Rated T for Trailers
Department of Film staffers Sean Egan and Carson Parish conduct a close reading of good, bad, and ugly trailers in MoMA’s collection.
Sean Egan, Carson Parish
Apr 6, 2020
One Friday last fall we cracked open our vaults and projected reels of 35mm trailers from MoMA’s collection. Good, bad, and ugly, we showed ’em all!
Do you remember the avalanche of American Pie ripoffs that graced American screens in the early aughts? No? Well let the trailer for Slackers take you back to that magical time. Jason Schwartzman’s eyebrows!
Sporting the memorable tagline “McLintock is McNificent!,” the trailer for the John Wayne starrer McLintock! did an admirable job selling this Western comedy to the public, as the film became the 11th highest grossing title of 1963. Costarring Wayne’s son Patrick, and produced by his other son Michael, the film also features a screenplay developed by John Wayne in part to express his disapproval of the representation of Native Americans on screen.
If only the rest of Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction was as inventive as the Victor's trip to Europe sequence, but alas.... The trailer features James Van Der Beek, doing his best to shed his wholesome Dawson’s Creek persona, as a campus drug dealer in this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel (supposedly based on his alma mater, Bennington College). Remember Shannyn Sossamon? She’s here too.
In 1981, Burt Reynolds was among the biggest movie stars in the world, and he reportedly got $5 million for 14 days of work on Hal Needham’s The Cannonball Run. Needham, a former stuntman (he worked on McLintock!), had a lucrative career working with Reynolds, counting the Smokey and the Bandit films and Hooper among their collaborations. Needham gathered quite the cast for this film—including an early American appearance by Jackie Chan, Roger Moore spoofing his James Bond persona, and Farrah Fawcett. Many car crashes and zany antics ensue.
No Jack, no problem. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s magnificently creepy music and buckets of blood are all that’s needed to make the trailer for The Shining a classic.
Fun fact: Andie MacDowell had all of her dialogue rerecorded by Glenn Close in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. She doesn't make an appearance in the trailer as far as I can tell, but there is plenty of Christopher Lambert, plus Rick Baker’s impressive ape effects.
This could be 2002 talking, but I have fond memories of Van Wilder. Ryan Reynolds stars as the titular seventh-year senior at Coolidge College, whose dad is played by Tim Matheson (Otter!) and whose friend is played by Teck Holmes (The Real World: Hawaii!). A must watch for any fan of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.
Offering a rare leading-man role for Crispin Glover, Glen Morgan’s Willard also features a whole lotta rats. A “reworking” of Daniel Mann’s 1971 horror hit, this movie made its brief appearance in movie theaters in the spring of 2003, before being mostly forgotten by audiences. Perhaps inevitably, the trailer relies heavily on the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rat in a Cage.” Crispin Glover actually wrote a book called Rat Catching in 1988, suggesting a deep connection to the subject matter.
“What kind of name is Chance?” “My momma took one.” Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as, you guessed it, Chance Boudreaux, a one man, mulleted, Cajun wrecking crew, in Hard Target, John Woo’s American cinematic debut. The film is a pretty ridiculous update of The Most Dangerous Game, but Woo’s considerable action skills mesh well with Jean-Claude’s Van Damage, and the moderate success of this title launched Woo’s decade of working in Hollywood. Also: this film has the best snake-punch scene of the ’90s.
It can be hard to remember Christopher Nolan’s tenure as a purveyor of low- and mid-budget thrills. Though Memento is the gold standard of his early career, I’d argue that Insomnia pays more hard-won rewards. The trailer for this 2002 remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s equally compelling 1997 original bears all the hallmarks of Nolan’s work: blissfully technical camerawork in sweeping locales, razor-sharp editing, and wounded men under deep psychological strain. Though the Don LaFontaine narration pulls this trailer into standard multiplex fare, the spectacle still shines through.
Master cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s homage to ’70s blaxploitation films is jammed with imagery that’s still radical onscreen 20 years later. The use of CGI is shaky, but the electrifying images of Snoop Dogg and Pam Grier in deep shades of red, blue, and green still pulsate in this trailer, set to a spooky, funky original track by Snoop.
Star Trek: The Next Generation alum Jonathan Frakes helmed Clockstoppers, an inert teen sci-fi/comedy that pulls out every trick in the book of respectable Bush-era escapism. With a plot dull enough to make even The Princess Diaries look bold, plus a wince-inducing cinematic turn for French Stewart, the film still holds a soft spot thanks to the sexual awakening it stirred for teens across the country who swooned over Jesse Bradford and his pastel-colored wardrobe.
When I was a kid the snow fell in droves, some years dozens of school days would be cancelled. Most of those memories are as bleached as the landscapes, but one distinct event emerges: me, at age 12, with my mother in the theater for Bringing Down the House. Although today the film (and trailer) are reminders of the horrific onscreen representation of people of color and women in the early aughts, one line remains pristinely hysterical: Steve Martin’s son, while thumbing through a porno mag, asks, “Dad, what’s a rack?” Martin’s answer: “It’s a country.”
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