“In a world . . .”: The best trailers of all time
No film’s marketing campaign is successful without the driving force of a simple and effective trailer, and the skill of marketing a film is an art all its own. A trailer can reveal too much or too little, dissuading an audience with plot revelations – or just leave them confused.
As we’ve seen recently, a bad trailer can lead to a film’s downfall. The Cloverfield Paradox promised enticing interdimensional threats and answers to questions left blank by the previous two films in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi experiment. Sadly, the stakes were low, the threats ridiculous, and more questions were asked than the film provided answers for.
Another example is Venom, Sony’s offshoot from the MCU somehow hoping to explore the origin of the symbiotic villain without the inclusion of Spider-Man. With a trailer totally lacking even a single shot of its title character, Sony is more likely to alienate than intrigue.
The best trailers are a simple setup, and some of the best teasers don’t even feature any footage from the finished film. However, some trailers can be works of editing genius all of their own – microcosms of the final product emanating a tone or feeling on which the film hopes to deliver.
“Your mind is the scene of the crime” is perhaps the best tagline to any blockbuster film of the last twenty years and, hot from the billion-dollar success of The Dark Knight, everyone’s heart was racing when it was revealed what Christopher Nolan was working on next. Featuring some of the film’s most creative visuals and jaw-dropping action sequences, the first trailer for Inception was a genius combination of exciting and confusing no one could resist.
The croaky voiceover and slow build is a little dated now, but this trailer must have done something right, given how quickly Star Wars became the highest-grossing film of all time (for 1977). The slow reveal of its title from the distance, surrounded by a mysterious starscape, mimics the iconic opening crawl perfectly and visualizes enough of the film’s best design qualities – the ships, the costumes, the creature design – to entice audiences of all ages.
The perfect accompanying trailer to a film that doesn’t reveal its hideous monster until at least the halfway point. Like Star Wars, the harrowing emptiness of Alien’s trailer reconstructs the titles of its finished product, the letters slowly fading into existence as the camera pans down the moon of LV-426 to reveal a simple, anticlimactic egg. The audience is left confused until the egg slowly starts to crack, a light emerges, and a faint scream can be heard in the distance.
No one would have believed that a seventy-year-old filmmaker could have delivered one of the best action blockbusters ever made, especially fresh from completing two films about singing and dancing penguins – until they saw the trailer. The music, the editing, the cars, the explosions, all existing in a harmonious display of chaos & destruction perfectly teasing the insanity of the film’s universe. Perfectly edited and choreographed to the sweeping score and presided by Tom Hardy’s growling voiceover, somehow the film itself was even better than the trailer.
A completely unconventional trailer now: Hitchcock takes his cues from his television series Hitchcock Presents and steps in front of the camera for the trailer for his most famous film. Secrecy was of utmost importance for his adaptation of Robert Bloch’s book, so no footage of the film is revealed. Instead, Hitchcock takes a door around the sets of his infamous film, dropping snippets and tidbits as to the film’s plot as he ponders the dusty corners of Bates Motel. A longer trailer than modern movie fans are used to, the film almost acts as a short, behind-the-scenes documentary with Hitchcock as our guide.
This laughably simple, 47-second-long piece made history when it became the first trailer for a film to use the internet as a tool for viral marketing. Becoming one of the most-watched videos on the web, BWP’s trailer deserves a place on this list for essentially tricking viewers into seeing the film utilizing the lie that it was based on a true story. An audio file followed by a brief, extreme closeup of Heather Donahue crying in the dark was enough to make this tiny independent horror film a sensation.
In comparison to its later trailers, the initial teaser for James Cameron’s wildly anticipated followup to his 1984 classic didn’t reveal anything about the film itself. When the release of the main trailers ruined the now well documented twist of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator switching allegiances to the side of good, fans were justly annoyed, but the first teasers did away with all that. A simple shot that elaborated on the construction of the T-800 was atmospheric and exciting enough to build suspense for the most anticipated sequel of all time.
Peter Jackson and the multitudes of cast & crew underwent the backbreaking task of filming all three Lord of the Rings films in the space of a year, so anticipation was already off the charts for the upcoming release. When the teaser was released – mainly shots of the One Ring with some brief character introductions – it drove fans insane and was the most downloaded video of all time following its release in 2000. The final seconds of the trailer promised a separate film release over Christmas each year with the tagline: “You will find adventure or adventure will find you”. Perfection.
Somehow, a simple display of the film’s cast over a shot of clouds perfectly encapsulated the optimism and thrills of the original 1978 adaptation of Superman. Emulating the film’s opening titles, the inclusion of Marlon Brando (The Godfather) and Gene Hackman (The French Connection) was enough to entice an entire generation into watching a film about a flying strongman who wears red briefs over his leggings. The triumphant music & roaring sound effects and the camera whisking through misty clouds at sunset all perfectly encapsulate the thrills of a man flying unassisted through the air.
Ending the 20th century with the perfect response to technological paranoia, the Wachowski’s blend of existential dread, cyberpunk, and kung fu attacked the viewer in the trailer for The Matrix. Rather than a simple taste of excitement and action to come, the teaser’s taglines address you, the viewer, calling into question your very existence within a world that may not be wholly real. Thought-provoking stuff for a film starring Keanu Reeves (Speed).