I happened to catch Independence Day on AMC last week (well, most of it anyway), and was shocked to re-discover how simplistic the movie plays, and how that simple-mindedness works largely in its favor. It's deliberately designed as a callback to those big-budget, star-studded disaster flicks of the 70's, only this time with aliens, and like Earthquake or The Towering Inferno, it appeals to our most basic desire to watch stuff blow up. Each individual character motivation can be summed up in six words or less (Wants His Ex-Wife Back, Wants To Be An Astronaut, Wants To Be A Better President), the special effects (mostly model work, minimal CGI) are impressive in an old-fashioned Irwin Allen sort of way, and its big emotional crescendos ("Today we celebrate... our Independence Day!") are painted in the biggest, broadest strokes. Lump them all together, and it's no wonder audiences went absolutely ape for it.
I've always thought ID4 played better on the small screen - where its small-scale human drama(s) packed more heat on an up-close and personal level. Watching it again the other night, I was also struck by how many specific shots linger in the memory - most of which, you will recall, came from its huge pre-summer marketing blitz of 1996. Giant spacecraft hovering in the skies over New York and L.A., buildings on fire, that exploding White House - images I'm sure had you waiting with bated breath for that July 3rd release date.
They call it the "money shot": a very important, impressive, or memorable picture or scene. Mostly, you'll find one at the end of every movie trailer, as a way to get you off your seat, shouting, "I have see that! Like, right now, THIS INSTANT!" And you spend the next few months anxiously awaiting your chance to plunk down $7-12 and soak in all the crunchy-munchy blockbuster goodness surrounding that one particular shot.
Some examples of this. As with Independence Day, the money shot usually works best to market disaster movies...
Deep Impact (1998)
... or eye-popping sci-fi extravaganzas...
The Matrix (1999)
... and even the occasional comedy...
The art of the money shot ain't exactly rocket science. Movie trailers, by definition, have maybe two, two-and-a-half minutes to get their point across, both visually and thematically, and you'd better believe studios will do anything to make sure you buy a ticket. Think of it as the hook to bait the worm. And yes, that makes us the worm.
So tell me, faithful reader: How many films have you gone positively rabid for, based solely on specific shots featured in their trailers? I've included only a handful of screencaps above... surely you can think of more?