Movie Trailers

When Steven Spielberg twice turned up in his own movie trailers

April 22, 20246 Mins Read

When promoting Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and Hook, putting Steven Spielberg in his own trailers seemed like a good plan. More here.

As much as movie trailer makers like to champion the fact that a film might be from a particular filmmaker, there’s rarely any appetite to show said filmmaker on screen. When the promos for Killers Of The Flower Moon popped up last year for instance, we got the stars of the film, but no sign of Martin Scorsese jostling actors around. When the trailer for Napoleon came along, we didn’t get material of Ridley Scott ranting about superhero films or heading off to his nap chair.

Yet for a brief period at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, it was felt that Steven Spielberg was box office enough that he should appear on screen in his own trailers. He’d already popped up at this stage in the music video for The Goonies title song as you can see here…

…. but as the closest Hollywood had to a megastar film director, a decision was made to show him working away behind the scenes – albeit briefly – in the first teaser trailer for 1989’s Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.

This wasn’t the main trailer, and the promo – which played in cinemas some time ahead of the film’s release (an uncommon strategy in the 1980s) – was as much to announce, in pre-internet times, that a third Indiana Jones adventure was on the way.

But still, with a beard and a baseball cap, his chair on the set was second-billed in the teaser trailer that looked like this…

We get, as you can see, Spielberg directing the film and looking happy, before George Lucas pops along so they can compare facial hair in the outdoors.

For those on the outside of the movie industry, Spielberg and Lucas weren’t just two of the most recognisable film directors on the planet, they were box office too. Unusually, film fans knew what they looked like, and Paramount’s promotion for the film was very happy to not just show us their names, but put them on the big screen.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade would go on to be a roaring success. A sizeable box office hit, it gave kids roughly 92% fewer childhood nightmares than its predecessor, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Thus, after a swift sojourn into adult movie (not like that) territory with Always, his return to family filmmaking with 1991’s Hook was going to lean heavily on The Last Crusade’s promotional playbook.

As much as Steven Spielberg has reflected that Hook is perhaps the film of his he’s least happiest with, it’s easy to overlook just what a big deal it was at the end of 1991. It’d been a testing year at the box office anyway for Hollywood, with three independently-backed films – Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, City Slickers and Terminator 2: Judgement Day – being the big summer attractions. All while more traditional studio fare – Hudson Hawk, Backdraft, The Rocketeer, Regarding Henry – struggled to get the same kind of foothold.

But Hollywood knew it had Hook in its back pocket, a film awash with movie star talent: Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Phil Collins in disguise. Yet also the narrative was that it was the story of a grown-up Peter Pan, being directed by the closest Hollywood had to a grown-up Peter Pan.

As such, it made sense, went the thinking, to once again unleash a teaser trailer to establish some awareness of the movie. Chief amongst the key points to get across? This was a Steven Spielberg picture, and Steven Spielberg still had a beard.

Take a look…

Again, this played in cinemas, and to my knowledge, it was the last time Spielberg would directly appear on a cinema screen in a trailer for one of his films.

Sure, he wasn’t the first director whose face popped up in promos for their work. Alfred Hitchcock’s likeness was intrinsically associated with some of his films, not least the warning from Hitch on the poster for Psycho that you absolutely shouldn’t be late for the movie.

Still, appreciating there’s a lot of affection out there for Hook, it was regarded as the latest studio stumble in a year that’d been awash with them. The more profitable picture come Christmas 1991 was a film that’d been put together by independent studio Orion Pictures, before having to sell the film in question mid-way through production to (ultimately unsuccessfully) stave off bankruptcy. That’d be The Addams Family, that would nearly outgross Hook at the US box office, on a much more slender budget.

Hook’s take of $119m in America wasn’t shabby, but it was down on expectations and hopes (the film cost $70m to make, one of the five most expensive movies of all time at that point). That’s hardly to be blamed on putting Steven Spielberg’s face in a single promo trailer for the film, but the very first teaser trailer for his next film opted for teasing dinosaurs over showing chin foliage…

It was a brief trend then, and not one that Hollywood has been in a particular rush to repeat. As much as last year’s Oppenheimer sold in part off the back of it being Christopher Nolan’s new film – and Universal was not shy about mentioning this – it was Cillian Murphy’s mush, and not Nolan’s, that was used to sell the picture.

Still, count me as one who’d still love to see, when Gladiator 2 rolls around at the end of the year, a trailer that sees Ridley Scott berating audiences. That’d pack ’em in…

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