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Top 50 Best Trailers Of All Time

10. The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick had already made Stephen King’s terrifying best-seller his own, as the novel never featured the ghostly vision of twin little girls, or “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” or the equally iconic Overlook Hotel elevator hallway that the trailer centers on. For nearly the first minute, this image of those menacing doors remains static as credits roll up, announcing all the major players of this collaboration: Kubrick, Nicholson, Duvall, King. A synth-heavy drone with tinkling notes soon builds into a swarm of ominous noise (one almost expects the Tycho Monolith to appear), and then in slow motion, gallons of blood pour out from the doors, splash up the walls and onto the camera, a tidal wave so thick that the furniture starts floating. (The combination of unsettling soundtrack and visuals was recently borrowed for the somewhat larger-scale teaser to Roland Emmerich’s upcoming apocalyptic disaster flick “2012.”)

Kubrick was a compulsive perfectionist, so while it only took three takes to nail this moment on a miniature set (each time spending nine days to reset the shot), it took about a year before he was happy with how the blood itself looked. This is especially ironic, since Kubrick still convinced the MPAA — who, at the time, would not allow trailers to feature blood if they were to be approved for all audiences — that the blood was merely rusty water. –Aaron Hillis

9. Mission: Impossible (1996)

A synthetic blend of boomer nostalgia and things that go boom, the “Mission Impossible” trailer was finely tuned for box-office glory. A cadaverous Jon Voight listens to the honeyed tenor offering up the, “mission, should you choose to accept it” routine, as the supporting players look sufficiently pensive in shades and stubble, waiting for the star’s arrival. I’m not speaking about Tom Cruise’s ceiling drop, dramatic as it is, but Lalo Schifrin’s propulsively kinetic theme song. The band fires up along with a match, as the wick is lit and the martial beat starts to slither it’s away around your brain pan. With this tune pulsing on the soundtrack, they could have had Jean Reno performing calisthenics and still sold a truckload of tickets. But they decided to include tuxedos, exploding fish tanks, speeding trains, exploding helicopters, a nervous Emilio Estevez, and to top it all off, an exploding title card instead. I think I just wet myself. –R. Emmet Sweeney

8. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Most horror film trailers play coy with details. They know what audiences go to horror movies to see, and they don’t give that sort of stuff away for free. Not so for the trailer to the original “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Where others hint, it wallows, shoving the viewer’s face into its gruesome imagery with almost sadistic pleasure, as if Leatherface himself edited the spot.

There’s no discernible logic to the way shots are strung together and connected with recurring images of flashbulb and viscera, which only serves to underscore the senseless and incomprehensible nature of the titular crime. The terror comes in flashes: meat hooks, mallets, bones, decomposing corpses and, of course, chainsaws, all punctuated by the frequent and all-too-convincing shrieks of the female cast members. The blood-drenched visuals contrast with a measured voiceover stating simply but insistently that “what happened was true,” a far cry from the more declamatory aural stylings from Don LaFontaine and his imitators. He promises that the film is “just as real, just as close, just as terrifying as being there.” It’s true of the trailer as well; when it’s all over after one hundred frenzied seconds, the audience has gone through nearly as much of an ordeal as the onscreen participants. –Matt Singer

7. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Stanley Kubrick was taken by the work of a young avant garde animator named Pablo Ferro, and had him edit this winning trailer for “Dr. Strangelove.” Ferro’s frenzied quick-cutting weaves glimpses of the film and audio bits with copious amounts of text (all accompanied by what sound like mallet hits to a xylophone) into a stroboscopic barrage of Cold War tension and hilarity, mein Führer. The pacing is insane and brilliant, if a tad too revealing, but only in retrospect. Strangely, images of a young Kubrick flash hypnotically in the beginning when the title screen of the director’s name comes up — they’re nearly impossible to notice on first viewing, and certainly wouldn’t have been identifiable in a time before YouTube. Later, a still frame of Kubrick studiously drawing upon a cigar appears. It remains for five seconds, precisely in the middle of the piece. Kubrick apparently liked the trailer so much he kept Ferro on to design the opening titles to the film, which are all hand-drawn. –Brandon Kim

6. Citizen Kane (1941)

When you have arguably the greatest film of all time on your hands, it shouldn’t be hard to cut an appealing trailer, but Orson Welles doesn’t show a frame of the actual film, nor does he show himself playing the titular newspaperman Charles Foster Kane once — in fact, Kane is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Welles used only his stentorian voice to introduce the players of the Mercury Theatre like Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead in a playful tour of the RKO Studios soundstage, before admitting about his own character: “I don’t know how to tell you about him. There’s so many things to say.” So he defers to a montage of “he said, she said” scenes from the film about his controversial protagonist, resulting in the best kind of tease, even with a little sex appeal, courtesy of some chorus girls Welles throws in for “ballyhoo.” As Joe Dante, director of “Gremlins” and creator of the invaluable site Trailers From Hell, who offered us his own favorite picks to take into consideration for this list, pointed out, “Just as he challenged the bromides of Hollywood filmmaking, Orson Welles created one of the most iconoclastic trailers ever, over which the RKO marketing department must have torn their hair out. It captures the brash tone of the entire rule-breaking enterprise perfectly.” –Stephen Saito

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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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