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.
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.
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.
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.
10. De Palma
One of the reasons the trailer for De Palma works so well is because it sells precisely what the movie doesn’t. More or less a well-edited supercut through the highlights of the director’s filmography — interspersed with anecdotes from the interviews — the genius of the actual documentary is that we get the rare chronological, film-by-film primary source recollection of their creation (and aftermath, for many). But for the teaser, all we need is to be reminded of why Brian De Palma is one of our greatest under-appreciated directors, and it does that in spades. – Jordan R.
9. Blade Runner 2049
It’s hard to say what is most exciting about the upcoming sequel to Blade Runner: that it is, in fact, a sequel to one of the most beloved and historically significant science-fiction films of all time; that they managed to rope Harrison Ford into returning to his iconic role of Rick Deckard; the fact that Denis Villeneuve is directing it; or that we get to see this world through the eyes of Roger Deakins. Those are reasons enough to get excited about a sequel that, frankly, no one was really asking for. And normally such a hugely belated follow-up would generate more cynicism than confidence, but it’s hard to deny the artistic credibility of the talent involved here (even Ridley Scott is engaged with the production, having originally planned to direct it himself). The announcement trailer released by WB in December was a delightful surprise, instantly evoking the film noir atmosphere of the first movie’s futuristic depiction of Los Angeles, albeit with more blue and orange than ever before. And when that classic Vangelis cue kicked in at the end of the teaser — slightly updated but as familiar as ever — it was the final piece of the puzzle falling into place. – John U.
8. Hail, Caesar!
While we got our first look at the Coens‘ latest film back in 2015 with the first trailer, Universal found an even better way to sell it with their second preview, released about a month before opening. It’s also, thankfully, one I avoided until seeing the film, but in retrospect, if one needed to be convinced of purchasing a ticket, it did the trick. Primarily featuring the “would if it were so simple” exchange between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes‘ characters, it showed how simple it was to just show off one of 2016’s best scenes as the centerpiece of your marketing. – Jordan R.
7. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Part of the fun of the 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer was the fact that no one really knew it was coming. It’s hard to keep a secret these days, much less one involving a big movie franchise, but J.J. Abrams and company managed to pull it off. The film was quietly put into production with a different working title, originally named The Cellar, but it was midway into filming when the filmmakers decided to tweak it to become a “spiritual successor” to the 2008 found footage monster invasion movie. As such, the surprise trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane sent the internet into a whirlwind, with people alternately speculating on how it would tie in to the original film’s universe as well as commenting upon how good it actually looked. In a day and age where studios release 10-second teasers for teaser trailers, part of the fun of Cloverfield Lane’s announcement to the world was the excitement over knowing next to nothing about it. – John U.
6. Get Out
Not unlike the trailer right above this one, it’s always a thrill for an excellent preview to bring about our learning of a film’s existence. After Key & Peele hit the big screen with last year’s Keanu, one-half of the duo is back with his directorial debut and it looks to be unlike anything we would’ve expected. With the first trailer for Get Out, Jordan Peele seems to be taking his comedic insights on race relations and turning them into a horror satire the likes of which Spike Lee would be proud of. – Jordan R.
It’s remarkable how quickly Barry Jenkins‘ Moonlight went from a hopeful fall discovery to the year’s most-acclaimed film, and part of that rapid journey had to do with its heart-rending trailer from A24. In introducing this triptych story, James Laxton‘s mesmerizing visuals take the forefront as we first meet Chiron’s hard-fought life. While it shows just a little too much of the story, it’s an astonishing feat of editing that hits all the right beats. – Jordan R.
4. The Shallows
Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows was a glorious trifle – an economical survival thriller that just as regularly dipped into creature feature cartoonishness. But beneath its layer of MacGyver silliness, there’s a deep well of anxiety, and few trailers this year better distilled a film’s sense of terror than “The Beginning.” With a music cue that stitches together a reworked instrumental of Alex Clare’s shuddering “Relax My Beloved” and an obscure 1951 PSA on self-reliance, and an emphasis on footage that only hints at the unreal, the trailer creates a mood where the shark is less a hungry animal than an unstoppable threat to the universe. – Michael S.
3. The Fits
One of the most impressive breakthrough films of the year — for both its director Anna Rose Holmer and star Royalty Hightower — The Fits, fittingly, got one of the best trailers of 2016 thanks to Oscilloscope Pictures. Showing only just over a minute of actual footage, this trailer commands one attention as well as Holmer does in the feature. In putting us into the psychological headspace of our lead, as the film so invigoratingly does, this preview piques one’s curiosity like few others in 2016. – Jordan R.
2. The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden’s brilliantly surreal teaser trailer highlights the film’s dazzling imagery and Chung-hoon Chung’s lush cinematography in only a minute and twenty seconds. The montage of breathtakingly bizarre images draws you in, while offering maddeningly little of the film’s romantically twisted mystery plot. When this teaser dropped before Cannes, director Park Chan-wook’s tenth feature looked to be his most visually elegant, blending the period details with his own macabre, fetishistic touches — a notion the film certainly followed through with. Even the use of the urgent and driving rhythms of “Red Sex” by Vessel as score heightens the sense of foreboding dread. It’s an addictively re-watchable little trailer, which further cements The Handmaiden as one of the must-see films of 2016. – Tony H.
Leave it to the last trailer for the last Andrzej Żuławski film we’ll ever get to be the most inventive of the year. Kino Lorber perceptively understood the unbridled craziness of Cosmos is its strongest selling point, so rather than trying to attune American audiences to the basics of its story, they went all-in with the wild visuals at their disposable to create a hypnotic, bafflingly thrilling trailer. Not every distributor has the inventiveness of Żuławski’s eye to work with, but a few more could stand to learn from the boldness of this preview. – Jordan R.
Honorable mentions: Swiss Army Man, A Bigger Splash, Fences, American Honey, Rogue One, T2: Trainspotting, Free Fire, Certain Women, Voyage of Time, I Am Not Your Negro, One More Time With Feeling, John Wick: Chapter Two, Jackie, and Dunkirk.
What was your favorite trailer this year?