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Weekend Roundtable: Best & Worst Movie Trailers

In a world… where movies need to be advertised by short 2-3 minute previews that encapsulate all the reasons an audience should run out to see them, movie trailers are both an art form and a necessary evil. When done well, they build a viewer’s excitement. When done really well, a trailer may even be better than the movie it advertises. But when done poorly, they’ll drive an audience from ever wanting to see the movie at all. In this week’s Roundtable, we highlight some of the best and worst.

Brian Hoss

Best:RoboCop‘ is one of the greatest genre-mixing films of all time, so it should come as no shock that the movie also had an excellent trailer. It’s also no coincidence that the ‘Terminator’ soundtrack works so well to assist in telling the capsule-sized story. Where so many previews are forced to spoil the entire plot of a film or manufacture a new one, this trailer focuses on the dynamic between RoboCop and the savage, crumbling Detroit that he occupies. (It’s also bombastically packed with explosions.) It gives us no origin story, no ED-209, and none of the satirical commercials from the film. It’s just RoboCop versus crime and corruption. The trailer concludes with two scenes that suggest big scores by both sides, insisting that viewers see the film to find out more, without revealing the conclusion or even the face of Peter Weller.

Worst: Plenty of trailers mislead, especially for films that don’t fit any kind of conventional genre or story structure. The case with this ‘Judge Dredd‘ trailer, however, is a triumph of marketing over execution. Any time you begin a film with a bite-sized philosophical voiceover by James Earl Jones, you can check off those moments of screen time as incredibly well-spent. Thus, that moment anchors the trailer. And that’s just it. Much like a comedy whose only funny moments are all found in the trailer, this ‘Judge Dredd’ preview compresses the production value, the casting and some well-staged scenes into enough of a musically driven story to make an awesome trailer. This has always been a lousy movie that overflows with parts that don’t work, but the trailer burns off the meandering plot and uneven characterizations (the wooden acting, the listless humor, the non-starter love story, etc.), and still makes me want to watch the movie, even though I know it’s a lie.

http://youtu.be/z0-3_lXYA9I

Mike Attebery

Best: I think it was Entertainment Weekly that called the trailer for ‘Ransom‘ the best short film of 1996. Although it spoiled the twist and made the movie look much more exciting than it actually was, the trailer sure was a corker. I guess it was the best AND most misleading trailer that comes to mind, but heck, I’d like to watch it again right now. As for ‘Ransom’… not so much.

Tom Landy

Best: I love bizarre movies, and a trailer for any film that can almost make me choke to death from laughing so hard is a winner in my book. With that in mind, my all-time favorite trailer has to be for ‘RoboGeisha‘. What you see in this trailer is exactly what you get in the movie: 100% pure Japanese cheese. But the true selling point for me is the voiceover guy’s narration. I mean, I really don’t know where they found this dude, and it really doesn’t matter much anyway. All I know is that whenever Don LaFontaine retires from showbiz, his heir has been found.

Shannon Nutt

Worst: My biggest complaint with trailers in the past couple decades has been that they give away far too much of the storyline. Remember the days when you only knew the basic premise of a movie before entering the theater? Now it seems that the studios like to give away everything but the final scene. There are tons of examples of this, but one that sticks out from the recent past is this trailer for the Bob Zemeckis film ‘What Lies Beneath‘, which gives away every major plot point in the movie:

Best: I’m a much bigger fan of teaser trailers, those that tell you just enough about the film to give you the basic premise and get you excited to see it. A great example is this teaser for the Clint Eastwood movie ‘In the Line of Fire‘. It tells you everything you need to know without showing one frame from the actual movie:

Luke Hickman

Best: Despite appearing to give away too much, I believe that one of the best new trailers out there is for ‘The Impossible‘. If you have a spouse and/or kids, I dare you to not get emotional during this trailer. Combine the intense visuals with the beautiful Damien Rice cover of U2′s “One,” and you have an anticipation-inducing tease.

Worst: The most misleading recent trailer to come to mind is that for ‘Flight‘. Like I said in my review, I’d much rather watch the courtroom drama that the trailer makes the movie out to be than the adult After-School Special that we really get.

Aaron Peck

Worst: I steer clear of trailers as best I can. In general, they either spoil too much of the fun or end up advertising a movie that isn’t actually what you’re going to see. One of the worst trailers I’ve seen in a long time was produced for the slow-burning character piece ‘The American‘. For some reason, distributor Focus Features (which should have some experience with making trailers for art house and indie films) put out a terrible piece of trash for this movie. The studio apparently felt that it couldn’t market the movie to the masses without making it look like George Clooney had taken on a Jason Bourne-like role. This was blatant underhanded marketing at its worst. Many people walked out after being duped into buying tickets for a completely different type of movie than they were led to expect. I’m not saying that ‘The American’ is a bad movie. I actually loved it. However, a studio should have the balls to advertise it for what it is, and not what the marketers think people want to see.

M. Enois Duarte

Both Best and Worst: Since everyone is likely to pick separate trailers for movies they love or hate, I’m going with one preview is that is both equally good and bad: ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace‘. Before anyone yells for my head on a stick, I’ll ask that you remember back to a time before people flocked to theaters to see what actually turned out to be a big fat turd of a movie. It had been thirty years since the first ‘Star Wars’ and over two decades since the last installment. Seeing the teaser trailer for the first time produced a huge uproar from the fan base, especially because the preview was designed to play on our fondest memories of the original trilogy. Not until months later would we finally see the movie and realize that we’d all been hoodwinked. By then, it was too late; the trailer has already worked its magic. This is a bad trailer because of how effective it was at suckering us, but it’s also a good trailer for the exact same reason. Besides, the two minutes you spend on it is far better than what we actually got for the movie.

Josh Zyber

Best: I adore this trailer for William Friedkin’s hugely entertaining crime thriller ‘To Live and Die in L.A.‘, which brilliantly conveys the movie’s kinetic energy and flashy ’80s style, and also provides a decent enough sense of what the movie is about (counterfeiters and Secret Service agents) without giving away the whole plot or all the best scenes. (It hardly shows any of the famous car chase.) This thing blazes with style and energy. I could watch it over and over again. It makes me want to watch the movie again right now.

Worst: There’s nothing worse than a trailer that spoils the whole movie, and the Red Band preview for the horror comedy ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil‘ is one of the worst offenders at that I’ve ever seen. It shows practically every important plot-point, every gore scene, and every joke in the movie from start to finish. I think I might have enjoyed the film a lot more if I hadn’t seen the trailer first. As it was, by the time I saw down to watch the movie, I felt like I’d already seen it. In fact, if you haven’t seen ‘Tucker and Dale’ yet, don’t watch this trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQOZHEYhVtU

Those are some of our picks. What are the best and worst movie trailers you’ve ever seen? Tell us in the Comments.

17 comments

  1. Alex

    One of the best trailers I can think of is Face/Off. The simple, spinning camera as John Travolta gives his monologue, then transforms into Nicholas Cage… bloody brilliant.

    In terms of sheer effectiveness, I remember seeing the trailer for “Evolution” and laughing hysterically, thinking that it was destined to be the funniest movie of all time. In retrospect, I should have just watched the trailer 50 times on a loop…

  2. Agreed on Tucker and Dale. I saw for trailer before the film unfortunately, and because of that, couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about.

  3. hurin

    Best: Fight Club. I had never heard about it untill I saw the trailer, and was immediately hooked.

    Worst: Zardoz. It is a shame really, because this movie is not the turd it’s rumored to be, and I’m sure the trailer had a lot to do with its failure. Aside from being idiotic it has almost nothing to do with the movie.

  4. Mike

    Man, in hindsight it’s pretty obvious Gary Sinese is the bad guy in Ransom, considering he doesn’t even speak in the trailer.

    As for best trailers, I’ve always liked the trailer for “Go.”

  5. besch64

    Somebody should tell Tom Landy that Don LaFontaine has been “retired” for a few years now.

    My favorite trailer has to be the 60 second teaser for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You know the one. With Karen O’s Zeppelin cover and the edits on every beat. Psyches you up and gets your heart pumping. I had little interest in the movie before I saw that trailer, and it completely sold me on it. I’m glad it did, because it went on to pretty much be the best movie of the year.

    Also love The Social Network trailer with the Creep cover. What a beautiful trailer for a beautiful movie.

    I imagine those two Fincher trailers were worked on by the same people. Similar concepts and both outstanding. Probably my two favorite trailers from the last few years.

    Also got to give props to The Tree of Life trailer. Watched it dozens of times and it still makes me feel like there’s a better version of The Tree of Life out there somewhere. I appreciated the movie, but that trailer makes some huge promises that the movie just never delivers.

  6. Leo

    For best I got two recent favorites: The Avengers Super Bowl Trailer (I think it was the last one released before the movie hit theaters), and the third Rise of the Planet of the Apes trailer. Both of them amazing.

    And for the worst: Contagion. A fast, exciting trailer for a slow-paced boring ass movie.

  7. Bruce

    Pearl Harbor . Damm that was a good trailer. Had everyone excited to see it and then it came out. I can watch the trailer anytime, cant watch the movie again..

  8. William Henley

    I used to be big on collecting movie trailers. Had CDs and DVDs and harddrives and Zip disks full of them.

    I am going to have to say that the greatest trailer ever is probably the one that had the most hype around it – people actually went to go see movies they cared nothing about just to see this trailer. I am talking about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Yeah, the movie sucked, but that trailer was amazing.

    I want to mention a couple of recent trailers that really got me excited – The Great and Powerful Oz and Les Miserables. I can’t tell you how much these trailers have helped to make me want to go see a movie. These are the trailers where, you did not even know they were making a movie, but from the first couple of seconds, they have your attention, and you are going “No way! Is this what I think it is?”

    I am sure there are a couple of older trailers over the years that made me do that. There have also been a handful of trailers that turned me off so much, that I did not bother to ever see the movie. Most of those I cannot even begin to tell you about, because I forgot about the movie by the time the next trailer was playing. Most of these are car chase movies, gang movies, fight movies, or romance comedies. The trailers rarely do anything to help.

    However, I do have a movie that I ended up loving, but I had originally blacklisted it simply because of its trailer, and the only reason we went to see it is because we had seen everything else that summer at the theater – including Pokemon and The Princess Diaries. Yes, I saw Pokemon before I saw this movie because the trailer just so badly reflected what the movie was. I am talking about Coyote Ugly. The trailer made us think it was some raunchy show taking place in a strip club or something, and the entire movie was drinking and skantly-dressed girls dancing on bar tops, and if that is what they are showing in the trailer, we don’t even want to think what the rest of the movie is like. Horrible horrible trailer!

    Another really bad trailer is Fiddler on the Roof. Let’s show the entire movie in two minutes. Including the end. Litterally, go grab your DVD or Blu-Ray of this, and watch the trailer. It’s horrible!

  9. Glad I didn’t see the Tucker vs. Evil trailer before watching the movie (I only watched b/c it had the guy from Firefly and Death at a Funeral in it). I ended up loving it, reminds me I need to add that to my blu-ray buy list.

  10. Garrett the Mad

    Episode I came out 16 years after the then most recent Star Wars movie (Jedi) and 22 years after the original. Certainly not this 30 years that Duarte seems to think!

    • M. Enois Duarte

      Darn, you’re right!

      My math’s all messed up. Must’ve been something screwy going on with my brain at the time because I listening to “Gangnam Style” in the background while I was typing.

  11. JM

    ‘Dr. Strangelove’ is either the greatest trailer of all time… or I’m in a reality distortion field.

    ‘Femme Fatale’ sells the new De Palma well.

    ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ set to Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” was far more generous than Stanley Kubrick needed to be.

    ‘The Raid’ & ‘Seven Psychopaths’ are my best of 2012.

    ‘Alien’ is the #1 trailer I wish I could have been born in ’44 for, to experience in the theater for the first time, knowing nothing at all.

  12. nagara

    best/worst

    It’s kind of a catch 22, the trailer made me want to see the movie, but spoiled the most important part of it.

    It was a really great movie about a kid with disturbing behavior problems pushing his mother to the brink. Finally along comes a child psychologist who slowly starts to connect with him and make some progress. Then SPOILER ALERT
    We find out in a really touching scene, “I see dead people.”

    The movie then shifts from child psychodrama to child psychodrama with ghosts.

    His revelation about his supernatural abilities was the real twist of the movie if you ask me. There’s no mention of anything ghostly until the third act. Sure a couple of weird event happen, but nothing that really screams supernatural until watching it a second time.

  13. Kevin

    Best: I thought all of the trailers for the 2009 “Star Trek” movie by J.J. Abrams were pretty damn amazing. From that first teaser with the Enterprise under construction, to the final trailer with the “James T. Kirk was a great man… but that was another life.”… the advertising had me absolutely DYING to see the movie. Four years later, they’re still great to look back on.

    Worst: “Highlander: Endgame”, with its blatant false advertising, featuring tons of scenes shot specifically for the trailer (including one shot of Duncan and Connor jumping through something that looks like the Guardian of Forever from “Star Trek”).

  14. Worst – Aliens. My goodness. Talk about a collection of shots basically just strung together to created a potted mini-version of the film. Wonderful film, but I’m amazed it didn’t flop after those trailers! (Special mention for the Dark City trailer. Hideously bad trailer)

    Best – Alien. In a time when most trailers were pretty cheesy despite being fun, it is a great atmospheric and creepy trailer that is deceptively simple but effective and builds to a crescendo before silence in the depths of space.

    I have a soft spot for the Alien-Resurrection trailer. I remember seeing it before Face/Off and it ruined a perfectly good action movie. I sat through Face/Off thinking “Boring! Wanna watch the new Alien movie NOW!” It’s a great trailer that really gets you going, I think.

  15. VIOZ

    Why isn’t a trailer containing scenes shot only to appear in it considered false advertising? Shouldn’t I be able to at least get my money back? I know studios could get around a punishment making them appear to be “deleted scenes,” but once you realize the tone of the trailer was evidently misleading there should be an applicable law. Art is not THAT subjective.