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Going in Deep: How Have Movie Trailers Changed in the Last Decade?

George Richards is a film fanatic and writer. In the past few years he has been writing a collection of articles looking at the lesser-known aspects of putting together a film, and giving a voice to the quiet heroes of the filmmaking process.


In a world where fans follow the latest movie trailers with a religious devotion, the preview has become a genre unto itself. One man who still reigns supreme and has redefined the genre of the blockbuster previews for over twenty-five years was legendary voice-actor Don LaFontaine. The Washington post remarked that he did over 5,000 film trailers and over 350,000 TV commercials, as well as network promotions and video game trailers. With his trademark line “In a world...,” and his deep baritone voice the ubiquitous LaFontaine could breathe life and drama into the dullest dog of a movie Hollywood had to offer. With his death in September of 2008, however, the dynamic of the movie trailer changed almost overnight. While the trend of the melodramatic voice over trailer style was already tapering off in 2008, it has now evolved into a montage of clips with dramatic music to match. The general trend has become to make the trailer a short film in and of itself rather than an ad. Voice-over narration has been replaced with the characters’ actual dialogue spliced together, title cards and high tempo music. Staccato cutting or manipulating the speed of the film to match the music, can be seen in blockbuster titles like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Dunkirk. It creates a unique synthesis of video and sound never before experienced in a movie theatre.

Moreover, stylistic trends move faster than ever now, changing in a matter of months or years rather than decades. The Verge tells us that what was cool for a few years, such as the “whoom” sound in Inception for example, which had been reused in subsequent movie trailers, has now become a cliché. Due to the accessibility of media at our fingertips, audiences these days are savvier and trailers compete not only with each other but with everything else on the web. The rise of YouTube and Facebook has given film studios exactly this opportunity; as soon as the teaser goes live the web freaks out and the ad campaign gains its own momentum. The Star Wars franchise gave studios a golden opportunity to not only sell the movie, but merchandise as well. Toys sell long before the movie comes out due to the complex relationship which people have with movies, according to Market Watch. Modern trailers no longer just introduce the film; for franchise films, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars they link films together, sell merchandise and provide pretexts for fan debate and speculation. It’s all about building anticipation and hype for free.

Marvel has gone a step further this year in the trailer game with their campaign for Deadpool 2. They’re changing the formula of the trailer taking a comedic approach, with the Bob Ross teaser where Deadpool, in a wig and shirt, makes a succession of jokes with very little of the movie interspersed in between. The method of just showing some of the actual film, with a little side story thrown in is such an incredible marketing idea for making sure fans are pumped and sharing the film on social media, suggests Hollywood Reporter journalist Ryan Parker. Both Marvel and DC, capitalizing on the pop-culture appeal of the superhero have further changed the movie trailer dynamic by cutting trailers for trailers; a 20-second teaser for a two-minute teaser for a 2:32 length full trailer of a feature length film. It began with The Wolverine in 2013 and DC has followed suit with short teasers of the conflict between Batman and Superman and their unification for the same cause by Wonder Woman, for Justice League. This sort of ad campaign has been a boon for movie, merchandise and video game sales. It has inspired countless incarnations of superhero video games, most notably the Lego Marvel and DC games and Batman’s Arkham series. The effect has been so wide reaching that even online gaming sites have capitalized on the hype; including Foxy Bingo which features a diverse roster of superhero titles thanks to DC and Marvel now dominating the box office.

The Pleasure Seekers trailer (1913)

The marketing of movies has always been an art form in and of itself and movie trailers have been enticing audiences since 1913. Trailers have evolved from just mere descriptions of a film, to dramatic voice-over montages, to today’s frenetic fast-cut teasers. The era of the blockbuster and the MTV cutting style, with its fast-paced edits, changed the landscape of the movie trailer forever.

Exit 6 Film Festival previously discussed how the internet has given movie trailers a huge platform to be seen globally no matter what the budget of the film. In a world (there’s that cliché again) of increasing competition from TV, video games and film all vying for the viewer’s hard-earned money, the role of the trailer as a living, breathing representative of its particular medium has never been more important; designed to be tantalising and just satisfying enough so you’ll want to come back for more.


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