From The Slippery Slope Files: The Case Of The Missing Movie Star [Updated]

Boy, will this ruling ever open a metaphorical can of worms!

Conor Woulfe and Peter Michael Rosza rented the movie “Yesterday” because they are big Ana de Armas fans and the Cuban-born actress was featured in the trailer. She was not, however, in the movie, her rold having ended up on the cutting room floor.

The devastated renters filed a lawsuit against Universal Pictures under California’s false advertising laws, seeking…wait for it!— $5 million in damages. De Armas, you should know, is not exactly Hollywood Walk of Fame material, at least not yet. Her biggest role to date was playing Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde,” which was notable because if MM had played de Armas, that would have been racist and “whitewashing.”

But I digress. Universal argued in its defense that movie trailers are just an “artistic, expressive work” that merely conveys the theme of the movie and is therefore entitled protection under the First Amendment. The judge was unimpressed and ruled that the suit could proceed to discovery, writing,

“Universal is correct that trailers involve some creativity and editorial discretion, but this creativity does not outweigh the commercial nature of a trailer. At its core, a trailer is an advertisement designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie.”

Judge Wilson said that his ruling was limited to “representations as to whether an actress or scene is in the movie, and nothing else.” Universal disagrees, stating that the ruling could open the door to more lawsuits when a film does not meet the expectations created by the trailer. I agree wholeheartedly. The first trialer that comes to mind was the preview of Steve Martin’s ambitious “Pennies From Heaven.” The trailer made the film look like a typical Martin vehicle with the comic playing another “wild and crazy guy.” In fact, “Pennies From Heaven” was a grim tragedy, and Martin’s performance hardly raised a smile with anyone (he also wasn’t very good in it). I wouldn’t sue about it, but the trailer was definitely false advertising.

The other problem is that trailers are often made before a film is completed, so there will always be a chance that a scene or a performer won’t make it into the final version. I would assume that the ruling means that studios will add legal disclaimers to all trailers stating that they are only general representations of the movie to come, and involve no warranties or guarantees of content or quality.

But $5 million dollars as damages because that actress wasn’t in the film? Conor, Peter… it profits a man nothing to file a ridiculous lawsuit if he should loose his soul… but for Ana de Armas, guys?

19 thoughts on “From The Slippery Slope Files: The Case Of The Missing Movie Star [Updated]

  1. Short of 20 bucks for the ticket what damages did these guys incur? Is the 5m for punitive damages? If so why punish someone for something like this. If you can get 5 million for this when do I get my $$$ for drinking Budweiser and Coors because those ads all told me I would immediately be 30 pounds lighter, 4 inches taller and surrounded by a bevy of beauties.

    • Exactly where I was going, but as a woman, I should sue for billions for all the fake photos, and claims that beauty products claim! I am still getting “fine lines and wrinkles” and yeah…

      LOL. have to laugh or it’s too depressing!

  2. I thought the same thing: often a trailer has material that may eventually be deleted. Or, in the case of a movie like Infinity War, the Hulk was removed from the trailer and replaced with Bruce Banner in an Iron Man suit.

    Even worse, what about movies that contain some kind of twist? Fight Club looked like a buddy film; The Usual Suspects never let on that Verbal Kint was the mastermind; Darth Vader was Luke’s father (I bought tickets to see explosions and space aliens, not some family drama—if I wanted that, I would have rented A Lion in Winter!).

    -Jut

  3. Think of all the lawsuits around “Star Wars Episode 1”, where the previews deceptively made it look like a good movie…I was a total schmuck for buying into that load of crap.

    The suit is frivilous and “boring and uncool”, but mostly because Hollywood has lost nearly all of whatever credibility and originality it ever had. Go to a movie with very low expectations, and Hollywood may be able to live up to them.

  4. I’ll grant that the amount of the suit is ridiculous, but I do think there’s a difference between what happened here and some (not all) of the examples of other misleading trailers. Suggesting, however deceptively, that Movie X is going to be of a particular style or quality seems to me to be of a different order than presenting objectively false information. The fact that I couldn’t care less whether Ms. de Armas is in the film or not doesn’t mean that these guys don’t have a legitimate complaint.

    Yes, it’s true that trailers are made before the final cut of the movie, all of which make me want to ask, simply, why? It’s more convenient for the producers, and presumably makes them more money because it can be circulated earlier. But in terms of ethics: who cares? The young (presumably) fans were de facto told that de Armas was in the film. She wasn’t. And if her scene was considered good enough for the trailer, then it should have been good enough for the film. Is it too much to ask that the artistic staff and the promotional folks actually talk to each other? Were I of a cynical disposition (perish the thought!), I might suggest that the studio left de Armas in the trailer precisely because these two guys aren’t alone in wanting to see her in a movie, thus making more money for the corporation.

    There’s a variation on the theme that happened recently in the NBA. The Brooklyn Nets “rested” virtually every player the average fan has ever heard of in a game against Indiana. (Moral luck: they eon, anyway.) If you’re shelling out a few hundred dollars to take the family to a Nets game, you damned well want to see Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, et al., play. The team was hit with a “significant fine” of $25,000 (i.e., pocket change for an NBA team). But the team did argue that several of the players were recovering from documented injuries, and Durant just needed a night off, as he was leading the league in minutes played. Am I convinced? No, but the explanation is at least plausible.

    Moreover, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll see a particular player (or actor in a stage play, etc.), because those events are live. I’ve seen more than one understudy actor in a major role on Broadway or in the West End. But a movie isn’t live. Tell me that Ana de Armas is in a movie, and I expect to see her. $5M is way too much, but I do think the studio ought to be hit with a big enough punishment that they’ll actually feel it.

      • Imagine a trailer that included Sean Connery but when all the women older than thirty show up and there’s not Sean Connery in the movie, all hell would break loose throughout the Anglosphere.

    • I recall a theater that said it would offer a refund only if an actor received billing above the title of the work. If the title performer couldn’t make it, then the performance was materially different than promised. Audience members didn’t have to accept the refund; they could choose attend the understudy’s performance anyways, but they had the option.

  5. I’m fairly certain she’s had a goodly amount of plastic surgery (one website calls her nose “chiseled”), but in my book, Ana de Armas is as irresistibly cute as a button, so any acting she does is just fine with me. She epitomizes the dark-haired, oval-faced, porcelain-skinned, Jane Austin era beauty. Works for me.

  6. I have to believe Universal will appeal this really stupid ruling, and it will be overturned or at least the judgement will be reduced. I would recommend a judgement for the amount of the movie ticket, nothing more.
    If I were the judge I would have thrown this suit out of court after awarding Universal attorney fees from the plaintiffs. But that would require tort reform, something no lawyer ever wants to see come to pass.

  7. Given that it’s just a decision as to whether it goes to trial, I think the judge was correct. The trailer was objectively false about an observable fact, and I think Curmie’s correct that this is a bit different from other examples of misleading adds. That would just be “everyone does it” as an excuse even if they were the same kind of thing.

    I haven’t read the detail, just your summary, so I would hesitate to make a call on the final decision, but I’m leaning towards they should get in trouble for fraud. Adding a disclaimer about the ad not being a representative scene from the movie would undercut the benefit of adds too much, depending on reason, so maybe they might start making sure they don’t use cut scenes or can justify edits to avoid spoilers.

    Might depend on how significant the changes are… and I’m really waffling on this one.

  8. Is there a statute of limitations for this heinous crime? I was enticed by a trailer to enter a theater in order to view “Reds.” 3 hours and 15 minutes of mental anguish suffered by myself and everyone else in the theater. Not to mention the cost of the caffeine-laden Coke I had to purchase to endure this torturous event. To add to my psychic pain the Academy Award gave its BEST DIRECTOR accolade to Mr. Beatty, the producer-director. Other entities conspired to grant 20 other wins furthering my mental distress by gaslighting me, and a few others, to believe this was a monumental success of the entertainment industry. Will any judge allow my suit to go forward? or is the fact that it earned $40 million at the eh box office and cost $32 million to produce be deemed res adjudicate!

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