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Top 50 Best Trailers Of All Time

5. Comedian (2002)

Plenty of trailers on this list advertise movies without showing any clips from them. But even spots comprised of entirely new footage made specifically for the trailer usually include the stars or creators of the film being advertising and at least some mention of what the movie’s about. Until a title card ten seconds before the end of the teaser that reads “A Film About Comedy With Jerry Seinfeld,” there’s literally no indication of what “Comedian” is about (or, for that matter, an appearance by Jerry Seinfeld). The 90-second teaser features one of those gravel-throated voiceover guys (the legendary Hal Douglas, second only to the late Don LaFontaine in recognizability) throwing out trailerese chestnuts like “In a world!” or “One man!” until he’s fired by his exasperated producer.

It’s an atypical approach for a trailer, but a fairly typical representation of Seinfeld’s approach to advertising, as evidenced in his many American Express commercials where he pokes fun at the accepted-but-bizarre tropes of marketing (Christian Charles, Seinfeld’s collaborator on his AmEx campaign, directed and co-wrote the “Comedian” teaser). Even without its star, the trailer works because it’s so totally infused with his didja-ever-notice-that comedic worldview; you can almost hear Seinfeld in the editing room going, “What’s the deal with that guy who does the voices in trailers? ‘When your life is no longer your own?’ What the hell does that mean?” And consider this: since this “Comedian” trailer premiered, how often have you heard the phrase “In a world…” in a trailer? –Matt Singer

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Quite a clever gambit — especially for 1947 — the trailer for “Miracle on 34th Street” is more like a five-minute short film that for the most part takes place outside of the world of the movie it’s advertising. It opens as a conventional trailer with keywords splashed onto the screen: Hilarious! Romantic! Delightful! Charming! Tender! Exciting! A voice calls out to stop the tape, and we cut to a screening room, where an ostensible studio head begins crabbing about the lack of focus in the trailer — the film can’t be all of those things, can it?

He sends his men back to the drawing table before heading out to the backlot. There he runs into various actors, including Ann Baxter, who all give him varied but extremely positive kudos for “Miracle,” with a young girl declaring it to be “simply groovy!” The studio honcho, who hasn’t bothered to see the film, returns to the screening room, and we get a number of shots of him sitting through the film: laughing, crying, being moved and delighted. When the lights come up he tells the men he’s got just the angle for the trailer, and proceeds to repeat their ideas right back to them. It’s a uniquely transparent approach to the dilemma the studio faced with the movie, which they wanted to market as all things to all moviegoers, and in making the studio head look like a bit of a putz, gains a little charm of it’s own. And who knew they said “groovy” in 1947? Or that they spelled it “groovey”? –Michelle Orange

3. Cloverfield (2008)

Surprise is key to the “Cloverfield” teaser, which — without any marketable stars to pivot its sales pitch around — instead expertly plays up its film’s reality-caught-on-tape conceit. Opening with home movie footage of a Manhattan loft party in which revelers wish their friend Rob a fond farewell, the trailer immediately intrigues by positing a familiar scene of merry 20-somethings that could just as easily be the set-up for an indie rom-com or a serial killer thriller.

Couching its action in the sweetly ordinary is the trailer’s (as well as the film’s) grand stroke of inspiration, creating such relatable, everyday circumstances that the sudden mysterious roar that interrupts the festivities — and the subsequent, fiery explosion spied from the building’s rooftop — proves fantastically chilling. From there, one is jump-cut-plunged into an unexpected scene of chaotic monster mash terror that, taking a page from “Independence Day”’s monuments-loving playbook, culminates with one of the most chilling money shots — Wait, did something just throw that into the street? — in trailer history. There’s nary a mention of a title, in part because one wasn’t finalized yet, but also because the creators seemed perfectly confident that a release date was all that was necessary. –Nick Schager

2. Psycho (1960)

Sure, Alfred Hitchock was the master of suspense, but he was also a master of the mordantly funny trailer. Any one of his bone dry performances could have made this list (his passive-aggressive avian torture in “The Birds” promo, for instance), but his “Psycho” tour-guide routine tops them all.

In the long-form preview, he turns on the obsequious charm, leading the audience towards each crime scene with the tittering unease of an anal-retentive coroner, his hands a bundle of nervous energy. Waddling in front of the Bates’ staircase, he describes the broken, twisted back of a victim with a twirl of his eager paws — before hypocritically embracing discretion. Tip-toeing in front of the motel, his glee at entering the murder site is expressed in a nervous finger fidget, tapping all ten together at the horrors he’s about to unleash. He’s playing this audience-titillating game for laughs, until he reaches for that shower curtain… –R. Emmet Sweeney

1. Alien (1979)

Masterfully cut and artful to boot, the first glimpse of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-horror classic features not a single word of dialogue and begins in abstract: a ride through a star field, a hover above some sort of moon rock, blocky shapes that slowly materialize into the letters of the title, craggy landscape traversed with a macro lens before pulling back to clarify what lies on that cratered surface — the egg of an alien life form. It cracks open, releasing an ill-omened white light and the high-pitched alarm (an animalistic squeal?) that unnerves throughout the rest of the trailer.

Astronauts tiptoe into an extraterrestrial ship, crosscut with Sigourney Weaver inexplicably running through corridors, with confounding/enticing images flashing almost subliminally in between (a space crew awakening from hyper-sleep, Harry Dean Stanton’s bewildered close-up) before all hell breaks loose (an obscured Ian Holm spurting milky blood, a cat hissing, a never-before-seen “face hugger” in a frenzy). From above the planet, an onscreen title ultimately seals the deal, seeming all the more foreboding for the vaccuum of diegetic sound that came before it: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” It’s one of the most famous taglines of all time, though I’m quite partial to the far less effective “Alien3” slogan that ambiguously referenced either a breeding alien or Weaver’s Lt. Ripley, believe it or not (“In case you haven’t noticed, the bitch is back”). –Aaron Hillis

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15 Comments »

  • Jase said

    Where the heck is Hitchhiker’s Guide’s trailer?

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  • Thom said

    I enjoy trailers a lot & regularly am glued to the internet watching the latest releases.

    I was trying to remember a trailer that I was impressed by and couldn’t really think of any (probably at the fault of my memory more than anything else). However the one that is popping into my head now is “Pineapple Express”. It introduced a lot of people to the wicked MIA track “Paper Planes” and I actually spit out my coffee laughing when James Franco “helps” to clear the car windscreen. It really made me want to see it (unfortunately, the movie itself was a bit of a let down). Take a look at it http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/pineappleexpress/high.html

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  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    Yeah, Pineapple Express is a great trailer.

    The best recent trailer for me was The Prestige. It wasn’t groundbreaking in any way, it just took a concept I had no interest in and made it compulsory. Not often that happens.

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  • dnwilliams said
    dnwilliams

    saw this over on ifc, nicely done. loved how high cloverfield was.

    the prestige did have a cool trailer, mi3 too (the explosion threw tom cruise onto a car!)

    i like the two towers requiem for a tower trailer, even if that music is played out now…

    the most recent trailers that i absolutely love are the 500 hundred days of summer trailer and the benjamin button trailer

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  • Mimi said

    I am also a trailer obsessed moviegoer. We should all unite sometime.

    Personally, i enjoyed the Illusionist trailer as well. The prestige was nicely put together, yet the plot was iffy for me.

    I think this was a great list of trailers. I would prefer less old trailers, but still they were excellent.

    Maybe soon, there will be a 50 worst trailers of all time. I would like to put The Perfect Getaway on there already.

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  • Trodaboy said

    It surprised me that KILL BILL wasn’t on this list, when I first saw the trailer I was like..”I gotta see this movie” plus the music was so damn addictive!

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  • jack said

    Are you kidding me! The revenge of the sith is the best trailer ever!! no because of the movie itslef, but because of the way the use footage from Star wars to connect between the two trilogies. Listen to the old Obi-Wan (sir Alec Guiness) telling the tale of the time when the Jedi where the pace keepers of the galaxy while you see footage from Revenge of the Sith, that is the best way to close the loop between the two stories.
    Is a shame that you didn’t even include is in your list!!

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  • Nicolas said

    I’m not really convinced with number 1… the best trailer ever in my opinion is PEARL HARBOR Official Trailer… I will never forget how impressed I was at young age watch this trailer for the first time in the cinema. Epic.. best ever trailer so far. And the movie was one of the best too

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  • Lisa said

    The best trailer in my humble opinion is a little-known gem called ‘The Genius Club’. It’s one of the most profound movies ever made.

    You can rent it at Netflix, I think.

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  • lisa loller said

    this is 1 funniest thing i’ve ever heard lisa….the genius club is best muv…cant even spit at that

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  • Joey said

    Where is Jurassic Park it was classic just the ripples in the water you had no idea what was coming.

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  • Liam said

    WTF where is TF3

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  • siddharth said

    now look everyone the best movie trailer is :

    INCEPTION

    i mean when the trailer first came everyone was astouned. A lot of
    people were searching the google for its background music. And i’m just upset that u don’t have inception anywhere on the list
    too bad, really

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