Top 50 Best Trailers Of All Time3.07.09 # Top Ten # 15 Comments
Our friends over at IFC.com have put together a list of the top 50 best trailers. And they’ve asked us if we’d like to feature it too. Why not. So here you are. And if you’ve never spent any time on the IFC site, do head on over and check it out.
They should be called leaders. We know them as trailers, but they don’t trail anything; they play before the movie, not after it. The name dates to their earliest incarnation, when they actually did follow the feature. The documentary “Coming Attractions” dates the very first trailer to a 1912 Edison serial entitled “What Happened to Mary?” After each installment, a black card with white text would appear to inform audiences “The next incident in the series of ‘What Happened to Mary’ will be shown a week from now.” Not exactly “In a world…” but it did the trick back in 1912.
What happened to Mary wasn’t nearly as important as what happened to trailers, which have grown into one of the most popular forms of advertising in the world. Some think they spoil the movies — Gene Siskel famously hated them so much he wouldn’t enter a theater while they were playing — but for the rest of us, they’re a treasured part of the moviegoing ritual, a delicious cinematic appetizer to prepare us for the main course.
There are many ways to measure a trailer’s quality, from the persuasiveness of its salesmanship to the cleverness of its copywriting. Ultimately, we decided that the best trailers are those that most effectively combine art and commerce, and that sell and entertain with equal skill. Some of the previews on our list are for classic films, but many are for mediocrities. Some are for absolutely bombs. That speaks to the magic of the trailers. You could argue that these clips play to our basest instincts in order to convince us to see movies that aren’t always good. But considered from another perspective, trailers provide a version of cinema that’s essentially utopian, in which every film is perfect, if only for two and a half minutes.
Now, in an online world ruled by pop culture lists, comes one film website that would dare to do the impossible. Pursued by a ruthless cyborg programmed to destroy it, IFC.com is about to engage in a battle to decide the fate of the human race!
No, wait, I’m sorry. That’s actually the copy from the “American Cyborg” trailer. This is IFC.com’s list of the 50 Greatest Trailers of All Time. No ruthless cyborgs here, unless our choices so enrage you that you send one after us. Please don’t.
50. Night of the Iguana (1964)
It’s only fitting that this list ends (or begins) with the trailer for John Huston’s 1964 adaptation of the Tennessee Williams drama starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. In spite of those marquee names, it was the far lesser-known Andrew J. Kuehn that made the film a landmark in cinema history by introducing innovations in movie trailer-making that remain a staple today.
Hired by MGM after excelling at cutting trailers for foreign films in the early ‘60s, Kuehn took pre-film advertising to a whole new level when he employed a young James Earl Jones to do an omniscient voiceover, added a jazzy score and introduced quick-cut editing in a world where trailers were usually comprised of full scenes. Today, the “Night of the Iguana” trailer looks a bit like avant-garde filmmaking, but it proved the basis for the rest of Kuehn’s influential body of work, including trailers for “Taxi Driver,” “Alien” and “Jaws,” as well as the entire business of film marketing. –Stephen Saito
49. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Anatomy of a Trailer: we open in a nondescript courtroom, Anytown, U.S.A. But almost immediately, a sign of the unusual: the bailiff stands and announces “There is a new movie coming to this town. All those involved in this film will now be sworn in!” The oath is then delivered by “Anatomy of a Murder” director Otto Preminger. “Raise your right hand!” he barks. “Do you solemnly swear that you have done your job in this picture to the best of your ability… James Stewart?” Jimmy nods and says he does, followed in rapid succession by the rest of the cast. I’m not sure these statements are legally binding, but the enthusiasm is nice. Next Preminger has a conversation with “Anatomy” novelist John D. Voelker, who rightly observes that their courtroom scene is missing a jury. “Our jury is not just twelve men and women in a box!” Preminger chuckles. “Our judge and jury sits out there!” as he points into the camera, “millions and millions of people in the theaters!”
The entire judicial conceit is cheeky fun, obviously in keeping with the film’s subject matter, and Preminger’s salutation to the audience is an apt metaphor for the court of public opinion. Plus the overly excited pull quotes from newspaper reviews — just what the hell is “Socko cinema!” anyway? — shows that dubious blurbage in movie ads is not just a recent problem. –Matt Singer
48. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is more than just an homage to film noir — it’s a dreamlike, semi-abstract distillation of the genre to its core elements. So, too, is its trailer, which highlights the film’s immaculate, highly manicured black-and-white cinematography throughout its montage of period haircuts (narrated with disenchanted deliberateness by Billy Bob Thornton’s smoking barber) and its archetypal noir visions of hands, suit-and-fedora silhouettes and clandestine rendezvous.
Wasting not a single gesture, the trailer is edited with hallucinatory beauty that belies the action’s encompassing mood of misery, treachery and tragedy. Despite being comprised of actual film clips, not a single plot point is overtly explicated. Simply through its combination of in-action dialogue (from Thornton and Tony Shalhoub) and evocative imagery, the Coens’ trailer expresses everything one might need to know about this haunting, self-consciously stylized, resolutely fatalistic neo-noir. –Nick Schager
47. Magnolia (1999)
Narrated by magician/actor Ricky Jay, himself a chronicler of oddities and bizarre occasions, this trailer wisely sets up “Magnolia”’s somewhat stretched premise: namely that crazy unbelievable sh*t really, truly happens. Paul Thomas Anderson’s story attempts to stand in a whirlwind of a plotline on the extra weight brought by these synchronous and sometimes wild occurrences. Whether they really impart meaning, or are just stories woven together with an Aimee Mann sing-along and a climactic precipitation of amphibians, is up in the air. Certainly, the performances carry weight and are the real treat with this ensemble cast, many of whom worked together on Anderson’s prior film “Boogie Nights.” Conscious of that, the trailer highlights the best part of the film, its actors. –Brandon Kim
46. Watchmen (2009)
Even if “Watchmen” couldn’t live up to its hype as the most anticipated graphic-novel adaptation of all time, the trailer is at least the greatest Smashing Pumpkins music video of all time, as set to the apocalyptically suspenseful strains of their 2007 “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning.” (Coincidentally, it’s the gloomier B-side to their Grammy-winning “The End is the Beginning is the End,” also from a soundtrack, that of fellow DC comic book property “Batman & Robin”).
Titles float through the gears of a timepiece: “In 2009, Everything We Know Will Change,” at least for Billy Crudup’s nerdy doctor, seemingly vaporized inside the Intrinsic Field Subtractor. The Nite Owl’s air ship emerges from underwater, the Silk Spectre poses in a flaming hallway, the Comedian is thrown through a window to his death, and more iconic pop tableaux sync up in slowed speeds to Billy Corgan and crew’s lethargic beats. Director Zack Snyder really shouldn’t be credited onscreen as a visionary, but when Rorshach provocatively narrates “The world will look up and shout, ‘Save us,’ and I’ll whisper… ‘no,’ ” before the Pumpkins’ tune brakes for the final image — Dr. Manhattan’s massive erection (no blue schlong jokes, please) of a crystal castle on Mars — you can practically hear the fanboys frothing. –Aaron Hillis