The History of the Movie Trailer

In a world of mass entertainment with new movies opening every Friday night – one advertising medium would arise, growing into a virtual
artform – this the history of the Movie Trailer. Looking back on the evolution of the movie
trailer we must consider the evolution of how we watch movies. Unlike the multiplexes
we’re accustomed to today, the first movie theaters in the 1910s had only one screen.
You would pay the admission, say five cents, and you could sit in the theater for as long
as you wanted. Show times weren’t precise – a feature length movie along with a short
films and a cartoon would play in a continuous loop and you could watch it as many times
as you wanted. 1913 would be what many historians consider
year zero for the movie trailer. In New York City, Nils Granlund, advertising manager of
Marcus Loew theaters, made a short little promotional film for the Broadway play “Pleasure
Seekers” showcasing actual rehearsal footage. The idea of showing ads between films was
a hit – at least to the movie theater owners The practice of creating and splicing in
promotional pieces into the screening rotation was quickly implemented by the Loew theater
chain and copied all round. Around the same time in Chicago, Col. William
Selig, one of film’s earliest pioneers, would engineer another way to get audiences
to the movies. Selig noticed the popularity of print serials in newspapers so he approached
the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper embattled in a circulation war for who could be the
most sensationalist, to adapt a film version of a print serial. The result was a 13 episode
serial entitled “The Adventures of Kathlyn”. This wasn’t the first film serial, it was
actually the second, but it introduced a new device to film marketing. You see, each week
a new installment would debut along with an article in the Chicago Tribune that continuing
the story. What made “The Adventures of Kathlyn” different was at the end of each
installment something would happen to put the characters in some sort of peril – a cliffhanger
often with a title card inviting patrons to come back the following week to see what happens. So Thus the idea of the trailer was born – and
so too the term – as these promotions for upcoming attractions would play at the end
of the film – hence trailer. Most of these promotions were produced by
the theaters themselves but by 1916, the movie studios themselves began officially releasing
for upcoming movies. These first film trailers were pretty basic – they generally consist
of snippets of film with some text overlay such as the cast of stars. There was very
little money in the trailer making and renting business – at least to the studios – It took
a group of clever business men to figure out a way of making money on the nickel and dime
work of trailer distribution but in doing so, they created a company that would hold
a virtual monopoly on movie trailers and promotional items for nearly four decades. When we think of the power of Hollywood – we
often think of large sound stages and studio sets. But anyone, anywhere in the world with
the right amount of capital can build movie studio. Hollywood’s power lies in it’s
ability to get the movies it makes to a paying audience – distribution. In an era before
internet or even reliable phone service coast to coast, distributing movies and promoting
with trailers and posters was a logistical nightmare – one that the major studios were
happy to outsource to a company called the National Screen Service. Started in 1919 by Herman Robbins, the NSS
opened an office in New York City that took movie stills, spliced in titles and turned
around and sold these trailers to movie theaters directly. They didn’t even ask permission
from the studios. Well that didn’t seem to bother the filmmakers. Quite the opposite,
many studios happily signed deals to submit their films to the NSS to be made into trailers.
By the 1940s, the NSS had branched out into poster and paper advertising and contracts
with all the major Hollywood studios. The way NSS made money was by signing Movie
theaters owners to a contract where the NSS would rent out their poster and trailer needs
on a week by week basis and NSS would kick back a small royalty to the studios. Now occasionally
a studio, like Warner Bros. or Columbia would experiment with their own trailer cutting
department but for the most part the NSS dominated the trailer making business from the 1920s
through to the 60s – creating a template style trailer with some very specific stylistic
patterns like screen wipes and fly-in titles as seen in this classic trailer from Casablanca: Casablanca: City of Hope and Despair. Located in French Morocco, North Africa The meeting place of adventurers, fugitives, criminals… refuges lured into this danger swept Oasis by the hope of escape to the Americas. But they’re all trapped for there is no escape. Against this fascinating background is woven this story of an imperishable love. And the enthralling saga of six desperate people each in Casablanca to keep an appointment with destiny. I was willing to shoot Captain Renault and I’m willing to shoot you. Alright major you asked for it. Coming into the 1960s, a new generation of star directors began to redefine the trailer – among them was the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. Instead
of showing scenes from the movie, Hitchcock, who had become quite well known to audiences
from his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV series, cashed in on his celebrity… taking
audiences on a tour using his gallows humor style in this trailer for 1960’s Pscyho: Good Afternoon Here we have a quiet little motel. tucked away off the main highway. And as you see, perfectly harmless looking. When in fact it has now become known as… The scene of the crime. This motel also has as an adjunct an old house… which is, if I may say so…. A little more sinister looking, less innocent than the motel itself. And in this house, the most dire and horrible events took place. I think we can go inside because the place is up for sale… although I don’t know who’s going to buy it now. In that window on the second floor the single one in front… That’s where the woman was first seen. Let’s go inside. The reemergence of Cubism in film and commercial
art in the 1960s was not lost on another emerging filmmaker – Stanley Kubrick. Having experimented
with fragmented cutting styles in the trailer to 1962’s Lolita, Kubrick comes back strong
in 1964’s “Dr. Strangelove” with a trailer that I consider one of the most bold and brazen
pieces of movie advertising ever made: Whoopeee…. hahaha Attack Russia oh oh base ten females to each male.. Coca cola machine fluids The Doomsday Machine Blast off! Dr. Strangleove or How I learned to stop worry and love the Bomb A moving picture LOVE THAT BOMB!!! As movie censorship and the production code
began to fall by the wayside, trailers began to feature anti heros such this one from Bonnie
and Clyde. More emphasis was laid on the music – as in the Simon Garfunkel score of The Graduate Oh Jesus God No The tide was turning away from the cookie
cutter style trailer of the NSS. And as the film theaters turned more toward multiplexes
with multiple screens in the 1970s and going into the 80s with less space for movie poster
advertising, the monopolistic grasp of the NSS began to crumble and the movie studios
and production companies reasserted control over promotion. But as we will see, the Hollywood
promotion machine was just getting started. By the 1970s the movie business landscape
had completely changed from the studio controlled “Golden Era of Hollywood” – one of the
key turning points in distribution strategy came in 1975 with the release of Jaws. There is a creature alive today… who has survived millions of years of evolution without change… without passion… and without logic it lives to kill. A mindless eating machine It will attack and devour anything It is as God created the devil And gave him…. JAWS! Roy Scheider Robert Shaw Richard Dreyfuss You’re going to need a bigger boat. From the best selling novel: Jaws. Rated PG may be too intense for younger children. If you were watching TV in the summer of 1975,
you most likely saw that trailer. Jaws was the first successful film to see a wide release
– prior, movies would premiere in big cities and then roll out so smaller markets over
the coming weeks and months. Jaws opened big – in 464 theaters on June 25th, 1975, expanding
to 675 a month later – the largest simultaneous distribution of a film in motion picture history
at the time. The idea of a wide release was to get the most out bang out of the advertising
buck – Universal bet an unprecedented $700,000 into Television advertising alone, saturating
the airwaves with John William’s creepy score. The gamble worked – Jaws saw a huge
opening box offices numbers – $7 million in the first weekend alone with an ultimate run
of $470 million world wide. The blockbuster strategy was born and at the
heart was the movie trailer. Big bold visuals for big movies. And the voice to many of those
blockbusters was the great Don LaFontaine The “Voice of God” who has talents to
over 5,000 movie trailers and hundreds of thousands of television commercials. So identified
with the opening phrase “In a World” – that Geico saw fit to spoof it in this ad from
2006 When the storm hit, both our cars were totally underwater In a world where both of our cars were totally underwater. We thought it would take forever to get some help. But a new wind was about to blow. As the so called MTV cutting style with fast
paced edits shaped a generation of audiences, the trailer adapted and became what it is
today. With the internet and immediate global distribution, a movie trailer is almost a
genre onto itself with boutique editing houses focusing solely crafting that perfect piece
of movie advertising. In a world with increasing competition from
television and video games all competing for a limited resource – your time and money – the
role of the trailer, as a moving breathing talking representative of a film – easily
consumed as a preview before a main attraction or as easily sharable content on social media
has never been as important. Go out there and make something worthy of an awesome trailer. Make something great. I’m John Hess, and I’ll see you at

Comments 81

  • Your videos are the best!

  • Good video!

  • i liked your videos before i watch them, thank you for your work

  • Filmmaker IQ posts a video? This Monday, just got a little better.

  • I hate self advertisement, but I just want to say I made a modern trailer of Batman from 1966.

  • I always get excited when a new Filmmaker IQ video comes out.  Your video's are very inspiring, and they make me want to push the limits with my own you tube vids.  

  • hey john, can i ask about 2 things?

    1) could you explain why blockbusters are called that?

    2) have you watched Metal Gear Solid Philanthropy?

  • Well you could finish by saying that trailers today are just a mix of action driven motion blurred footage divided by annoying fades to black.

  • nice video, any plans on making something about diffrent video transitions?

  • These videos are all so interesting. Cannot wait for the next one 🙂

  • Inception is the best movie ever!!!

  • Informative and entertaining, as always. Thank you John!

  • I'm so disappointed that you didn't mention the Clockwork Orange trailer, probably the best trailer ever! Any, great video. I always look forward to new installments.

  • 7:48 the old house and the motel are actually in Hollywood and is part of the Hollywood studios tour.

  • Thank you for posting. Always enjoy seeing and learning from Filmmaker IQ videos. Appreciate you shedding light on the Voiceover part of movie trailers. Only a few men, with exceptional voices, have had careers in film and television doing Voice-overs and voice work. Lafontaine is fortunate to have a voice like that. What a cool way to make a living?!?!?
    Here are some other noted VO talents.
    • Percy Rodriguez (Jaws, The Exorcist trailers)
    • John Facenda (NFL films)
    • Mike Road (Race Bannon)
    • Paul Frees (War of the Worlds)
    • James Earl Jones(Darth Vader)
    • Orson Welles (Citizen Kane)
    • Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny)

  • trailers are their own genre, my friends and i make mock trailers instead of short films because trailers are more fun to edit

  • I would love to see a video about the history of frame rate.

  • I thought it was brief just and interesting.

  • John does such an awesome job on these I feel like I am taking a cool fun night course in film making and appreciation. Keep these up!

  • Great video! You do a lot of videos on the history of film, which I like, but I'm curious as to how you see the future of film.

    For example, what do you think of the the over abundance of indie films making it harder to stand out? Also video games and the internet keeping people from seeing movies.

  • Great subject for a great video, thanks a lot John ! 🙂

  • I feel an urge to go to the Cinema and support a film!

  • Thanks to Inception, its like a must for EVERY action movie to have multiple BWAAS in the trailer

  • Too bad the bulk of trailers these days give away the entire plot in 40 seconds or less…..

  • Becoming more common nowadays that the trailers are better than the films they are trying to pitch.

  • So good! I collect your best presentations…

  • I love your videos. I suggest them to lots of actors and filmmakers a like. I was wondering if maybe you'd consider doing a series on genre. Maybe a breakdown of Suspense and how it is created in film. How the same shots if edited, shot, scored, or acted differently could be a drama or a comedy? This is just a thought. I'm working on understanding how to make things more suspenseful. I'm a huge Lost fan and have been amazed at how Suspense and Horror are two genres that can accomplish great things, but with small budgets by shooting around things they can't show.

  • Nice to see you back, I have been telling people about the history of pop corn as I work in a sweet shop 🙂

  • What happened to HD version?

  • 240p?

  • I feel you skipped over the modern era pretty quickly. I thought you'd get into how the editor of a trailer or score plays such a heavy role now to replace don lafontaine. Showing specifically how the editing style has changed.

  • Your video was a good general look at trailer history. Do you think you will try to break down the evolution further in another video?

  • John, excellent work as always! I don't know if you remember me, but we've exchanged emails before regarding history and film. I sent you one of my research papers from graduate school concerning censorship and the Hays Code. Just wanted to let you know I've posted this on LinkedIn in the history groups I follow and to say I really enjoy the videos you produce and the website. If you guys ever need a historian keep me in mind!

  • Aee galley al SUBSCRIBE if you like my channel. 😀 thks

  • I like how you talk like 1 screen theaters no longer exist.

    I actually don't like going to a huge multiplex.

  • Good video!

  • It is shame no one does the Hitchcock trailer style anymore.

  • I have to disagree with the claim that National Screen Service produced the trailers for all the studios.  Every studio, even Monogram and PRC, had a trailer department more-or-less connected with the ad department that designed posters, etc.  There were definite individual "house styles" to trailers from each company.  NSS, however, did handle "print service" (physical distribution) of trailers, along with posters and stills for all companies, and also produced date strips, "snipes," etc.

  • Your videos are always informative & enjoyable.  Have you done one about the history of screen titles & credits yet?  They too have gone from a basic cookie-cutter formula to quite creative approaches done by studios specializing in just on screen text.

  • kiitos

  • Ironically, This video is super boring.  

  • Hello
    I am a film student in hk. I think that you should make a video about fillm poster also. I guess there is great knowledge within. Hk films has long neglected the importance of advertising. Thanks.

  • I loved this one.   Great work.

  • omg that dr stranglove trailer :O

  • Somehow I had never seen that Strangelove trailer, thanks for that. It's fantastic.

  • It's too bad you couldn't devote more time to the history of movie trailers. I've always been interested in them. One thing to consider is that, like movies, there are good trailers and bad trailers. But they won't necessarily tell you whether or not a movie is good or terrible. One example is the trailer to the 1960 "The Innocents" with Deborah Kerr. This is an example of an awful trailer for a very good movie. Another example is the trailer for the Bette Davis movie, "Mr. Skeffington". The trailer for this movie is down right misleading in relation to actual plot of the movie. For classic Hollywood, I believe one of the better constructed and compelling trailer (from this period) is the trailer for the 1937 "A Star Is Born". It truly makes you want to see the movie. Thank you for your efforts!

  • so happy i found your channel! thanks a lot for all these videos :D!

  • A good trailer for a bad movie can pull in enough for the first weekend to hopefully break even. A bad trailer can totally destroy a good movie, especially by bringing in the wrong audience and having them expect a totally different film.

  • But where do the word "trailer" actually came from?

  • Not bad. I got some information I didn't have before. Note: Not one single frame in Psycho made its way to the trailer. Even the woman screaming in the shower wasn't Janet Leigh. It was Vera Miles. A fact attributed to the fact Hitchcock cut the trailer before he even filmed the shower scene.

    The clip expunges a few subjects: Like the TV spot(s), pre-production teasers (In fact it could have explained the difference between trailer and teaser), and how Roger Corman revolutionized the trailer in the 1950's with his time at American International. Specific titles supered over action came as a result of Universal's reissue of Frankenstein and Dracula double feature in 1938. Hearing record scratch in a trailer for a comedy is a sure sign the movie is terrible and should be avoided.

  • i have always asked myself: where does the term "trailer" come from?

  • One thing I don't really like in trailers nowadays is that they, in my opinion, tend to spoil too much. For example, trailers for comedies have half the jokes in the trailer, horror trailers have half the scares in them, etc. I don't want to know everything in the movie before I even get to see the actual movie. That's why I usually just watch the very first trailer for a film and avoid all subsequent ones, because I've found they usually get worse in that regard as more trailers for the film come out.

  • Love the Kubrick trailer!

  • This is interesting, but…

    How the hell do you know all that?

  • Asian als toy barn?

  • How did blanka turn from this into something that makes me think about a vampires castle (I was born in 1995 and 70s movies are the oldest I've seen)

  • Arthur Lipsett style was the ''inspiration'' rip-off of the DR Strange love trailer,. funny story behind that worth looking for.

  • Holy crap Dr. Strangelove's trailer was the first youtube poop

  • I just realized that the Jaws overture sounds like The Rite of Spring.

  • There's a definite niche for somebody to take the classics from the studio era & create new modern trailers. The original trailers to a lot of those great movies are painful to watch, many of them. The other thing that's interesting is that many times the original trailer uses a different take of a scene than was used in the final cut of the film. Examples: It's a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, The Hustler.

  • The movie trailer has come a long way since its inception! What were once the typical, straight-to-the-point advertisements has now become works of art as cinematic as the films they promote.

  • This is so great thanks

  • I love the way storyteller is doing his work. Thanks, i was reading a lot about the trailers, but this video is the best for showing the history of that art.


  • There is no Year "zero." It would be Year one.

  • it seems sometime the trailer exposes the Crux and watching the film is anti- climatic ! but a trailer probably does its best job if it over plays the movie!

  • I hear the old castle blanca is a crime movie yet these days castle Blanca brings up monsters how that come to be

  • I saw a trailer, where the main character spoke with the audience, seems, it was shot while the usual film making.

  • You forgot to talk about the revolutionary trailer for 'Citizen Kane', created by Orson Welles himself.

  • Seen Strangelove maybe a dozen times, but it took seeing the trailer to realize "Jack D. Ripper" or "Jack Dripper" is the perfect name for the dude who goes nuts after _la petite mort_.

  • Thank you for pronouncing Kubrick's name correctly.

  • this guy is awesome

  • 14:17 – I see what you did there

  • Having seen mostly US-style trailers for most of my life, it was a bit of a culture shock when I moved to the Netherlands, where movie trailers typically have no voice-over. All sounds and dialogue in the trailers are from the actual film. As with US-style trailers, the scenes in the trailer are not necessarily in chronological order, the sounds and voice sounds may not be from the actual scenes depicted, and the trailer may give an impression about the movie that is different from what the movie is actually about. But the lack of a narrator is a striking difference.

  • How do you create a movie trailer voice over

  • I wonder if there are channels on YT who do edits of new trailers for older movies, hopefully not just revamping it for current styles, but trying to create good trailers just for the sake of it. Not in a comedic style like "honest trailers", but also not being like those "dishonest trailers" that promise a different movie than the one you'll get, much less those that spoil the entire movie rather than just honest "ticket bait" moments.

  • I just found your videos. Love them!

  • It's quite refreshing to watch someone speak fluently, without too much editing, which can easily push away your audience; also great topic, this was the only suggestion when I typed those exact words.

  • No trailer has ever actually done a serious “in a world…”.

  • Man that Jaws trailler is tottaly racist against sharks.

  • But when did voiceover narration become common in trailers? I've long tried to figure this out, but it's made difficult by so many surviving examples not being for original releases, but later rereleases. For instance, on the rare occasion when an original 1930s Universal horror trailer does turn up, it's lacked narration; by the late 40s (and certainly by the early 50s), a new trailer for rerelease of that same film may have acquired narration. The "Casablanca" trailer included here is narrated — but is it for the original 1942 release, or the 1949 (or other) rerelease?

    btw, my vote for greatest trailer v.o. artist goes to Percy Rodriguez, heard here over "Jaws."

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