I love cinema of all genres and from all eras. I love the feel, the smell, the energy of the movie theater, even if I’m by myself (as I was when I saw No Country for Old Men, but that’s for another time). One of my favorite recurring moments in this world — the other being the jolt of excitement one gets before the opening bell of a major boxing match — is when the lights in the theater dim, and we see the familiar green glow. That’s right, the previews.
So deep is my love and reverence for movie trailers that I often think to myself, “That was a fine trailer, but not quite as good as,” such and such. I keep a running tab in my head of fantastic movie trailers, and I’ve decided, after years of cataloging, why not make a somewhat formal list.
Before I go on, let me make clear that I am not one for nostalgia. I don’t think Gone with the Wind or Citizen Kane get to lay claim to “best movie ever” without serious inspection. That’s a hell of a claim, and a lot of time has passed to accept it without strong deliberation. I apply that same standard to this list. For example, none of Hitchcock’s trailers (namely Psycho) will be found here, simply because I don’t find the payoff at the end to quite make up for the bumbling routine of the first five and a half minutes. So sue me.
10. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
There has never been a trailer that has so exactly given moviegoers just what they wanted. Stanley Kubrick’s trailers are always fantastic (as we shall see again), and although he passed away before having the chance to put together this one, Nicole Kidman does his memory honor with what has to be the sexiest movie trailer performance ever.
9. District 9 (2009)
War refugee camp or … ? The buzz around District 9 was huge, and the trailer captured that buzz. More remarkable is that the trailer successfully managed to channel that buzz into the actual mood and broad arch of the film — more than just an alien flick, Neill Blomkamp’s masterpiece encapsulated the horror of apartheid.
8. Pulp Fiction (1994)
The trailer smacks you in the mouth almost as forcefully as Quentin Tarantino’s bombastic film. It does what a trailer is supposed to do, and your gut tells you right away that you must see the film.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
I love this trailer if for no other reason than the fact that it breaks all the horror movie rules about trailers. It shows you the bad guys, it shows your the gore, and yet, you have the sense that it’s not giving away too much. Now that’s the sign of a good horror movie.
6. W. (2008)
Say what you will about the movie, but the trailer for Oliver Stone’s oddly-timed biopic is just undeniably good. The music, the way the shots are cut, the synchronization of elements — it’s technically compelling. More importantly, it defangs what might otherwise be politically sensitive by instilling in the viewer the sense that something iconic is going on here. That’s the trailer, at least.
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
People may have been sour about it after the fact, but there’s no doubt about the impact and effectiveness of The Blair Witch Project‘s marketing. It was so brilliant, the directors had us all duped into believing that this was the real deal — these young folks were actually missing. There were so many excellent trailers for this film that I’ve put two on here. The sparse details, minimal actual footage drives you into a frenzy, and it’s hard to get it out of your head — even if you know the legend is invented.
4. Schindler’s List (1993)
When a trailer needs hardly any dialogue to demonstrate the power of the film, it is a testament to its source material. That absolutely applies to the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s classic, Schindler’s List. If the stark, black-and-white images don’t give you chills, you’re probably a cyborg. Or a Nazi.
3. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Like the ingenious film itself, the trailer gradually and conspicuously builds in its foreboding and disquiet, carried along the whole way by the increasingly menacing portrayal by Daniel Day-Lewis. Again, as can be noted for each on the list, the trailer accurately recognizes the strengths of the film, in this case, the sheer force of the acting.
2. Alien (1979)
Ah! We want to see the alien so badly. You’re not sure what you’re looking at, actually, until the egg cracks. And after that, you’re not sure what you’re looking at. The short cuts and blazing lights and unidentifiable noises wreak havoc on the senses and instill the jolting sense of fear that you can’t handle what the smokescreen of effects is hiding.
1. The Shining (1980)
Undoubtedly, my favorite moment in movie trailer history is when the blood laps up onto the camera lens. It recedes just enough to give us a “rosy” look at the flood of think fluid rushing through the hallway. No Jack, no dialogue. Just a static, unsettling look at the doors and simple ascending title credits. Then, bam! The flood doesn’t make you jump, but as it comes nearer, one can’t help but recoil. It’s the sort of unease that haunts you throughout the film, and Kubrick recreates it here, in about 90 seconds.