Movie trailers are a special breed of animal: they’re intended to evoke a mood and to immerse audiences in an entirely different reality for only a minute or two. They’re an art form as much as a commercial. So much so that their excellence is rewarded every year at the Golden Trailer Awards. (Last year’s big winner was the “Family” trailer for Furious 7.)
With the year quickly approaching the final stretch and the always-busy holiday film season nearly upon us, we thought it was a good time to stop, take stock of the year in trailers, and show our appreciation for the magicians behind the process by selecting the dozen most well-crafted entries thus far.
Here are the rules for our selection process, just so we’re all on the same page: (1) any teaser or trailer released in calendar year 2015 is applicable; (2) its genre was irrelevant; (3) the trailer itself has to be evocative of mood and create interest and/or intrigue – whether the final film could live up to its teaser’s challenge is irrelevant; and, finally, (4) only one teaser per movie is eligible.
Ready to dive in? Here are the 12 Best Trailers of 2015:
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Trailer #3)
“I’ll take [hope] from them first.”
While the opening barrage of images is nothing especially unique or evocative – with Age of Ultron being the 11th(!) release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, audiences are well accustomed to the formula – it’s Ultron’s monologue that immediately catches the viewer’s ear and sparks a great deal of curiousity. And, indeed, that initial jolt carries audience members all through the rest of the two-minute trailer, creating a compelling scenario for the nearly infinite amount of death-and-destruction shots.
Interestingly enough, just as the trailer seems to settle down into the standard, almost homogenized template that Marvel Studios has now perfected, it ends on yet another hook: the world’s first exposure to the Vision, one of the movie’s new additions to the MCU cast. The blink-and-you-miss-it cameo perfectly encapsulates the mystique of the character, and the infusion of warm colors (with no voice-over dialogue) serves as a clever bookend to Ultron’s colorless, diatribe-filled intro.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Comic-Con Trailer)
Yes, the Bat-battle suit looks ridiculously cartoony, and, yes, the climactic musical crescendo over the movie’s title is unnecessarily bombastic (a disturbingly growing trend in the world of trailers as of late).
Still, cutting right through the clutter is the image of Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne running into the destruction that the Kryptonians unleashed at the end of Man of Steel, which (along with an image of him comforting a child in the rubble) helps to ground this first extended look at the titular superhero showdown.
Also, the fact that the trailer spares almost no opportunity to question its twin protagonists (the government holding Superman responsible for the devastation of Metropolis, Alfred’s commentary on Batman’s pointless turn to “cruelty”) adds a certain dramatic heft that is probably the last possible way general audiences would expect to be introduced to the cinematic versions of DC Comics’s golden-plated gods and goddesses.
Creed’s trailer does something that is, unfortunately, something of a rarity in the current turgid era of Hollywood: it is calm, level-headed, and, as a result, intense. And, what’s more, its intensity and focus radiates organically – appropriately enough, given the subject matter of the film – instead of being artificially forced down the audience’s throats. There is, as such, a certain poetry at work, making it hard to take your eyes off of the screen for the entire two-minute duration.
And most impressively, it allows the “shared universe” nature of the movie’s premise – its semi-sequel status to the Rocky franchise – to slowly sneak up on the audience, dropping it in the back half of the trailer, as opposed to browbeating viewers with it from frame one.
Deadpool (Red Band Trailer)
The exact opposite of the previous entry on this list, Deadpool is not only chaotic and irreverent, but it’s gleeful in its revelry – which means, of course, one cannot help but get swept up in the proceedings. The blood, the X-Men tie-ins, the threats of Ryan Reynolds touching himself at night – it all adds up to a sheer level of (dirty, inappropriate) fun that is unmatched on the rest of this list. And within the specific realm of the superhero genre, with the family-friendly fare from Marvel and the growing self-seriousness from DC, this good-natured irreverence counts for something.
It is certainly up for debate whether the humor goes too far over the top – the never-ending jokes over what Deadpool’s face now looks like, or the breaking-the-fourth-wall cracks about green animated superhero suits and great power coming with great irresponsibility – but it’s an open question that can’t tarnish the fun to any serious degree.
Mad Max: Fury Road (Trailer #1)
Mad Max: Fury Road was a film that highlighted writer / director George Miller’s ability to tell a captivating cinematic story through sparse dialogue and carefully constructed visual implication. The first official trailer for Fury Road basically takes Miller’s accomplishment with the finished film and distills it down into a violent and chaotic three-act symphony that’s a pleasure to experience… again, and again, and again.
This first trailer offered powerful imagery that was alluring to viewers; it highlighted the crazy practical stuntwork and coordination that action fans drool over; and it even gave the new Mad Max (Tom Hardy) some powerful lines of voice-over dialogue that helped this dystopian car chase flick achieve a level of (dare we say) poetry. Quotes like “As the world fell…” and “What a lovely day!” have been in circulation ever since.
Magic Mike XXL
Another trailer that bases its existence on unapologetic humor, Magic Mike XXL’s is simultaneously more sophisticated, more juvenile, and more transitory than anyone would expect – at about the halfway point, the sneak peek transitions to a traditional trailer, hitting all the mandatory beats while showing all the obligatory footage (despite its earlier joke not to). This cleverness transforms what would otherwise have been an utterly forgettable teaser into not only one of the year’s best, but also into something that will undoubtedly wind up being a bullet point in future marketers’ textbooks.
(Seriously, the “We didn’t want to show the best parts of the move in this trailer” while intercutting obviously banal footage is sure to live on in the annals of film-dom for a long time; it is, perhaps, the next-generation of the satire genre that Leslie Nielsen so ineptly mastered.)
The Martian (Trailer #1)
There is a certain elegance at work in The Martian’s trailer, and a great deal of it comes from the simplicity of its message. Many screenwriting self-help books preach that “storytelling is all about straightforward communication,” but this trailer puts truth to those words and manages to come off with a product that can perhaps best be described as cohesive and unified – two simple-but-undeniably-critical words.
And the fact that it makes it all look so easy is part of its great success; the difficulty in attempting to present a Castaway-esque story of a solitary character stranded in the wilderness of space is actually quite profound, yet Martian’s team not only perfectly encapsulates the premise, they also manage to sneak in hints of humor and danger, of triumph and despair.
The Revenant is, undoubtedly, the single strongest contender on this list. It isn’t presentational in its story, characters, or setting – it is experiential, opting to simply immerse audiences into its reality whether they know it or not, whether they want to or not. There is a majesty in its visuals and a subtlety in its sound design (which has music and, more especially, dialogue drowned out by the sound of heavy breathing for a goodly portion of its duration). Even the splash of mud on the camera’s lens, which would normally break the fourth wall, adds to the gritty realism of the trailer.
By the time the teaser ends, it doesn’t matter at all that the audience has no clue as to who Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is or what the premise of the movie is – all they know is that they are breathless and exhausted and ready for whatever else the filmmakers have to throw at them.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (Teaser #2)
Other trailers are meant to sell themselves, their stories, their characters. The Force Awakens’s teaser is meant to sell audiences on two things, in equal measure: nostalgia and spectacle. It just so happens that Disney managed to nail both, and in the exact right ratio.
It starts with the long opening shot, a pan across a desert junkyard of iconic starships that is accompanied by what is arguably the most famous musical cue in Hollywood history. It continues with Mark Hamill’s familiar baritone and Darth Vader’s melted helmet, is punctuated by the inclusion of new characters, action beats, and locations, and comes to a triumphant close with the money shot of Han Solo and his lifelong co-pilot, Chewbacca, happily declaring they’re back home.
In an interesting – and potentially telling – twist, all the familiar elements are somehow subverted: destroyed, disfigured, changed by the passage of time. It’s mostly the old with just a dash of the new, and it results in a nerdfest that is all but irresistible to the Star Wars faithful.
Steve Jobs is captivating from almost the very first instant, with a peek at the now-ubiquitous mobile operating system that surrounds so much of our daily lives. But it only escalates from there, tackling Jobs’s confrontational personality, his wild successes and personal defeats, his unbridled egotism and genius – all in equal stride.
Along the way, it also manages to hit all the right emotional buttons in the audience, provoking humor, frustration, joy, disgust, and, by the end (one would hope), acceptance. It’s nothing short of a tour-de-force of the human personality, foibles and all, set to a rather catchy soundtrack.
The single cleverest move the sneak peek pulls, however, is provide one single glimpse into how Jobs’s mind works – when admonishing the others around him about how the graphical interface of one of his programs needs to be warm and welcoming, literally saying “hello” to the user – which provides an insight into Steve’s perspective on technology. It’s just enough to hint at a further treasure trove of such psychological trinkets.
Suicide Squad (Comic-Con Teaser)
Suicide Squad takes the “operatic” quality that Warner Bros. so obviously wants to infuse Batman v. Superman with but combines it with something approaching understatedness, making for a surreal type of hybrid big-budget comic book blockbuster trailer – Harley Quinn is sufficiently creepy by simply hanging upside down or chewing bubble gum, while Killer Croc is similarly menacing by just standing around with a restraint over his mouth. There’s a certain strength in letting the images work for themselves.
Which isn’t to say that there’s a lack of gunfire, explosions, car chases, or carnage, in general – the trailer certainly adds those in, but in steady increments, never allowing them to overpower the teaser’s internal reality or the viewer’s consciousness. And, in another surefooted move, the tempo of the piece builds to a crescendo that, much like Creed’s sneak peek, contains the giant, franchise-bending payoff: Batman and Joker are both included, and they both look to set off some serious ripples in the final movie’s atmosphere, if not also its narrative.
The Visit does something that is nearly impossible to accomplish: it takes the pedestrian, everyday elements of daily life and slowly-but-surely renders them into an incredibly creepy occurrence. That it can do so with sweet old grandma and grandpa, the bedrock of many of our existences, is even more impressive.
The trailer also manages to one-up itself by concealing the nature of the film’s horror gimmick. Is the grandmother possessed? Senile? An alien abductee? The unresolved nature of this mystery powers much of its effectiveness and is one of the main reasons it stays with viewers well after its two minutes and 30 seconds are over.
Let’s throw one final achievement on to the pile of accolades: humor. Taking a break from the escalating tempo of its climax by having the creepy grandmother sweetly ask her granddaughter to climb into the oven to clean it is simultaneously funny and mythic, hitting on the same dark themes as Grimm’s fairytales.
It’s also somehow the only way that The Visit’s trailer could end.
Disagree with our consensus? Think we made an oversight? Feel free to share in the comments below.