The greatest movie trailers of all time

Let’s do a fun post, shall we?

How about the greatest movie trailers of all time?

It turns out that the greatest movie trailers fall into five categories: the meta-trailers, the battles, the journeys, the romances, and noir. In each case, the underlying concept is simple, so you can show the film (or play a joke on other trailers) without giving away the plot. You can pack in a lot of diversity. There’s danger and discovery, or else there’s passion — either way, justification for good iPod DJ’ing moments.

The Journeys

The Motorcycle Diaries
Stole from the video game Tropico the tactic of using inflammatory rhetoric wryly: just look at those splash quotes. They get your blood up, and yet the irony keeps everything hip. The montages show you all the interesting places they’ll go and girls they will kiss and peasants they will save and so forth, but the voiceover is all, “this movie is not taking itself too seriously — what does a goddamn montage know? It’s just two teenagers doing what you are, or were, dying to do.”

Into The Wild
It would be FANTASTIC if more people had ever heard of that Calexico/Iron & Wine EP. Anyway, where was I. Oh yes: Trailers are always better than the films when the films are about somebody collapsing and then dying. In the trailer it looks tragic; in the film it’s tedious. Things that fit awkwardly into the actual narrative, such as the true but inconsequential episodes on the river, are turned into a churning series of thrills. Watching McCandless bungle his way through Nature looks like it will be a Disney ride where everything’s real. Sort of a guilt-free The Alchemist, you might say, with a Vince Vaughn buddy comedy thrown in too.

Waking Life
This has to be the most aggravating movie trailer ever made…because it uses Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” which is perfect, and yet “The Passenger” is not used in the film itself. But it gets even worse — there’s also the implication that Waking Life is going to have some sex in it, which seems very reasonable for a film about people’s dreams. Maybe a Julie Delpy / Ethan Hawke scene for the fans of Before Sunrise? You see them snuggling, right? Again, as with Iggy Pop, this grand hope is a lie! A LIE!

The Meta-Trailers

“Who left the fridge open?” -Ben Stiller, Scorcher
“This will become a real film.” –Machete

Obviously, the greatest film trailer of all, because it’s a meta-trailer (which spawned many inferior imitations). Covers every single cliché in the action/adventure book, and somehow also manages to be a short story about one angry voiceover guy succumbing to madness. Weirdly lascivious madness, even. I’ve probably watched this 100 times and it’s still hilarious. (The film is unwatchable. Jerry, Jerry. Nobody cares.)

Not a real movie, but another incredible parody, this time using The Shining to parody family films. It’s so good that it’s moving, which is really awkward, considering the source material. The more you recognize from the film, the more you’ll realize that Peter Gabriel is being soundtracked to…making kissy faces with a corpse.

“Community” Season 3, Part Deux
These 34 trailers were better than the entire second half of Season 3 of Community. The overall tactic of satirizing trailers lent coherence to a bunch of pop culture references and overwrought plot developments that ended up being a bit much when the real thing arrived. How great is Britta doing Michael Jackson here? How insufferable was it when it had to be predicated on Abed racking up debt with an impersonation company?

The Battles

This brought NIN’s fantastic should-have-been-for-Quake song “Just Like You Imagined” back from the dead. Nobody could believe how cool it looked. The deep creases. The slow motion. The yelling, oh the magnificent Spartan yelling. Imagine, an entire movie filmed using Instagram.

Game of Thrones Season 2
One of two different pieces of celluloid to use Florence + The Machine’s “Seven Devils” to amazing effect, the other one being the finale of Season 1 of Revenge. Although it would be difficult to say that this is actually better than the mighty Game of Thrones episodes, the royal we can say with certainty that it makes the series seem more powerfully ethical than it is. The opening monologue by Varys is Goosebump City: when the fall’s all that’s left, it matters a great deal.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The opening sequence actually made me believe that I cared about these kids because I’d watched them grow up, even though I basically didn’t. The plot makes sense: it’s a tournament, high school kids participate in various tournaments all the time. There’s no mention of Voldemort but a lot of danger. Sure, I could have picked The Half-Blood Prince. But it’s like the man says: at some point, we all must choose between what is right, and what is easy.

The Romances

Step Up
Here, on the other hand, is the perfect example of a movie that makes no sense. Yes, I can imagine a janitor having the math skills of Einstein while still reading about the pre-Civil War economy of the South in his spare time. But I CANNOT and WILL NOT imagine a janitor who happens to be doing community service at a dancing school where he’s the best dancer. Class warfare abounds! Something about hip-hop or clubs or something! Channing Tatum, folks: I don’t know if he’s an idiot or a genius, but either way, he always seems convinced that there’s a perfectly logical explanation.

Crazy Stupid Love
A great bait-and-switch. For two minutes it’s a slightly funny “pickup artist” movie with Soundtrack A. Then Soundtrack B, Muse’s “Starlight,” kicks in and Julianne Moore reappears. The one example of “trailer bragging about stars” that does it well, because it got lucky: it was just the right moment to find out that Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, and Steve Carrell were all going to be in the same movie at the same time. And what a great ending, too (the trailer, not the film): it was sexy yet not irritating for dudes, since it made them feel better. Yeah! Stupid! You look photoshopped!

The Mask of Zorro
The film was pretty smoov, for a popcorn flick, but the trailer promised The Dark Knight crossed with El Mariachi. If you need to watch this movie for some reason, and you only have two minutes, the trailer is enough. Yes, technically it’s as much of an action film as a romance, but really this trailer is two people engaging in a fierce contest of fiesty smoldering. Plus, IT’S THE SAME GUY FROM THE COMEDIAN TRAILER.

500 Days of Summer
This narrowly beat out maybe six different movies by Wes Anderson for the title of Best Twee Trailer. Unless you were with me at the one theater in America that showed All The Real Girls, you barely even knew who Zooey was, and here she’s talking about the Smiths and the Sex Pistols like a high school friend — like 90% of all high school friends, according to a recent survey. The voiceover is absurdly stately, which is terrific, and it pulls the rug out from under you like the first minute of A Series of Unfortunate Events.


THEOREM: There has never been a bad noir trailer. These are all hyperreal versions of noir, but a million other examples could easily pinch-hit.

The second Zack Snyder film, but really, he makes better trailers than movies. Watchmen used a Smashing Pumpkins B-side (!) that nobody who wore bright colors had ever heard of before, and which was absolutely stunning. Plus, the stakes were really high: not just the end of the detective but, like, the end of the world. The final line is chilling, and works better here than in the film, where it’s part of a much longer running monologue. I love that ship coming out of the water, too. Half ship…HALF SHARK.

Sin City
It keeps building. And building. And building. AND THEN THE MOTHERFUCKING CAR FLIPS OVER. It looks like the trailer for The Watchmen. It sounds like the trailer for The Watchmen. The music is a carbon copy of 300 using “Just Like You Imagined.” But it does something the other movies didn’t, which is to put a beautiful mask on Miller’s ultimately nauseating and inhuman fascination with violence, so that it’s still cool-looking. A good trailer if you want to use the word “awesome” more than once.

The Matrix
If you did a meta-trailer but made it serious, not comical, and combined every genre in existence, you would get the Matrix trailer. It starts out as horror. Then it’s a philosophical romance. Then it’s sci-fi. Then it’s one of the Die Hard movies. No, romance again. Plus, even after watching this for two minutes, when this came out and the screen read “What is the matrix?” nobody had the slightest clue. There is another life form on this planet, besides the movie trailer, that works in this fashion. It is called a virus.