Movies are a lot like rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, they can be the absolute corniest thing in the world, but the corniness is part of what makes them great. The best ones find that common corn in all of us. And what’s more corny than finding common cause with your fellow man?
There is, perhaps, no more perfect illustration of movies’ inherent cheese than the “trailer line.” The film trailer, of course, attempts to reduce a feature-length film down to a 1-2 minute advertisement. Not a summation, but an encapsulation of the feeling the movie is meant to produce — “sell the sizzle, not the steak,” as they say.
Occasionally, in only the best of scenarios, that 1-2 minutes will boil down even further, into a single, definitive line; one glorious soundbite of pure sizzle, so hot it burns your tongue. If movies are life distilled, and trailers are movies distilled, trailer lines are like beautiful blue meth crystals of pure cinema. The best ones are more memorable than the movies from whence they came, or even make the movies themselves irrelevant.
We tried to discover the best.
Trailer Line: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”
Movie: The Social Network (2010)
Someone should probably slap the keyboard out of my hands every time I try to write about The Social Network at this point, but at the risk of repeating myself, it has to be one of the best-marketed movies of all time. When you think about the movie, be honest, was the first thing that comes to mind the actual movie or something from one of the trailers? The slowed-down dramatic cover of “Creep” ushered in an entire era of copycat versions, but if you remember just one thing from The Social Network, whether or not you even saw it, chances are it was probably the perfect trailer line, bitchily delivered by Justin Timberlake in his finest acting moment: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.“
Not only is it perfect earworm cheese, it’s also a perfect summation of the movie, in a way no one involved probably even intended. “A million dollars isn’t cool…” is The Social Network‘s id. There are a lot of things it pretends to be about, but mostly it’s about how making a billion dollars is cool.
Trailer Line: “Moy naime is Chev Chelios, an’ today is da day dat oy doy.”
Movie: Crank (2006)
If it feels like we’ve been living in a shitty alternate future, I have to think part of the reason is that Neveldine and Taylor haven’t made a movie together since 2011. Come back, Neveldine/Taylor, the world needs you.
Neveldine/Taylor made movie-movies, movies that basically had the “movie” dial cranked up until it distorted. So it’s fitting that their most memorable trailer took one of the most conventional ways to start a trailer and blasted it until it cracked — arguably spawning the Twitter meme,”record scratch, freeze frame: yup, that’s me. I bet you’re wondering how I got here” in the process. Not to mention hundreds of posts of my own written in ersatz Statham voice.
“My name is Chev Chelios, and today is the day I die” is the movie version of a rapper starting a song “my name is ___ and I’m here to say…”
To be sure, Statham’s inimitable accent is part of what makes it, but also: his name is “Chev Chelios.” Has there ever been a more perfect Jason Statham character name than “Chev Chelios?” Or a more perfect Statham plot? Every Neveldine/Taylor movie, and every facet of Jason Statham’s persona, is perfectly distilled in “my name is Chev Chelios, and today is the day that I die.”
Trailer Line: “I’m going to steal the Declaration Of Independence.”
Movie: National Treasure (2004)
Now that it’s been 16 or 17 years, I thought I might be able to look back on this stretch of early aughts Bruckheimer movies with a fondness I couldn’t summon at the time. But honestly, no, these movies were goddamned terrible. Watching this trailer now all I can think is how eerily it foreshadows both the Q movement and that awful smart-alecky Joss Whedon-style of self-aware acting. “So that happened…”
I don’t think I noticed that kind of acting so much until I had a stepkid in the house, but it is in every show or movie aimed at kids nowadays and it is terrible.
Trailer Line: “You’re the man now, dog.”
Movie: Finding Forrester (2000)
The “old person uses young person slang,” or “the rappin’ granny,” as I like to call it, has been a staple of bad comedies at least since Son In Law (“I gotta tell you, Travis, it really tweaks my melon to see a buff bro like Crawl here get weized on by a greasy scumbag like you. So you just chill.” -I wish I could get this scene permanently excised from my brain).
The twist of Finding Forrester was that it was Sean Connery doing it, in a scene that wasn’t intended to be comedic. I’m sensing a theme here, that trailer lines delivered in funny accents are inherently more memorable. The combination was so brain-shattering that not only did it long outlive the movie from whence it came, it spawned a cult website that outlived either. You’re the man now, dog.
Trailer Line: “In Africa, it’s bling-bang.”
Movie: Blood Diamond (2006)
Every once in a while, the effort to come up with the perfect trailer line leads to something so clunky, so perfectly nonsensical and idiotic, that it becomes a perfectly trailer line almost entirely by accident. I will never forget “In Africa, it’s bling-bang” for as long as I live (yes, I know it’s technically “out here it’s bling-bang,” but I choose to remember it my way). It’s a sub-moronic line, delivered in arguably Leonardo DiCaprio’s worst on-screen accent, with an even dumber look on his face. You know how when a great athlete makes an incredible play they say “he makes it look easy?”
With bling-bang, the exact opposite is true. It makes everything — writing, acting, cutting trailers, facial expressions, speaking with accents — seem incredibly difficult. “In Africa, it’s bling-bang” is almost a meta deconstruction of the act of making a trailer line. I love it so much.
— Point Break (@PointBreak) May 26, 2015
Trailer Line: “The only law that matters is gravity.”
Movie: The Point Break remake (2015)
The Point Break remake somehow distilled all the silliness of the original and quadrupled down, making it about “extreme sports polyathletes” (yes, they use that term). It truly is a magnificent movie and I implore all of you to see it if you haven’t. It’s pretty hard to distill the Point Break remake, which was two hours of non-stop ridiculousness, into a single line. And yet, “the only law that matters is gravity” manages to do it just about perfectly.
Trailer Line: “A particular set of skills.”
Movie: Taken (2008)
Clearly, the aughts were the heyday of the trailer line, which was probably a combination of the ubiquity and inescapability of TV advertising and the movie industry shifting towards massive “tentpole” blockbusters as their main source of income. These days neither is really true, and the closest thing we have to a “trailer line” is the Chipotle guy saying “It’s bomb steak.” I wish I could get that out of my head.
Anyway, I already wrote a previous list based entirely on the genre of movies that Taken unleashed, and without relitigating that, I’d just say here that the trailer was probably more influential than the movie ever was. More so than any other trailer line on this list, “a particular set of skills” is probably far more about the deliverer than about the line itself. No one delivers a trailer line like my man Liam Neesons. On that note, “release the Kraken!” is probably worth an honorable mention here.
Trailer Line: “Look at me, I am the captain now.”
Movie: Captain Phillips (2013)
In retrospect, Barkhad Abdi deserves more credit. When you consider that Captain Phillips is a movie starring Captain Tawm Hanks with a Masshole accent, it’s a wonder that someone else stole the trailer line. Sometimes it’s the unconventional choice that wins out. I gawta put this whole team of pirates in my reahview!
Trailer Line: “Get off my plane!”
Movie: Air Force One (1997)
In the nineties, it seemed like every other action movie was “Die Hard on a _____”, and Air Force One might’ve been the most obvious derivation. Obviously, it was Die Hard on Air Force One, and the centerpiece trailer line was delivered while the hero threw the circle bearded foreign villain to his death, just like in Die Hard. I don’t know that I ever saw this movie all the way through, but it’s a credit to just how good a trailer it is that I had completely memory hole the fact that Gary Oldman was the bad guy getting off the plane.
Trailer Line: “Gimme back my son!”
Movie: Ransom (1996)
Mel Gibson’s life is like a Greek tragedy. It was his ability to shake with rage while shouting invective that brought him fame and fortune, but in the end shouting and screaming was also what brought him down. Okay, so “down” is a bit of a stretch, considering he’s still insanely rich and even stars in movies from time to time.
But imagine having the power to scream and grandstand like that on a split-second’s notice. How could you resist? Whenever I hear “leaked” audio of actors ranting, like Tom Cruise or Christian Bale, all I can think about is how good they are at screaming — fully articulate, no stuttering or false starts, and with the presence of mind to even take dramatic pauses in between clauses. On the one hand, sure, what incredible assholes they must be. But on the other, listening to them scream and grandstand is like watching Tiger Woods hit a stinger draw off the tee that tracks the fairway perfectly and never gets more than 15 feet off the ground. In those moments, it’s so obvious that you’re watching a master of his instrument at the top of his craft.
Sidenote: Hey, did you know Ron Howard directed this? Wild.
Trailer Line: “I ALREADY work around the clock!”
Movie: Extraordinary Measures (2010)
Perhaps no trailer line has ever so far outpaced the movie from whence it came as Harrison Ford shouting “I ALREADY work around the clock” in Extraordinary Measures. Did you even remember that it was Brendan Fraser that he was screaming at? Gun to my head, I would’ve told you it was Josh Hartnett. This line was so infamous that it spawned a KnowYourMeme page and a segment on Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Rewatching it now, the line is extra jarring on account of how much it seems to come out of nowhere. The trailer seems to be wrapping up, with tinkling pianos, cute sick kids, and the general tone of a Nicholas Sparks weepy. And then, boom, Harrison Ford is angrily screaming. Where’d that come from?
For the record, Extraordinary Measures is just Air Force One, only Gary Oldman is a rare genetic disorder and Harrison Ford’s son is the plane.