This is my list of favorite trailers. Not best of all time, as chosen by a group of critics or fans. Mine. Highly subjectively chosen based on my own criteria. Mind you I haven’t seen every movie trailer ever. The biggest shortcoming is that this list is mostly restricted to American cinema. I try to have a diverse appetite when it comes to absorbing all forms of movies, but usually what ends up happening is the movie ends up on my Netflix queue based on the cover, not because I saw some amazing trailer that blew my pants off.
Here’s the full playlist in no particular order:
There different types of trailers, apart from categories or genres. These are usually shorter in length, less than two minutes typically. They usually are the first short form video advertisements to come out heralding the arrival of a motion picture, and are called teasers and I love ’em. If you follow movies, anticipate movies, or just enjoy being tantalized by movies in general then you’ve probably been given goose bumps because of a great teaser. Unlike long form trailers, teasers don’t have to explain the plot of a movie; remind you who’s in it; or bombard your senses with explosions, computer generate effects, or sex symbols. A teaser really has more artistic freedom to catch your eye than a conventional trailer.
The Shining, Man of Steel, Miami Vice, and the Fountain are shining examples of this. Without any prior knowledge of these upcoming films, you might not, and in fact should not, know about the story just from the trailer, but don’t they make you curious? After some credits crawl up the screen in The Shining teaser, gallons of blood start flushing out of an elevator in what looks like a lobby, until it engulfs and splashes over the camera, amidst some creepy-ass music. This one-take shot may not even be shown in the actual film. But if you’re sitting in a dark theater waiting for your matinee to begin and you see this how can you not be freaked out with tension and uneasiness?
In some quick cuts of expensive cars, fast speedboats, night cityscapes, tough looking men, and lots of moody lighting you get the gist that Miami Vice will be about groups of bad asses attempting to outsmart and most likely outgun each other. I really like this teaser because in less than 1 minute the viewer has a pretty good idea of the universe this movie occupies. The wealth, the nightlife, the high stakes, and the stench of criminal activity percolating just below the surface. All this and a Jay-Z lyric wrap up very nicely the challenges for our lone heroes to contend with.
All others, more or less throw in the whole kitchen sink as far as informing you of the tone, conflict, and theme of the film they hope you go see. Most start off on a modest, or slow pace, introducing you to the players, the director, and the movies this movie wants you to recall, in order to validate why you should see this. Towards the middle of the trailer tension is ramped up. Antagonists are introduced, objectives are defined, and motivations may be understood. Then all that is pushed out of the way for a smash cut montage of high octane images from the film that look awesome. Be they explosions, cars, sex, money, guns or close-ups they are all designed to tickle you in a frenzy of excitement.
Attention grabbing techniques can also be applied to cinematic game trailers too. One of the best ones I can think of is Starcraft II. The game itself plays out like a multi-layered story, and the teaser does a breathtakingly good job at foreshadowing a hyper real sci-fi no-holds-barred, anything-goes showdown of life and death between aliens, humans, insectoids, and all manner of life in between.
And then there’s the sub-genre of DIY aficionados who take a pre-existing brand and create a mash-up as loving reverence, or hilarious satire, to another brand, thereby juxtaposing two or more franchises who originally had nothing in common with one another, to surprising results. Great example is the terrific True Grit trailer:
Rip out the audio track and for visuals grab appropriate clips from the Toy Story trilogy and you have yourself a masterpiece of recycled media.
Finally there’s Terence Malick whose films are such distinct departures from traditional full length films they almost belong in their own abstract category. His films of late rely heavily on voice over and memorable visuals. The trailers cut from clips of his films, To The Wonder and Tree of Life, are rich tapestries of vivid imagery. There is no recognizable sing along soundtrack. A speaker, or few, typically narrates his or her thoughts while the camera captures gripping wide angles expanses of horizons, sunsets, Americana, nature in its raw form. The result is often not too far off from what the actual movie looks and sounds like. His trailers are like open philosophical explorations on family, love, hope, and the internal struggle of man and its place in the fabric of everything.
Tree of Life is perhaps the best trailer I have ever seen so far.