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A love letter to movie trailers and the joy of shared anticipation

Antonio Gravante / EyeEm
Getty Images/EyeEm

When I saw the Barbie trailer, an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, I was blown away. I was intrigued by the concept of a Greta Gerwig interpretation of the Barbie universe, and when the trailer ended I was completely sold on the project. The trailer brilliantly set a unique tonal expectation and captivated an unexpected demographic through its referential humor.

This trailer sparked me to analyze my love for movie trailers.

Many trailers use genre as a way to sell a film. For example, action trailers follow a clear format. They draw you in with spectacle and show fans of the genre that the film will have all the fight scenes and explosions they could want. Other trailers rely on the persuasive tool of star power — focusing on the biggest names involved in the project. Finally, there are those like the Barbie trailer that sell you on a movie using eccentric style and creative editing as a marketing tool.

For the most part, we've moved past the bellowing voice-overs declaring "IN A WORLD..." at the start of a trailer. Nevertheless, a movie trailer is in fact inviting you into their world. When done well, they are a perfectly crafted nugget of persuasion.

The good, the bad and the brilliant

A common complaint about trailers is that they defeat the purpose of needing to actually see the movie. To skeptics out there, I want you to feel heard: there are some awful trailers. Every plot point spoiled, every punchline told, every twist revealed. But the bad trailers make the good ones even sweeter. A perfect example can be found in two trailers for Stephen King movie adaptations.

The trailer for the 1976 horror film Carrie manages to reveal almost every important part of the movie. By the end, there is no feeling of excitement or curiosity about the film.

But then you have the trailer for The Shining. After some scrolling credits highlighting the big names of the movie, an eerie tune gets increasingly louder and blood begins to rush out of elevator doors. The blood takes over the entire screen and the trailer concludes.

The trailer brilliantly utilizes the power of the well-known novel the movie is based on to create a trailer so compelling it doesn't need a single word. Even if you haven't read the book, you know everything you need to know: this movie will be a masterfully terrifying experience.

Then you have trailers that expertly montage key moments without actually giving away anything. The Social Network trailer is one of the most captivating pieces of storytelling. Whoever decided to score this trailer with a Belgian girls choir cover of Radiohead's "Creep" deserves a raise. It begins with an eerie depiction of social media and builds to a frantic pace, matching the film's story but leaving the audience wanting more.

From the witty rhythmic pacing of The Big Short trailer, or the unparalleled editing genius of the Dr. Strangelove trailer, or the needle drop of "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. in thePineapple Express trailer, a good trailer plays like a music video. A perfect companion piece to another art form. They allow you to reenter the world of a movie in just a few minutes.

The exhilaration of expectation

I love rewatching trailers for movies I've seen, but I want to highlight one of the most magical components of movie trailers: the exhilaration of expectation. Trailers build conversations and community surrounding the anticipation of a movie.

Something special occurs when a compelling preview plays at the theater. The murmur of noise spreads as moviegoers express approval for the upcoming project. In just a couple of minutes, a trailer has given people something to talk about and a shared thrill. Watching a good trailer that captures the essence of a movie builds a lovely bubble of excitement that you get to share, discuss, and develop as you wait for a movie's release.

Whether it is to revisit a beloved movie, to build excitement for an upcoming project, or just to admire a masterclass in curating a vibe, movie trailers are truly an underappreciated art form.

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Susannah Broun
Susannah Broun (she/her) is an intern at How I Built This and TED Radio Hour. On these teams, she researches and produces episodes on a wide variety of topics including creators making strides in digital spaces and revolutionary scientific advancements.