In 2013, the trailer has become the most important part of any movie's advertising campaign. At this point, the trailer might be more important than the movie itself.
Coming attractions, one of the oldest and most reliable forms of movie marketing, have, in recent years, morphed into something different. Something bigger. Something that transcends advertising.
People who enjoy trailers (and I'd certainly throw myself in that category) have always insisted that these movies in miniature are works of art unto themselves. But until recently, they were still works of art unto themselves that were only viewed in conjunction with films; at the movie theater or on VHS tapes or DVDs before the feature presentation. High-speed internet finally made trailers into their own medium; still derivative, of course, since they're (usually, mostly) comprised of sounds and images from longer films, but freed from the constraints of the pre-show. Online, trailers are the show.
Trailers are perfect for the Internet. Movie news websites love them because they're free content that generates lots of traffic (studios love them because lots of traffic means lots of free advertising). At 60 to 150 seconds, they're the perfect, easily digestible nugget of web content. Because they're promoting a product, studios generally don't care about piracy -- so they can be shared or recut to the viewers' hearts' content. Earlier this week, a GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio popping and locking in the trailer for the upcoming film "The Wolf of Wall Street" went viral. You can bet there were high fives up and down the Paramount Pictures lot over the way that half a second clip of Leo getting down with his bad self spread like wildfire. If that shot wasn't put in the trailer with the explicit intent of sparking a viral GIF (and I suspect it might have) then you better believe that studios will start putting shots in trailers with the explicit intent of sparking viral GIFs in the future. In six months, every trailer will have a shot of its star doing some silly breakdancing move.
A culture this pervasive deserves due consideration, so Wired has dedicated an entire series of articles to "The Art of the Trailer." It begins with "A Short History of Coming Attractions," considering the tropes of trailers from decade to decade, and continues on through an interview with trailer maker Mark Woollen (who made the famous "Social Network" teaser), an anatomy of a single marketing campaign (for "The Wolverine") a study on the cutting speed of trailers through the ages ("Dr Strangelove" is the fastest they found), and finally a list of the greatest trailers of all-time. For the top spot, Wired picked the same trailer Indiewire TV editor Alison Willmore and I chose for that title when we did a massive list of "The 50 Greatest Trailers of All Time" for IFC.com back in 2009:
The trailer I really fought for that no one mentions in these kinds of conversations but I've always loved and can vividly remember seeing -- and getting insanely excited over -- in the theater is the first teaser for the Bond movie "GoldenEye," which I still contend is basically perfect as these things go:
Man, that's awesome. Now can someone make me a GIF of Brosnan saying "No more foreplay?"
Read more of "The Art of the Trailer."