Have you ever felt duped by a movie trailer and noticed that a few scenes that brought you to the theaters were missing? Well, apparently, you can sue movie studios for deceptive trailers. Of course, this is a complex situation that isn’t as black and white as it seems. A lot of times, studios will put in cut footage within the trailers to excite audiences, and that’s actually okay! However, if that cut footage features Ana de Armas, and the actress is ultimately not showcased in the feature film at all, then that’s deceptive.
This all comes from two fans who saw the trailer for Yesterday, a 2019 feature about a struggling musician who gets into a bus accident during a weird global blackout, and Jack wakes up discovering that The Beatles never existed. In the trailer, Ms. Armas is featured in one spot as the actress was originally set to play a love interest for Jack; however, Armas was cut because test audiences didn’t like Jack straying away from his primary love interest in the film, which is played by Lily James. Still, despite Armas being cut from the film, she was still highlighted in the trailer, and the actress has grown into a big star since 2019; These fans watched the film because they saw that she was in it. They ultimately found out she’s nowhere seen in the film.
The fans filed a lawsuit this past January, and U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled on Tuesday that movie studios can, in fact, be sued under false advertising laws if they release deceptive movie trailers. For example, Tom Cruise’s face and likeness are plastered everywhere, from the billboards to the trailers in Top Gun: Maverick; however, if the studio cut Cruise (that’s never happening) from the film and he never appeared in the feature itself then that’s deceptive advertisement. To this day, the Yesterday trailer still features Ana de Armas, even though it’s now known that she isn’t in the film.
Universal originally tried to throw out the lawsuit. The studio felt entitled to protection under the First Amendment as the their trailer is an “artistic, expressive work” and believed that it was a “non-commercial” speech. However, the purpose of a trailer is to get butts into seats. Thus, the judge rejected said argument and deemed it commercial speech. This means that trailers are subject to the California False Averting Law and the state’s Unfair Competition Law.
“Universal is correct that trailers involve some creativity and editorial discretion, but this creativity does not outweigh the commercial nature of a trailer,” Wilson wrote to Variety. “At its core, a trailer is an advertisement designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie.”
The fans are suing for $5 million. There’s no word on whether they’ll actually get that much money, but the key thing here is the fact that studios would have to tread lightly about the way they edit their trailers together. It’s truly a game changer, and given the fact that the Yesterday trailer with Ana de Armas still remains up, it’s clear that Universal felt that this was going to be an easy case to dismiss. Universal isn’t the first studio to run a deceptive trailer, and they won’t be the last. Editors will still put in footage that’s ultimately cut from the final film. They’ll just be more careful about the type of footage they’ll use instead, going forward. It should be very interesting to see how much the fans walk away from this lawsuit; If it’s anywhere close to the amount being asked, then studios will definitely take notice.
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