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As soon as it was announced, the very idea of a teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens caught the attention and fired the imaginations of many fans. But now that you’ve seen the trailer for yourself and had a chance to get past the inevitable waves of excitement and disappointment that followed, you can ask yourself, was it a good teaser?
To help you decide, here are ten of the best teasers for sci-fi movies of years gone by (and a couple of “special mentions,” as you’ll see). I’ve limited my selection to teasers that were created especially as teasers, as opposed to recut footage from the finished movie. Don’t be surprised if you end up thinking that some movies actually work better as teasers than as actual movies.
Superman: The Movie (1978)
How best to get people excited about your movie when there’s no footage available? List their names onscreen, of course — a plan that works when you have Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman starring in your movie, although perhaps this teaser for the first Superman movie didn’t need to go quite so far down the cast list. Was there really anyone not related to Valerie Perrine who’d seen her name onscreen in the theater and think “Well, now I’m sold”?
Back to the Future (1985)
Besides the fun of seeing Michael J. Fox‘s delivery of the line “About 30 years” — David Caruso, eat your heart out with that sunglasses lift — what makes this teaser so great is that it keeps the movie’s high concept close to its chest for pretty much the entire length. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Steven Spielberg was producing a Knight Rider movie for most of it.
Total Recall (1990)
“How would you know … if someone stole your mind?” this gravelly voiceover asks, and judging by this teaser for the Philip K. Dick adaptation-of-sorts, the answer is “I’d see lots of crude CGI geometric images flying towards me, and Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s head would slowly revolve on its side at some point.” That said, between the nonsensical imagery and that voiceover, you have to admit that you’re intrigued. Job done!
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Another Schwarezenegger project, and one that relies on audience recognition for full effect. It’s one thing to watch the construction of a robot, but as soon as the familiar head appears — and especially when the eye goes red — those in the know will have realized exactly what’s going on and be eagerly awaiting what happens after he goes through that skin manufacturing machine. (Note: Quite how one mold results in skin and hair, I don’t know, but let’s just go with it.)
Jurassic Park (1993)
The teaser for the original Jurassic Park is another example of a teaser that doesn’t announce its intentions until the end — and also one which arguably shows you scenes that could’ve/should’ve been in the movie itself. The metastylization of the trailer as faux documentary works wonders, as well. There’s no way audiences could’ve gotten to the end of that and not wanted to see what happened next.
A strong contender in any contest for cinematic shade-throwing, the teaser for the late ’90s Godzilla doesn’t just demonstrate the scale of the movie’s monster without actually revealing what it looked like, it also dissed The Lost World, the second Jurassic Park sequel in the process by showing audiences how puny its monsters were in comparison. If only the rest of the movie had been this smart or this funny.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
It’s rare that a trailer knows just how much it’s not wanted, but the teaser for the second Austin Powers movie was well aware that audiences would rather see Star Wars: Episode I, and played on that desire in a way that’s both cruel and self-depreciating. Maybe someone at Disney should see if Mike Myers would like to make a Star Wars movie for real …
War of The Worlds (2005)
There’s no Tom Cruise and no glimpse of the Martians who’d cause so much trouble in the finished film, but the teaser for War of The Worlds nonetheless tells you all you need to know about the movie — especially with the tagline “They’re already here.” It’s as if the teaser existed to tell audiences, “Yes, suburbia — enjoy tonight’s feature presentation, because it may be the last one you’ll ever see.” Paranoia was rarely so attractive.
The Dark Knight (2007)
Bending my self-imposed rules slightly, this teaser features dialogue, if not footage, from the finished movie, set against the visuals of the Batman symbol slowly exploding. The dialogue itself is barely a tease; however, what makes this work is the laugh at the end of the whole thing. That’s what people wanted: proof that the Joker was on his way.
Star Trek (2009)
There’s something wonderfully classy about the first teaser for J.J. Abrams‘ Star Trek reboot — the way in which it uses real-life audio from the history of space exploration before revealing the Enterprise under construction while Leonard Nimoy intones the familiar “Space … the final frontier” line, placing the series in context with mankind’s real desire to see what’s out there. It doesn’t say anything about the movie other than “it’s coming,” but somehow, that’s more than enough.
The Lord of the Rings (2000)
This teaser is pretty much made up of footage from the first LOTR movie, but what makes it worth noting is its boldness. This isn’t just a teaser for one movie, it’s a teaser for the entire trilogy; it’s as if the studio was giving notice to audiences that they should just update their calendars in advance because, come on, of course they’d be turning out for these films.
Officially not a teaser trailer, but a “viral clip” — it wasn’t intended for theaters, being the deciding factor — this tease for Prometheus is arguably more fun (and more chilling) than the movie itself, taking the infomercial format to a creepy new place and making the idea of owning your own Michael Fassbender curiously attractive.
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