The art of the movie trailer is, you can’t help but feel, fast becoming a lost one. Far too intent on giving away the key plotlines or the best gags (anyone remember What Lies Beneath’s trailer, which may as well have told you the ending?), promos will do anything now to get your backside in a cinema seat.
That said, there are still some films that got the balance right, or at least made our jaws drop. Here are ten of the very best, dating right the way back from 1980 to the present day…
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
While an impatient public awaited the first glimpses of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999, Mike Myers had other ideas. His Spy Who Shagged Me trailer had the heavy breathing, Star Wars music and all the build up of a Star Wars promo. But when the chair swung round? There was Doctor Evil in all his glory. “You were expecting someone else?”, he enquired, selling thousands of tickets in one moment. “If you see only one movie this summer, see Star Wars!”, it joyfully proclaimed. Marvellous.
If you’re got a blockbuster moment, then don’t be a shy about it. Independence Day was arguably the first film to heavily sell off the back off its very biggest special effect in the trailer. Films such as The Perfect Storm would copy it, by exposing the big money shot rather than save it as a surprise for the audience, but nobody ever did it better than Independence Day.
Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian
Quite possibly the best trailer ever. This is the one where they get voiceover guy into a booth to try all his usual lines over the top of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian movie. “Get out of the booth, Jack”, they say at the end. “No, I like it in here”, he retorts. Genius.
See also: the Tenacious D teaser trailer.
I saw this as a kid, and there was no way as a result I wasn’t going to see the film. It’s not as slick as its 90s and 00s equivalents, but it’s an early example of throwing everything at the screen and watching most of it stick. The Ming the Merciless voiceover. The thumping Queen soundtrack. The interspersing of drawn versions of our heroes. They sold at least one ticket off the back of this. To me.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Another rug-puller, and a fairly obvious one perhaps, but that didn’t make it any the less funny. This was the early teaser, where voiceover man taunted you with tales of vast budgets, cutting edge animation and effects, the top animation minds and worldwide geniuses collaborating. And then it cut to the German dance. Gone in less than a minute, it still works nearly a decade later.
Many comedies try and cram as many jokes as they can into their promo. Knocked Up is happy to spend time setting up the one, in the now-infamous R-rated trailer for the hit Judd Apatow film. It all hinges on Seth Rogen’s beautifully delivered “fuck off”, and off the back of this promo, it went on to be last year’s sleeper hit. “Maybe I’ve reacted unfavourably”, Rogen remarks at the end, selling a few more buckets of popcorn in the process.
Proof that, even when you think you know all the tricks they’re going to throw your way, that it’s still possible to make a damn effective trailer. This is the 110 seconds that really helped put the film Cloverfield on the radar of many, many people. And what’s more, it manages to do it without showing you an awful lot. Whatever your thoughts on the final film, this is surely the way to do things?
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Saving it’s only three spoken words for the very end, this T2 trailer was one of the very first teaser trailers we ever saw. The manufacture of the Terminator that we see makes it nowhere near the final cut of the film, and this kind of teaser would be used – less successfully – with Arnie’s Last Action Hero a few years’ later (although the trailer for that was good, and the film better than it’s given credit for). To say that this particular trailer got people excited about T2 though would not be an understatement…
The Blair Witch Project
“I am so scared”, says snot girl in this short, snappy and effective promo for what became 1999’s movie phenomenon (there’s an interview with the director here where he talks about it too). In under 40 seconds, with nothing more than a face to camera, it delivers more than trailers three times the length.
The Matrix Reloaded
However you feel about the final film, this was nonetheless the trailer that got an awful lot of people excited half a decade ago. From the point where Laurence Fishburne utters the words “Here we go”, it’s an avalanche of – particularly at the time – jaw-dropping visuals and the kind of action you’d expect and hope for from a Matrix sequel. What happened next, of course, is a sage lesson in blockbuster history…
Agree? Disagree? Head to the comments, and add your own suggestions too!
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