The comic book movie trailer is a special kind of beast; it needs to introduce weird characters to a general audience in a way that gets them excited about it, and at the same time it can’t reveal too much about the story. A good trailer hooks us, creates buzz and ultimately makes us want to go see the movie. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable comic book movie trailers over the years, and why they are so very effective in their presentation.
We start with the film trailer to Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie in 2000. While Blade (1998) was the first moderately successful film to star a Marvel property, it was X-Men that got the positive reviews from critics and it is arguably the first film in the 2000s that spearheaded an era of superhero and comic book films.
The producers of the first X-Men had their work cut out for them when they created the trailer; they had to communicate the premise of the movie and introduce an eclectic mix of characters to audiences that weren’t necessarily familiar with the premise. Plus, there weren’t really any ensemble comic book hero movies yet.
With this trailer, they went the direct route: simply name them all in an action montage of each. It was simple, and it worked. Audiences unfamiliar with the characters got to see them all, and the geeks got to hop up and down as each mutant got his or her name called. The concept could have gone very badly, but this trailer is stylish enough that it’s not (too) cheesy and childish. Viewing it now it looks a bit dated and silly, but at the time it was very effective.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Say what you like about sequels, but some of the best superhero and comic book movies are seconds, even better movies than their firsts. Getting people excited about Part 2 of a movie franchise is in some ways easier than a brand new property: you don’t have to introduce many characters since we can assume the audience is familiar with them from the first part. But you have to give viewers a reason to come back from more.
In this particular teaser trailer for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, we see Peter and Mary Jane sharing a “will they/won’t they” moment before an entire car just smashes into the restaurant! Then Doctor Octopus makes a brilliant entrance! No “in a world where …” voiceover, no text snippets explaining the situation, just a short clip and a bang. Then the usual action montage starts, but I like how we’re thrown into the action from a quiet character-based moment.
The Dark Knight (2008)
This teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is textbook perfection for teaser trailers. Honestly, it was the only trailer they ever needed, (though they did release a full trailer, which was also pretty good). When I first saw it, it gave me chills. It is just a simple animation: the Batman logo slowly disintegrating with the voice-overs from Bruce Wayne, Alfred, and the Joker. It cleverly introduces the situation and the key players without showing a single scene. Batman is about to face a terrifying villain, and the maniacal laugh with the brief glimpse of the Joker card at the end just seals the deal. To this day “some men just want to watch the world burn” remains one of the most memorable movie quotes of all time.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
We saw this one pretty recently, the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy. As a relatively obscure Marvel property, the filmmakers had to make a trailer that was both exciting and introduced all the oddball characters. Like the X-Men trailer, we are given a character roll-call, but in a more subtle way. It is framed in a scene where the protagonists are described in a prison line-up, one by one, by a Nova Corps (Marvel’s space police) officer.
One of the more memorable aspects of this trailer is the use of Blue Suede’s song, “Hooked on a Feeling.” Instead of the usual generic dramatic music, we got an old pop song, subverting our expectations. Then, said pop song was remixed to work in a dramatic, exciting way (the corny “ooga chaka” chant got turned into the montage music), subverting it twice. The trailer is humorous and creative, and it gives us good vibes for the movie (which Marvel is promoting like crazy). It remains to be seen whether the film will be any good, but the trailer was one super effective introduction to the movie.
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Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein