In 2009, shortly after The Social Network—then known only as “the Facebook movie”—was announced, Mashable ran a story with the headline, “No, You Cannot Turn Facebook into a (Decent) Movie.” Even after it was reported that the brilliant filmmaker David Fincher would direct Aaron Sorkin’s script about Mark Zuckerberg and the early days of Facebook, the Huffington Post published a story proclaiming “The Facebook Movie Puts the zZzZ’s in Zuckerberg.” Some months later, after the film’s cryptic, one-minute teaser trailer hit the internet, the Atlantic remained skeptical, predicting that The Social Network would be “deadly dull.”
People said the film sounded “like parody,” that it looked like “a train wreck,” that the whole thing was “asinine” and made them “weep for humanity.”
Then, eight years ago this week, that all changed. On July 16, 2010, Sony Pictures released the first full-length theatrical trailer for The Social Network, upending the narrative surrounding the film almost overnight:
Mashable and Huffington Post, sites that months earlier were certain “the Facebook movie” would stink, promptly backpedaled, declaring that the new trailer was “pretty brilliant” and “actually does look great.” Vulture gleaned from it that Fincher had “grand ambitions” for the film. Collider’s analysis was glowing. Business Insider called it “amazing.”
It was as if the internet collectively said, ohhh so THAT’S how they’re going to make this into an interesting movie.
Made by the artsy trailer house Mark Woollen & Associates, the trailer was—and still is—a masterpiece of the format. Featuring almost a minute of images from the social media platform before a real flesh-and-blood human being was shown, it’s a mesmerizing two-minutes, audacious for its time. It employed the perfect song and the perfect cover version of that song: Radiohead’s “Creep” as sung by the Belgian girls’ choir Scala & Kolacny Brothers, whose haunting covers have since been used in countless trailers (Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” in Zero Dark Thirty) and commercials (“California Dreamin'” by the Mamas & the Papas in a TV spot for the California State Lottery).
The trailer is a masterclass in rhythmic filmmaking, quick-cutting through Fincher’s footage and syncing it to the score as if it were a music video, sound and image crescendoing together. The trailer won the Grand Key Art Award at the 2011 Key Art Awards (a ceremony that honors the best in film art and advertising), among many other honors, and is currently the #1 seed in The Ringer’s “Battle for the Best Movie Trailer Since 1990” bracket.
The Social Network went on to earn eight Oscar nominations, including ones for best picture, best director, and best actor (Jesse Eisenberg). It’s now a popular entry on film critics’ list of the best films of the 21st century. It’s easy to forget that the film was once widely written off as a dumb idea (not unlike Facebook itself). Fincher and company deserve all the credit for actually delivering on the promise of the theatrical trailer. All Woollen did, of course, was cut up footage Fincher shot and edit it together (as sublimely as one can do such things).
But it was that trailer that turned The Social Network from a total joke into a thrilling event to anticipate. As far as movie trailers go, that’s a rare gift.