The Wolf Of Wall Street vs. Goodfellas: The Trailers of Martin Scorsese

As anyone with a computer and touch of DiCaprio fever knows, the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street hit the internet this week. Filled to the brim with accents, excess, and characters clearly on the verge of mental collapse, the trailer boasts the tropes of a classic Scorsese epic. The setting may have changed, but The Wolf of Wall Street resembles another Scorsese classic, Goodfellas. The differences exist in the time periods, and how trailers look today as oppose to 25 years ago.

Goodfellas’ trailer lumbers along to show the gravitas of the movie. The end tagline “30 Years of Life in the Mafia” follows a trailer that shows that amount of time. There’s a distinct narrative, moving through Henry Hill’s life in the mob, from childhood to adulthood. Narrated by the Hill (Ray Liotta), Scorsese shares the film’s perspective in the trailer, which in turn gives us a strong understanding of the film itself. We’re going to watch a man achieve his dreams and watch them all crumble.

The Wolf of Wall Street shows something similar. A young, confident man (this time Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort) narrates our movement through his life of excess as a youthful success in the stock market. Like Hill, he’s got women, power, and a sense that nothing can hurt him. He’s also living in a deteriorating dream world.

These trailers intersect, however, in their escalation. Both start off personable enough, with the respective leads describing their intentions, overtly and/or subtly. Yet, as the trailer’s suggest, these intentions come at a cost. In Wolf, the action culminates in a montage notable for its speed and volume. It comes at the viewer hard and fast, suggesting the overwhelming lifestyle Belford will find himself in. The trailer looks more like a music video, except with much more McConaughey. Goodfellas requires more world building to explain the rules that Henry plays by and eventually breaks. Like the film, it maintains cool in times of great violence and fear, but also dwells on these moments slowly, allowing the audience to reflect on the cost. 

The differences between these characters exist only in their respective time periods. Jordan Belford’s day-seizing attitude reflects a period obsessed by the present, and at age 26, having made $49 million in a year, his interests lie in how much he can acquire, rather than what he can use his money on. Hill’s journey opposes this. Goodfellas emphasis on the past suggests, as the film does, a succinct chronology, presenting 30 years of mafia. His story put legacy over power. At the height of the baby boom and through the 70s and 80s, family and legacy overshadowed the present. For today’s audience, wrapped up in the always updating internet, now trumps then. 

Ultimately, Scorsese presents two versions of the same story: the downfall of an anti-hero. But instead of doing that in the same ways, he uses the language of the time. Excesses were big in the 80s, so he extended his trailer, expounding on the epicness of Goodfellas. Today, he overwhelms the senses with excess. Wolf is cerebral, while Goodfellas is visceral. Trailers, like films, must reflect the trends of their time to draw people into the theaters, and if Goodfellas indicates how Scorsese recognizing this, leaving Wolf with some massive expectations to live up to. 


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