Art of the Movie Trailer

WHAT ARE THE REAL BEST MOVIE TRAILERS?

Search online for “The Best Movie Trailers of All Time” and most of the ensuing lists are examples of willful cultural ignorance– containing chiefly films of the 2000’s, and few movies made before 1994. It’s as if the media sites don’t believe the film industry existed before that time (roughly corresponding to their own lifespans). The dumbed-down feeding the dumbed-down. Cultural stupidity encouraging more cultural stupidity. Of the movies listed, most are of a piece: glorified music videos, with, instead of music, the same metallic “ca-ching!” similar to the irritating theme of the “Law and Order” television series. Or, no imagination.

Movie trailers at their best are an art unto themselves. At times as good or better than the films they’re promoting. Their purpose is simple: to be shown in movie theaters to encourage audience members to return to see another film. Which trailers over the years have best achieved this? (It’s not an accident that the best movie trailers are for what turned out to be blockbuster successes.)

With this in mind, here are my selections for best movie trailers. They’re not THE best trailers of all-time, but they’re certainly, artistically, five OF the best. In chronological order:

BEN-HUR (1959)

Note the emphasis on sound, AND the overlapping dialogue showing the film’s literate script while delineating the conflicts at stake. Also of course a requisite glimpse at the greatest action sequence in movie history (with no CGI), the chariot race:

Ben-Hur 1959

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PSYCHO (1960)

The trademark droll Alfred Hitchcock humor on display, as if introducing an episode of his TV series. Lulls you into thinking this will be an amusing flick. But is it? Watch all of it. Be aware of what Hitchcock is doing with the trailer: setting up the viewer in the same way a baseball pitcher uses change-ups to set up a batter. Variations in pace. The use of extreme contrast. Note also the Freudian-Jungian psychological break represented by his opening the curtain. A curtain to the subconscious, the unseen, but also a radical break with cinematic past. After this moment the art for good or ill would never be the same.

Psycho 1960

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WEST SIDE STORY (1961)

How will this trailer for a revival of the classic film compare with the one for the upcoming Stephen Speilberg remake? Not the best movie of 1961, but a box office hit time and again, in part due to its trailers.

West Side Story 1961

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BATMAN (1989)

Another prelude to a blockbuster, this trailer built up tremendous anticipation for the film, capturing Tim Burton’s gothic atmosphere as well as the perfection of the movie’s unusual (at the time) casting of Michael Keaton in the lead role. “I’m Batman.”

Batman 1989

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN . . . HOLLYWOOD (2019)

If the objective of a trailer is to get you back into the movie theater, this one sure worked with me. A perfect trailer for a very good movie.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2019

Which one of these five movies, based on their trailers, would you most like to see in a movie theater?

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Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

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