Remembering When Super Bowl Movie Ads Were Surprising

"Enjoy the Super Bowl. It may be your last," is a tagline that worked in '96, but likely wouldn't sit well today.
Courtesy of Photofest

Sunday's Super Bowl will feature teasers for a few of the year's blockbusters, but in the age of instant movie news and studio Twitter accounts sharing teasers for teasers, it's a challenge for them to inspire the level of excitement they might have in decades past.

So it's time to revisit what it was like to see those ads unspoiled (and learn how we got to where we are):

It's 1996 and you're watching the Super Bowl.

An ad comes on for a movie you likely haven't heard of. There aren't any recognizable stars in the spot, but it's strangely captivating, with ominous shots of something hovering over cities. Then explosions. And then...an image that would help propel the movie to $817 million at the box office: the White House being destroyed.

"Enjoy the Super Bowl. It may be your last," reads the tagline.

The Super Bowl spot for Independence Day was surprising in an age when beer, cars and soft drinks ruled the Big Game — when the idea of a movie being big enough to warrant a spot was novel. 

Here it is.

Now we're in 2003, an era where there might be just one superhero movie a year. And then this comes on, and slowly you realize you're looking at Bruce Banner. Whoa!

It's now 2005, you probably have heard the director who made Memento and the actor who had just been in a string of ridicu-awesome movies (Reign of Fire, Equilibrium) were making a Batman reboot. Batman Begins teases just the right amount needed to convince you it is cool to like Batman movies again after Batman & Robin.

Oh hey, it's 2008 and Robert Downey Jr. really is back  — and he's a superhero. This Iron Man movie just might make money. Even if half the people at your Super Bowl party have never heard of the character, most of them seem intrigued. 

Fast-forward to 2012, and things had changed. The spot for The Avengers has already made its way online before the big game. Like Independence Day years before it, the ad debuted a classic image: the 360-degree shot of the team assembled during the Battle of New York. It's great, but somehow the magic is lost since you've already seen it online a few days before. But hey, at least you can go to Avengers' Facebook page and see an extended version

The Super Bowl airs Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT on Fox. 

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