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Top 50 Best Trailers Of All Time

25. Real Life (1979)

If you’re going to sell a comedy without showing any actual footage from said film, the promo material you do use better be downright uproarious. If done right, it’s a gamble worth taking, as evidenced by Albert Brooks’ trailer for 1979’s “Real Life,” which tells you next to nothing about the film itself but thoroughly convinces you of Brooks’ sardonic gifts.

The trailer opens to the star/director sitting at a fancy office desk typing on a calculator — as if some routine accounting were being interrupted by our appearance — and he proceeds to explain to viewers how “Real Life” will be in 3-D (which is a lie), and so too will the forthcoming trailer (which is also sort of a lie). After instructing audience members to don their nonexistent 3-D glasses — or borrow some red and blue cellophane from the theatergoer sitting beside them — Brooks, now shot in out-of-focus 3-D, proceeds to repeatedly stick his finger, as well as throw a drink, at the screen in typical 3-D-gimmicky fashion. Finally, in the most self-consciously absurd moment in a trailer filled with them, he brings out world champion paddle-ball player Randy Brown for an extended bit in which he hits balls right at the screen while Brooks puts on glasses and goofily exclaims “Randy, it looks like you’re actually here!” –Nick Schager

24. Schindler’s List (1993)

There are only two lines of dialogue in the entire trailer for Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.” (They are “Goodbye, Jews!” and “The list is life.”) There’s just one enigmatic title card (a quotation from that Talmud that reads “Whoever saves one life… saves the world entire”). There’s no voiceover. The preview makes no attempt whatsoever to explicate its story further, or to establish who Oskar Schindler was or what he did. It doesn’t even make entirely clear who plays him in the film. Instead, the trailer’s one hundred and forty seconds are devoted primarily to showcasing the film’s haunting, documentary-like black and white imagery: men and women being crowded onto trains, Nazis hunting down people with flashlights, a child watching with cruel pleasure as Jews are shipped off to their deaths, workers slaving away in a prison camp, and the horrific path to a gas chamber. The footage suggests that whatever else “Schindler’s List” is about, Spielberg’s ultimate and most important subject is the Holocaust itself, a time and place he clearly captured with astonishing care and accuracy. No amount of ad copy could explain that story, but in this case it doesn’t need to. Images this powerful speak for themselves. –Matt Singer

23. Red Eye (2005)

No one knew quite what to make of a Wes Craven movie starring up-and-coming actress Rachel McAdams and Irish thespian Cillian Murphy, and the opening of the trailer for “Red Eye” doesn’t clear much up. With its shots of the jumble and bustle of airport hassles and a meet cute between the two leads, it could be setting up any number of romantic comedy plotlines. The couple are waiting out the delay for their overnight flight to Miami, and flirt over Tex Mex in an airport restaurant before realizing they’re seated together on the flight. “You’re not stalking me, are you?” Murphy asks, in the low, gurgly American accent he adopted for the role. Then a look is exchanged between the couple, with the shot of Cillian Murphy’s crazy blue peepers irising into a single eye, which suddenly glows a rather Satanic red. “Sometimes bad things happen to good people,” we hear him say, and with that it seems clear that Craven has gone for chills over conventional horror: the tone of his excellent psychological thriller is set, and so were the calendars of millions of moviegoers. –Michelle Orange

22. Sin City (2005)

“Goldie’s dead,” Mickey Rourke whispers with a load of gravel large enough to fill the bed of an 18-wheeler. In the real world, tough guys in long black leather car coats are douche bags. But in Frank Miller’s graphic novel realm they’re the defenders of whatever morality remains in the hooker-filled streets of “Sin City.” What your eyes may grow accustomed to in a full-length feature they are mystified by in the trailer. How much of that was prosthetic, how much animated, how much prosthetic cartoon? The stark black-and-white style leaves most wide shots a blur with greater focus on whichever sexed up, ultra-violent figure takes center. A glimpse of a red bed, a blonde’s curls, a sociopathic rapist dyed vomit yellow No. 5… just the kinds of things Miller’s drawn to. –Brandon Kim

21. Strange Days (1995)

Salesmanship is a large but unspoken part of all trailers. The teaser to Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” addresses that notion by structuring itself as a simple but forceful pitch: star Ralph Fiennes, in a variety of close-ups, selling you on the idea of virtual reality. At first, little of what Fiennes is selling makes sense (“Have you ever jacked in? Have you ever wire tripped?”). But slowly he draws us in with that movie star charm, playing to our curiosity by promising VR will deliver escapism, vicarious thrills, and an immersive sensory experience; by absolutely no coincidence whatsoever, exactly the same things any great movie offers as well.

As Fiennes speaks, suggestive text flies about the screen, underlining his points, vowing to deliver “forbidden fruit” of “textures” and “colors.” The whole thing operates on two levels: as a clever deconstruction of movie advertising, and as a tantalizing commercial for the mysterious product it’s selling, which is technically virtual reality, but is really just the movie “Strange Days.” Fiennes’ performance as this self-described “magic man” is seductive and alluring, no small feat when you’re forced to do it while spouting technobabble. In a career that’s already garnered two Academy Award nominations, Fiennes’ work in this teaser is one of his best performances to date. –Matt Singer

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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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