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'In a World' of Movie Trailers: The History of the Best Part of Going to the Theater

Movie TrailerThey are the reason why we show up on time to the movie theater — “Hurry up! We’re gonna miss the previews!” Previews, movie trailers, or coming attractions are a staple of the cinematic experience and are more often than not enjoyed as pieces of art (or 1 1/2 minute short) rather than seen as advertisements (though they are both). In this comprehensive video, John P. Hess of Filmmaker IQ takes us on a journey through the history of the movie trailer, offering an interesting perspective by explaining not only how they’ve changed over time, but why they’ve changed.

We all love movie trailers, especially those of us with short attention spans and little time to commit to anything longer than a couple of minutes. Trailers have evolved from the lengthy and very overt advertisements they were in the Golden Age of Hollywood to the carefully constructed and masterfully executed pseudo-short films that they are today.

As Hess walks us through the evolution of the movie trailer, he doesn’t just focus on the changes in style and function, but in the changes in the culture that spurred them on in the first place. For instance, have you ever wondered why trailers from the 20s through the 60s look pretty much the same in terms of style? Well, you can thank the national Screen Service for that, because they monopolized the movie promotions market, including the making of posters and trailers, for over 40 years. After that, the dream of the blockbuster was realized with Jaws, which opened in an unprecedented 464 theaters nationwide. How did Universal pull it off? Well, they sunk $700,000 into TV advertising, which was unheard of at the time, meaning everyone and their mom saw the trailer to Jaws in the summer of 1975 if they were plopped in front of the tube for any length of time.

Check out Filmmaker IQ’s excellent video below, and learn more about the history of the movie trailer. Be sure to follow along with their written post, which contains tons of trailers and images that supplement the video.

At the end of the day, the purpose of a trailer is not to entertain you, but get you to buy tickets to and copies of movies through being entertaining. There are all sorts of ways to ensure that your trailer entices audiences to see your film — even if it means just filming a publicity stunt and slapping on the title of your movie at the end just like the marketing team that worked on Carrie.

What about the history of the trailer stuck out to you? What factors are currently influencing the way trailers are made today, and how do you think they will evolve as time goes on? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: The History of the Movie Trailer — Filmmaker IQ


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  • That Inception trailer…now kind of annoying, but at the time. Goosebumps.

  • Anthony Marino on 03.25.14 @ 8:49PM

    Seems appropriate to share,0,3908323.story#axzz2x1cfeBOD

    What struck me was that only 44% moviegoers see the trailer before determining their choice. Kinda low, I always try to watch the trailer before seeing a film.

    • I want to see the trailer if I’m deciding whether to see a movie or not. If I know I’m going to see a movie, I want to see nothing about it. Trailers so often give so much away.

      • Anthony Marino on 03.25.14 @ 10:30PM

        Good point. I’m probably just lazy, I want to know if theres a chance i’ll enjoy the film before I gotta sit through it. I still read the reviews and listen to the chatter too but sometimes a trailer can seal the deal.

        • It depends on the movie, I always enjoy watching trailers for big blockbusters like, Captain America. But for a movie like The Grand Budapest hotel, I’m fine with just reading some reviews and taking a look at the iMDB page (cast, rating, director)

          I enjoy movie trailers for the adrenaline, I came across a cool teaser on YouTube, thought it was worth a share

  • Prometheus trailer ruined trailers for me, all the best bits were in the trailer. 4K will make a BIG impact on trailer marketing in the coming years.

  • out theaters: 25 minutes of “stuff” after the posted MOVIE START time. Um, no. I’m not PAYING to waste my time sitting through ad after ad after ad, then some previews. I’ll show up when the movie STARTS, 20 after. My time is important to me and irreplaceable.

    • What a grump. I’d hate to go to the movies with you.

      • if they tell you a movie STARTS at 4pm, why would one think it wouldn’t START at 4pm? I enjoy previews, but not when there are 15 minutes of ADVERTISING you get to watch first.

        wait… people LIKE to be subjected to the social engineering of advertising? Guess that hadn’t occurred to me.

  • Trailers may be an art form, but it’s interesting to see how they change from channel to channel. For example, the extremely comical Les Miserables trailer on ESPN, which had NO SINGING. It was advertised as a war film.

  • Where the Wild Things Are trailer was why I saw that movie… I wouldn’t watch that movie again, but I’ve rewatched that trailer several times.

  • The spoof of a voiceover trailer was done first … or, at least, before 2008, in this 2002 ad for the film “Comedian”. [ ] Sadly, Hal Douglas, a famed VO actor featured in this clip, has passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 89.
    PS. John P. concentrated on the general trailer development but I tend to concur with Gene in that a lot of films will use all their best lines – this is especially true of comedies – on their trailers.