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Even the most creative, best-edited trailers can often fall into a familiar trap. You've set up your characters and the challenges they face, teased us with a couple of key scenes, and faced with the need to end on a high note, you simply throw as many disparate clips as possible together as fast as you can, preferably with really loud music and banging noises to go along with it. I'm looking at you, Man of Steel trailer.
But it's not just that big whoosh at the end that has trailers feeling faster these days. Wired did the time-consuming work of counting the average cuts per minute in movie trailers, and discovered something that might not surprise you: trailers are getting a lot faster-paced, and it's been on a serious upward curve since the 1980s. And it's not just the crazy action movies that are part of the trend. Compare the trailer for 1982 Best Picture winner Gandhi to 1941 Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley to see the significant difference (Gandhi has 20 cuts per minute compared to Valley's 11).
Before you go blaming modern limited attention spans for the quick-cut trailer tradition, take a moment to appreciate the gonzo trailer for Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. The Stanley Kubrick comedy classic was by far the quickest paced of the trailers that Wired examined, with an average 136 cuts per minute. Nothing in the movie matches the insane style of this trailer, and yet, it sets you up for the story-hopping and cynicism that awaits you in the film. Granted, there were very few trailers this stylish at the time.. and really, there haven't been many since.
Wired floats the theory that the main reason for the uptick in movie trailer speed isn't so much about more limited modern attention spans, but modern digital editing equipment, which allows you to put together clip at an incredible speed compared to the old method of physically cutting and taping together film. But I'd argue that at least part of it is about the escalation of modern movie expectations, with the big screen promising more and more spectacle beyond what you can see on television or even on VHS or DVD at home. You know that when you go to see Man of Steel you're going to see some serious explosions and action, but why not show off little snippets of it in the trailer to give you a sense of what you're getting? Plenty of moviegoers complain about trailers giving away too much of the story… but the faster the editors can show you the money shots and get out of there, the less story they're likely to give away.
Click over to the Wired article to see many, many more trailers along with the impressive scatter plot that proves the trend. And if you've got an example of a good modern trailer that doesn't go overboard with the quick-cutting at the end, please link us in the comments-- we need all the proof we can get that trailers as good as Dr. Strangelove's aren't a thing of the past.