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The Best Trailers of 2016

Written by on January 2, 2017 

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It’s easy to bemoan the majority of trailers for giving away too much or, upon seeing the film, ending up with something far different than what was marketed. However, a few times a year, a trailer works on its own terms; as an impressive piece of editing in its own right and/or as the ideal tease for an highly-anticipated film. We’ve selected our 20 favorites from the last year, ranging from some of 2017’s biggest films to the best in arthouse and foreign films to a handful of surprises.

Check them out below and let us know which trailers you were most impressed with in 2016.

20. The Lost City of Z

A late contender to the list, this brief preview for The Lost of City of Z was perfect tease for James Gray‘s period epic. Giving us our first glimpse at Darius Khondji‘s stunning, shot-on-35mm visuals, this trailer hinted at what awaits in a potentially bleak adventure into the unknown, and thankfully revealed little else. Unlike most trailers for 2017 films, we know this one actually fulfills expectations, as one can read our New York Film Festival review here. – Jordan R.

19. The Red Turtle

Released ahead of its premiere at Cannes Film Festival, this beautiful preview gave us the first look at Studio Ghibli’s last feature-length work for some time. A co-production with Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle‘s idyllic quaintness and its (nearly) dialogue-free approach was on full display with this trailer. The animation, which won’t get a proper release until later this month, is also well-represented in this preview with its stunning, hand-painted-esque frames. – Jordan R.

18. A Cure For Wellness

After his long streak of Johnny Depp-led tentpoles, Gore Verbinski is returning to his horror roots with A Cure for Wellness and the promise of visually resplendent frights is tremendously enticing. The first trailer was an unnerving offering of creepy imagery, refreshingly avoiding to delve too much into the plot. It also achieved the impossible by featuring a slow ballad version of a ubiquitous song — and it still made us want to see the movie. – Jordan R.

17. 20th Century Women

With his intricately constructed films — wherein scenes often feel like wonderful short films, though that’s not to dismiss how they are all one of a whole — and graphic design background, Mike Mills offers up enough rich material to create a flawless trailer. Thankfully, A24 did not let us down with the preview for 20th Century Women. Bursting with life and offering a few choice dialogue exchanges, the trailer doesn’t ruin the film’s plot, but rather offers up a window into the immensly fulfilling experience that awaits. – Jordan R.

16. Silence

Martin Scorsese has been trying to adapt Shūsaku Endō’s infamous novel into a film for decades. When the Silence trailer finally debuted in November, we were treated to some of the most arresting images from the master filmmaker since his work on The Age of Innocence. The matching overhead shots of the priests descending the staircase followed by the ship between a part in the clouds ratchets up the tension as we’re introduced to the setting – 17th century Japan, where all forms of Christianity, particularly Catholicism has been deemed illegal. The trailer also gives us a peek at Dante Ferretti’s production design, a collaborator who hasn’t worked with Scorsese since Hugo. Passion projects are always interesting. But none more so than a Martin Scorsese passion project. – Tony H.

15. The Childhood of a Leader

When one has Scott Walker scoring their film and some of the best cinematography of the year, the trailer ought to be one of the most enticing of the year. IFC Films delivered just that with the domestic preview of Brady Corbet‘s directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader. With its blood-red titles hinting at the terror to come, the trailer offers a throat-tightening build-up of this story, which ended up being the best unintentional Trump biopic of the year. – Jordan R.

14. The Neon Demon

Regardless of what one may think of his films, Nicolas Winding Refn‘s style is perfectly suited for the format of a trailer. With his vibrant color palette and bold soundtrack choices on full display in the trailer for The Neon Demon, the film set up a potential return to form for the director. If the final product delivered, one will have to make up their own mind, but the trailer achieved its primary objective of glossy, Hollywood-skewering intrigue. – Jordan R.

13. Logan

Hugh Jackman has made no secret of the fact that he’s wanted to bring a “definitive” version of his Wolverine character to the screen for years now. The closest we have gotten to that so far was 2013’s The Wolverine — which had a very solid character-driven first half, but still played things fairly safe, and really fell apart in its final act. Logan, judging from its R-rated trailer, already seeks to rectify this. The editing choices are not hugely inspired — using Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” is pretty on the nose, sure — and yet it works, mostly because the movie doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to deliver what we want from it. We know this character very well by now, and what fans really want to see is the long overdue, no-holds-barred, Berserker mode Wolverine from the comics. Logan is supposedly Jackman’s last foray into the X-Men universe (though I’d be very surprised if that rumored Deadpool cross-over movie never happens). Whether or not that ends up being the case, Logan looks like it could be the right note to end on. – John U.

12. La La Land

Although La La Land was clearly inspired by classic Hollywood musicals, one of the things that stood out in its invigorating first trailer was just how reminiscent it was of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love – indeed, that shot of Ryan Gosling at his piano with blue-tinged lens flares, or Gosling and Emma Stone embracing as the camera sweeps alongside them, bring to mind very similar shots and visuals from Anderson’s underrated 2002 love story. Even the font used in the trailer is remarkably similar to the distinct title cards for PDL. After wondering whether I was crazy, a quick search brought up the ever-reliable Reddit, wherein a user went to the effort of mapping out similarities between the two movies via the trailer. While it could be pure coincidence — or perhaps just a sign that Anderson himself was equally inspired by the visuals of classic Hollywood musicals when making his film — it certainly made the trailer one of the more memorable in my mind for 2016, and piqued my interest in the finished product. – John U.

11. Nocturama

It’s strange to get a trailer for a film one never know when they’ll be able to actually see, but hopefully U.S. distribution comes around soon for one of the best films I saw in 2016, Bertrand Bonello‘s Nocturama. In the meantime, we have this first trailer, which does a marvelous job at setting up the harrowing film, in which a group of young terrorists carry out their plan, then hole themselves in a lavish department store. If a distributor wants to pick this one up and sell it as the next Spring Breakers, they already have this superb trailer to build off from. – Jordan R.

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