Film 101: The Origins of Movie Trailers

by | Sep 8th, 2010 | 10:37AM | Filed under: Film 101, Movies

We always have fun discussing movie trailers here on redblog, but we’ve never actually covered how trailers came to be in the first place. So I looked into the history of these typically two-and-a-half-minute promotional clips, and was surprised to learn that movie trailers emerged in the early 1910s. There seems to be a discrepancy about what the first movie preview was, but I guess all that really matters is that trailers were originally named as such because they used to be shown at the end of a feature film — they “trailed behind”… get it?

Then cinema owners realized people were already busting out of their seats by that time and therefore not paying attention to the promotions, and so shortly thereafter, trailers began rolling before the film everyone had paid to see. About a decade later in 1922, the organization we now know as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) was formed by the major Hollywood studios, and eventually started requiring the green ratings screen we’ve become so familiar with at the beginning of every trailer.

Until the late 1950s, trailers were often in slideshow format with lots of overlaid text, generic music and voice-overs… then Stanley Kubrick burst onto the scene and started spicing things up a bit. The 1962 preview for Lolita is a good example of one of his “montage” trailers. Nowadays, of course, trailers are much different — and some of us might complain that they give away all of the best parts of the movie they’re meant to promote. That’s certainly one of my pet peeves! But we’ll continue our walk through the evolution of film trailers at another time — for now let me leave you with a 1964 spot for The Night of the Iguana.  Yep, that’s Sue Lyon, who was also in Lolita.  And yep, that’s a very young James Earl Jones lending his distinct voice at the beginning and the end.  This trailer was so successful that its producers, Andrew Kuehn and Dan Davis, formed a company around the craft — Kaleidoscope Films — which reigned in the industry until very recently.

2 Responses to “Film 101: The Origins of Movie Trailers”

  1. dave.
    Posted on September 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Hurray! Film 101 is back!

  2. Sparky
    Posted on September 8, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks! I always wondered why it was a “trailer”.