why do they call them movie trailers?

Movie promos run before a movie; why do they call them trailers?

I know that some theaters used to run movies back-to-back on weekends, and long ago there were serials and cartoons and such that ran. Did people perceive the promos as trailers because they ran before intermissions?

They used to run them after the main film, while people waited for other stuff to start, or to watch the film over again.

Film order used to be very different than it was now - instead of having a set time to go to a movie, you’d have a sort of continuous loop of stuff that ran all day long.

It was on a predictable rotation so that people could know generally when the main feature was coming on, but there was not the idea that the film reel “started” at the movie time.

You’d get everything from short news stories, humorous clips, perhaps a action or exploring clip (pilots and explorers were popular) some stories about fabulous movie stars, commercials for products or services - all sorts of stuff.

In amongst all that were clips for upcoming films, which got the prime real-estate right after the main feature, when the most people would be in the theatre, still adjusting their clothes and slowly working their way out back into the real world.

If you wanted to, you could basically spend the whole day in the theatre, watching the same reel over and over and over and over again, and each time, the ‘trailers’ would come right after the main feature.

Once the secondary features stopped running, there was no need to keep the reels going all day with random little bits of stuff, and marketers realized that the audience was a lot more captive at the beginning of the show than the end.

By that time, the name had stuck.

Interesting - I’m almost 50 years old, and I had never heard the word “trailer” used in this sense until a couple of years ago. We always called them previews.

Why are they called “trailers” if they’re shown before the movie?
Straight Dope Staff Report, November 6, 2007

I am over 70 years old and I never heard the word “trailer” until I subscribed to Netflix in '06. They were always previews where I grew up.

I would like to defend myself and say that I did search the forum for this queston first. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to search Cecil as well.

So it seems as though I was correct in my assumption. I trust any confusion as to whether they are normally called trailers, previews or coming attractions is just a regional preference.

I don’t think “regional preference” is correct but rather “industry preference.” If you’re in the movie industry or a real film buff, you’re more likely to have called them trailers. I’m 66 and have called them both trailers and previews. But, I’ve had a pretty deep interest in films since the 1960s.

Interesting. In Mexican Spanish, they are “cortes” – that is,“shorts”*. As others have mentioned, all kinds of short items (cartoons, newsreels) used to be mixed in with previews of coming attractions, so it’s not surprising that at least one language ended up keeping the word for “short” for what many English speakers today call “trailers”.

(*apparently, in some other Spanish-speaking regions, they are more commonly “avances”.)