Superman (1978). One of the very first trailers I remember seeing that didn’t actually show anything from the movie was this one for Richard Donner’s big screen version of the man of steel. It’s a simple concept — one continuous shot soaring through the clouds, with the names of the actors whooshing by (somewhat similar to what would become the title sequence), ending with the Superman shield bursting into the frame.
Superman Returns (2006). While we’re on the subject of Superman, the teaser for Brian Singer’s attempted reboot of the franchise is pretty awesome too. It’s unfortunate that the film itself didn’t quite live up to the potential of this trailer, awesomely set to John Williams’ Krypton theme instead of his main title march (which is musically what one would have expected).
Independence Day (1996). Utilizing no footage with any principal cast members, this teaser trailer is comprised of various people on the streets looking up at the skies as shadows falls over various national monuments, climaxing with that astonishing shot of the White House blowing up.
Cloverfield (2008). Attached to Transformers in the summer of 2007 was a teaser for a movie that most moviegoers didn’t even know was in production. At the time we had no clue whether or not this mysterious camcorder footage was actually from the movie. Adding to the mystery of it all: no title was given, just “From Producer J.J. Abrams” and “In Theaters 1-18-08.”
Jurassic Park (1993). Another teaser with no footage from the movie, just a short sequence explaining how a piece of amber was discovered containing the perfectly preserved remains of a prehistoric mosquito, “one of many that had fed upon the blood of dinosaurs.” We’re then told that from this came DNA which allowed science to clone the dinosaur at a place called Jurassic Park, and that “this summer director Steven Spielberg will take you there.” I’m in!
Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991). “Theirs just might be the greatest love story ever told,” is the voice-over that begins this trailer — one of the very few deceptive trailers that actually worked. It begins with what appears to be the pottery scene from Ghost (1990), which was still in theaters at the time. I distinctly remember the audience collectively groaning and then interrupting into laughter when the on-screen lovers were revealed to be the stars of 1988’s The Naked Gun, Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley, instead of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The voice-over continued with one of the best comedy movie taglines ever (funny because it’s true): “From the brother of the director of Ghost.” The teaser trailer was so well-received, the scene ended up in the movie.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The first teaser trailer featured the conceptual artwork of Ralph McQuarrie, edited together to John Williams’ Star Wars theme. It’s funny because I distinctly remember hearing Darth Vader’s breathing over the final image with the tagline “Coming to your galaxy this summer,” but as it turns out that was from the second teaser trailer (set to music from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). I’ve included both trailers below.
Spider-Man (2002). Footage shot exclusively for the teaser depicts a bank robbery getaway in a helicopter getting caught in a massive spider web spun between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This trailer was pulled from theaters immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and also not included as supplement on any DVD release. But it’s notoriety is not why I’ve included on this list — it’s simply a great teaser trailer.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). The crew of a certain Constitution class starship is given a proper sendoff with this incredible montage of footage from the Star Trek television series, along with footage from the films, for the final voyage of the Starship Enterprise with the “old” crew.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003). This is a bit of an oddity on this list, considering that it debuted on the internet in April 2000 before making it’s way into theaters that Christmas, attached to prints of Thirteen Days. Essentially a trailer for three films, the preview concludes with an incredible shot of the Fellowship trekking over a mountain pass, each moving past the camera one by one — letting us Tolkien fans know that these movies just might turn out to be awesome.
Star Trek (2009). It would appear as though J.J. Abrams is the master of the art of the teaser trailer. Attached to Cloverfield of all things, this goosebump-inducing little trailer depicts some kind of large vessel being built. Throughout the construction montage we hear various real life audio clips from the advancement of the space program including “The Eagle has landed” and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Then we hear the voice of Leonard Nimoy saying “Space, the final frontier,” as the giant vessel is revealed to be the Enterprise. No title is given, just the Starfleet logo, but we hear the beginning of the famous Alexander Courage fanfare — and that’s all I need to get my butt in the seat.