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A Single Look that Can Sell a Million Movie Tickets

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | November 30, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | November 30, 2010 |

Over the last month or so, I’ve seen several movies that had attached to them trailers for both Love and Other Drugs as well as the James L. Brooks movie with one of the most forgettable titles in recent memory, How Do You Know. And it was watching these two trailers back-to-back that I began to notice an all-too-obvious pattern in trailer editing for romantic comedies or dramas. Around the three-quarters mark of these trailers, invariably, there will be a song by someone like Snow Patrol or The Fray — or some more obscure indie version of them — and while one continuous piece of dialogue is played over the music, there will be a lot of flash cuts to certain looks. Looks, by themselves, which are far more effective at selling the movie than the trailers themselves. They are brief looks, but is those fleeting glances that stick with you after the trailer has finished. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve seen the trailer for Love and Other Drugs, I offer you this as an example:


It’s a familiar look (and called to mind, for me at least, a similar look that Steve Martin gave in a similar hospital setting in the Father of the Bride Part II). It’s a trailer money shot (this one would’ve been better in hi-res, or blown up 5,000 times on a big screen).

I began to look through a few other trailers and, after picking up on the pattern, found a few more trailer money shots. Take, for instance, this one from The Kids Are All Right.


If that’s all you had to go on (and assuming a better quality image), would you watch that movie based on that still alone? I might. It doesn’t work for everyone, of course. For instance, no one saw Jack Goes Boating, and it might have had something to do with Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s inability to sell that soulful money shot.


I do love this one, however, from the upcoming Ben Affleck movie, Company Men, and I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with that T-shirt from my law school alma mater (and it works better in context, and this trailer is chock full of soulful money shots — this one is just my favorite):


Probably my favorite two in recent memory, however, are from Blue Valentine, opening at the end of December. I would definitely buy a ticket to that movie if, knowing nothing else, I had only these two shots to go on:



I think Ryan Gosling may be the king of peeking adorably through an open door.

But back to the How Do You Know trailer, which originally sparked this thought. This one works better in the context of the trailer, but it’s a winning Reese Witherspoon smile that kind of lights up a person’s soul. I don’t think she’s a particularly great actress, but she has one hell of a ticket-selling smile:


But that’s not the reason many of you will see How Do You Know. If you do decide to watch it, this still image right here will probably account for 46 percent of the reason why.


To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, it probably helps to watch those last two in context (and with the pansy white boy music):

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.