The Eras the Movie Trailer




After years of evolution, and change, the Movie Trailer has become an event in itself. The hype for some blockbuster trailers almost even rivals that of the movie it is advertising. In this part one of “Silver Screen Study’s” multi post story, we dive into the advent of the movie trailer, and its evolution into what it is today. 

There were no movie trailers for silent films. At least, they weren’t as prevalent as they were today. The advertisement for silent films instead relied on tinted lantern posts, and posters to rely on advertisement for their films. “Word-of-mouth”, the spreading of information about a film  based on person to person conversation was also key. There was no showing up to the theatre 15 minutes early to get a sneak peek for an upcoming blockbuster. Just images and the generosity of your fellow-man.

Posters, such as this one for the well known German Expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, were one of the several different methods used to advertise silent films.

But once the talkies began, studios and film editing visionaries foresaw a new opportunity to flex the muscle of the new and expansive technology. A new way to “show” the movie, without actually showing it.

The movie trailer was born.

The first movie trailer was shown in 1913 for the film The Pleasure Seekers, and debuted at the Marcus Lowe theatre chain. The trailer was met with praise, with one critic calling it a “new and pleasurable stunt.”  It inspired many theaters and upcoming film makers to adopt the practice.

The term “trailer” comes from the fact that the first previews were shown at the end of the feature. They “trailed after” the movie. This didn’t last long, as many customers missed the trailer after the movie. Never the less the name stuck and movie previews were now known as “trailers.”

This first era of movie trailers is what I’ll call “The Big Block” Era. These early trailers relied heavily on advertising the stars, often times A-listers from the Silent Films, in big white letters. In this era of letters and happy-go-lucky musical arrangements, a simple tagline would be used to introduce the movie’s storyline, and then would dive straight into the actors and the movie title.

The above trailer for 1952’s “Singing in the Rain” is a perfect example of a trailer from the Big Block Era. Big letters, the key piece from the movie, and heavily advertising the films top billed lead, Gene Kelly.

This trend would continue, with some differing styles over the decades, until the late 80’s. Then one day, a man named Don Lafontaine walked into a recording booth in Los Angeles.


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