A film can have a stellar ensemble cast, a high pedigree director, the most fascinating subject matter and heaps of critical praise. But sadly, none of this matters without an engaging trailer to bring audiences in. A great trailer can elevate a film’s chances of stepping out from the pack, while a lousy trailer can turn viewers off from attending a show that they may have anticipated.
Movie trailers are still the most important marketing tools in cinema today. So, how can one objectively rank the trailers for hundreds of releases in a year and narrow it down to just ten of the best? Well, one has to use certain criteria to fairly rank how effective the two-minute film preview is. For this feature, I used five criteria to decide which trailers ranked higher than the rest:
- Originality. Is the trailer unique from others of its genre? When you sit down and watch between 200 and 300 ads, they start to blend together after a while. This makes it easier to pick the ones that really stand out.
- Editing. How is the pacing and cutting in the trailer? Does it build up to a climax? Are the images discernible? Are the stories and characters clear from the quickly edited two-minute bits of montage?
- Music and Sound. A stirring musical score (think of the trailer for War Horse), a haunting sound effect (the trailer for Little Children) or a rousing pop song (Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” in the Where the Wild Things Are trailer) can make the footage linger much longer in the viewer’s mind.
- Lack of spoilers. Don’t you hate watching 150 seconds of a trailer and knowing that there is no point to slam down $12 bucks to see it since the trailer gave the whole story away? Ads that hint at the film’s spirit, themes and story without giving away too much pertinent detail can be very satisfying.
- Must-see factor. Does the trailer promo make me want to rush out for opening day? Does this movie seem like an event that is not to be missed?
Please note that the trailers included in this list are press materials that came out this past year, but some of the choices are for films coming out in 2014. Subsequently, trailers that arrived online in 2012 for 2013 releases were not included.
Enjoy, and make sure to strike back with your thoughts in the comments section below!Next
10) The Wolf of Wall Street Trailer
Any Martin Scorsese movie is an event, so the first look at his newest projects always comes stinging with fan anticipation. The first trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street though made some of the filmmaker’s dearest admirers step back. The trailer shows off a surprisingly high quotient of absurd humour, something Scorsese is not synonymous with. However, the cheeky moments are even funnier (and more refreshing) when coming at the end of quickly edited montages of money, parties, girls, fast cars and nice suits.
One could say that using Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” was a bizarre song choice for a trailer of a film that likely doesn’t touch on race relations. Still, the film is about a megalomaniacal stockbroker, Jordan Belfort. Who better to represent the man’s hunger for power, money and attention than the rapper who titled his last album Yeezus? To me, this film looks like Martin Scorsese’s beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy, an absorbing piece of sex and drug-fueled mayhem and this early trailer made us want to thump our chests like cavemen to see even more.Previous Next
9) Room 237 Trailer
Well, this trailer creeped me out, probably even more than Stanley Kubrick’s film that this documentary goes into detail deconstructing. (To be fair, I have always found The Shining to be overpraised and one of his lesser films.) Regardless of your level of love for The Shining, though, any major film fan likely found this trailer to be a clever allusion to one of the most famous images in all of cinema: the blood pouring out of the elevator in the Overlook Hotel. Except here, the elevator is replaced with a VCR.
From the eerie music that captures the tone of Kubrick’s film to the slowly rising text (reminiscent of The Shining’s opening titles), the trailer for Room 237 is just as obsessed with the small details of that horror film as the theorists telling their interpretations of the film in Rodney Ascher’s documentary. Although critic’s quotes can sometimes ruin the flow of a trailer, the blurbs are meant to fascinate cinephiles. It’s a simple yet unnerving trailer that pays homage to a reputed classic, merely teasing viewers on some of the intriguing and outlandish ideas about The Shining that Room 237 explores.Previous Next
8) Gravity Trailer
Gravity’s teaser trailer astounded me, although it left many viewers asking why anyone would make a film mostly containing Sandra Bullock drifting through space for 90 minutes. Then came the theatrical trailer, which showed off some of the dazzling, uncut footage from the film’s awe-inspiring and continuous 12-minute opening shot.
This is a purely visceral experience, leaving the viewer wanting to catch their breath and calm down just as much as Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone. The promo highlights both the technical virtuosity of the science-fiction thriller, as well as the weight (or, ahem, the gravity) of this adventure for the character. Especially notable is the middle of the promo, when it quickly cuts to black and then zooms in closer on Bullock as she panics and realizes the terror of her situation. It’s no wonder that the buzz behind Gravity reached the crescendo it did before breaking the October opening weekend record.Previous Next
7) Upstream Color Trailer
Staying true to its abstract and confounding plot, the trailer to Shane Carruth’s love-it-or-don’t-quite-get-it drama is just as much a mystery as the film it is advertising. But, that does not mean it is not mesmerizing.
Filled with sensations and feeling, the trailer for Upstream Color evokes the need to grab onto something, or someone, and look for more stability in your own life. What is so stunning about this courageous piece of advertising is how little it tells us about the story, but that does not decrease the sense of feeling, elation and atmosphere the viewer can get from watching it. There’s a potion-like drink, there is a married couple, there are pigs, there is romance, there are plants, there is a nervous breakdown and there is anger. How do the pieces of this two-minute puzzle fit together within a feature-length film?
The trailer left me wanting to drink in more of the mystery. Although a later viewing would confirm that Shane Carruth is both a genius and maddeningly oblique, the trailers to his loopy sci-fi dramas are intoxicating. Lush, bold and filled with sensory wonders, the trailer for Upstream Color absorbed me as much as it perplexed me. As a representation of the final product, it accomplished everything it should have.Previous Next
6) Godzilla Teaser
Finally, a teaser trailer that really teases. With deceptive but compelling footage of an air attack (and billowing scarlet smoke), a glimpse at a dynamic ensemble (including David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen) and a real sense of danger and carnage, our first good look at Godzilla truly captivates. Goodbye, memories of Roland Emmerich’s poor American remake. Here is a trailer that spells promise.
The Godzilla teaser also gets creativity points for straying away from some of the conventions of trailers about similar creature-infused apocalypses (World War Z, Battle: Los Angeles). Longer takes, a haunting voice-over near the beginning, lots of the Spielbergian shot that puts a human’s look of awe or wonder into a close-up: these are all elements that hint at a more than competent final product.
The promo builds suspense, fulfilling just as much mystery as it can about the monster without spoiling too much of its look and physical dimensions. You can bet I will be giddy to see Gareth Edwards’ newest effort when it arrives next May.
5) Man of Steel Trailer
Three-minute trailers are not the norm in Hollywood these days, but this emotionally riveting and effects-laden look at one of American’s biggest icons made many hungry to try out Zack Snyder’s blockbuster. While Man of Steel still ranks as my least-favourite film of the year, I could contribute that (slightly) to a final trailer that delivered on so many levels that the final product could never live up to its epic promotions.
There is more emotional weight in the three-minute ad than in the entirety of Zack Snyder’s cacophonous superhero film, likely because the trailer isolates the more heart-wrenching moments involving Jor-El (Russell Crowe), Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and the young Clark Kent. Instead of surrounding these moments with headache-inducing action, the trailer has a more gentle, yet still heroic, musical score. The moments of grace and wonder here creates a grand mythology of the character that Snyder’s film could not fulfill.
This trailer also shows an ideal of Superman that resonated with many viewers (such as this one) more than the bland, brooding, head-snapping one that Henry Cavill played. It is an exciting piece of marketing that ultimately gave so many such a sublime view of what a Superman movie could have been that it was no wonder that so many people left the theatre disappointed.Previous Next
4) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Teaser
Joyous, sweeping and cathartic, this nearly wordless teaser to the long-delayed reimagining of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gave audiences more reasons to be hopeful this Christmas. The opening minute of the trailer has beautiful formal qualities, of the protagonist’s drab, orderly apartment and the humdrum nature of Mitty’s office life. Meanwhile, the lack of dialogue atop a rousing Of Monsters and Men tune sucks the audience into feeling the rhythm of the dreamy story and the protagonist’s isolation.
The restrained first half and the wide scope of the second part of the trailer balance out each other beautifully, going from calmness to excitement that the rock song only sells further. The offbeat non sequitur at the end is also charming, bringing even more surprises to a very inspired trailer. Those who may be turned off by Stiller’s more anxiety-ridden, manic performances were likely enchanted by his control here, both as an actor and a director.
This was one of the year’s most dazzling trailers, showing off the scope and dreamlike wonder of what could be one of the holiday’s biggest films.Previous Next
3) The East Teaser
Brit Marling became a sensation at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for two films she wrote, directed and/or starred in – Another Earth and Sound of My Voice – but neither of those films impressed me, despite their original premises and intriguing twist endings. So, I was not that eager to see her next film. Then I saw the first trailer for The East, and I could not wait to give Marling another chance.
Beginning with what seems like another PR ad from an oil or natural gas company, the trailer quickly zaps our attention when the eco-terrorist group at the film’s focus hijacks the promo and replaces it with warnings. “We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crimes… when it’s your fault, it shouldn’t be so easy to sleep at night.”
Simply put, this trailer hit a nerve, thanks to Ellen Page’s off-kilter, threatening voice-over, some haunting images and rapid and throbbing edits that portrayed the danger and stakes set by the anarchist group. In an age of Edward Snowden, Page saying, “Spy on us? We’ll spy on you,” grabbed our attention.
This was a gripping tease that promised revenge against big, powerful conglomerates, giving audiences just a taste of the provocative madness while leaving us eager to see what would unfurl on the screen. It was a dark but crafty trailer and it did everything it could to grab and hold your attention.Previous Next
2) American Hustle Teaser
American Hustle is based on an elaborate sting operation from the late 1970s and early 1980s. To try to describe how it all works within a two-minute trailer, the studio could have confused or alienated its audience. Instead, it focused on the glitz and glamour of the story: beautiful actors wearing beautiful clothes, staring at beautiful (fake) art and having a blast. Slowly, though, the teaser for David O. Russell’s latest concoction moved from slick and scheming to vicious and violent. Or, as the Led Zeppelin song that pulsates above the intoxicating clips, the good times and bad times that arose from this complex con job.
The trailer reiterates enough about the characters and the themes of the story without needing to rely on extensive clips. The early dialogue about whether or not something fake can become truth plays into the con artist characters the film focuses on, while some of the more sensual and brutal moments from the montage hint at both the allure and the danger associated with the criminal activity. It’s a fresh, exciting look at a great film, bolstered by terrific looks at the strong performances of a vibrant ensemble cast. It made Hustle look like a film not to be missed, and so far, its box office run suggests the sleek ads worked.Previous Next
1) How to Train Your Dragon 2 Teaser
A glorious whirlwind of movement, lush visuals and triumphant music, the teaser trailer to the sequel of Dreamworks’ adored 2010 animated adventure did not even need to show the film’s title. Its release month was more than enough, teasing audiences that it would be close to a year (from the teaser’s release) that we could bask in these moments of sweeping flight once more.
John Powell’s soaring Oscar-nominated score, which sounds like a call from the heavens, perfectly accompanies the flights of fancy with Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and Toothless. The trailer is thrilling in its visual splendor and heart-stopping when the main character tosses himself off of his dragon pal. If the sequel keeps up with the daring sense of adventure that its trailer promises, we should already crown it the best film of next summer.
Meanwhile, who did not react when Hiccup removes his helmet at the end to reveal a much older, more handsome version of him from the first film? This protagonist may have grown up, but his sense of wonder remains intact. Let us hope the sequel can fulfill what the character has.