The History of Comic Book Movie Trailers
This year sees the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters. I put out these two films more than the other comic films set to drop this year because they do mark a new era for comic franchises on the big-screen as we begin to bring in a lot more of the fantastical elements. With Days of Future past, you get alternate timelines and time travel and with Guardians of the Galaxy, you begin to play with worlds beyond Earth and characters beyond human (yes, I’m gonna include Thor as a human if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck!)
While we really won’t know the impact or even quality of these films for some time, I did want to do something to talk about their recent trailers and their place in comic book movie history. Since the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer is fresh in our minds, I felt it was a good time to check out the history of these. Movie trailers weren’t always the same way and like how they evolved so has the comic genre.
Superman (1978) – We’re going to start with Superman as it is often times seen as the grandfather of the comic book movie craze. And boy how times have changed. This trailer is really low-key compared to what we get nowadays. Instead of quick cuts, we actually get a pretty long look at the start of the film, and only the smallest of teases about who Superman is. Also unlike current movie trailer, we also have a narrator explaining the plot to the audience. And this may just be because of hindsight, but it is weird they don’t focus on the now iconic Superman theme.
Batman (1966) – While Superman is the ideal starting point for the discussion, I do think we need to take a moment to talk about Batman 66 since it was the first feature length film. This trailer is different for many reasons, but it also had the leisure of being a TV show at the time. But instead of the usual glitz and glamour, we have the main leads introducing themselves and their characters and setting up the stakes for the movie. It’s a little hammy, but what wasn’t about this series.
Supergirl – This is on the list for being the first female-centric comic book movie, and really only one of a handful to date. It has a lot in common with the Superman trailer in that it uses a narrator and isn’t focused on quick cuts. Its different in that it uses smaller segments of many scenes (including several from the climax, yes I’ve seen the film!) and unlike Superman actually does focus on the iconic theme, which is ironic since its actually not the theme of the actual movie!
Batman (1989) – Batman is here again to offer the contrast between his original outing and the 60s and his return. To note, one of the biggest changes in this trailer is the lack of music. Aside from the beginning and end, its mostly devoid of any type of music and instead focuses on quotes and sound effects from the film. Its very odd. Also, it seems to have begun the trend of quick cuts, but the editing wasn’t done to an art yet. A lot of it feels like cutting in and out of scenes before they are able to play their hands. Finally, the narrator is gone!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – This was included to see how a non-superhero comic was marketed in the early days. Though, this also had the leisure of a hit-children’s TV show at the time. Which is why find it strange they don’t spend time introducing such a bizarre concept, but back then everyone would have known who the Turtles were. What I do find fascinating, and a first on this list is it includes stuff not from the final movie or was changed. The most immediate one being that The Shredder’s voice and that of the Foot member who threatens April ended up being radically different in the film. The other is the scene where the sewer lid blows out of the street, don’t remember that making it to the final cut of the film. On the evolutionary side, it does a lot more with the quick cuts and it flows better than Batman!
Batman and Robin (1997) – Hey, I get to write about this film without ranting! This was included on the list to showcase a movie/trailer that was really cut for a more family-friendly approach. While none of the films before this weren’t trying to promote that, they really had a tonal shift after parents complained about Batman Returns. It doesn’t seem to do anything special in that regard, but it does a lot of other things. One, it brings back a narrator and combines that with timely quotes from the movie spliced along scenes that would expand on that plot point. By doing so though, it pretty much walks you through the entire movie with pretty much all the major beats covered in the film. It also does a great job of working in the film’s tagline (and for all the crap they get, I really do love the Batman Forever/Batman and Robin taglines) and a score that builds up throughout the course of the trailer.
Blade (1998) – If Batman and Robin was made for the kiddies, then Blade was clearly made for a much more mature audience. This trailer focuses more on the action and dialogue of the film, and a lot of it stands out as cringe-worthy when taken out of the context of the film. But it does seem to be a lot more hyper than any previous trailers and continues to build up until a rapid cut final. It also has a narrator intercut with exchanges from the movie and accompanying scenes. Also unlike Ninja Turtles, it does spend time trying to set-up the character because a half-human/half-vampire needs to be explained.
X-Men – Often cited as the origins of our current comic book renaissance, the first X-Men movie was important for many reasons. You wouldn’t know it by the trailer though. It seems to be in one of those weird transitional phases as it uses both a narrator and on-screen pop up which just repeats what the narrator is saying at the start of the trailer. Scenes are presented without any really context, which does help in the grand scheme. It does a good job of putting movie quotes over key scenes though.
Spider-Man – I wanted to include this one as it was the first comic book movie to have its trailer edited due to real world events, but finding the original is proving a tad difficult. Aside from this scene, this trailer also pushes the whole worlds on-screen thing that X-Men started, but this time without a narrator. It also has a funky mix of music, which really kicks in when it needs to. And unlike the previous films (even Batman and Robin), it really does nail a much more light-hearted tone in design and production.
Elecktra – Wanted to check in on our film superhero films (and really nearly 20 years in-between them is insane), and this one brings back a narrator. Other than that, it really does seem like Fox had a style of trailer they really didn’t want to let go of.
Batman Begins – Okay, this is perhaps personal bias, but I really started paying attention to movie production with Batman Begins. So of course, the teaser for the film sticks in my head. It creates a completely original monologue for the character while using actual footage from the movie. It tricks you into believing some things which never come true in the movie and ends with the fastest of flashes of Batman in costume. I just remember the internet digging through this to grab those split seconds and breaking it down as much as possible.
Superman Returns – Really, this teaser just plays on everyone’s nostalgia. It is beautifully shot and scored, and really surpasses the movie. But if you could get a better trailer to sum up a character in 90 seconds, I’d be impressed.
Iron Man – Iron Man is important for starting what is now known as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, but from a trailer standpoint it is also important for focusing on the humor and charm of the character and the movie. It is also the first trailer on our list to put a heavy emphasis on licensed music. Using a variety of tracks throughout the course of the trailer. It does a great job of doing the quick cuts around key exchanges. Though as we’ve seen before, it really does give away the final scene of the movie.
The Avengers (2012) – After years of work and build-up, Marvel’s The Avengers was finally able to deliver the big crossover movie we wanted. And the trailer does a damn fine job of re-establishing all of this characters and giving the music that oomph that really pumps you up. Watching it again, hell I want to go out and see the movie again!
X-Men: Days of Future Past – And now we reach our destination! X-Men Days of Future Past is on this list because it has a lot to sell in a little time, and it does a decent job of pulling it off. The movie needs to introduce and re-introduce characters from two different X-Men time periods. It needs to establish the tone of the bleak future, and establish the general notion of time travel for this film. It does a good job for the most part, but it really does feel like a bad role call at times. It’s bad in the fact that unless you are super familiar with the X-Men franchise you wouldn’t know these characters because they aren’t given names in any capacity!
Guardians of the Galaxy – Now, this is where comic book movies rest. More than any film on this list, this trailer spends a great deal of time setting up the characters and the tone of the film. And it’s needed. I mentioned I was surprised when Ninja Turtles didn’t do it, but they did have a hit TV show. Guardians of the Galaxy really doesn’t have any type of presence outside of comics. They’ve appeared in one-off episodes of some Marvel animated shows like recently during Ultimate Spider-man, but that’s it. And it’s not an easy concept to sell, a talking raccoon, a tree person that only says its name, an egomaniac (okay some things are easy to sell) and well its really the first space-based comic book movie. I’m excited for the second trailer!
There you have it, an overall of the history of comic book trailers. Narrators, bad music, flashy words, quick cuts and more. It was fun, and I’m sure folks can come up with examples that I missed. Feel free to drop a line at @NerdsonTheRocks or in the box below!