10 of the Best Movie Trailers of All Time

Most trailers are fairly standardized efforts to communicate to viewers genre, franchise, stars, and plot outline in two to three minutes. 

There are some that go beyond that, though, and manage to encapsulate the essence of the film they’re advertising in more subtle or clever ways—through great music choices, clever editing, and even sometimes through using material that doesn’t appear in the film. 

Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Jacques Demy’s uber-romantic film gets an uber-romantic trailer. The stunning young Catherine Deneuve wanders through a world in which all outfits are coordinated with the wallpaper and even the fire-hydrants are bathed in primary colors. This Criterion Channel trailer from 2014 has a gorgeous sound and dispenses with promotional blurbs, so there is nothing to interfere with the purity of the bittersweet sugar rush.  

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

“The railroad! The boom towns! The land-grabber! The gunmen!” the narrator intones because the scenario is so mythic you don’t need anything but labels, grit, some dramatic split screens, and that haunting harmonica. 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)

The trailer starts off with an audition for the trailer voiceover. The camera slowly panning across mountains as various silly voices take turns bellowing that this is a motion picture that will change the history of motion pictures. Finally, a man speaking in Mandarin gets the job, and explains (via subtitle) that this movie isn’t as good as films like “Seven Samurai” but is maybe okay. 

Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott’s beautiful original teaser is virtually an experimental short film in itself. There’s no dialogue, and the “music” (perhaps influenced by Eraserhead) is just pounding industrial ambient shriek and clatter. The images are more evocative than narrative; an egg splitting, people crawling through a cave and running through passageways, bodies thrashing, faces in sweaty close-ups, snarling cat.

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