We watch a lot of movie trailers here at ScreenCrave, and, as we inch closer to summer with its ever-increasing torrent of new films, we’re seeing more and more previews with each passing day. As we do so, we can’t help but notice some similarities, repetitions, and clichés among them. Here at Trailer Park, we’ll be offering a rundown of those clichés, where they come from, and which trailers share them. For our first installment, we’ll be breaking down one of summer’s most ever-present previews: The Superhero Movie Trailer.
The marketing campaign for Superhero movies is in full swing right now. All we see are ads and more ads for three of summer’s biggest upcoming movies – The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises, and if one thing is for sure, it’s that it’s getting harder and harder to ignore some of the similarities between these clips. Below is a list of 10 Superhero Movie Trailer Clichés, all of which these previews have fallen victim to. We’ve also included older trailers dating all the way back to the beginning of Superhero films. We’re not always aware of trailer clichés, mainly because they happen so quickly; but other times they are so overbearing and annoying that they ruin movies (or the trailers for movies) we were really excited for. Let’s get to it.
10. Superheroes Always Land On One Knee
Used in: Blade (1998), Cat Woman (2004), The Dark Knight (2008), Watchmen (2009), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Avengers (2012)
It’s hard to understand why superheroes must land on one knee every time they fall. They also do this very unlikely thing where they slowly cock their head. You’d think by now choreographers would have thought of more realistic, less dramatic ways to break one’s fall, but nope. And as long as superheroes keep landing on one knee, trailer editors are going to continue using that shot for whatever purpose.
As Seen In: The Avengers
9. The Evil And Hysterical Laughter
Used In: Supergirl (1984), Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), The Shadow (1994), Spawn (1997), Iron Man 2 (2008), The Dark Knight (2008),
Laughter is very, very misleading in trailers. It makes villains appear crazier, cooler, and more dangerous than they really are. It also makes the whole movie feel like it’s some sort of psychological thriller when it’s clearly not. This isn’t to say that the trailer for The Dark Knight wasn’t a great one (we all agree that Heath Ledger played one hell of a Joker) because the laughter really did make a statement about the psychological state of ‘The Joker’. But most of the time, laughter is used just for the sake of using it, and not really to make a statement but rather make the movie seem more interesting than it is.
As Heard In: The Dark Knight
8. Telling The Story With Text
Used in: X-Men (2000), Cat Woman (2004), Elektra (2005), Watchmen (2009), X-Men: First Class (2011), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I think we’ve heard that saying ‘one picture is worth a thousand words’ enough times to know that one picture is really worth a thousand words. It’s puzzling how trailer editors choose to use title cards and words to tell their story instead of using clips from the movie. Words not only ruin the pace of the trailer, but often times reveal too much of the plot.
As Seen In: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
7. From Director So-And-So, In Slowly Increasing Size
Used in: Unbreakable (2000), Watchmen (2009), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This is something we see more and more. Directors like to stamp their work and let everyone know that they’re the ones who should be recognized for all you’re about to see. It always happens in the same style too – the text starts off small then zooms out, almost as if we’re actually seeing the director’s ego blow-up.
As Seen In: The Dark Knight Rises
6. The Origin/Transformation
Used in: The Fantastic Four (1994), The Mask (1994), Batman & Robin (1997), Hulk (2003), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Watchmen (2009), X-Men: First-Class (2011), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Many of our superheroes and villains weren’t born with awesome powers. Their abilities usually manifest from experimentation, and you can bet anything that you’ll see that transformation in the trailer. It doesn’t matter how well we know the story of how Spider-Man became Spider-Man because trailers are always willing to show us exactly what happened all over again.
As Seen In: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
5. The Fade To Black
Used In: Just about every Superhero Movie Trailer
Never underestimate the ‘fade to black’ device. This isn’t just with Superhero trailers, but also dramatic, action, and sci-fi trailers because it’s an easy way to build suspense. It’s also a very hard way to see in the dark when you’re say, trying to find a seat at the movie theater. It can sometimes feel like you’re in a room with strobe lights in which case it gets annoying and dangerous.
As Seen In: Spider-Man II
4. The Aerial Skyline Shot
Used In: Blade (1998), Blade II (2002), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2008), The Dark Knight (2009), Kick-Ass (2010), Thor (2011), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This is one shot that’s definitely losing its cool because everyone uses it. Superhero and action movie trailers both like to start off with an establishing shot of the city (usually New York City). It’s still an interesting opening for a trailer, but it’s becoming very predictable.
As Seen In: The Amazing Spider-Man
3. Kissing The Girl (Or The Boy)
Used In: Supergirl (1984), Batman (1989), The Fantastic Four (1994), The Shadow (1994), Batman Forever (1995), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), Watchmen (2009), Kick-Ass (2010), Thor (2011), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I secretly think that kisses are added into trailers so that girls could be reminded that there is more to the movie that just fighting sequences and explosions (the ‘more’ part being a ‘love story’). Love may be a big part of a superhero’s story because there’s usually a damsel in distress waiting to be saved, but superhero movies aren’t about romance, they’re about kicking villains out of glass windows.
As Seen In: Thor
2. The Creepy Voice-Over
Used In: The Rocketeer (1991), Batman Returns (1992), The Shadow (1994), The Mask (1994), Batman Forever (1995), The Phantom (1996), Spawn (1997), Blade (1998), Blade II (2002), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Elektra (2005), Jonah Hex (2010), RED (2010), Watchmen (2009), The Avengers (2012)
Thankfully the ‘trailer voice man’ (as I like to call him) is disappearing, not only from superhero movie trailers, but all trailers in general. It use to be so much more common to have trailers narrated by some deep, gravely-sounding voice. Still, every now and then, the voice-over appears, and it’s just plain lazy. Editors need to remember that the No. 1 rule of storytelling is to show, not tell.
As Heard In: Batman Returns
1. A Glass Shattering Entrance (or Exit)
Used In: Almost every Superhero Movie Trailer since the 80s
What is it with glass windows and superheroes? This move is the mother of all Superhero Movie Trailer cliches. It seriously happens every time. It’s either superheroes making a grand entrance by forgetting to slide open the glass door/window, or villains being thrown out in slow motion. Just one of those times I’d like to see the glass not break, but of course that would never happen in a trailer because it wouldn’t be considered dramatic. Next time you’re at the theater and some action or superhero movie trailer comes up, look out for those ‘glass shattering’ moments. They’ll be there.
As Seen In: Watchmen
This a list of 10 Superhero Movie Trailer Clichés I’ve seen in the past, though the complete list is probably endless.
Which clichés did I miss?