Movie trailers have changed drastically throughout the years, even now they’re still evolving, but where did they really start?
As written in my article about George Méliès, he was the first one to introduce a teasing method of the film that was being played in the movie theater. He projected pictures of the movies that were playing above the entrance of his movie theater, so people could have an idea what to expect if they went inside the theater. This is seen by many as the first form of a movie trailer, quite different from what we are now used to, huh? When a real “trailer” was firstly released is very unclear. It could’ve been for a musical called The Pleasure Seekers or it could’ve been after an episode of The Adventures of Kathlyn ended. There’s no real movie/short film that we can use as a reference point of when the movie trailer was introduced. Quite some historians have agreed on a year to see as “the year zero” for movie trailers, namely 1913. The trailer for The Pleasure Seekers showcased the actors practicing before the show begun. They were seen singing and acting since it was a Broadway musical. The Adventures of Kathlyn was a series of short films, there were thirteen of them, of which each episode ended teasing the next one.
In 1916 movie trailers started to appear more and more, trying to get people ready for an upcoming movie, just like we have them trying to do today. These trailers obviously didn’t have any sound, with maybe a soundtrack playing in the background. That was until the release of the 1926 movie called The Jazz Singer. The film was revolutionary and introduced voice overs, dialogue without any cards popping up on screen… It was a big step in the movie industry. It didn’t only mean a lot to film, but also in the way of promoting them; movie trailers. After that point in time, we got the cliché movie trailers. The ones with the deep voice talking over them, they started to look more like the ones we have today. Take a look at the trailer for a movie out of 1954 called Rear Window.
While similar, it’s still quite different to the trailers that we now find on the internet. The trailer gives a short description of what the film will be about and already puts down the tone of the film. It gets you ready to watch the film and that’s it’s sole purpose. This trailer’s obviously not very cliché, but the cliché was born in this era. In this era, we had, just like in Rear Window, someone who told us the basic premise, who the characters were, who the director was… it already seems pretty formulaic, but there were some exceptions, like the trailer for Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In the past, the trailers weren’t always that great though. They were always practically the same, with some exceptions, and they have become worse and worse throughout the years. The voice-over became a parody of itself, with the constant In a world… opening sentence. Luckily we have grown past that point, which brings us to present day.
Trailers have drastically evolved over the many years that they’ve been used. They’ve been around for over a hundred years now, so you’d expect change. Some trailers these days are very good and get you intrigued into watching the film it’s promoting, while other trailers just spoil the entire movie. A lot of trailers fail to do the thing that they need to do: get me to want to watch the film. This is mostly due to the fact that trailers have become very unoriginal and formulaic. I’ve said in the previous paragraph that we’ve grown past the “in a world” part, but over the years new trends have started to appear. We’ve changed the voice-over with bits and pieces of dialogue out of the movie itself. This already introduces the characters by having them talk instead of a voiceover. We’ve also changed the voice over with clichéd words appearing on the screen every couple of seconds telling the story or a very vague punchline. Another thing that has become very apparent is the well-known Inception-horn. If you have an action movie, you’d better reach out to use this sound effect! Well, please don’t, we’ve heard it enough. If you have a horror film or a suspenseful film, you’d use a fast flickering black screen interwoven with quick cuts of the tensest moments of the film, to really get the viewer excited! Well, again, please don’t do that, we’ve seen it enough. And please don’t ever do that in the final movie itself, like Max Steel did, to hide how bad the CGI was and how non-suspenseful the scene in general was.
Not only has the Inception-horn and the fast flickering black screen become a recent trend, but spoil the entire movie is also a very trendy thing to do… apparently. The two most recent Terminator-films, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys, both spoiled the twist of their movie, Spiderman: Homecoming told the entire plot in the trailer. Movies often enough show all the best moments out of the film in the trailer, which gets you hyped up expecting more like that, but what they’ve shown, is all that they’ve got. Think of the trailer for Jurassic World. When they do any of those things, I immediately assume that the movie they’re promoting, won’t be that good. I’ve been proven wrong when Spiderman: Homecoming came out, but that’s just one in so many movies.
Trailers are also very likely to misguide the audience into believing it is something else than it in reality is. It Comes at Night is probably the most recent example of this technique. They marketed the film as a fast paced horror film, with the “it” in the title being a monster, which the trailer also hinted at. This was done to broaden the audience, because not a lot of people want to go see a slow paced film, with no monsters, when they thought they were going to get a fast paced film with monsters. The film certainly suffered from this marketing campaign, hence the relatively low audience rating on IMDb, in comparison to the relatively high rating the critics gave it. This also counts for Drive for example. That too was an amazing film, but the trailers marketed it as an action-thrill ride, while it, in fact, was a slow-paced film, with only a scarcity of action. Wrong marketing has been around for quite some time, though mostly used when a studio doesn’t have a lot of faith in the product that they’re promoting. These two examples are just when the studio doesn’t have faith in the size of the audience, not in the quality of the product.
Trailers have and will always be copies of each other. New trends will come and go creating new clichés to look out for. That doesn’t mean there are no recent original trailers out there. There are plenty, look at the teaser trailer for Dunkirk for example or at the trailer for the 2015 epic Mad Max: Fury Road. Even in the past, there were some amazing trailers, like the one for Dr. Strangelove, while back then the world of trailers was filled with practically the same trailer over and over again, just like we have today. That’s why I’ll end this article with the very creative and inventive trailer of Dr. Strangelove, just to prove that creative trailers have been around for quite some time.