Marketing Movies — 10 Best Teaser Trailers

Preview Green Screen

Sigh – Movies? Really?

While I started this blog as a platform for my thoughts related to the do’s and don’ts of branding, marketing and public relations, I’ve found I’ve had to reign in the impulse to write too much about certain topics that also fascinate me, such as (in this election year) the presidential race, or movies.

My close friends will likely chuckle at this because I’ve been both a political geek and obsessed movie fan for decades.

Case in point? A lifetime ago, I financed my Capitol Hill Internship not by waiting tables or bartending (you know, like a normal person) but by working at Blockbuster Video.

The truth is, the internet already has plenty of outlets for expert commentary on film, be it Ain’t It Cool News, Dark Horizons, Scott Mendelson’s superb analysis at Forbes, or even just Box Office Mojo.

I could ramble on, regurgitating what we film geeks already know, such as the best movie trailer of all time:

Or the best movie poster of the modern era:

Usual Suspects

But that would be redundant.

The Usual Suspects poster works for two reasons:

  1. The premise (and draw) of the film is clearly illustrated. And
  2. (spoiler alert!) The tagline: “The truth is always in the last place you look.” As your eye naturally scans from left to right, the last place you look? A (then unknown) sad sack Kevin Spacey, aka Verbal Kint. And by film’s end we know it’s true – Verbal Kint holds the key – the truth to the story we just saw. Thus, the movie poster itself is a clever Easter egg and in-joke that only reveals its dual meaning after one’s watched the film. Genius!

But this weekend, I thought about how hard it must be to craft an effective teaser trailer for a film.

Movies (particularly summer event movies) cost upwards of $100 million to produce.

And with the stakes that high, trailers are key to raising audience awareness and building excitement for a forthcoming film.

Even moreso for teaser trailers, which often come out 4-6 months before a film’s release, oftentimes before a full movie is even finished.

So, I give you my list of:

The Top 10 teaser trailers of the modern era (1990 to present)

(Note: In no particular order)

District 9

This one works for two reasons – the New Zealand accents that lend an air of British-like authority to the trailer’s first half and the documentary-style shoot. The combination leads the viewer to thinking it’s a documentary about illegal aliens and/or refugees, before revealing that it’s actually a science fiction film about aliens. A brilliant film, but even more brilliantly marketed via this teaser.

Spider-Man 2

For me, a recurring element of the best teaser trailers is surprise – they sneak up on you, leading you down one path before turning to reveal their true nature. District 9 did that above (It’s a BBC documentary – just kidding; it’s a sci-fi film!) So did X-Men 2: X-Men United, which began with an awkward coming out scene among a teenager and his parents – the twist? He’s not coming out as gay, but rather as…a mutant.

So too did this teaser for Spider-Man 2 take me by surprise a decade ago. The scene? Two lovers meeting at a café to negotiate either their break-up or their (hoped for) reconciliation. That is, until a car nearly flattens them both – a car revealed to be thrown by cyborg and Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus!

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The teaser trailer to Episode I a full 15 years after Return of the Jedi gave me chills, with its simple John Williams theme over a trio of cards:

“Every generation has a legend…Every journey has a first step…Every saga has a beginning…”

But the blatant mediocrity of that film itself colors my perception to this day. Far better from a technical perspective is the teaser to Episode III: Revenge of the Sith:

Why?

  • It starts with Sir Alec Guiness’s iconic voice as Obi Wan Kenobi, immediately calling back to the halcyon days of the original Star Wars trilogy.
  • “Lord Vader…Rise” – after two movies, we see Darth Vader emerging for the first time, intercut with brief images of our full slate of heroes, from C-3PO & R2D2, to Samuel L. Jackson, to Princess Amidala, etc. – a roll call of those who would try (and fail) to rebel against his evil.
  • Yoda…with a light saber!
  • A full planet of Wookies.

Face-Off

I love Face-Off for many reasons, not the least of which is it’s probably the best non-Bond James Bond film around.

But the teaser trailer here is perfect – John Travolta’s face (and voice) slowly morphing into Nicolas Cage’s as it reveals they switch identities.

Man of Steel (Russell Crowe)

With soaring classical strains, a voiceover by the venerable Russell Crowe (or, alternately, Kevin Costner) and wholesome and patriotic images that evoke hard work and middle America, this reboot of Superman does what all good stories should – shows, via imagery—rather than merely tells.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

With the simplicity of an assembly line this teaser answered the question of how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator (destroyed in the first movie) could return and built anticipation for what would become one of the biggest summer movies ever.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s hard to describe how powerful this teaser was when it first dropped in April 2000, a full year and a half before the release of the first Lord of the Rings film.

The teaser introduced viewers to the quest for the one ring and, as it showed the fellowship of heroes cresting a hill, boldly announced that the three films would be released during the next three consecutive Christmas seasons.

Godzilla (1998)

Clearly poking fun at Jurassic Park, this teaser emphasizes the difference in size and scale of Godzilla compared to the dinosaurs of that prior franchise. Well played – if only the movie itself could have lived up to this promise.

Red Eye

I love this trailer for its misdirection alone. The first minute-plus sets us up for a cute romantic comedy. It then abruptly turns to horror when star Cillian Murphy’s eye goes red and it’s revealed to be directed by horror master Wes Craven.

Armageddon

Even in 1998 we were no stranger to large scale disaster films such as Independence Day or Volcano. But this trailer, describing a problem so dire it could only be solved by the simultaneous launch of two space shuttles, is brilliant in its simplicity.

What did I miss? What are your favorite movie teasers? Feel free to list them in the comments below!

2 Comments on "Marketing Movies — 10 Best Teaser Trailers"

  1. Erica Herring | June 2, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Reply

    Nice article, Peter! I liked the original teaser for The Social Network as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNTa47aH77c

  2. Good picks. I really liked the original Spider-Man teaser as well — the one featured the Twin Towers and was banned after 9/11.

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