Marvel Studios May Face Legal Action for Misleading Movie Trailers

Well, this came as a surprise. According to a recent federal ruling, Marvel Studios and other Hollywood movie studios can now be sued for releasing misleading or deceptive trailers. As reported by Variety, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled on Wednesday that movie studios, including Marvel Studios, can now be sued for presenting misleading information about the appearances of actors in film trailers.

The trailer for Avengers: Infinity War clearly shows the Hulk at the Battle of Wakanda. As it turned out, this was a misdirect of some sort in order not to give away any major plot lines of the film.

In fairness to Marvel Studios, MCU trailers have not intentionally misled audiences, but they have occasionally included footage that was not included in the final film or footage that was altered to avoid revealing spoilers. Remember that scene from the Avengers: Infinity War trailer where we were all led to believe that Hulk is just ready to smash it at the Battle of Wakanda? But as we all know by now, the Hulk eventually was under duress and did not very well cooperate with Banner at that time. This is understandable considering that a major plot point might be given away too early if the Hulk was eventually revealed not to be actively engaging during the said battle. On a similar note, the much-hyped trailer of Spider-Man: No Way Home also kept some secrets from the audience when film editors deliberately concealed the spider identities of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield by removing any references to them in a particular shot from the trailer.

A scene from the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer shows Tom Holland’s Spider-Man going against multiversal villains all by himself. It was later revealed in the film that this particular scene deliberately concealed Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield to prevent any major spoilers. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

The ruling was eventually the result of a lawsuit filed against Universal (which may also be applied to Marvel Studios and other film companies moving forward), for releasing misleading trailers concerning its 2019 film Yesterday which featured Ana de Armas despite her not appearing in the final film.

In his ruling, Judge Wilson rejected Universal’s claim that movie trailers should be considered “artistic, expressive work” and treated as “non-commercial” speech. He argued that trailers, at their core, are designed to sell a movie and therefore should be considered commercial speech. This applies to movie trailers as well, when a significant portion of the trailer is so off the mark from the movie that it constitutes a form of deception to “reasonable consumers”.

Clearly, Marvel Studios may also need to tread this ruling carefully. I have to admit that I find this ruling a bit like walking on a tightrope since it will most likely depend on the perception of moviegoers if they felt that they were duped or deceived by any particular trailer. Marvel and Disney may need to flex their creative muscles even more to balance between presenting truthful content and revealing only that much to spark conversation and interest around their future films.

So far, we have already seen the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and it’s kind of hard to tell when and where on these trailers (if there is one, to begin with) was there any form of “deception” or changes on their respective scenes. Frankly, I don’t mind if Marvel Studios will throw in a couple of misdirects on their trailers so as to avoid any potential spoilers. But the law is the law, and we just have to wait and see once these films are released eventually.

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