Movies Ruined By Their Own Marketing

observe and report

There are a lot of reasons why films flop. Some are ahead of their time, others are under-appreciated until later and many, of course, are just plain bad. Often times, there’s nothing about the movie itself that causes it to tank. Rather, it’s a problem at the marketing level that dooms the film to failure. Let’s take a look at a few of the more notable, recent marketing flops according to the collective genius of the Popdose staff.


Solaris (2002)

Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction classic Solaris is an odd duck, especially among its contemporaries in the genre. It’s more contemplative and human than epic and flashy. At its core, it’s the story of a man haunted by his regrets, literally and figuratively, while faced with the more unfathomable aspects of the cosmos. Andrei Tarkovsky took a crack at adapting it in 1972, resulting in a film that’s as beautiful and opaque as much of his original work. Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 version is also rather slick and affecting, but it crashed and burned when 20th Century Fox misled audiences with a pair of trailers that either made Solaris look like a sci-fi horror movie or a romantic drama in space. The attempt to frame it as a broad-appeal piece cost Fox tens of millions of dollars.

-Michael Sarko


Snakes on a Plane (2006)

A movie with no reason to exist beyond the idiotic Zen perfection of its title, Snakes on a Plane likely would have come and gone with little fanfare had the gods of the Internet not beheld its name in production and seen that it was good. Keyboards clacked across the globe with breathless imaginings of what awesomeness such a movie could deliver. The filmmakers took note, retrofitting a PG-13 thriller into a hard R replete with gratuitous nudity and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson doing his best Samuel L. Jackson imitation. Nothing could have lived up to such hype, and Snakes on a Plane ended up being a lot more fun to fantasize about than to watch.

-Dan Wiencek


John Carter (2012)

John Carter suffered from many handicaps, the first being it’s studio and director. With Disney as the name above it, and Pixar director Andrew Stanton below as the director (in his first live-action stint, no less), there were certain expectations that could be held for the film — that it would be family-oriented and not as sexy as the original material would have allotted.  But who would have known anything about the source material from the advertising? Basically what you knew from it was that beefcake Taylor Kitsch was the star, he played a character called John Carter, there was a desert involved, the commercials had sci-fi-ish desert cruisers hovering around and throwing halos, occasionally creatures would jump up and swing at you and there was a weird looking alien that sounded like Willem Dafoe (because it was voiced by Willem Dafoe). It looked like a mess. And that’s the biggest problem with it all. The film was marketed in such a way that it tried to wrest the audiences of both the drippy, sweaty, sparkly Twilight crowd and the geeky ComicCon set, never honing the message to declare either one or the other into being, only throwing pin-ups onto the screen.

-Dw. Dunphy


Observe and Report (2009)

You’d think the marketing geniuses at Warner Bros. would’ve known better than to position Observe and Report as basically the exact same movie as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which had come out just three months earlier. For one thing, it wasn’t the exact same movie—instead of a brain-dead Hollywood action comedy a la Mall Cop, starring the terminally inoffensive Kevin James, Observe and Report was a pitch-black satire from Seth Rogan and writer-director Jody Hill, co-creator of HBO’s Eastbound and Down. But sure enough, the trailers arrived with a zippy retro-rock soundtrack and lots of mall-cop hijinks clearly aimed at positioning Rogan’s character as a lovable buffoon, rather than the power-tripping sociopath he portrayed (rather well) in the actual film. Bad word of mouth followed and Observe and Report became the lowest grossing film of Rogan’s career.

-Andy Hermann

Many Films Starring Jason Bateman (ongoing?)

Arrested Development placed Jason Bateman into the group of present-day cool comedy actors, and he’s starred in some solid comedies, such as Paul, Juno, and Horrible Bosses. Two other recent Bateman movies were marketed as riotous comedies, because Jason Bateman was in them, but they were not comedies, in as far as they weren’t particularly funny and dealt with heavy emotional themes in dramatic, even ponderous ways. From the posters and ads for The Switch, you’d be left to think it was a wacky comedy about the hilarious fallout when a guy switches some anonymously donated sperm with his own. It’s really quite a sensitive movie about unrequited love, and how it’s difficult for males, especially sensitive, awkward males, to grow up without dads. The second half of the movie is a basically a love story between Bateman and the awkward kid who is his biological son.

The Change-Up, meanwhile, was presented as the latest wacky body-switch movie, but with dudes, a Freaky Friday for bros, bro! It is not this. Well, it is for a while, as two friends pee in a fountain during an electrical storm and both wish for the other’s life, one sarcastically. It proceeds with the usual body-switch stuff, the waking up and trying to figure out what happened, and awkwardly trying to “pass” and so forth. Then it takes a bizarre turn, when Ryan Reynolds, in Bateman’s body, has to save Bateman’s marriage that has been in deep decline due to workaholism and neglect. Not cool, bro, said everyone.

-Brian Boone

  • Aaa

    One word: Greenberg.

  • Paaks

    In Bruges is another. Marketed as a Pulp Fiction/Snatch wannabee, with gangsters, a plot that plays out not in chronological order, and quick edits it is not. It’s a very deep and heavy, black comedy. 

  • AndyhermannLA

    Good call on In Bruges. I bring that movie up every chance I get…it’s fantastic, and far and away the best performance of the usually insuffereable Colin Farrell’s career. But yeah, Pulp Fiction it ain’t.

  • Vash775

    I think you could add Serenity to this list. Unless you were a Firefly fanboy/fangirl and knew better, the ads made it look like a typical sci-fi action/drama. The snarky humor and lovable character traits that endeared original fans of the show were not present in the previews at all. The movie was supposed to be a fun western-in-space movie, not… well, just look at the DVD cover. “EXPERIENCE THE ULTIMATE ACTION ADVENTURE” screams the throwaway text at the top, and the one short spaceship vs. spaceship battle is displayed prominently on the cover. And this is why Serenity didn’t make enough money to warrant a sequel: its advertising inexplicably created a wall of cliches to hide its true worth behind.

  • Oliver

    Drive anyone? It was marketed as a dumb Transporter-esque action movie, which meant that people who wanted to see that type of movie went to go see it. When it turned out not to be a dumb Transporter-esque movie, it got bad word-of-mouth. That marketing campaign also caused the more artistic crowds, who could have appreciated it better and given the movie good word-of-mouth to stay away.

  • Seth

    Observe and Report was terrible, and shows why Seth Rogen can’t carry a movie, he’s just unlikeable.. but he does some good writing, so lets keep him out of the camera for a while..

  • http://popdose.com MatthewBolin

    Here’s another three I can think of….

    M. Knight Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water”. It was marketed as if it was going to be another slightly-creepy, supernatural thriller (with probably a twist ending) like his previous films. Only it wasn’t. It basically was a fantasy/fairy tale with more adult overtones. Even though Shyamalan was being dissed by now for repeating the same film over and over, a lot of people went in expecting it to be the same old thing, and them were actually disappointed because it didn’t live up their expectations of being the same old thing(!!), quite likely because it was marketed like it was going to be.

    Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”. Harvey Weinstein bought the movie without a script based solely on the title, and then focused the marketing by jumping off of the title’s risque nature (and little else it seemed). A lot of places wouldn’t put up the poster because of the word porno. It likely would have done better business if they’d just used the words “dirty movie” instead. But what the marketing REALLY overlooked was that the porno part of it was really more of a macguffin for the real focus of the movie, which was the development of the main character’s friendship into something deeper. It actually was much more of a romance in the end than the straight-up gross-out fest that Kevin Smith fan boys were being told it was through the marketing. Yes, it is the most successful movie both written and directed by Smith (by $1 million or so), but with Seth Rogen at his supposed height of power, it made less than half what everyone in the “biz” initially was expecting it to.

    Mary Harron’s “American Psycho”. Lionsgate really dropped the ball with this one, going ALL over the place with no real focus or consistency. While the traditional marketing tended to focus on this as a slasher flick, the online parts of the marketing included signing up to receive emails from Patrick Bateman to his therapist, and a stock market game called (ugh) “Making a Killing With American Psycho”. Overlooked in the totality of this marketing was the fact that this was more of a dark satire than anything else. Again, the film (like Smith’s) technically made a “profit” ($34 million world b.o. vs. $7 budget), though nowhere near enough to call it a success, and it has been much more successful after it’s theater run than
    during it.

  • Brocolate

    Funny that Solaris is the first on the list. It’s what came to mind when I saw the title of this article.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KCYWFCG2M2T4UUDB3O5GKDNAPY jordan

    What Lies Beneath.  The Trailers gave away the big twist, that Harrison Ford was the bad guy, and left me with no interest in seeing it.

  • Too_much_coffee93

     observe and report was different from your typical Hollywood fare, but it was too dark, too creepy for mass audiences. Ironically I think I liked Rogan more in that compared to all the other slobs he has played

  • Vegimorph

    I think another one was Titan A.E. because it was an animated sci-fi film but kind of a more adult one. Because of that mix, the marketing team didn’t know whether to market it as a kids movie or a serious adult sci-fi movie when actually it was a bit of both.

  • Josh

    This article is just riddled with typos and misspellings. You need an editor, buddy.

  • Johnson

    Drive was a huge hit among the art-house crowd. It’s destined to become a cult-classic and there was a lot of good word of mouth. I don’t know what planet you’re living on.

  • Mos

    God, Pulp Fiction is an over rated movie. Fan boys will drool, though. In bruges was a far superior movie.

  • Myron21

    Let me rephrase your sentence for you: “God Pulp is such a overrated film, IN MY OPINION; In Bruges was a far superior film IN MY OPINION.

  • Ur2sensitive

     I guess if you are a fan of date rape, it works.  I am not, however and don’t want to meet guys who are.  (girls are optional)

  • http://twitter.com/Goracus GorTheMovieGod

    Terminator Salvation was a perfect one for me.  

  • http://sonicweapons.net Thierry

    Adventureland immediately comes to mind. The marketing really focused on the fact that it was “from the director of Superbad” and tried to sell it as a wacky gross out comedy featuring a guy that kinda looks like Michael Cera, when in fact it’s an incredibly moving, subtle drama about post-graduation anxieties that features all kinds of great acting performances, a gritty, realistic look and beautiful cinematography.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1017840910 Jack Brooks

    Oh, can we get over this? Only children worry about whether someone actually says “In my opinion.”  Obviously it’s his opinion.

  • Old_Davy

    I agree with your assessment of “Lady In The Water” being something different from what people expected, but I don’t think that’s why it bombed.  It’s one of the most boring, slow-moving pictures I have ever sat through.  I have never walked out on a movie, but almost did on LITW because the ending couldn’t come soon enough.

  • Jeramie

    Muriel’s Wedding was marketed as a feel good comedy. This is one of my favorite movies ever, but it turned out to be more realistic and dramatic.

  • http://twitter.com/Franklancer Frank Otto

    The Iron Giant had some very bad marketing.. Warners would not let director Brad Bird cut a single trailer for it, saying they could handle that part. The animation studio under warners that made the move closed the monday after the movie opened, and Brad was free to go to Pixar, but still, it was a great movie that didn’t stand a chance at the box office. 

  • http://sonicweapons.net Thierry

    I’m surprised they didn’t try to market it as a love-triangle romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr. and Vin Diesel, as well as a cute, precocious child.

  • http://sonicweapons.net Thierry

    The thing is that if you see the movie as a Taxi Driver-style drama centering around Seth Rogen’s unlikable, depressed sociopath (which is really what O&R feels like), the date rape scene is just another incredibly uncomfortable moment that cements the character as a profoundly unsympathetic one in a movie that’s full of them. I didn’t laugh much – if at all – watching Observe & Report, but I thought Rogen gave a pretty good performance,

  • Darth_stalder

    Let me guess: without death we would not cherish every moment life gives us. the same meaningless tautology we have been submitted to for over two centuries now. I say shyamalamalan, RETIRE ALREADY.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MWLBIBCUO4WWDJCF6SEKL2TTLY Marie

    Fight Club comes to mind. Its marketing didn’t “ruin” the movie given its post-box office cult status and  reviews that have grown more enthusiastic with time. But it was marketed as a generic macho movie, implying that it would be a boxing/ martial arts update. And that limited its box office potential. The trailers downplayed the more surreal aspects of the movie, and I recall a number of jocks who were upset that the movie wasn’t really about fighting.

  • Zeiram

    The Lookout.. Worst trailer of all time for a truly great film. Makes a touching, complex character drama look like a run-of-the-mil, B movie rental.

  • Boredtheace

    Arlington Road, the entire movie was given away in the trailer. 

  • Guest

     i think you are too sensitive…that wasnt a date rape scene.he honestly believed that he finally just got to hook up with his dream girl. and shes the shitty type of person that didnt even care,shes blacked out and just goes whyd you stop mutherfucker?I laughed the hardest at that line i think.great,great,underrated movie.perfect dark comedy.

  • Guest

     yeah…that was 100 % different than how the advertising made it look

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3T5W76W7RTRGD7I5FRJP5WNWJM Robert

     The problem is lack of imagination and creativity within Hollywood. Lately it’s remake this, remake that, sequel here and there but real creativity.

  • Joe O

     Exactly! Saying “in my opinion” ads insecurity to the claim he is making when it is already understood that it is a statement of opinion over fact.

  • seattlejohn449

    IMO the tv series was the opposite as it would have attracted more curious sci-fi fans if they had left the western stuff something fun to discover as the show progressed instead of emphasizing it in the build-up for the show… it put potential viewers off as too weird and convoluted

  • bradsboards

    Except Drive WAS a dumb Transporter-esque movie, every bit as shallow and empty headed, just slathered in a coat of pretentious BS. Most overrated film of last year.

  • http://www.annlogue.com annielogue

    I thought of another movie too late to participate in the discussion. It is Duma, about a South African boy who grapples with returning a cheetah to the wild after his father’s death. It’s a lovely story that was marketed as a madcap comedy. Roger Ebert actually mentioned the studio’s promotional stupidity in his review: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050804/REVIEWS/50727002/1023

  • http://twitter.com/MortKristVebj Morten K. Vebjørnsen

    Why can’t they market the films, like they should be. Find the core of said picture, and then find  an approach from there – But in a world where money talks louder than art, it is difficult to do such a thing. A shame indeed I find it to Be!