I recently saw the trailer for Howl, the story on Allen Ginsberg, and the trailer’s beat and structure made me start recollecting all the great trailers that I’ve seen over the years. The short format has always interested me and I foresaw the coming of the <10 minute clip. I wrote my last college thesis on movie trailer structure back when we didn’t yet have YouTube. With the abundance of material we have now, it’s hard to tell the brilliant ones from the junk that the studios continuously crank out. Here are some of my favorites:
1. The trailer for Magnolia is a film in itself as we are presented with most of the characters of the film.
2. Imagine watching this trailer for The Shining in a dark movie theater back in 1979 and silently uttering the letters WTF.
3. Even if the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are is not much like the film it is an equally uplifting experience. When Wake Up by Arcade Fire kicks in, the whole thing is just bliss.
4. Harold & Maude is one of my favorite films and much like the film the trailer doesn’t really make any sense. The only thing that shines through is the joy of life and love. The truth of the matter is that a good soundtrack coupled with key scenes sells the movie just as well as a well structured clip.
5. Many trailers are created by the legendary ‘King of coming attractions’ Andrew J. Kuehn as is this trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien. Much like the Shining trailer this does not give you much to go on but boy do you want to see it after the tagline fades.
6. Often trailers are structured around a theme or gimmick as in the clip for A Serious Man. The trailer uses rhythm to drive the point home of the protagonist’s angst while giving you a few glimpses of the Coen brothers’ magical absurdity.
7. Taxi Driver‘s trailer is built upon Travis Bickle’s observations in the dark New York City night as he falls deeper and deeper into despair. The 70’s sleaze comes through with absolute clarity.
8. Spielberg’s genius was to not show the shark in Jaws until the very end and the trailer does virtually not show it at all, thus creating an incentive for the audience to go see the film.
9. ‘A riddle wrapped up in an enigma’. Stone builds tension with key scenes from the film JFK building up to the fatal shot. A brilliantly edited film and a brilliantly edited trailer.
10. E.T. gives you a true image of the actual movie without really giving away any of the plot. The key here is of course not showing the alien.
11. I haven’t included any trailer made before 1970 so I thought I would recommend The Marx Brothers’ A Night At The Opera. Like many trailers of the time it is built upon a series of one-liners. They do however splice in some wacky details of their own.
There is much more where that came from and I suggest you head over to The 50 greatest trailers and see all other masterpieces you might have not yet seen.