Movie Studios Can Be Sued for Deceptive Trailers, Judge Rules

The case involved the film Yesterday, which featured Ana de Armas in the trailer even though she was cut from the film

movie studios sued deceptive trailers ana de armas yesterday universal pictures
Dune (Warner Bros. Pictures), Yesterday (Universal Pictures), Suicide Squad (Warner Bros. Pictures)

    US District Judge Stephen Wilson has sided with two Ana de Armas’ fans in a lawsuit against Universal Pictures, Variety reports, ruling that movie studios can be sued for deceptive trailers under the California False Adverting Law and the state’s Unfair Competition Law.

    The plaintiffs rented the 2019 film Yesterday after seeing de Armas in the trailer, only to find that all of her scenes had been cut before the film’s release. They then sued Universal, who tried to get the lawsuit thrown out under the free speech protections granted by the First Amendment.

    “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 in his December 20th decision. “At its core, a trailer is an advertisement designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie.”

    Universal’s lawyers argued that classifying trailers as “commercial speech” opened movie studios to liability any time consumers were unhappy with the film. Outcries against trailers have become increasingly common, with recent films like Suicide Squad (2016) and Dune (2021) eliciting backlash for prominently featuring actors — Jared Leto’s Joker and Zendaya’s Chani, respectively — who were in those films for less than 10 minutes each.

    “Under Plaintiffs’ reasoning, a trailer would be stripped of full First Amendment protection and subject to burdensome litigation anytime a viewer claimed to be disappointed with whether and how much of any person or scene they saw in the trailer was in the final film; with whether the movie fit into the kind of genre they claimed to expect; or any of an unlimited number of disappointments a viewer could claim,” Universal’s lawyers argued.


    But Wilson sought to limit his ruling only to cases where a “significant portion” of “reasonable consumers” could be misled. “The Court’s holding is limited to representations as to whether an actress or scene is in the movie, and nothing else,” the judge wrote, ruling that reasonable consumers of the Yesterday trailer would expect de Armas be in the film.