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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30. SLEEPER (1973)
Sleeper’s trailer makes its lunatic gags look even more bonkers by cross-cutting between clips and a deadpan Woody Allen telling blatant lies about the movie from the editing room.
29. INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)
The first 45 seconds of ominous footage in this minute-long trailer barely matter. Independence Day sold the whole movie solely with its final, iconic shot of the White House being blown up by a flying saucer.
28. DR. STRANGELOVE, OR
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING
AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
Stanley Kubrick would go on to redefine what a movie trailer would be time and again (see #s 23, 6, and 3 on this list). Dr. Strangelove’s trailer remains a little too rambling compared to the focus he’d bring future teasers of his, but all the recklessness subversive anarchy that became Kubrick’s trademark is there already.
27. WATCHMEN (2009)
“Official Teaser Trailer”
Zack Snyder movies have often made better trailers than features, and you have to admire how little Watchmen’s first trailer cares about hooking newcomers to the celebrated graphic novel adaptation. For those who knew what they were seeing, though, Watchmen’s teaser was everything fans had dreamed of.
26. BOYHOOD (2014)
A wonderful marriage of song and picture — along with magical editing that jumps around in time — Boyhood’s “International Trailer” somehow manages to encompass 12 years of footage and distil the entire journey to 90 time-hopping seconds.
25. INCEPTION (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s original masterpiece The Prestige got overlooked by audiences in the shadow of his Dark Knight movies, so with Inception’s second trailer, he made every effort to prepare you for the ultimate Nolan action movie — no Batman needed.
24. RED EYE (2006)
Red Eye’s first trailer looks like just another a mediocre rom-com, until it reveals its true genre in the last 30 seconds, turning all that came before it into a brilliantly sharp parody of dumb trailers and creating a startlingly bold bait-and-switch.
23. EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)
“ShoWest Convention Teaser”
Before he passed away, cinematic genius and control freak Stanley Kubrick edited a teaser for Eyes Wide Shut that Warner Bros. buried, to keep audiences from thinking it was soft-core porn. With its use of Chris Isaac’s “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” and unflinching visuals, Kubrick dared audiences to voyeuristically watch.
22. ADAPTATION. (2002)
Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t reach its zenith of power until its usage in Wayne’s World, “Under Pressure” achieved its highest potency when married to Adaptation.’s trailer, with a neurotically mind-bending plot that could barely be explained in two minutes.
21. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
Orson Welles, the Kubrick of his time, knew more about entertaining audiences in ways they didn’t expect than anyone. He put the same genius into Citizen Kane’s trailer that he did the feature, breaking almost every early rule and convention of what movie trailers could and couldn’t do.