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