In the early days of moviegoing, you didn’t just buy a ticket for one feature-length film and leave once the credits started rolling. You were instead treated to a mix of shorts, newsreels, cartoons, and, eventually, trailers — which, per their name, played after the movie rather than before — with people coming and going throughout the day. The idea for trailers came from Nils Granlund, who in addition to being a business manager for movie theaters worked as a producer on Broadway, which explains why the first trailer was actually for a play: 1913’s The Pleasure Seekers.
Chicago producer William Selig took the idea further that same year by ending each installment of his serialized action-adventure short films with a tantalizing preview of the next chapter — a precursor to ending movies and TV shows on a cliffhanger. Today there are production houses that exclusively make trailers and are handsomely rewarded for their efforts, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars.
Between 1919 and 1960, almost every movie trailer was produced by the National Screen Service (NSS) — a near-monopoly that also included posters and other marketing materials. Like a lot of cinematic innovations from the era, we have Alfred Hitchcock to thank for ending their reign: The “master of suspense” began making his own trailers, including a six-and-a-half-minute preview of Psycho, and other filmmakers followed suit. Trailers have long been recognized as an art form unto themselves, with many moviegoers arriving to theaters early just to see them.