I love movie trailers. No, seriously, I love them. I love to see how a feature length film is summarized and marketed. I have favorite trailers. I have favorite trailers that are for movies that I don’t even particularly like. I haven’t even seen Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem but I can tell you without hesitation that the trailer fucking ruled. With the hard action scenes and the delicate music. It was brilliant.
I really think there were two turning points for me in terms of realizing that trailers are an amazing thing in and of themselves. First, I took a class at UC Santa Cruz in which actual alumni of the college who were working in the entertainment industry came in to speak to the class about their work. We had some boring people, we had a cool guy who did PBS broadcasting in Oregon, and we also had the guy who cut the trailers for the Harry Potter movies. Or, at least, he planned the trailer for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Which was the third movie. If you recall, this is the one with the greatest trailer – the one with the choir of witchy children singing ‘Bubble bubble toil and trouble’ and it has awesome montages of the action. Best Harry Potter trailer ever. And it was wasn’t even out when the guy talked to us. He showed us he had the screenplay and had been highlighting moments he wanted for the trailer while on the plane to Santa Cruz.
The second moment in bringing me to my love and appreciation of trailers as an artform, was when I rented the VHS of Waxwork 2 from Westside Video in Santa Cruz. I put the video in, and the first thing that happened on that video was a trailer for the movie Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back. When the trailer finished, I immediately stopped the tape. I rewound it and watched the trailer again. And again. And again.
I watched that trailer about ten times before continuing to watch the movie. I don’t even really remember the movie, I just remember that trailer. Because it is my absolute favorite trailer of all time. I show it every year at my birthday. I show it to people who don’t even ask to see it. I have it on my iPhone. I carry it around and show it to anyone who will stop for two minutes and watch it. It is absolutely the most awesome trailer I have every seen.
This was probably back in 2003 or so. In 2006 I began to attend events in San Francisco called Midnites For Maniacs – triple features (sometimes more, sometimes less, usually at least three movies) at the historic Castro Theater, hosted by Jesse Hawthorn Ficks. Jesse has been doing this film screening series, celebrating overlooked or forgotten or underappreciated films of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, for ten years now. And before each movie he puts trailers. I remember the first movie event I attended, he showed trailers for Tuff Turf and Band of the Hand. The trailer for Tuff Turf is still one of my favorites to this day. I had never heard of the movies, but I have seen both now and while I didn’t love Band of the Hand as much as I loved the trailer, Tuff Turf endures as a favorite movie and a favorite trailer for me.
This brings me to another important point – sometimes a movie is not as good as the trailer. Sometimes a great movie will have shit trailers. The Princess Bride and The Breakfast Club are two of my favorite movies of all time. The trailers for each, or at least, the ones I’ve seen, are mediocre at best in the case of Princess Bride, and utter shit in the case of The Breakfast Club. This is always tragic when it happens. And it makes me happy that people have been making fan trailers or re-envisioning trailers on YouTube. When done well, as in the case of the trailer that makes The Shining look like a heartwarming independent film, they are fucking brilliant. And really drive home how much a trailer can shape our perception of a movie. (I’ll also take a moment here to say that the actual trailer for The Shining, with the blood and the elevators, is among my favorite movie trailers also)
In 2008 and 2009 I hosted a number of movie nights for myself and my coworkers. And I put together trailer reels of my own. Initially I was just making a random mix of usually 5 or 6 trailers, but later I began to put together themed trailer reels. I started with genre reels like horror or sci-fi, and I did a kick-ass reel of all Sylvester Stallone trailers. Then I started to get more creative or esoteric. For instance, I made one that I called “Disaffected Youth” and had trailers for Heathers, Pump Up The Volume, River’s Edge, Suburbia, The Outsiders, and Rules of Attraction. Another favorite reel included trailers for Army of Darkness, Excalibur, Hawk the Slayer, A Knight’s Tale, Red Sonja, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
I would also use these trailers reels when showing movies to friends. When my brother last visited me at Thanksgiving he began to request trailer reels between movies. When two of my friends, Desiree and David, decided to move to Santa Fe, they asked me if I would put together an entire DVD of nothing but trailers for them to take on their journey. I made them a three volume DVD set of trailers. The first was my favorite 40 trailers, in order. The second and third volume were my other favorite trailers, in alphabetical order: 45 trailers on each. 130 trailers. And those were only the ones that I had access to and could get to rip from the DVDs.
For your enjoyment today, I am going to list some of my favorite trailers and when possible I will link to a place where you can see the trailer that I’m talking about. And please pay attention to which trailer I am referring to as I’d hate for you to think that I love the other trailer for Near Dark because it’s nowhere near as good as the one that I like.
And I encourage you to remember back and find your favorite trailers and to watch the trailers on your DVDs that have them and see how your favorite movies were marketed when they came out. Think of a movie like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and marvel to yourself at how they ever marketed such a movie for theatrical release. It’s fucking awesome.
The top ten trailers I have listed here are only the ones that I am able to rip from my DVDs. I have a list of my top 10 trailers that I don’t have ripped from DVD. And I have an awesome list of Honorable Mentions.
MY FAVORITE MOVIE TRAILER OF ALL TIME
BARBARIAN QUEEN II: THE EMPRESS STRIKES BACK (1992)
What can I possibly say about this trailer that you won’t know immediately from watching it? It has the greatest moments of dialogue: ‘Everyone has something that can destroy them. One night with me would be the end of you’ and the best voiceover lines ‘Bursting with emphatic intensity! Exploding with fanatic force!’ I even used ‘Bursting with emphatic intensity’ as the tagline of a movie that I made in college called Epic. This trailer is so brilliant. It starts off setting the scene with establishing shots and voiceover ‘It was time of kings, magic, and valiant knights’, then it does the big reveal, the change to be like ‘Ok, now you’ve got the general settings, here’s what the fuck is up’ and begins with ‘But one woman was forced to fight for an empire!’ and then launches into the sell. The movie itself is OK (the first Barbarian Queen was a better film, but it has one of the absolute worst movie trailers that I have ever seen) but the trailer is the greatest movie trailer that I have ever seen in my life.
MY TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIE TRAILERS
10. THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1988)
You’ll probably notice a trend and it starts right here: I like underdog movies. I love movies about underdogs, and a lot of movies that tanked at the box office. And I love this trailer for making a shout-out to its own obscurity. I had never heard of the Wizard until my friend Aaron made himself a Wizard of Speed and Time costume for Halloween one year that he ended up wearing in at least one of the stupid movies that I made back in college. One day we sat down and he showed me this, his favorite movie, and I’ve been in love with it since. I highly recommend you hunt down the Jittlov-approved torrentable fan DVD image, burn it, and enjoy.
9. OVER THE TOP (1987)
Sylvester Stallone movies trailer very well. It helps that this was a Golan/Globus production with theme song by Giorgio Moroder. It’s catchy, it’s an underdog story, and Stallone is a powerhouse. I find this trailer moving and it makes me really want to watch the movie. I know the movie isn’t as good as I think it’s going to be based on this trailer, but it’s a better movie BECAUSE of this trailer, I feel.
8. EXCALIBUR (1981)
This trailer uses the same music as the trailer for Cliffhanger (listed later). It is awesome music and it works well in both trailers. Excalibur is a kick ass film and is, in my learned opinion, the best film adaptation of the Arthurian legend second only to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This trailer is epic.
7. WILLOW (1988)
I have to be clear: THIS trailer is the Willow trailer I am talking about. There are others and they are OK, but this is the one that is the best. It grabs you with the overall feel of the film without giving you the full story, but you know from that trailer exactly what kind of movie Willow is. And you know it’s from George Lucas and Ron Howard. It’s gotta be at least worth bothering with, right? And looking back at this trailer, as a long time fan of the movie, I feel like it’s a good summary of why I love the film. At a movie night once we had voted to watch Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure but this trailer was on the reel that I showed before the movie and after this trailer, the vote was changed and we ended up watching Willow instead. That was the only time it ever happened that a trailer caused everyone to overrule the movie that had been voted.
6. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984)
How do you advertise a movie like Buckaroo Banzai? How do you fucking do it? Like this. This is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. And it is a weird fucking thing. You walk into the movie feeling you totally missed something, like you walked into the middle of an orgy of weirdness and won’t someone please explain to you what the righteous fuck is going on. The trailer sets a good tone for the film. It uses the upbeat, awesome music from the end credits (and a lot of footage from the end credits sequence which is possibly the greatest end credits sequence from any movie fucking EVER) and shows a lot of the weird stuff that happens in the film, but the only dialogue is a dry, deadpan-delivered joke from about three quarters through the film. My feeling after seeing the trailer is always ‘Wow… what?’ It captivates and sets an expectation that, should you sit down to watch this movie, you will be entertained and you will chuckle, but you may not quite understand why until you’ve seen the film a million times.
5. CLIFFHANGER (1993)
This is really one of the greatest trailers ever made and if you see this trailer, there is no need to see the movie. The trailer is so much better than the movie. I will never sit down to watch Cliffhanger again, but I watch the trailer all the time. It takes all the best moments of the film (minus some footage of Stallone or his action doubles hanging upside down from rock walls, but hey, it includes the spike shoed heel hook so I’m good) and puts them to excellent music and is absolutely wonderful.
4. THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998)
I do not hesitate to say that this is the best Movie From a TV Show movie ever made. I was a casual X-Files fan in high school. I mainly went to see this in the theater because my best friends in high school, Laura and Sara, were huge X-Files fans and they really wanted to see it. I fucking love this movie and made the mistake of watching it immediately before seeing the second movie at a midnight-opening-night screening. Where Fight the Future was packed with action and an exciting distillation of the show, the second film was a bit of a disappointment. This trailer, here, though, check this out. It starts with the studio logo, which it cleverly wraps into the trailer’s intro. As you watch the beginning, the trailer could be for just about any kind of thriller type movie. Then the picture cuts, you have black, and you hear Gillian Anderson’s distinctive voice call “Mulder?” and with that SPLIT SECOND with nothing on the screen and that one word you know exactly what is going on. It is so fucking brilliant I cannot even put it into words. Then the fast-cut action scenes, you see an amazing teaser for the film, ending with the logo lovingly revealed with the theme music playing, and you know that this is an exciting motion picture event that, if you are down with the TV show, you just know you are going to fucking love. It’s really one of the most brilliant trailers ever put together.
3. THE APPLE (1980)
Every time I show this trailer on a reel, people say the same thing ‘Hey, why aren’t we watching THAT?’ And then the time I did show it, it came to the ‘I’m Cumming For You’ song scene and everyone was yelling at me ‘Daryn, what the fuck IS this? Are you showing us a porno?’ LULZ. I also want to thank Desiree and David for pointing out to me that So You Think You Can Dance executive producer Nigel Lythgoe was the choreographer of this movie. The Apple is an amazing film and this trailer perfectly represents what it actually calls a ‘Special Experience in Movie-Going Entertainment’.
2. REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986)
There are a number of trailers for Reform School Girls. I had to upload this one to YouTube because everyone puts up the other trailer. But I like this one. It is so much fun – just like the movie itself. If you haven’t seen Reform School Girls, you might want to correct that.
1. NEAR DARK (1987)
And it’s a tragedy this trailer isn’t online anywhere that I can find. I am NOT talking about the Near Dark trailer that is on YouTube. Not the one that STARTS with them pulling him into the RV. I am talking about the one which sets scenes from the film to the song ‘Naughty Naughty’ by John Parr. It’s really well edited together, I can tell, I used to make song videos and I can see what the editor was doing when they put the particular clips during particular moments of the song (the most clear ones are when the Bill Paxton shimmy happens during the ‘te-te-te-tease me’ line and Joshua Miller ripping the paper right before the song peaks and the scene of the van driving through the wall is shown). It’s a brilliant sell for the film, it shows enough (and, in retrospect, most of the iconic) scenes to get you interested without giving away the entire film. I showed this in a reel at a movie night and I remember my friend Dan turning to me and saying ‘Hey, can we watch THAT movie at the next movie night?’ And that’s the reaction that trailers should get: people saying ‘Hey, I wanna see THAT.’
MY TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIE TRAILERS THAT I CAN’T PUT TOGETHER ON A REEL
10. A.P.E.X. (1994)
I am not talking about the theatrical trailer, not the one you can get online. I have my friend Sean’s old VHS tape of Highlander and it has this ad for A.P.E.X. that has no dialogue from the movie and is just a sweet soundtrack with action shots from the movie. The movie is total shit, by the way, I found it once at Reel Video in Berkeley before they closed. Not really worth bothering. But if you can find an old VHS of Highlander, I highly recommend checking out the trailer.
9. TICKS aka INFESTED (1993)
Linked here is the theatrical trailer for Ticks, but the trailer I am referring to as one of my favorites is the video ad from the same Highlander video that the A.P.E.X. ad was on. It’s similar enough to the theatrical trailer that I’m OK with linking to that one since the exact one I want isn’t available online. The main difference is that the one I like has a voiceover that starts off the ad with ‘They came from the city…’ and ends with a different tagline which I believe goes ‘They breed. They hatch. They KILL.’ Ticks is actually a pretty awesome movie, too, and it’s got young Seth Green in it. It’s not available on DVD unless, like me, you attend some kind of movie convention and you buy a DVD pirated from the Region 2 release.
8. JOYSTICKS (1983)
Raunchy 80s teen sex comedy about a video game arcade. Such a great movie, such a great trailer. I think there’s another trailer that is shown at the Midnites For Maniacs screenings sometimes, I think all trailers for this movie are fucking brilliant.
7. NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986)
This is NOT the one I mean. But I think you need to see something to understand how fuck-off amazing this movie is. Jesse of Midnites For Maniacs has a full length trailer for this movie which is so amazing. I remember the first time I saw that trailer, it was at a triple feature and I turned to my friend Austin (who has possibly got the greatest taste in movies ever) we both agreed that it was one of the greatest trailers we had ever seen and were delighted that neither of us had even heard of the movie before (it’s a pretty impressive thing, coming up with a totally amazing movie that neither of us has even heard of). And then when Jesse showed it at one of the next triple features, I about died because it is really a fucking fantastic movie. And I wish to hell that I could find the real trailer somewhere online to show you.
6. POINT BREAK (1991)
As with Joysticks, I really feel like every trailer and ad for Point Break is good and amazing and wonderful. This movie… I cannot possibly say enough about how much I love this movie. Until his death, Patrick Swayze was the greatest living actor of the day. Now that he is gone, Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer and Keanu Reeves hold that distinction. Point Break is a great movie, great cast, great soundtrack (Public Image Limited has a song on the soundtrack – it’s playing in the meatball sandwich shop and, as we all know, Public Image Limited is the greatest band since fucking ever).
5. DUNE (1984)
If you have ever met me, I’ve probably told you how much I love Dune. When I was an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, I taught a full credit film course on Dune. It is among my top 5 favorite movies of all time (they are Dune, Cannibal! The Musical, Pitch Black, Dead Man, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And I love this trailer. It won’t rip from my old Dune DVD (I have the original DVD release as well as the shiny-boxed Extended Edition and I keep the old DVD not only because it has the trailer on it but also because I met David Lynch once and he signed the DVD cover for the old one).
4. JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995)
A super deluxe edition DVD celebrating the shit out of this movie is LONG motherfucking overdue. For a mid-nineties movie, the future technology of this movie still holds up. Fifteen years later. That is FUCKING impressive. Please think back over the development rate of personal technology in the past fifteen years. And though they are fast becoming a thing of the past, there are still 160GB hard drives for sale in the world. 80GB is not a number of the distance past yet. So you can still watch Johnny Mnemonic and not feel like you’re watching old Lost in Space reruns. This movie is genuinely fucking awesome. And on top of everything else that is awesome about it, it’s got Ice-T in it. You guys, I love Ice-T. He is the star of my favorite movie of all time. Surviving the Game.
3. MORTAL KOMBAT (1995)
I think when I’m an old man and I’ve retired, that I will have the Mortal Kombat logo tattooed on my face. This movie is so wonderful, you guys. Paul W.S. Anderson has made nothing but amazing movies as far as I’ve ever seen. He is one of my absolute favorite directors. Event Horizon, anyone? Yeah. It’s still an amazing movie. What I really dig about the Mortal Kombat trailer is how it snags you from the very first line of voiceover – the guy with the melodic voice is telling you that deep inside you are a fucking WARRIOR. We like hearing kick ass shit like that. It’s why Harry Potter is so fucking popular. Everyone wants to find out that they’re really a wizard. It’s a UNIVERSAL TRUTH. And… I love Mortal Kombat.
2. STREETS OF FIRE (1984)
This trailer is brilliant because it takes just about every possible trailer style and trope and does all of them, to excellent effect. In the middle of the trailer is a delightful song video style trailer putting fast paced and, of course, iconic snippets of the movie to the song “Nowhere Fast” which was written by Jim Steinman who, yes, wrote like all of Meatloaf’s best songs, and yes, Meatloaf recorded a version of “Nowhere Fast” with different lyrics for his album Bad Attitude which is really hard to find on CD. SO IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAILER is this song video style trailer. But it starts the trailer with a dialogue exchange from the movie that is out of context but establishes that there are two male characters: Willem Dafoe is instantly visually cued as the bad guy with his nasal delivery, intense stare, and deliberate hair, and Michael Pare with his laconic retort and relaxed hair is tagged as the John Wayne and we see that they have a conflict over an unspecified ‘she’ that Willem Dafoe will be coming for. So we IMMEDIATELY see that this is a story about a conflict between two men, over a woman. Movie: established. Trailer Trope #1: show clips from the movie to help convey the general idea of the movie. Then, we have awesome voiceover dude telling us what kind of world we are about to enter, mixed in with additional clips from the movie. Trailer Trope #2: awesome voiceover work. Then we have the song video that I already mentioned. Trailer Trope #3: song video style (editing footage from the film to music in an evocative manner). The last 20 seconds of the trailer is spent with awesome voiceover guy throwing in another one: Trailer Trope #4: shout-outs and roll-call. This is when a title or voiceover tells you things like ‘From a director who grew up in the same state as the guy who wrote Casablanca’ and shit like that and/or when they show the actors or characters and say their names or show titles with their names, like the end credits of Dune or The Princess Bride. Shout-outs and roll-call. I totally just made that up, I have no idea what anyone else calls that kind of thing.
1. ELI ROTH’S THANKSGIVING (2007)
Fake Trailer Segment of the Film Collection GRINDHOUSE
The last trailer… is a short film that was made in the style of a trailer. I mean, there is no actual film called Thanksgiving, Eli Roth just made a fake trailer for one that, if made into a movie, would be the awesomest holiday themed slasher flick probably ever made ever. I was lucky enough to see Grindhouse in the theater when it was released – at the UA theater in Emeryville with my friend Dan. That was awesome. There are some movies that really just have to be seen in the theater. First run. It’s still true.
To thank you for bothering with this, to reward those of you who are still with me, I give you a bonus list of movies which are awesome and have awesome trailers. It’s also a wishlist of movies I’d like to see at future screenings if anyone reading this happens to book movie screening in the San Francisco Bay Area.
TOP TEN MOVIE TRAILER HONORABLE MENTIONS
10. ROLLER BOOGIE (1979)
9. BAD BOYS (1983)
8. WORLD GONE WILD (1988)
7. THE STUFF (1985)
6. TUFF TURF (1985)
5. SIX-STRING SAMURAI (1998)
4. HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN (1988)
3. KNIGHTRIDERS (1981)
2. HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)
1.BARB WIRE (1996)