Over the years, the trailers that got us excited for forthcoming attractions have become an art form in themselves. Some tease us, some astound us, and some are better than the finished product. Here’s our list of the best from cinema history…

Psycho (1960)

The great Alfred Hitchcock takes us through the setting of his slasher masterpiece. Alluding to the film’s plot as if it were fact, his deadpan delivery has a chilling sense of foreboding, as well as some dark humour. Using barely any footage from the film, Hitchcock tells us just what we need to know, trailing off at the juiciest details. A fitting preview from the man they call The Master of Suspense.

Alien (1979)

Another terrifyingly sparse trailer, the symbol of an egg hatching and quickly cut-together scenes of chaos create a disorientating atmosphere. As the music quickens, punctuated by a sound that’s half-siren, half scream, the impact the titular monster has is shown, but the Alien itself remains terrifyingly unrevealed. The final line, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”, would become as famous as the film itself. The true sign of a great trailer.

Prometheus (2012)

33 years later, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien would pay homage to that great trailer with a similar motif. This promised a grander scale, a similar level of horror, and an origin story. The final product, sadly, never delivered on this epic 70 seconds, becoming over complicated and unsatisfying. The trailer remains an example of how the promotion for a film can often be better than what it’s trying to sell!

Poltergeist (1982)

The scary smash hit produced (and some say directed) by Steven Spielberg offers a different take on the paranormal. Using interviews with professors, the trailer brought the ‘haunted house’ formula into a contemporary setting by suggesting a malevolent spirit could visit any time, any place. Jerry Goldsmith’s score swells as the classic ‘trailer voice’ narrator promises “the unknown will be revealed”. Audiences couldn’t resist that promise, and the film became a horror classic.

Cloverfield (2008)

Movie fans in the late 2000’s were buzzing after this teaser trailer was released untitled, referred to by fans as ‘1-18-08’ (the release date). Was it a Godzilla movie? An alien invasion film? All we knew about what would become Cloverfield was in this clip. While not a disappointment, it created the kind of hype that became impossible for Matt Reeves’ film to live up to. The trailer, however, remains a classic.

Jurassic Park (1993)

One thing Steven Spielberg has always done best is spark our imaginations, and this atmospheric preview lays the foundation for his most famous work. Tantalisingly brief, the trailer’s narrator simply tells us the basics: the premise, the title, the logo, the director. Sparse, and yet so well executed it’s entirely apt for the blockbuster landmark. The technique paid off, as it became the most successful film of all time upon its release.

Batman (1989)

Picture the scene: a new Batman movie is promised, but Bat-fans are outraged at the casting, the director, everything. 50,000 complaint letters arrived at Warner Bros. Their response? To quickly assemble this showreel during the Christmas of 1988. No music, no narration, no logo, simply this confident compilation of action and one liners. Audiences were astounded and doubters converted. It was a turning point for a film that influences blockbusters to this day.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Nearly twenty years later, Bat-fans were outraged again. How could ANYONE replace Jack Nicholson as The Joker? Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his eventual portrayal, but prior to release, people needed convincing. Lines from the film, including the memorable speech from Michael Caine’s Alfred, were used to set up Ledger’s interpretation, and the darker world of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Then, of course, there’s that laugh. It’s still chillingly brilliant.

Jaws (1975)

This is the third Spielberg-related film on this list, which speaks to the level of anticipation his films receive. The trailer’s purpose is to introduce the villain, to inject a sense of terror into something tangible. Lines such as “It is as if God created The Devil, and gave him Jaws” and the shark’s foreboding absence helped create one of cinema’s most enduring terrors, and kickstart what we now call the Summer Blockbuster.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

New owners Disney had an uphill task with their new Star Wars films, to instill trust that had been broken with the lackluster prequels. This first glimpse into a new world mixed the old with the new, introducing characters but retaining the iconography of the original films, and ending with that unforgettable theme accompanying the return of the Millennium Falcon. It’s a rousing experience that preceded the billion-dollar smash.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

There were great hopes for Baz Luhrmann’s literary adaptation when this trailer hit. Glitzy, debauched and fabulous, it boasted the much-loved Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and music by Jay-Z. What could go wrong? Well, Gatsby was another example of a film that fits its best scenes into the trailer. With the final film released after a delay to an indifferent response, this preview remains a more thrilling experience.

Back to the Future (1985)

How do you introduce an icon? Both Michael J Fox and his Delorean would become legend in Back To The Future, and this teaser introduces both the instantly recognisable car and its lovable owner. Establishing the premise in two lines of dialogue, Fox’s grin and the end song also set the fun tone that defined the franchise. This trailer didn’t just sell a film, it kicked off a legacy.

Lilo and Stitch (2002)

The chaotic and rude alien Stitch is not your average Disney hero. He’s not a hero at all. This was perfectly established in the film’s trailers, where he invades scenes from other Disney films. Lightly mocking their own legacy and moving in a new direction, it was a great way to both keep and break with tradition. A big hit on its release, it promised audiences a break from princesses and magic.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Similarly irreverent, the misfits of the Marvel Universe were largely unknown before they lined up for this first look. A talking racoon? A green alien?? A tree??? Hardly The Avengers. Nevertheless, the format of the scene allowed the unusual characters to be introduced, and establish the humour fans could expect. It led to the surprise hit of 2014, proving any character can make a connection if presented the right way.

Independence Day (1996)

The height of deliciously excessive Hollywood grandeur. Subtlety was not a tactic employed for this ‘90s disaster movie, and its trailer reflects that. Still, over 20 years on, the images of famous American landmarks being bathed in shadow remain impressive, as does the signature attack on The White House. This trailer perfected the brash, bombastic hard sell that left little to the imagination but promised a fun time at the movies.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

It’s easy to forget the first Star Wars prequel was perhaps the most highly anticipated film of all time in the late ‘90s. In the days before internet streaming, fans queued outside cinemas just to watch this trailer. The focus on action and familiar faces made it seem like the most exciting film in the world was coming. What followed is now remembered as a famous disappointment.

Inception (2010)

The trippy, Kubrickian world of Inception was revealed with this relentless trailer, which left us with more questions than answers. With no dialogue, there were echoes of Alien’s seminal trailer as we saw the disorientating landscapes, and stellar cast. It was topped off by the intriguing tagline “your mind is the scene of the crime” – the ideal lead-in to one of the most visionary triumphs of this decade.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the face of Hollywood in the late 80s and early 90s, chiefly due to his success as killer android The Terminator. A sequel was inevitable, but how, when his character was destroyed in the first film? Cue this intense trailer, centring around the rebuilding of the T-800, delivering on his most famous promise: He’ll Be Back. That was all cinema-goers needed, making T2 an icon of sci-fi.

Kill Bill (2003)

When Quentin Tarantino returns after six years, it’s a big deal, and this first trailer lived up to that billing. Sporting a new aesthetic, the director yells “Action!” at the beginning of the sequence, unleashing a mesmerising medley of fight scenes underpinned by RZA’s unforgettable score. Tarantino always stressed the need to treat each film he made as an event, a desire more than met by 110 seconds of stylised mayhem.

Trainspotting (1996)

The success of Danny Boyle’s breakthrough drama was, in many ways, down to the way it was marketed. If the unique orange motif and posters hinted at a different kind of British movie, the trailer confirmed it. Shamelessly revelling in their recklessness, Ewan McGregor’s “Choose Life” speech tells you everything you need to know about the characters in Irvine Welsh’s story. It’s a trailer so famous that this month’s sequel, twenty years in the making, uses exactly the same techniques.

Article by James Luxford

How often do you find that a movie doesn't live up to the 90-second magic of the original trailer?

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