Movie trailers are one of the few things in the industry that you really can’t improve upon with technology. It’s just editing – that’s it. Nothing else can make a trailer better besides skill. This is also why it seems like they generally get better every year (not always the case though).
It’s difficult to nail down exactly what makes a teaser trailer effective, which is why we’re going to focus simply on intensity. It’s the best part, especially when a film is already anticipated from the start due to being an adaptation or a sequel.
So here we go – fifteen movie teasers that have your heart pounding before the feature presentation even begins.
15. The Master
It felt right to have at least one trailer for a film that hasn’t seen theaters yet. After all – the quality of the film itself hardly matters when judging the trailer.
This teaser, the first of its kind released for the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, manages to take the most mundane activities and make them ominous. It’s essentially just a dude being talked to intercut with some humdrum sand sculpting and beach fighting. But take that and add in some creepy-ass Joaquin Phoenix grimacing and off-putting experimental percussion that could only come from the guy from Radiohead and you got yourself a disturbing little teaser.
14. Jurassic Park
So I lied when I said that all trailers are is just good editing; sometimes they will actually shoot entire scenes just for the damn teaser. This is one of those cases.
It’s pretty old school in a way, lacking the slick feel of most modern trailers. However the slow tracking shot through a microscope and into the eye of a mosquito while the narrator explains the dinosaur cloning process is enough to make anyone pee themselves in anticipation for the carnage implied by the distinct roaring and whooshing sounds as the Jurassic Park logo flies into focus.
It’s the teaser that made entire theaters full of people stand up and say, “Whoa! Wait… what?”
Nothing more confoundedly vague than “Your mind is the scene of the crime” over swooping shots through a city and people flying through hallways while Leonardo DiCaprio stares intensely at nothing in particular. There’s literally millions of ways the film could have gone from this teaser, all of them were surely awesome.
12. The Lord Of The Rings
No need for intense booming sounds or vague hints here. Frankly, all this had to be was a New Line executive in front of a gray screen saying “We’re making The Lord Of The Rings,” and the fans would have torn up a thrill nerd riot. The best part of has to be the ending shot, listing off all three books and the dates in which we’ll get to see them in theaters – all of it over a single shot of the key characters looking irritated while hiking. It really prepares you for all the damn hiking these films center around.
11. Terminator 2
Because lord knows that when everyone saw the first Terminator they thought, “Okay, but what does it look like when they are made?”
Seriously – when you think about it, manufacturing is probably the least exciting aspect to these gun-toting annihilation machines, and yet the films can’t get enough of showing us. We have this preview for T2 (which is awesome, but still…) and then there’s the prototype bots in T3, followed by the factory in Terminator: Salvation. I think we can all safely say that the assembly line process has been thoroughly explained in these films, and now maybe we can move on to having the third act take place somewhere with less sharp edges in the next film.
10. Superman Returns
Every trailer out there should have Marlon Brando doing this monologue as the voiceover, even if it doesn’t apply. The Lake House should have done it – just any film.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan Superman; sure he’s pretty looking, but that doesn’t really make him any less of a manipulative alien spy policing mankind like a wannabe deity. That being said, hearing Jor-El’s voice over glances of Kent Farm and the Daily Planet, you can’t not be excited for this film… even if it’s about a mighty planet reduced to a slave-race under the moral will of a globally impartial yet privately covetous and emotional being. Just sayin’.
9. The Watchmen
So this is kind of interesting – the Smashing Pumpkins song used in this trailer, “The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning” is a variation from a previous song called “The End Is The Beginning Is The End” – which was made for the friggin’ Batman & Robin soundtrack. It’s nice to see it used for a superior superhero film such as this.
For fans of the comic, this trailer was no doubt very exciting. However it was probably more exciting for people who had never heard of it. There’s something so magically WTF about the visuals that there’s no way a sane person could fathom a possibly coherent story from them.
8. The Minus Man
I’ve never seen this film and have no freaking clue what it’s about, but the trailer is awesome. It seems so lighthearted at first, like we’re watching some quirky meta date movie. Then it takes a delightfully dark turn at the end, and when it’s all over you realize that you have no idea what the actual movie is.
It got great reviews too – so maybe it’s just me here, but this trailer – while awesome – wasn’t terribly effective considering how quickly the film came and went. I think I’ll go pick it up tomorrow.
7. The Dark Knight
Out of the trilogy it seems like it’s this teaser that really takes the Batcake. After the first movie we got this wonderful introduction into Nolan’s Batman, but after the ending scene it becomes clear that the director was just clearing his throat. Everyone came out of that film thinking the same thing: “I want to see The Joker.”
We wanted it so bad, and this teaser knew it. Hearing his voice was downright chilling, but not as much as hearing his amazing cackle.
Well – at no point was this about the quality of the film. While a lot on this list is no doubt debatable, it’s probably safe to say that the teaser for the American adaptation of Godzilla was considerably more entertaining than the actual film.
It’s pretty damn boss considering that it came out not long after the second Jurassic Park film, and wanted to distinguish itself from the hype. Stepping on T-Rex bones is a pretty ballsy move – too bad the film didn’t live up to the act.
5. The Exorcist
Ahhh! Whaa! STOP! WHY?
According to this films IMDb trivia page (a rock solid source if I ever saw one) this teaser trailer was pulled from many theaters because it was deemed to be too frightening. It sounds like bullshit until you imagine the flashing white nightmare 30 feet high in a dark theater – that’s heart attack material right there.
The inverted black on white is probably most effective considering how ghastly the potential of color is in these images. In a way – it’s a teaser in that respect as well, letting the audience’s imagination carry them away in speculation of the massive amount of red no doubt covering the distorted faces flashing before them.
No doubt a controversial film to put on the four spot, but quality aside – this teaser did exactly what it set out to do. In fact, it probably went overboard.
Not long after this trailer the Internet went ape shit with frustrated speculation – some said it was related to Lost (which it kind of sort of was) and others assumed it to be a new Godzilla film. Other less-than-intelligent folks even believed it to be a Voltron film, apparently confusing “It’s alive” with “It’s a lion”. No seriously – that actually happened.
3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Holy hell! It’s so snowy and forceful… like getting punched by Santa.
The best part is that when you break it down it’s literally about 80% shots of people walking in the snow. Go back and see for yourself – it’s just people walking and looking at things… I think there’s a shot of someone pouring tea in there. It’s the most boring collection of shots cut together to look like the best thing in the whole wide world. Who would have thought that pulling up in a driveway could be that intense?
Those bastards ripped off Prometheus!
But seriously… yikes.
This teaser is so scary weird – like an experimental short done by the quiet kid in A/V class. It promises a tone that is spot on with the film itself, perfectly capturing the suspense and dementia of being trapped in a secluded tin can with a giant space devil and a rapidly rabid robot (which is also a great band name).
The ending shot of the tiny vessel amongst a beautifully titanic array of planets really hammers in how alone these characters are. Space is one of the last settings where you are truly helpless, perfect for the horror genre.
1. The Shining
“Well OK… it’s an elevator… I see that… Oh look! Credits! That’s weird… I guess it’s nice to see who is going to be in the film… wow still just these elevators… why do I feel weird? What’s with that music? OK, I wonder if they are ever going to cut away- EVERYTHING THAT WAS EVER GOOD IN THE WORLD IS GONE! GONE!”
Really now – we take this shot for granted these days, but imagine first seeing this in the theater and not knowing what was about to happen. It’s amazing just how uneasy you can make an audience just by slowly creeping up the soundtrack while sticking on one ominous shot. The gallons upon gallons of blood didn’t hurt either.
Also, I couldn’t possibly go on living without mentioning the Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove trailers – who really deserve the 2 and 3 spots respectively. I omitted them because that’s probably way to much Kubrick to end on.