Trends in the way movie trailers look and sound are some of the easiest to recognize because audiences see an awful lot of them, and the patterns are so often repeated.
It’s already well known that the people who make movie trailers are usually hired help from outside of the studio system. They are often required to make trailers from only bits and pieces of a movie. They don’t always have the whole story or the finished film’s tone, and they must make do with whatever they’re provided with. It’s a hard job. How does one communicate a film’s unique artistic elements such as story, characters, and tone if they haven’t seen the whole movie? They also usually don’t have months and months to construct a single trailer. They need to stay ahead of the advertising curve, so trailers are typically made over the course of a short time span.
All of this goes a long way towards explaining why movie trailers all seem to resemble one another, and how these trends persist, even though audiences know all the tricks already. A rather brilliant editing exercise over at Red Letter Media pointed out all the similarities. How many previews, for instance, now have the BWAAAH musical sting first popularized in the preview for Inception?
And the most recent overused trend seems to be that of taking a well known pop song, finding a really mellow or creepy cover of it, and cramming it into your trailer. Seriously, those mellow covers are everywhere now. Some of them are commissioned specifically for the trailers, but most are culled from a deep well of rock covers. It’s a way of presenting audiences with something familiar while still declaring a unique tone. “Remember this song? Now hear it through a dark mirror.” The song may or may not be appropriate in its original context, but as a cover, it’s a great way of establishing tone. Ironic musical cue! Cheery song made scary! To use the word again: Overused!
But now, with the trend on the rise, and ubiquity beginning to take hold, the “mellow/creepy cover song” trend is now making all movies look and feel the same all over again. The following list isn’t by any means a complete collection, but here are eleven recent cases of a movie trailer employing a slowed-down cover.
“Creep” by The Scala and Kolacny Brothers (The Social Network)
I have been informed that the precedent may have been set back in 2006 with a notable video game trailer for Gears of War that featured that famous cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” (also prominently featured in Donnie Darko), but The Social Network was perhaps the first major movie trailer to employ the trend. The trailer is a montage of Facebook pictures set to a cover of Radiohead’s famous song, but performed by a quiet choir. It was great. So great, everyone imitated it.
“Mad World” by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules (The Crazies)
That cover of “Mad World” got around a lot, perhaps most notably in the world-gone-mad zombie-ish remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies, released in 2010. A mellow song set to violence is one of the easiest ways t establish chilling irony. “Mad World,” both versions already known, was practically a gimme.
“Addicted to Love” by Skylar Grey (Endless Love)
No one remembers this 2014 remake of the pretty-good-but-not-very-acclaimed-or-well-remembered-to-begin-with 1981 romance with Brooke Shields. Robert Palmer’s original “Addicted to Love” is a pounding, grinding stripper anthem reduced to a creepy lullaby by Skylar Green.
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Lorde (Dracula Untold)
Tears for Fears again. I love Lorde, and her cover of this song, which transforms a melody of longing and lost dreams into something downright dystopian. Applying it to a would-be world conqueror like Dracula fits well, I suppose, although that’s not quite what Dracula Untold was about. Also, the film kind of stunk, so it’s guilty by association.
“Black Hole Sun” by Nouela (A Walk Among the Tombstones)
Odd that Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” should be made even more downbeat, as it’s a grunge tune from the ’90s that already communicates a dreary sensibility, but Nouela did that very thing for the trailer for the downbeat noir flick A Walk Among the Tombstones. I suspect it’s easier to license a cover of a famous pop tune than an original, which may explain this song and others on this list.
“California Dreamin’” by Robot Koch & Delhia de France (San Andreas)
Why they chose to market San Andreas – a big bloated action flick – as a downer drama is beyond me. Remember back in 1998, when the film Volcano took out huge swaths of Los Angeles, and it still ended with an unironic blasting of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.?” San Andreas took the opposite tack and played this bummer cover over shots of California biting the big one. Good idea, bad tone.
“I Wanna Be Sedated” by Miral Wagner (A Cure for Wellness)
Opening on the 17th, this bonkers “art” blockbuster from sometimes-pretty-great director Gore Verbinski follows a young Wall Street hotshot to a faraway spa where one of his bosses may be going insane. Freaky images commence. The odd choice to transform an otherwise upbeat melody into a nightmare song is a little misguided, though, and you’ll notice that they cut the melody before they get to the major-key chorus.
“Enjoy the Silence” by KI Theory in (Ghost in the Shell)
Again, like “Black Hole Sun,” why bother doing a more downbeat cover of a song that is already plenty downbeat? Indeed, Depeche Mode’s original is also pretty electronic and mechanical (by design) so it would still fit the robotic artificiality of the film in question.
“Every Breath You Take” by Pia Ashley in (“The Woods”)
Wanting to coyly hide the fact that it was a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, New Line Cinema elected to advertise their horror thriller Blair Witch under the alternate title The Woods until very close to its ultimate release date. As far as I have been able to discover, this cover of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” was written specifically for this trailer.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Think Up Anger, feat. Malia J. (The Gallows)
It’s actually kind of astonishing how long it took for someone to put a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana’s central anthem of Generation X, into a horror movie trailer. There are so many horror movies about teens it seems like a no-brainer. It’s a pity that the idea was used up on a not-well-received little horror flick like The Gallows.
“Do You Realize?” by Ursine Vulpine (Transformers: The Last Knight)
The Transformers movies are all blatant, dizzying action bonanzas that only seem built to placate some sort of deep visceral longing rather than tell a story or communicate character. It’s odd, then, that so much quirkiness should occasionally sneak into the series. Several actors that regularly appear in the films of The Coen Bros. appear in the Transformers movies, Alan Tudyk gives a comic performance in the third, and, oddest yet, the trailer for the fifth film in the series, Transformers: The Last Knight, features a cover of a Flaming Lips song.
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Top Photo: Paramount
Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.