While the fall is generally the time when studios release their Oscar contenders, directed by the likes of Sam Mendes and with such stars as Philip Seymour Hoffman, for decades now, the summer has been the time of year when viewers are treated to less intellectually stimulating but far more explosive fare. These are the blockbusters films that, while perhaps not as “artistically admirable” as other pictures, draw tremendous audiences each year.
The trailer itself can be an art form, a little mini-film designed to attract the attention of viewers, and, in the spirit of summer. In honor of the many trailers that we’re bombarded with we’re going to look back at some of the most effective blockbuster trailers of all time with great films to follow…
The summer blockbuster phenomenon began in earnest with the 1975 release of Jaws, a film whose merciless thrills and expert pacing resulted in a terrifying experience that made an entire generation afraid to go in the water. Although the trailer is dated by today’s standards, featuring the kind of narration that was lampooned by such filmmakers as Eli Roth and Edgar Wright in Grindhouse, it’s still a classic, allowing viewers to glimpse the carnage that appears early in the film.
True, it seems the editor of this trailer decided there was nothing wrong with giving away just about everything that happens during the final third of the film, but it still achieved its effect, luring millions of dollars worth of viewers to the theater to find out more.
Did the movie stack up? Try to swim in the ocean and not hear John Williams score in your head.
4. Jurassic Park
Another Spielberg-directed monster flick, Jurassic Park balanced a brilliant formula: introduce the concept with a majestic sense of wonder and awe to mirror that of the characters, then proceed to scare the crap out of everyone in the audience by transforming that same wonder and awe into “oh dammit it’s like dragons are real and they want to eat all of us cuz they are so freaking mean” (something like that).
Impressive to see that the trailer goes the same route, setting up the plot as if Spielberg were making another picture in the vein of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, only to take a very dark left turn courtesy of some foreboding music and Stan Winston’s scary as hell dinosaur-designs. Hey, it set up a lot of questions for the potential audience. How are dinosaurs living in the present? Can they really open doors? Is Newman from Seinfeld going to get eaten?
Did the movie stack up? Featuring state-of-the-art CGI, endless tension and some nice comedic relief, it most certainly did.
Although, given its January 18 release date, Cloverfield was not officially a summer blockbuster, the original teaser trailer attached to Transformers is too good to leave off the list. J.J. Abrams knows how to market a story, and he and his team did so magnificently here, providing viewers with a vague glimpse of the film, followed by a date.
All anyone could tell was that it looked like a mockumentary style movie about a monster that attacks New York City and throws the Statue of Liberty at yuppies. The idea worked like a charm, generating an unprecedented degree of Internet fan-hypothesizing. Some thought it would be a Voltron movie, others thought it was a Cthulhu film. And when it was released, what did we all discover? That it was a mockumentary style movie about a monster that attacks New York City and throws the Statue of Liberty at yuppies. But, hey, it was a good one.
Did the movie stack up? Although the visual style made some viewers feel ill, this flick was a unique ride like none that had come before.
2. The Dark Knight
After Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins more than made up for the horrendous bat-nipples that Joel Schumacher had unleashed upon comic book fans, anticipation for the follow up couldn’t be greater. The marketing department did their job as well as anyone else on this picture, crafting the best kind of trailer: one that reveals enough plot to get you hooked, but provides you with more questions than answers.
It was clear that Nolan had upped the ante with this film, expanding the scale and going dark places. And then, of course, there’s Heath Ledger’s Joker, whose chilling threats promised viewers that they would meet a villain as iconic as Darth Vader and as gleefully frightening as Freddy Krueger.
Did the movie stack up? Do we really need to ask this question?
Say what you want about James Cameron (he’s a megalomaniac, Avatar was overrated, he writes some pretty awful dialogue these days, he wants the word “subtlety” erased from the dictionary and replaced with booming music and endless machine gun fire, he’s the reason there are so many damn “space marine” video games out there now…ok, we’re done), but he knows what we want from a blockbuster movie, and unlike such directors as Michael Bay, he knows how to deliver it while still creating a film of substance.
Alien was a labyrinthine nightmare that creeped viewers out and, loaded with H.R. Giger’s sexually unnerving imagery, made men in the audience particularly uncomfortable. No sense messing with that again, as it was more or less perfected the first time. Instead, Cameron’s trailer promised audiences that he would throw in more explosions, combat, a much higher body count, and Bill Paxton doing his thing. Count us in.
Did the movie stack up? The most intense film Cameron has ever put on the screen, Aliens starts with a slow-burn and ignites with non-stop thrills.