Each year, thousands of movie trailers go online to promote films ranging from the largest of major studio tentpoles designed for all audiences, to the smallest indies that might be lucky enough to end up on a VOD service.
They remain, very much, a necessary part of the movie making machine and often the most vital piece of any film’s marketing campaign. How one might feel about them though varies widely. Some studiously avoid them, only watching trailers after seeing a film itself. In doing so though, they also lose the impact that comes with seeing a trailer fresh – a feeling that can’t be replicated seeing a trailer after the fact.
On the other hand some embrace them, enjoying them as pleasures of their own in isolation from the film itself. More than ever trailers are being edited and cut with such clever skill as to become artistic works in their own right. Trailer campaigns leading up to a film’s release can become a key part of truly appreciating the film itself, and certainly we’ve seen the way the quality of some trailers can often outstrip the film it’s advertising (and of course the other way around with great films getting dud trailers).
Part of my job involves watching and posting on almost every trailer that comes out and so today I take a look at what I would consider the best film trailers for this year. The rule here, as usual, is that the trailer (not the film) has to have come out this calendar year. That means you may be surprised to see some older previews below from the very start of the year mixed in with previews that hit just days ago:
1. Jackie – Teaser Trailer
Pablo Larrain’s biopic of Jackie Kennedy is anything but routine, which makes it one of the year’s best as it takes a national tragedy and explores it on a personal level. It’s a film which deals with grief, pageantry and private moments in public life, and does so all whilst embracing the camp, acknowledging (but not dwelling in) the sadness, and smartly skewering the biopic formula.
The first teaser for the film understands this perfectly, delivering something much closer to Larrain’s final film in style and tone than the subsequent and more conventional full trailer did. With its segue from the cheesy ‘Camelot’ into the almost upsetting music of Mica Levi’s score – the clip sells its premise and eccentric style one carefully sculpted and haunting image at a time.
2. 10 Cloverfield Lane – First Trailer
The first trailer launch of the year remains one of the best and the rest of its marketing material, even the solid genre film itself, can’t come close to matching it. Before its release no-one had any idea what this film really was, or even the title. Then came this preview completely out of nowhere, a work of nearly pitch perfect construction.
Set to the original Tommy James and the Shondells’ version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” (rather than Tiffany’s cover version), it starts out with a seemingly innocuous family scene of what appears to be two young adults and presumably their father/uncle trying to stave off holiday boredom. Half a minute into it your assumptions change as a camera pans up. Imagery becomes more and more sinister, the music begins to slow and struggle like it’s drowning in quicksand, and ultimately we’re left with what looks like a piece of high-tension horror with a major mystery hook. It certainly hooked us.
3. Suicide Squad – Official Trailers: Bohemian Rhapsody/Ballroom Blitz
Years since its release and many blockbuster film trailers today still follow the “Inception” model of big instrumental music filled with large, blaring ‘BWAMMM’ moments. Warner Brothers has begun to change that language lately beginning with the stunning “Mad Max: Fury Road” trailers back in late 2014 and early 2015. The real shift in language though came with “Suicide Squad,” a film whose trailer campaign was so successful it ended up changing the entire make-up of the film itself.
First launched at Comic Con in August last year with a sinister cover of a BeeGees song, the approach was changed in January with a preview set to one of the greatest songs ever – Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. This set the precedent for a much more fun, upbeat and funky tone for the movie. Quick cuts in the trailer was combined with imagery that would match the lyrics, something the subsequent and equally as good trailer set to “Ballroom Blitz” would use to greater effect. These trailers were such a success that reshoots followed and the film changed – although it’s unclear if it was for the worse or better. Ultimately, much like the other films of the DCEU so far, the trailers have proven decidedly more satisfying than the films themselves.
4. Hail Caesar – Trailer 2
“Would that it were so simple”. It’s just six little words, but those words combined with Ralph Fiennes’ comedic chops helped the Coen brothers follow-up one of last year’s great teaser trailers with one of this year’s great full trailers which people will immediately remember upon hearing that simple phrase.
While the film ultimately proved to be a minor work in their oeuvre, this single scene clip is broken up by an ever so brief montage and some clever text. It’s really one extended gag scene, but it will remain embedded in many’s memories for a long time to come. A sheer delight.
5. Silence – Official Trailer
On paper the story of two Portugese Christian missionaries seeking their mentor in rural 17th century Japan sounds like an incredibly dry and dull affair, yet the first trailer for Martin Scorsese’s new film is anything but. Superbly paced, it lays out the basic setup of the film and the almost thriller approach to the story of two men in a country where their beliefs will get them and anyone associated with them killed.
It’s also solid in terms of what it does and doesn’t show – after laying out its basic premise it is mostly a musical piece offering an excellent mix of stunning instrumental score music combined with Scorsese’s masterful widescreen compositions. Don’t underestimate the appeal either of Andrew Garfield’s salon-ready hairstyle which is a wonder of nature in itself, to Adam Driver getting some much deserved trailer screen time. There are only hints at the brutality that takes place, and the effective intensity is quite different from the nearly three-hour film which is a decidedly more austere piece than this trailer or Scorsese’s other output would suggest. Nevertheless it works wonderfully.
6. Logan – Official Trailer
Though Johnny Cash’s iconic cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” has been used within a few films, documentaries and TV shows over the years, it has almost always been incidentally. Here, for its first use with a film trailer that I can recall, the song is front and center and it’s shocking how well it matches the content. The song’s placement lends immediate gravitas and sadness to the story of the dying days of the “X-Men” universe and its most iconic character’s final appearance.
Two attempts have been made at “Wolverine” standalone films with neither really taking off or escaping their comic book tone. The abrupt shift here to something much more grounded, wistful, violent and mature with very little reliance on visual effects automatically makes this look better than much of anything the comic book film genre has given us since Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Admittedly the grizzled bearded older man teamed with a young brunette girl scenario certainly borrows heavily from Naughty Dog’s acclaimed “The Last of Us” video game, but if you’re going to be compared to something – it may as well be the best. Fox now has the daunting task of following this up with a second trailer soon, I don’t envy them.
7. Moonlight – Official Trailer
One of the year’s most acclaimed films really only had one trailer, but it was so much a work of art in itself that it really didn’t need more. Conveying the film’s tricky setup of following one man at three different periods in his life (and played by three different actors), the imagery is often astonishingly beautiful and raw, the instrumental string music stirring as the visuals and spare dialogue convey the subplots of a drug-addicted mother, a sexuality struggle and a man trying to fit in and does so without going overboard. It’s classy, haunting and heart breaking and helped shoot an effectively unknown project immediately into the serious awards race.
8. The Handmaiden – U.S. Trailer
Park Chan-Wook’s meticulously crafted and yet utterly bonkers “The Handmaiden” is nothing if not decadent, deviant and delicious with equal measure. It’s also a film nearly impossible to market with complex and convoluted plotting, multiple reversals, numerous perspective shifts and graphic sex abound. A film in which voyeurism, lesbianism and fetish metaphors permeate its every pore.
Full props then must go to Magnet Releasing who came up with a kooky trailer that sells it without either giving away too much, or going into any serious use of the film’s often twisted and explicit content. It’s a hell of a trailer, but if you think what you see here is strange then just wait until you see the film itself.
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Trailer 2
Buoyed by excellent trailers, many of which consist of footage that didn’t end up in the final film, Disney’s marketing campaign for “Rogue One” was every bit as good as their work on last year’s ‘Force Awakens’. One obvious difference though, spelled out most obviously in this second trailer, is the gorgeous shot composition and more war-like tone which immediately lend the film more serious stakes and intensity. Sandwiched between the first teaser with some of its clunkly lines (“I rebel”) and the latter trailers which spoiled too much, this was the ‘Rogue One’ marketing campaign at its height.
10. T2: Trainspotting – Official Trailer
In a time when sequels done decades after the original have often proven something of a letdown, the trailer for Danny Boyle’s “T2: Trainspotting” is a welcome relief. Yes there’s more callbacks to the original than there are “Star Wars: A New Hope” callbacks in the “Rogue One” promos, but there’s also a keen self-awareness here and obvious desire to advance the story of addicts getting older as opposed to just straight up recreating the first film.
From McGregor’s voiceover updating its references (though revenge porn sounds a little bit too 2003), to two excellent music cues to the return of the key actors all looking older but remaining the same people at the core – it rings true in ways that even the original didn’t to some extent. However, like drugs themselves, this one is all about the first time you view it – subsequent hits lose the high that comes with that first viewing.
11. Blade Runner 2049 – Announcement Teaser
Denis Villenueve’s track record from “Prisoners” to “Enemy” to “Sicario” to “Arrival” has been of such high quality that his involvement in the long in the works “Blade Runner” sequel can only been seen as a good thing. In fact it’s better in some ways than had Ridley Scott returned to direct (he’s only producing) as the veteran filmmaker’s track record hasn’t been nearly as consistent in recent years. Even so, following up one of cinema’s all time classics is an enormously daunting undertaking for anyone.
That’s why the success of this ‘announcement teaser’ can’t be understated. Scott’s original had a very particular aesthetic which lazy filmmakers would try to replicate with endless CG animation and likely get it wrong. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, Villeneuve’s taste and approach hitting that right sweet spot of reverential yet experimental. The score, the visuals, the feel are all just right and promise hopefully a worthy follow-up. The only thing wrong is we don’t get to see more.
12. Wonder Woman – Comic-Con Trailer
The superhero genre is dominated by contemporary tales of white men either being smart ass pricks or tortured deities, and has understandably come under fire for a lack of risk taking and strict adherence to formula. Leave it to filmmaker Patty Jenkins to deliver something a little different when she revealed the first trailer for “Wonder Woman” at Comic Con, a film that offers a certain grace and style missing from this type of fare.
Coming off the disappointing performance of “Batman v Superman,” the DCEU was in an uncertain place when this hit. Easily burying every other film trailer at the convention including the rough “Justice League” early preview and the all too “Inception”-inspired “Doctor Strange” trailer, here you had an iconic female hero never seen on the big screen before. From the luscious looking Amazon nation, to the grim World War I setting, tp Diana herself on the battlefield using her shield to ward off artillery fire – much of it is immediately iconic and offers hope that the DCEU finally can deliver a film that’s not just a commercial but a critical hit as well.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Teaser Trailer
Marvel Studios hasn’t had a banner year for trailers. For all the enjoyment “Captain America: Civil War” offered, its trailers were bland. ‘Strange’ saved its best stuff for the film itself, at the cost of unengaging previews. Even “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” despite looking like the best Spidey since Raimi’s second, suffers from over familiarity. Leave it to James Gunn to save the day with not one but two superb early trailers for the “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel.
Gunn knows exactly how to do this right – truly teasing us without giving away anything beyond confirming the sequel retains the first film’s tone. Seemingly even more assured and comfortable in itself, the ‘Sneak Peek’ was fun but the true teaser was a blast and already has inspired much love for Baby Groot. Chuck in a great left field song choice with Sweet’s ‘Fox on the Run’, and restricting the clip to essentially two comedy scenes, and you get something that both sells the film but doesn’t really give anything away.
14. War for the Planet of the Apes – First Trailer
A strong first film with ‘Rise’ led to an exceptional second film in ‘Dawn’ and returning director Matt Reeves recently dropped the excellent trailer for ‘War’ – a third entry in the rebooted series which finally sees the intelligent apes and the humans take on each other for the control of the planet. Dropping any sympathetic human characters this time, the trailer sides squarely with the apes standing up against the humans trying to oppress them.
Not enough praise can be showered on this underrated series for maintaining a such a high level of production and story quality. Once again the CG is so good it leaves many other blockbusters in the dust, and the conception of some of the action sequences such as the military raid of the apes cave or the ape battalion fighting with bow and arrows is stunning. Woody Harrelson gets to play against type here as a brutal bad guy, and as always there’s a story with real stakes and character at its heart.
15. Shin Godzilla – Official Funimation U.S. Trailer
Hollywood’s 2014 “Godzilla” reboot had some stunning trailers, so why can’t original Japanese studio Toho have something almost as good for theirs? They got it with Funimation delivering this fast-paced, quick cut effort for the U.S. release of the film.
The trailer blends some impressive VFX shots of destruction with some quite dodgy looking camcorder footage offering an immediate in your face feel of people caught in the monster’s path. Both a return and minor reboot of the original franchise, produced well over a decade since the last, this both looks and more importantly feels just like real “Godzilla” in the way Gareth Edwards’ bigger budgeted and more serious western version didn’t.
16. Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets – Teaser Trailer
Twenty years after “The Fifth Element,” filmmaker Luc Besson finally fulfils his dream of adapting the iconic French comic “Valerian and Laureline” onto film – and does so with the same imaginative style we’ve come to expect from him. Taking all he’s learnt from world-building in movies so far and combining it with source material he obviously has great affection for, has yielded something pretty spectacular judging by this first trailer.
Set to The Beatles’ “Because,” and the original version of it too which is an achievement in itself for any trailer, this incredibly lush looking sci-fi epic appears to bring color, life and joy to a genre often all too self-serious and stolid. Besson certainly has an imaginative enough universe and a great cast, the question is if the script will be strong enough to yield a compelling high adventure.
17. Get Out – Official Trailer
Jordan Peele of “Key and Peele” fame finally gets his wish and directs a horror movie with “Get Out”. Judging by the trailer we’re in for a treat with a movie which starts out seemingly like a racially-themed, darkly satirical spin on “The Stepford Wives” before it veers into more sinister and decidedly surreal territory.
It’s a testament to Peele’s skill that, despite seeing a lot, you’re left wondering where the hell the film is going to go. The trailer deliberately keeps not just many of the film’s secrets but some of its basic premise obfuscated to try and entice you in. It certainly looks inventive, darkly funny and downright creepy – I’m onboard.
18. The Shallows: Teaser Trailer
Perfectly explaining its premise whilst keeping the shark shots contained to minimal and believable levels, the first trailer for the simple but high-concept Blake Lively film is an excellent tease that’s tonally consistent and thrilling – giving life to every surfer’s nightmare.
The final product, with its tone veering between silliness and tension on numerous occasions, can’t match this. Even subsequent trailers go overboard with the shark – turning it from the believably behaving predator here to a psychopathic and very CG looking monster. This works because it keeps the premise simple and believable.
19. Kubo and the Two Strings – Official Trailer
Focus Features released a number of trailers for LAIKA’s newest and best film to date (though “ParaNorman” is arguably on equal footing). Each preview became more Americanised and dumbed down as they were released, likely trying to entice consumers who might be put off by the Japanese fairy tale elements of the story.
It’s a shame really as this first trailer pretty much gets the film perfectly with the use of the gorgeous music, the darker vibe, and the visuals. It conveys the film very effectively without spoiling too much, something that can rarely be said for animated features these days.
20. Kong: Skull Island: Comic Con Trailer
The “King Kong” story has been done to death, making the appeal of yet another reboot practically non-existent. With the first trailer for Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ new take on the property though, one that serves as a second entry in a new cinematic universe, the surprise is we actually have something that looks quite appealing.
Ditching the beauty and the beast element and return to civilisation trope, this gives us a Kong the size of a skyscraper in a story set on a dangerous island of monsters in the 1970s. The result is a lot of Vietnam-inspired imagery of army commandos in Hueys in sunburnt tropical and volcanic environments and utterly out of their depth. This initial Comic Con trailer gets the tone just right, unlike the recent trailer which puts too much emphasis on John C. Reilly’s bumbling comic relief character.
John Wick Chapter Two – Teaser
The first “John Wick” quickly became a cult hit, making expectations for the follow-up far higher than for the surprise first. Thankfully so far those involved have stepped up to the plate, dropping some excellent posters and then this fun trailer which promises more of what people wanted to see – namely the larger world in which Keanu Reeves’ hitman operates.
Beauty and the Beast: Official Trailer – Bill Condon’s adaptation gets its translation to live-action seemingly spot on, yielding what looks easily like the best of the Disney live-action adaptations to date. The trailer itself is perhaps a little too focused on the earlier scenes of the movie, but when it reaches its crescendo with the starfield dance – it’s magical.
Nocturnal Animals: Teaser Trailer – The first sign that Tom Ford’s sophomore effort couldn’t quite live up to his sparkling debut came here. There’s all his beautiful shot compositions on display, but something seems off and it became more apparent with each subsequent trailer.
The Neon Demon – Official Trailer – With his often luscious visualisations of intense lighting and color amidst inky blacks, Nicolas Winding Refn’s films lends themselves superbly to trailers even when the film is flawed. Yet ‘Neon’, though impressive in imagery, can’t quite make them sing in the way the previews for both Refn’s “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” did.
La La Land: ‘City of Stars’ Trailer – None of the previews quite captures the soul of this nostalgic and ultimately bittersweet film like this one, perhaps due to the use of the film’s best song by far. Subsequent trailers give away far too much of the best moments and surprises, but this gets the balance just right.
Ghost in the Shell: Teaser Trailer – Thankfully confirming the film will be quite faithful to the original anime, the trailer itself starts well and shows off the film’s excellent look. Things quickly devolve into murky and dull gun fights which detract from a trailer that should feel less familiar.
Deepwater Horizon: Teaser Trailer – Eschewing the tired pop song of the full trailer, the original teaser for this story of the oil rig disaster is a much more compelling slow build of tension that sells the film effectively without giving away too much.
American Pastoral: Full Trailer – The film itself proved a bit of hot mess, much in the same way most Philip Roth adaptations to date have been including the nice but overrated “Indignation”. Even so, Ewan McGregor’s directorial effort yielded a really solid trailer that’s worth more than the film itself.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: Red-Band Trailer – Sadly the Andy Samberg-led comedy didn’t quite catch on with viewers, but it did yield some great laughs. It also offered us a damn fun red-band trailer that showcases just a bit of the insanity without too many mugging shots which some of its other trailers for it relied on.