Movie trailers have evolved a great deal over the years, from the 6-minute packages shown after moving pictures in the 1910s (hence the term “trailer”) to boundary-pushing previews preceding movies in the 1970s to the heavily promoted online launches of trailers today. Recently, the worldwide launches for the debut trailers of movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation have actually been preceded in the days prior by trailers for their trailers.
The YouTube era has led to a surge in creativity in trailers, with studios and editors now able and willing to take more chances, safe in the knowledge people will be able to watch a trailer again immediately, if they don’t “get” it at first. (A little over half of the trailers on this list are from this millennium alone, largely because of that creative boom.)
There have been many bad trailers over the years, and many, many more adequate ones, but truly great trailers are a real treat. The best ones are innovative and originals works of art in their own right. These are the 50 greatest movie trailers.
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40. THE CURIOUS CASE OF
BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)
“Teaser Trailer A”
Graceful editing, haunting music, a glimpse of cutting-edge CGI, and a dearth of almost any dialogue come together to paint The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as the thinking man’s Forrest Gump.
39. SOUTH PARK:
BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (1999)
A lack of any footage from the South Park movie became a chance for Bigger, Longer & Uncut to pull a bait-and-switch on audiences, with the first half of their teaser’s epic narration and computer effects.
38. HARRY POTTER AND
THE DEATHLY HALLOWS,
PART 1 (2010) AND PART 2 (2011)
“Official Trailer 1”
Taking a page from the Lord of the Rings team, Warner Bros. drew awareness to their splitting of the final book into two movies with their most epic trailer, driving home the narrative distance the series had spanned and the spectacle and scope of the saga’s climax.
37. THE REVENANT (205)
“Official Teaser Trailer”
The Revenant’s teaser begins very similarly in concept to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s, but is elevated by its brilliant use of Leonardo DiCaprio’s ragged breathing, in increasing volume, to ratchet up the tension and pull you through its climax, gasping for air.
36. GRAVITY (2013)
Beginning with one of the most startling openings in trailerdom, Gravity’s “Main Trailer” rockets along without a single break in intensity, finely blending adrenaline and splendour.
35. THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (2002)
“Teaser Trailer (Adjectives)”
Taking a cue from A Clockwork Orange’s innovative trailer, The Rules of Attraction’s red-band teaser uses classical music to punctuate random scenes of college debauchery amidst a bevy of title card descriptors, showing you lots without showing you anything.
34. THE LION KING (1994)
“1993 Teaser Trailer”
A year before it owned much of 1994, The Lion King made its first reveal by daring to show its entire prologue sequence in an uncut, super-sized trailer that ultimately dwarfed the movie it was attached to (The Three Musketeers).
33. REAL LIFE (1979)
“Trailer in 3-D”
One of the greatest jokes pulled on theatre audiences was this fourth wall-breaking trailer that angered viewers who were tricked into thinking they were supposed to be provided with 3D glasses under their seats.
32. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009)
“Official Trailer #1”
At first, the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. seems an odd fit for the classic children’s story, but in short time, Spike Jonze’s visuals — and Arcade Fire’s perfectly apt “Wake Up” — make you remember childhood in ways you never actually knew.
31. SPIDER-MAN (2001)
The original teaser for Spider-Man was pulled after only four month in theatres (for reasons that become obvious by the end), but its brilliance in concept and power to withhold its star character until the final shot remain a high standard for superhero trailers today.