This weekend sees the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a movie that was announced with almost no fanfare just weeks ago. Producer J.J. Abrams is known for his love of the ‘mystery box’, but this still makes a welcome change from marketing campaigns that take years or trailers that give away the entire plot of a film in two minutes (looking at you, Batman v Superman).
The first anyone knew about 10 Cloverfield Lane was when the teaser trailer – a masterclass in giving nothing away – landed last month. To celebrate the release of the film, we picked 10 of our favourite tantalising teaser trailers from down the years.
10. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Since he stars in 10 Cloverfield Lane, it’s only fair John Goodman got a shout-out on this list. At their best, Pixar’s teaser trailers were like little short films in their own right, capturing the essence of what was to come without giving anything of the plot away. The best of the best was the first trailer for Monsters, Inc., which showed us our childhood nightmares reimagined as working-class schlubs and gave us a taste of how perfect a comedy duo Billy Crystal and John Goodman would be. To this day we can’t walk past a hula-hoop without holding it around our waists and shouting “Guess which planet I am!”
9. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
In 1999, there was only one movie that people were even remotely interested in seeing. The first teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace was an unprecedented event. There were reports of people paying for a full price cinema ticket just to watch a trailer that lasted 131 seconds. Mike Myers and Jay Roach knew that Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me wasn’t taking any box office dollars away from The Phantom Menace, and so leaned into that with a wonderfully self-deprecating little teaser. Still, the film went on to gross a very respectable $206 million at the US box office, proving that all you need to market a movie is Mike Myers dancing like a tit.
8. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Films like the infamous Cannibal Holocaust may have come earlier, but it was The Blair Witch Project that brought the idea of the ‘found footage’ film into the mainstream – without it, there would have been no Cloverfield, and this whole article wouldn’t exist. The film’s marketing campaign capitalised on the newness of the genre by claiming the film was 100% real. The three main actors were listed as “missing, presumed dead” on IMDb, and missing posters were even stuck all around the Sundance Film Festival when the movie was first screened. With nothing but a snippet of teary dialogue and a link to a website – something which was unheard of at the time – the first viral sensation was born.
7. The Shining (1980)
Considering Stanley Kubrick once shot 127 takes of the same scene, it makes perfect sense that he would also shoot the trailer for his adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic – he even credited his own name twice. Still, even this short is a testament to Kubrick’s genius. Who else could make a static shot of a hallway look so terrifying? The music builds and builds until the tension is almost unbearable, before the elevator opens and a torrent of crimson blood pours out of it – at which point the illusion is shattered by those of us who watched The Simpsons parody the film in ‘Treehouse of Horror V’. “That’s odd… Usually the blood gets off at the second floor.”
6. Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is a film of enormous spectacle, which makes it all the stranger to see how subdued its marketing campaign was. The poster contained nothing more than a logo and a near-perfect tagline – “An adventure 65 million years in the making” – and the first teaser trailer is equally enigmatic. The footage of miners chipping away at the rocks is nowhere to be seen in the finished film. And just like in Jaws, Spielberg knew that the monster is scarier the less you see of it – all we get is a well-timed roar, but that was enough to get audiences champing at the bit. For extra laughs, see if you can spot Phil ‘You Had One Job’ Tippett’s name in the credits at the end of the trailer.
5. Ant-Man (2015)
Here at ORWAV, we hate the phenomenon of trailers for trailers. You know what we mean: a day or two before a movie trailer hits, the studio will for some bizarre reason release a 10 second preview of it – a trailer for the trailer – and a million reaction videos and clickbait articles are born. That said, we do have a grudging respect for the chutzpah Marvel showed when it came to marketing Ant-Man. Four days before the first teaser hit, the studio came up with an ‘ant-sized’ look at the film, which filled a tiny speck at the centre of the screen and gave nothing away because it was impossible to see. It was a ballsy marketing move, and yet strangely not the weirdest advert Marvel came up with…
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Waiting for news on the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga involved a unique mixture of excitement and dread. We’d all been here before, 15 years ago; raised up to the point of rapture only to be let down. But from that opening shot of John Boyega springing to his feet from the desert, things looked different. There was a whole new cast of characters that looked welcomingly diverse. An adorable little spherical droid with a mushroom head, who seemed far too real to be just CGI. A new, sinister looking character with holy crap that lightsaber has a crossguard! And then, just when it couldn’t get any better, a familiar-looking spaceship soared into the sky while John Williams blared in the background, and we were all 10 years old again.
3. Psycho (1960)
Were he alive today, we’re certain that Alfred Hitchcock would be a big fan of J.J. Abrams’ mystery box. The plot of Psycho was a closely-guarded secret right up to its release; the director forbade his stars from talking to the press, and even insisted that critics wait to see the film with the general public. The only trailer consisted of the man himself giving a tour of the infamous Bates Motel and the adjoining house to suspiciously cheery music. Time and again he comes agonisingly close to giving away crucial plot details, only to stop himself at the last minute. It’s hard to imagine directors doing the same today – most tours would consist of a varied selection of greenscreens.
2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
We talked about the fact that more and more trailers seem to give away huge chunks of plot, but it’s far from a new phenomenon. 25 years ago, the huge twist in Terminator 2 – that this time Arnie’s T-800 was on the side of the good guys – was given away by the dulcet tones of Don LaFontaine. Which is a shame, because James Cameron already had the perfect teaser, which he made with long-time collaborator and special effects legend Stan Winston. It was actually meant to be a scene in the original Terminator, but thankfully Cameron decided to recycle it to get audiences pumped at the thought of seeing their favourite killing machine in action again.
1. Superman (1978)
There are thinkpieces every other week about the glut of superhero movies, with increasingly huge lists of every film featuring a costumed hero due out from now until the end of time. With so much competition around, it makes sense that each new release would want to stand out as much as possible. But there was a time when it didn’t take a bunch of pretty-looking CGI or a complete plot synopsis. Back in 1978, the mere fact that someone tried to make a superhero movie was cause for celebration. All it took to send fans into a frenzy was a cast list and a logo. Really, that’s the ultimate tease.