Double the action! Triple the excitement! One man. One Solution. Arnold Schwarzenegger this summer is. . .Little Tortilla Boy!
June 29, 2009 10:41 PM   Subscribe's Top Fifty Movie Trailers

Highlights include:

48. The Man Who Wasn't There, "a dreamlike, semi-abstract distillation of the genre (noir) to its core elements."

36. Spider-Man, featuring a surprise reveal of the superhero-nature of the film pulled early because of its prominent usage of the twin towers prior to 9/11.

24. Schindler's List
, underscoring the idea of the film being more about the Holocaust itself than its actors or director

19. Unbreakable
, a spellbinding trailer far, far better than the actual movie.

10. The Shining, no more needs to be said

7. Dr. Strangelove, appropriately surreal

4. Miracle on 34th Street, one of the earliest meta-trailers

and finally,
1. Alien, whose trailer perfectly encapsulates its respective film
posted by Ndwright (54 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Oooh! A Top 50 list! It's like Christmas in July!
posted by iamkimiam at 10:50 PM on June 29, 2009

Let me be the first to point out one they forgot: Chaplin which, like Unbreakable, is much better than the movie it advertises.
posted by HeroZero at 10:56 PM on June 29, 2009

They missed No Country for Old Men? FAIL.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:02 PM on June 29, 2009

I remember being in a packed theater when the "There Will Be Blood" trailer ran. It was a singular moment. I can't even describe the energy I, and the rest of the audience, felt--I think maybe "dumbfounded" is the best I can do. It should be on the list.
posted by IvyMike at 11:02 PM on June 29, 2009

I think Magnolia should be much higher, the Cloverfield trailer should not be on there (let alone above the Blair Witch trailer), I've always had a fondness for the trailer for Wes Craven's New Nightmare and I kinda prefer this trailer for the The Shining.
posted by crossoverman at 11:04 PM on June 29, 2009

I'm finding - more and more of late - that I appreciate the creative genius and compressed poetry of movie trailers far more than the movies they claim to represent.
posted by Auden at 11:06 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Summer of 1994 I frequented a little arthouse theater that would run the extended (several minutes long) trailer for Pulp Fiction before every movie they played. In fact that was a great summer for arthouse flicks. Fresh, Fear of a Black Hat, Priscilla all within months of each other meant we were there pretty often.

Anyhoo, no matter how many times we saw it, nothing set the room on fire like that trailer.
Never before or since have if felt that kind of chest-tightening vibe from the audience. You actually heard people talking about it in the lobby after whatever film it was they came to see.
Absolutely dynamic.

Of course seeing it opening night there a few months later was something i'll never forget either. There was a party atmosphere in that crowd akin to Rocky Horror's best nights.
It was fun being in a crowd of The Faithful as it were. It might seem odd now, but having a packed house cheer uproariously at Harvey Keitel's name on the screen before a flick just didn't happen in the pre-Pulp Fiction world (note: I never saw Bad Lieutenant or Monkey Trouble in the theater.)

The only other trailer I ever saw in a theater that got close to that reaction was ...sigh....Phantom Menace. But let's try not to talk about the recent unpleasantness.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:15 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I remember seeing the Cloverfield trailer when it just came out and there was no buzz yet, it was great how one could hear everyone in the theater asking "what the hell was that?"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:17 PM on June 29, 2009

That Magnolia trailer hit me in the chest pretty hard too. I remember keeping it open in a minimized browser window at work so I could pull it out and luxuriate in pathos. Ahhhh to be a moody 25 year old again. ;)

BTW, if you ever have a hanckerin to watch that flick again: don't.
It's histrionics have aged terribly.
If the new Transmorphers is like looking at a blender while someone yells at you for 2 hours, Magnolia is like looking at a blender full of a "moody" teenage girls journal entries while someone yells "Cry, motherfucker!!!!"
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:25 PM on June 29, 2009

Maybe someone should put together a movie full of movie trailers. For theatrical release. Seriously.

And that tingly vibe described above? Yeah, I've got it for the trailer for QTs upcoming Inglorious Basterds flick (or however it's spelled this week).
posted by davidmsc at 11:27 PM on June 29, 2009

The original teaser for The Matrix was a thing of beauty and mystery that actually made me want to see it after the crapfests that were Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction. Also the trailer for Dark City.

Buffalo '66. This particular encode is out of aspect, but yes, another trailer better than the movie.

Also, Zardoz. And The Fall.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:29 PM on June 29, 2009

For some reason I really liked the trailer for Ever After when it came out -- mostly because of the last scene where she says "Just Breathe" before it fades to black. Watching it again, though, I'm not sure I know what I was thinking.
posted by empath at 11:39 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are is so good that I don't even WANT to see the movie. It can only disappoint.
posted by empath at 11:55 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil was a terrific movie with a terrible trailer.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 12:01 AM on June 30, 2009

I overlooked Strange Days on the list.
I loved seeing that one in late-summer of '95.
Really felt in some ways like a throwback to that 70's golden age of groundbreaking trailers (see also: Zardoz)
It's also a tremendously under-rated and complex film in it's own right.
It's a shame that it's a mainly forgotten gem (seems like The Internet would love it) while turfs like Boondock Saints garner massive cults, albeit of Brawndo-chugging knuckledraggers.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:04 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Senor Cardgage re "Magnolia": BTW, if you ever have a hanckerin to watch that flick again: don't.

Ouch! I might agree its histrionics haven't aged well, but the opening Ricky Jay-narrated scenes still give me that "strange things are indeed afoot in the world" vibe. Better yet, once that's over, and all the characters are introduced at breakneck pace as the camera never stops moving hectically through their lives - that's some epic filmmaking. And then, the scene with John C. Reilly as the cop in that scene with the black lady - that's some epic acting. After that, though, it just falls flat for me, and I pop in Boogie Nights to finish what it started.
posted by scrowdid at 12:05 AM on June 30, 2009

Silly iFone.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:05 AM on June 30, 2009

I included Unbreakable on the list because of an anecdote my roommate is fond of telling:

"I saw the trailer for Unbreakable and thought 'wow, I need to see that movie.' I saw the trailer later, after seeing the movie, and thought, 'wow, I need to see that movie.' It took me about five minutes to realize that the movie I'd seen was the same movie the trailer was advertising."
posted by Ndwright at 12:11 AM on June 30, 2009

I get where you're comin from scrowdid.
That flick is such a solid-state piece that it's hard to divorce the impressive parts from the whole.
Whereas Boogie Nights (which I love wholly and throughout) has a bunch of great scenes I could watch on their own.

Also, odd derail: I'm a huge Ricky Jay fanboy and will watch him in literally anything but man do his skills as a narrator leave me cold. Too flat or something.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:11 AM on June 30, 2009

Hmmm, these lists are of course nothing more than argument fodder, but they make a pretty compelling case for the Alien one.

Personally, I've always been fond of The Squid and the Whale and its trailer, which sums up an entire marriage in a few short scenes.

"I made burgers that time you had pneumonia."
posted by Rangeboy at 12:30 AM on June 30, 2009

Has anyone put together a list of the worst trailers? I'd like to nominate the trailer for The Last Samurai if not.

I can't remember what movie I was going see when that trailer came on, but I remember hearing people having to stifle laughter as the trailer went on. The last straw was at the end when it says




The entire theater literally started to guffaw. Mind you, it was only about half full, but apparently enough people picked up on the silliness of having Tom Cruise pretend to be a Samurai to make the laughter go viral.
posted by arcolz at 12:43 AM on June 30, 2009

Speaking of laughter, did any of you see this beautiful "trailer" that played the art house circuit last fall?
It's all gorgeous international travelogue and oblique romance and drama and such, and then...rightthen when they have you hooked...product shot and Louis Vuitton logo.

The crowd laughed every time.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:49 AM on June 30, 2009

I think Swimfan would feature prominently on that list of worst trailers. I saw it in front of a lot of movies that year, and it never failed to make the theatre go "wtf?"
posted by migurski at 12:58 AM on June 30, 2009

Jurassic Park is not on the list. I'm gobsmacked.

That trailer blew my mind and sent me into a frenzy when I first saw it. I'm sure it did the same to others .
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 1:10 AM on June 30, 2009

I've always loved trailers.

Buffalo 66 totally deserved a mention in that list. Here is a little better-quality encode than the one upthread. The trailer really stands on its own. But all in all they actually pulled together a pretty good list here. Alien at #1 is hard to argue with.

I haven't watched them all yet, but am I right that there's no animated movies except South Park, and that all the movies are American? France's Triplets of Belleville and Korea's Wonderful Days are two great trailers for international animated features.

I remember that Comedian trailer was the first trailer I ever saw with no footage from the actual movie. I've also got a soft spot for the bait-and-switch trick, like the "Lacuna Corp" trailer for Eternal Sunshine, or the surprisingly clever "Regenerate" trailer for the Resident Evil movie.

On the other hand, some movies are so visually rich that you could hardly cut a bad trailer if you tried; all you've got to do is shut up and get out of the way of the footage. City of Lost Children comes to mind. But sometimes they'll beat the odds and manage a bad one anyways.

There's even surprisingly subtle and amazing trailers for things like video games (like The Last Guardian) and graphic novels (like Robota).

The last trailer I got excited about was this nuanced gem for Moon.

In a different vein, my campy guilty pleasure is the Eight-Legged Freaks trailer. Oh, and Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. And the Thanksgiving [nsfw-or-the-squeamish] trailer is easily the best thing Eli Roth ever did.

Thanks for the post!
posted by churl at 1:31 AM on June 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

For some reason I really liked the trailer for Ever After when it came out -- mostly because of the last scene where she says "Just Breathe" before it fades to black.

Ditto. Actually, I still like the trailer - but the film is disappointing in comparison.
posted by crossoverman at 3:48 AM on June 30, 2009

At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil was a terrific movie with a terrible trailer.

Ah, yes: Groundhog Day syndrome.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:11 AM on June 30, 2009

I overlooked Strange Days on the list.
I loved seeing that one in late-summer of '95.
Really felt in some ways like a throwback to that 70's golden age of groundbreaking trailers (see also: Zardoz)
It's also a tremendously under-rated and complex film in it's own right.

Oddly enough, it was the teaser trailer for Strange Days that kept me away from the film for a long time. It came out in the late summer/fall of 95 if I'm remembering right here, and already that year my friends and I had sat through some pretty embarrassing "omg cybersp4c3!!!1" thrillers: The Net, Hackers, and the horrendous Johnny Mnemonic. I can't even watch Johnny Mnemonic agani simply to make fun of it. There's no fun to be had in the film through any means.

As early twenty-something computer heads who occasionally enjoyed it when things blew up in movies, we were supposed to be the target audience but damned if those Hollywood films weren't dumbed down to the point of being insulting.

So then we're in the theater for some summer show and the Strange Days teaser comes on and there's Ralph Fiennes up there in character asking us if we've ever jacked in, if we've ever wire-tripped, etc. etc. etc. Uh oh. Those buzzwords. Used by screenwriters who have no idea what they mean other than they're really cool.

Then Fiennes goes all techno-shaman on us, which wasn't a good sign, either, and by the time the awesome rockin' music plays while the logo flashed in different colors, we knew we had this film's number. This was just another lame-ass cyberpunk cash-in attempt, and we avoided the film while it was in release (but not before adopting "Have you wire-tripped?" as a derisive slam on this science-fiction genre which seemed to have been Hollywooded to death before it had a chance to really pick up.)

A few years later I caught Strange Days during Boston's 24-hour science-fiction marathon and I ended up really impressed. It was leaps and bounds better than the teaser trailer sold it up to be. Funny how the one "cyberpunk" film that year which didn't outright suck or pander to the lowest part of each audience was advertised by a trailer which seemed to want to assure us that no, really, the film is just like all that other crap so don't feel put off by any hints of originality, honest.

(note for judges: book:cover::movie:trailer. Now that you know, we can move on.)
posted by Spatch at 5:41 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Watchmen made the list? Really? There were things I liked about the movie, but the trailer was utterly pedestrian. As far as Worst Trailer Ever goes, I'd like to nominate this gem, which played in front of every movie I saw for approximately eighteen months in 1999. It's like some kind of Platonic ideal of shitty trailer cliches.
posted by EarBucket at 6:10 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm amazed that they missed "A Clockwork Orange." It's the first thing that pops into my mind when I think "Great Movie Trailer." Kubrick made it himself.
posted by grumblebee at 6:16 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say pretty much word-for-word what grumblebee just said.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:52 AM on June 30, 2009

Kudos to them for including the whole list on the first page of the article.
posted by jquinby at 7:12 AM on June 30, 2009

Item, re: how we watched Hated: GG Allin (52 minutes, google video, NSFW!)
Coincidentally, this week only Pitchfork is streaming a 90-minute cut of Hated.
posted by kowalski at 7:29 AM on June 30, 2009

I have a mini-hobby of watching trailers and judging their quality on a number of levels. Their main purpose is to get you to watch the movie, of course, but if you're a film fan and see a lot of movies and trailers, I think you'll come up with a few general rules. Here are mine, and although I came up with them on my own through my years sitting in theaters, I'm sure they are far from unique or original to movie buffs:

1) The more a trailer tells you about the entire story arc, the less likely there's any reason to go to the movie.

If the marketing group thinks you need to see the entire film in 2 minutes so that you'll want to see it, what does that say about the other 88 minutes of a 90 minute flick? Granted, for a long time the trend was towards these "tell the whole story" trailers and not all such trailers were for bad movies, but you could often count on the shorter trailers being for good movies. The same is true now, until the trend turns to micro-trailers for all movies including those that suck.

2) The more reviews they mention in the trailers, the more likely the movie is terrible.

This is a golden rule with only one exception - if the reviews are from places you already know and respect. Every year there is at least one great movie that pulls out the review trailer and actually has respected critics and awards plastered all over it. Otherwise, the smaller the accreditation print and the bigger the quote from places that seem to give the worst movies glowing one-liners (I'm looking at you Rolling Stone), the faster you should run away.

3) If it looks like the best scenes are in the trailer, they probably are.

This holds true for nearly all genres. If the entirety of the biggest explosion is in the trailer, the action flick is going to disappoint. If the two lovers give their biggest emotional moment away in the trailer, well, what's the point. Comedies? Oh they are the easiest - big laughs in the trailer, nothing left elsewhere. How do you tell without watching the movie? Your gut often tells you, but for me I get a 6th sense watching such trailers to read a few reviews before buying a ticket. A couple of movies a year turn out to have had amazing clips in the trailers, but that was just a taste of the many great moments in the film. They are usually the best movies of the year. So, I just use this rule as a red flag warning to read the reviews.

4) Past performance is an indicator of future performance.

Oh, come on, how often do people who make bad movies suddenly make good ones? If you get to know the actors, directors, screen writers, and producers, most of the time you'll know at least what is bad. Finding what is good is another story. Even if trailers are not that interesting (many thought the UP trailer for Pixar was not a grabber), to some extent a good track record can obviously mean a good movie is likely even if marketing didn't create a good pitch. People usually associated with bad movies coupled with a trailer that is over the top in terms of self-importance ("In a world where everything is on the line...." starring Adam Sandler) means disaster. For bad movie makers trying to make good with a new direction in their career, see Rule 5.

5) If you think you've seen it before, you probably have.

Movies churn the same basic stories over and over. If you want something new, look for a trailer that seems to promise something new. Otherwise movies are variations on a theme, and the most important thing is the execution of the common theme. This same rule applies to actors breaking new ground in roles unfamiliar to their past work. Almost no movies in a given year put out a trailer that makes you think the movie is actually breaking new ground, and most actors don't stray very far from their past characters. Sometimes the movie does break ground painfully and poorly, but at least you know something new is being born. I use this as a flag to go look up movie development information and learn more about the film. If I'm still interested after reading a bit, I take a leap and give the new stuff a try or read some reviews if I'm still not sure about my tastes meshing with the movie.

Beyond that, I like deconstructing the relationship between bad movies and good trailers - good meaning if the movie was like the trailer, we'd all have been better off. These trailers make you want to hire the marketing guys for the next film and fire everyone else. Case in point, Godzilla, which did not make the list (and maybe fits Rule #3, but there is no way I'm watching that movie again to verify if the entire trailer is in the movie). The list is full of these potential rule-breakers.
posted by Muddler at 7:38 AM on June 30, 2009

Notice with a couple exceptions they're all older films.

That's because the dumbed-down trailer of today gives away the entire plot of the film.
posted by Zambrano at 7:40 AM on June 30, 2009

I adore this Madame Bovary trailer.
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

1) The more a trailer tells you about the entire story arc, the less likely there's any reason to go to the movie.

The Deer Hunter did this. It is a great movie but has an awful trailer that does that very thing.

On the other hand, seoetimes this is a good marketing technique. Some movies are not very good and aren't appealing to an audience that are interested in a different kind of story: some audience members want to know exactly what they're going to get, with no surprises.

Also, the second Episode I trailer was quite good. That definitely gave me a preview of a much better movie than I ended up seeing.
posted by deanc at 7:58 AM on June 30, 2009

Jesus God, the trailer for Alien scared the hot piss out of young Skot when it was airing. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what I found so interesting in something that promised to do nothing but agonize me. My love of horror movies was born.
posted by Skot at 8:29 AM on June 30, 2009

Muddler: the worst movies glowing one-liners (I'm looking at you Rolling Stone)

I swear to God that every movie Peter Travers sees is a hugely entertaining knock-out roller-coaster ride of a hilariously heartfelt powerhouse winner that goes straight for the jugular and floors you with rollicking suspense.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:36 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I thought it was universally recognized that Peter Travers is the World's Most Easily Amused Man.
posted by Spatch at 8:50 AM on June 30, 2009

Peter Travers

Ugh. He really puts the "less" in "useless."
posted by Skot at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've got to say that the original theatrical trailer for Sin City really got me going when I saw it on the big screen . . . I've never anticipated a release like I did that one . . .
posted by eggman at 9:49 AM on June 30, 2009

Damn . . . I guess I should have looked at the list first? And here I was thinking I brought something to the table . . .
posted by eggman at 9:51 AM on June 30, 2009

I've almost never been more excited about a film by a trailer than when I first saw this teaser trailer for The Big Lebowski, in the theater, back in the 90's.

Back before internet buzz and leaked photos made you hyper aware of every future event, this was my first knowledge of what their next movie would be, and that they even had a new movie.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:05 AM on June 30, 2009

The only trailer that made me really want to see a movie is for ANVIL!.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2009

Just because I love it, and this post mentioned IFC: I call my movie horses are pretty, because horses are pretty.
posted by jeffkramer at 10:42 AM on June 30, 2009

Since the IFC site doesn't give many details, some background info:

The Alien trailer was created by advertising legend Steve Frankfurt. The Alien teaser features among other things:

• crumbled brownies for the alien planet landscape
• a painted L'eggs pantyhose container as the alien egg
the greatest movie trailer copyline ever
posted by jca at 10:43 AM on June 30, 2009

The first trailer for 300 captivated me. I choose to consider it the director's cut of the film; all the unnecessary padding and embarrassing missteps left on the cutting room floor.
posted by Lorc at 10:55 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Good trailers for bad films? The Avengers. I was genuinely excited about that film when I saw the trailer, convinced that it was going to be the shit. I was, of course, only half right.
posted by MUD at 12:34 PM on June 30, 2009

Props for the Pablo Francisco reference, Ndwright.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 2:36 PM on June 30, 2009

i much prefer this john waters trailer.

posted by brandz at 8:27 PM on June 30, 2009
posted by brandz at 8:28 PM on June 30, 2009

hahaha. i absolutely love the pablo francisco reference in the title. :)
posted by djenigma at 7:42 PM on July 1, 2009

I remember a really great trailer for the Eddie Murphy movie The Golden Child that was far better than the movie itself. Sadly I can't find that version online, but if featured a mysterious figure walking through a blizzard who turned out to be Murphy cussing out the world.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 11:04 AM on July 2, 2009

« Older Kwaheri.   |   D-Touch Drum Machine Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments