It Crawls! It Creeps! It Eats You Alive! It’s Indestructible! It’s Indescribable! Nothing can stop it!” And nothing could stop us from going to see The Blob in 1958. That’s the power of the movie trailer. Competition has always been keen to attract audiences to new releases. Star power and an appealing title or plot usually did the trick, but nothing beats creatively edited trailers (previews of coming attractions) to create advance interest and buzz.
Trailers are a unique art form, and have always played a pivotal role in marketing new movies, because they are shown to an adman's paradise, the captive audience. The trailer often proved more entertaining than the actual movie itself. Sometimes it would be released before the final edited version of the movie, resulting in the trailer having scenes not in the final cut of the film.
Some trailers were developed as part of a larger integrated marketing campaign. For example, The Great Ziegfeld, a 1936 MGM biography of showman Florenz Ziegfeld, overcame financial setbacks when the production went excessively over budget and resulted in the project changing studios from Universal to MGM. Actress Billie Burke, wife of Ziegfeld, was to have portrayed herself in the film, but Myrna Loy ended up playing the role instead. These and other buzz factors were folded into the trailer to maximize ticket sales. This otherwise expensive 2 million dollar production went on to earn 40 million dollars at the box office and become the first “biopic” to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Some of the most imaginative trailers often involved special footage shot just for the trailer. Alfred Hitchcock not only made cameo appearances in his films, but he also participated in the marketing of many of them. In Psycho (1960), director Hitchcock actually starred in the full seven-minute trailer, escorting movie audiences on a personally guided tour of the Bates Motel. Special footage was also shot and added to the trailer for It Came From Outer Space, so actor Richard Carlson could convince audiences of the wonders of the new 3-D process. In the trailer for The Thin Man, actor William Powell is shown talking to himself as his Thin Man character, Nick Charles.
Prior to the 1960s a company called National Screen Service dominated the creation of movie trailers and posters on behalf of the entire film industry. During the 1960s and beyond, and as competition grew ever stronger, the major studios opted for more creative-edge advertising and subscribed to a variety of emerging production companies that specialized in the creation of movie trailers.
Since movies began, the movie trailer continues to be one of the most entertaining and popular aspects of the American movie-going experience. You can watch and enjoy some of the best trailers ever made here.