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Why 2014 was the year of the movie trailer

Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

Film, as a whole, had an up and down 2014. If the first half of the year was mostly bereft of quality movies (here’s to you, The Grand Budapest Hotel), then the second half has been absolutely packed with excellent films that justify the Academy’s decision a few years ago to expand the Best Picture nominee field to 10. The box office was uneven, too, following up its worst summer slump in eight years with a considerable rebound in the fall.

But most of all, 2014 was the year of the movie trailer.

These two-minute mini-films are not a new concept, of course. Neither is the idea that they are increasing in importance and cultural relevance. In 2012, Salon wrote of a movie trailer “revolution” in which trailers become more and more consumable in the age of social media. If that’s the case, then 2014 marked the end of that revolution and the beginning of a new era. Today, movie trailers are no longer a growing trend, they’re arguably as far-reaching a medium as the movies themselves.

Let’s look at some of the evidence.

The Star Wars: Episode VII trailer caused an unprecedented hullabaloo

Star Wars, by its very nature, inspires enthusiasm among diehards and casual fans alike. So it was no surprise when the trailer for the newest installment instantly became a global phenomenon. But the degree to which it devoured the internet is unprecedented. The video above, only one of many versions uploaded to YouTube, has over 45 million views alone.

It has spawned memes, countless parodies, thorough discussions about the feasibility of the new lightsaber’s crossguard, and debates over whose voice is responsible for the menacing voiceover (it’s Andy Serkis’). And that’s just scratching the surface. The Star Wars trailer is proof that a trailer can be as popular and as fit for water-cooler chat as any actual film. And that’s to say nothing of the many others that achieved similar prominence—Pitch Perfect 2 most recently.

You can now say movie trailers are an art form and mean it

For me, the catalyst behind this art “movement” was the 2010 trailer for The Social Network made by Mark Woollen & Associates, now the industry’s leader in stylish, carefully crafted film trailers. Since then, more and more trailers are created in The Social Network mold, taking on unconventional styles with big, bold music choices. New York Magazine ran a profile of Woollen this year, calling him perhaps “the most visionary director in Hollywood.”

One of this year’s trailers done in that vein was for the movie Whiplash. The trailer displays a mellifluous, tone-shifting tableau found in many other trailers this year. Watch it here:

The Mad Max: Fury Road trailer was widely praised online, its stunning images wowing both fans of the franchise and newcomers alike. Mad Max may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but whether or not the movie is ultimately a success will have no bearing on people’s enjoyment of the trailer.

Trailers with conventional three-act structures and those hackneyed “In a world…” voiceovers don’t really exist anymore. The movie trailers is now a creative medium unto itself, and the artistry that goes into making a successful trailer in 2014 is worthy of respect. Directors like David Fincher are undoubtedly skilled auteurs—and now the Mark Woollens of the world are, too.

It was the year of both the trailer for a trailer…

Whether or not this is a necessary progression of the trailer medium almost doesn’t matter. The fact that some trailers have their own trailers speaks volumes about how significant they are. Here’s the trailer for the Jurassic World trailer:

No, you aren’t imagining things. That is a 20-second teaser for the 150-second, full-length trailer, which “premiered” a few days later. Just like there is event television or event movies, there are event trailers, the releases of which are vigorously anticipated by millions around the world.

Look for the first trailer for a trailer for a trailer in 2015.

…and the international trailer

Because of social media, “international” and “domestic” trailers are losing their intended meanings. Americans watch international trailers as often as they watch US domestic trailers, and people outside the US now have easy access to US domestic trailers.

That said, the tones and styles of the two types of trailers can be different. Many think that US trailers have a tendency to ”Hollywoodize” films, misrepresenting what they’re really about. A recent example of this is The Grey—a poignant philosophical meditation on manhood, the meaning of death, and other non-commercial topics, with a trailer that made it out to be a badass action movie about Liam Neeson beating the crap out of wolves.

International trailers often do a better job of adhering closer to the core of a given film, without overhyping or glamorizing (not to mention they aren’t bound by the MPAA’s guidelines for content, which sometimes means they can be more provocative).

This year there seemed to be unusual excitement on social media about international trailers. Most recently, the French trailer for The Little Prince made waves online, even with American audiences, before a US version was released.

Movie trailer mashups reached apex popularity

The allure of movie mashups swept through social media in 2014. There’s something about seeing all of your favorite movies of the year coalescing in one video that makes for engrossing entertainment. Maybe it’s that sense of solidarity, that all of these films—whether good or bad or somewhere in between—are part of something bigger. A single shot from an otherwise mediocre movie can still be moving, especially when set to appropriate music and placed in a mashup that feels like one, coherent narrative.

Here’s one by YouTube user The Sleepy Skunk:

And another from JoBlo Movie Trailers:

See also Little White Lies editor David Ehrlich’s mashup, which has been featured all over the place, as well as this one from Fandango Movieclips. There were more mashups than ever in 2014, though perhaps none more worthwhile of your time than JoBlo’s Final Cut 2012, the last two minutes of which are simply sublime.

Trailers are bleeding into other mediums. Trailers are everywhere.

Everything has trailers. TV shows, books, video games, musicals, sporting events, and now…art shows. Never before have trailers been as disseminated, discussed, examined, or evaluated as they were in 2014.