doomsday in the trailer. Mostly though, that just gave audiences more time to make fun of the monster.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
The most shocking moment of the first Kingsman movie was when Colin Firth’s Galahad was shot in the face and killed. It was supposed to be a surprise when the character emerged alive and well in the sequel, but the studio decided he was too big a selling point to ignore. His resurrection became a central piece of the film’s marketing. That spoiler was bad enough that director Matthew Vaughn spoke publicly about how against it he was.
Ransom’s trailer may not have given away the film’s biggest twist — that the hero detective working to find Tom Mullen’s (Mel Gibson) son was actually the kidnapper — but it arguably did something worse. The trailer shows — in full — the movie’s iconic turning point, in which Mullen publicly turns the ransom money into a bounty on the kidnappers’ heads.
Which movie trailers do you think have had the biggest spoilers? Let us know in the comments!
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