The Red-Band Dilemma

This past week I ventured out to see the new R-rated science fiction film Prometheus on IMAX 3D. Before my showing of the film was the red-band trailer for The Watch. Although Prometheus was rated-R, I was fine going to see it because I knew that the adult content would be limited to certain types of violence and that the vulgarity would be of a certain kind that was rooted in the context of the film. However, before my movie began, I was subjected to a red-band trailer for The Watch that was filled with crude and sexual vulgarity of the type that I did want or intend to see. Since I wasn't expecting that, it actually quite disturbed me, stirring up a lot of questions for me. The primary question was this, "If I paid to see an R-rated film, should the trailers be allowed to be filled with ANY kind of R-rated material, even if the film I paid for doesn't feature it?"

My first thought was that showing R-rated trailers during an R-rated movie made sense. Perhaps I was just being prudish. However, the more I began to think about it, the more I began to question it. What made the trailer for The Watch so jarring was that the crude and prurient tone of the film was in complete contrast to the film I had paid to see. Prometheus is billed as being an R-rated, adult intended, sophisticated science-fiction film made to encourage one to think and discuss it's central themes. I made the decision that the violence level (which is the whole reason the film is R-rated) was suitable for my tastes, but had I known my theater going experience was going to include the profanity and sexual crudity within The Watch trailer I would have thought twice. The whole thing felt like I was being taken advantage of. Still, I thought, perhaps I was thinking it through too much.

Then I thought of two other scenarios, the careful parental movie watcher and the slippery slope. What about those parents who looked up reviews of Prometheus at online services that detail the reasons why the film is R-rated and provide an explanation of whether or not there is redeemable material? Websites like and make no mention of the type of sexual crudity that their children will be subjected to within The Watch trailer. Doesn't there seem something inherently wrong about going to such great lengths to be discerning parent or moviegoer, only to have the trailers deliver R-rated material you didn't want yourself or your child to be subject to?

There seems to me a slippery slope here as well. The trailer for The Watch did not include any nudity or sex, but according to the guidelines of red-band trailers as I understand them, there was nothing stopping it from including this material. The slippery slope here is that I could buy a ticket for an adult-minded R-rated drama like say The Iron Lady 2 and end up with a red-band trailer for American Pie: Stiffler's Fantasy that features all kinds of R-rated crudity, vulgarity and nudity. Now I know that exhibitors would be unlikely to pair the two films, but what gives me caution is that under the red-band guidelines, this is theoretically possible. Like my experience the other day with Prometheus, you will never know what material you will be subject to whenever buying an R-rated ticket.

I'm not sure there is an easy answer to the question I first posed, but I think that theaters need to be careful in how they proceed with red-band trailers. Some might find my objection to certain R-rated material and my acceptance of other R-rated material hypocritical; but I think this is something that we all do, and something we all should retain the right to do. What it essentially comes down to is being shown objectionable material that I had no intention of watching and/or reasonable expectation I would be encountering when I purchased the ticket. It would be akin to placing a particularly creepy and jarring horror trailer in front of Winnie the Pooh.

What does all this mean? This is only the first time I've ever really noticed such a jarring juxtaposition of trailer and film, but I hope this isn't some kind of precedent or trend. I hope that exhibitors understand that moviegoers enjoy knowing that when they buy a ticket for a particular film they know what kind of material they can expect to subject themselves to; whether it'skids films or R-rated films. My hope is that the purchase of an R-rated ticket doesn't give the exhibitor an excuse to barrage me with any kind of R-rated material they think might sell their movie. Do moviegoers really need to be given a another reason to stay at home and wait to watch it there, where we have the control?

What do you think? Have you ever experienced something similar?


  1. First off, glad to see you writing again. As a (comparatively) non "prude", I'd be more annoyed at what I presume is a trailer that spoils pretty much every R-rated gag in the film. I specifically avoid red-band trailers for this very reason and I would be annoyed to have to sit through one in a theater.

    I agree in principle, although I might argue that anyone prepared to view R-rated content should be prepared to view any-and-all R-rated content...? The issue is clouded by the lack of mainstream R-rated genre films in a theater at any given time, give or take the Oscar season. R-rated trailers, even green-band ones, are rarely shown in front of non R-rated movies since 2001. So the possibility for screening any trailer for any R-rated film is somewhat rare. Even a green-band trailer for The Watch probably wouldn't get screened in front of a number of PG/PG-13 films. Since red-band trailers can of course only be shown before R-rated films (and frankly are rarely shown in theaters at all), there really is no choice but to screen said trailer in front of something like Prometheus, which is easily the biggest major R-rated releases this summer (along with The Dictator, That's My Boy, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Savages, and Ted) opening prior to The Watch (Magic Mike and Seeking a Friend at the End of the World are comparatively smaller films that happen to be backed by major studios). Also, for what it's worth, both The Watch and Prometheus are Fox titles, so it makes sense for them to advertise one R-rated film in front of their other R-rated film.

    I'd argue the reason you were taken by surprise is the fact that movies like Prometheus (big budget summer tentpole) rarely go out with an R-rating anymore. These days, 90% of R-rated studio fare are either comedies or Oscar-bait thrillers/dramas. If you bought a ticket for That's My Boy, you probably wouldn't get offended by whatever was in that The Watch trailer. But a soft-R sci-fi film like Prometheus (and let's be honest, the only reason it went out as R was because they couldn't cut around 'that scene in the second act') is a rarity in this day and age. But considering the state of the industry, Whether your offense was justified, it's unlikely to occur again in the near future. Also, if it does happen, as silly as this sounds, might I suggest closing your eyes and shutting your eyes? It sounds goofy, but I've done the same when avoiding certain trailers for spoiler-related reasons.

    On the plus side, while responding to this, I realized that there are quite a few mainstream R-rated films this summer. That's pretty impressive and I might have to write about it soon...

  2. Thanks Scott.

    Do you know if there are any rules (written or unwritten) on this kind of thing? Besides the basics (red-bands can only be in front of R-rated films), do studios just attach trailers to films they feel demographics are the same?

    I agree with you, if Fox was going to put out their red-band trailer alongside another film, 'Prometheus' seems the most obvious and safe choice to do it. While it sounds odd, closing my eyes or plugging my ears is a personal choice that could solve the problem. Although, if I'm having to do all that for something I paid good money for, then I might re-consider going to the cinema. Small price to pay I guess for retaining the ability to screen the material I consume.
    I think as an adult it's a rather insignificant problem, just one that struck me as quite jarring. I guess my greatest sympathies lie with the parent who scoured for rating information about 'Prometheus' and felt that it was safe enough for their teens to allow their old enough friend to take them to see it. Then unbeknownst to the parent, the trailers are filled with everything they didn't want their kids to see.

    I hope you are right that it's unlikely to occur in the future, as I'm glad it has only been an isolated experience for me.

  3. I kind of felt this way when I went to see The Hunger Games. Much of the Hunger Games violence was implied. I kind of felt like, while the topic and subject matter was weighty, the actual action and violence was very mild. However, the previews were ones that I felt were high on the creepy and scary factor. I had imagined many parents would be bringing their children to see THG because of its hype and its book made into a movie factor. I thought the previews didn't match the movie I went to see.

    ~ Carmen


Post a Comment