Movie trailers are more than just advertisements. These extended previews have become an art form unto themselves, playing out like short films on screens both big and small. The arrival of a new one is a watercooler event, and it can make or break an entire movie's release.
This summer's crop of movies has a little of everything, from sequels to visionary originals, superheroes to video game fantasies. But what if we divorced their trailers from those movies? Yeah, okay, that's not really possible. But if you take a big step back and watch the trailers for the most anticipated movies of Summer 2016 as if they're telling an entire story in just two minutes, what does that look like? Which ones rise to the top?
Here are the The 12 Best Summer Movie Trailers Of 2016.
12 Central Intelligence
Kevin Hart is always going to be funny. This is a given, so it's not a revelation that he's hilarious in the trailer for Central Intelligence. Likewise, you typically know what you're going to get from Dwayne Johnson, which is some kind of riff on the big, muscle-y tough guy who may or may not (but definitely will) have a soft side.
But you have to love Johnson for the fact that he always commits and just goes for it, even when the material is as silly as this. The trailer quickly introduces him in a startling scene that somehow transforms him (is it CGI? makeup? some unholy union?) into an overweight teenager. A brief-but-important act of kindness by Calvin, aka Hart, earns Bob's friendship, leading to their reunion in the present day. And just like that, Bob now looks like Dwayne Johnson, and he's an adrenaline-loving agent for the CIA who "doesn't like bullies."
It's an odd couple pairing that we've seen a thousand times before, but the trailer works because Hart and Johnson appear to have genuine on-screen chemistry. And as great as Hart is at doing what he always does, the standout is Johnson, who turns in some hysterically subtle line deliveries while reveling in his dangerous lifestyle with a kind of glee that most viewers haven't seen from him before.
Legendary Pictures might just have a winner on its hands with Warcraft, which could be the first movie based on a video game that's actually worth watching. With a director of Duncan Jones' pedigree at the helm of such an ambitious fantasy, there's potential for something great.
Not that Legendary's marketing is doing the movie a lot of favors. The second trailer had some strong footage, but the over-the-top rock music soundtrack felt like an apology for the fact that the movie's based on a video game. The first trailer struck a better chord, emphasizing the Lord of the Rings-type fantasy nature of this unique world and its inhabitants. In just two minutes, everything we needed to know about this complex world and its various races and conflicts was laid out, along with a quick introduction of the major characters.
Jones has proven his talent more than once, but it's not entirely clear how much creative freedom he was afforded on Warcraft. Regardless of how the movie turns out, it's hard not to be dazzled by the gorgeous world-building on display — encapsulated by those gigantic, angry, motion-capture Orcs. Yowza, do those guys look amazing.
10 Swiss Army Man
By far the most original film on this list, Swiss Army Man couldn't help but create the most original trailer, too. The first feature-length film from the two-man team of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the movie stars Paul Dano as a man stranded on a desert island and Daniel Radcliffe as a corpse that washes up on the shore. Dano's just about to give up hope when Radcliffe's body suddenly appears and seemingly has a little life left in it after all. Not only that, but the body is able to perform all sorts of useful but improbable functions (like jet ski). Hence the movie's title.
Is Dano going crazy? Is he imagining the whole thing? Or does his friendship somehow slowly bring Radcliffe back to life and enable the two of them to escape back to civilization? Swiss Army Man seems like the kind of quirky flick that may never offer a definitive explanation, and after watching this trailer, you may hope that that's the case.
There's something magical about this trailer that casts a spell over the viewer. Who cares how it works? It's a special kind of vision that Hollywood provides all too rarely these days.
9 Finding Dory
The long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo looks like a big hug from Pixar, filled with its usual heart and comedy. The fact that it doesn't add anything new to that well-tested formula keeps it from rising higher on this list. But ultimately, who can resist a return to the enchanting land under the sea inhabited by Nemo, Marlin, and the lovable, forgetful Dory? Not to mention Crush the turtle, Mr. Ray the teacher, and all the newcomers, voiced by the likes of Ed O'Neill, Idris Elba, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Bill Hader, and many more.
It's unclear how much time has passed in the Finding world since Nemo's big adventure, but it's certainly not the thirteen years that have passed since the original movie was in theaters. The search for Dory's family seems like the next logical step in this journey, and Ellen DeGeneres stole the first movie altogether.
Add it all up and you've got a formula for raking in cash by the truckload. Fortunately, Pixar knows how to make a great movie instead of a commercial one, and based on this trailer, we have every confidence that it's going to be worth our valuable time.
8 The Founder
There's nothing like a good biopic to get award voters' blood pumping, and Michael Keaton is feeling his Oscar-worthiness in this quick look at the life of McDonalds founder Ray Kroc. His is a remarkable story, really, but this trailer manages to tell a fairly complete version of it in just two minutes and 27 seconds.
Director John Lee Hancock knows a thing or two about making biopics, having directed The Rookie, The Blind Side, and most recently, Saving Mr. Banks. That nostalgic look back at a slice of Walt Disney is probably closest in tone to what we see in this trailer, but Kroc is no Disney. Here, he's a man who basically hijacked the restaurant business of a pair of brothers, transforming it into a global franchise. Most of McDonald's' most inventive ideas — "orders up in 30 seconds," the golden arches, etc. — came from the McDonalds brothers, not Mr. Kroc.
The trailer projects a sardonic tone, insisting that there's wry humor in Kroc's story, and for the most part it's true. But the real joy is in seeing Keaton, a man at a point in life where he's imminently comfortable with his own talents and abilities, chewing up every single frame he's in. It's not easy for an actor to make us like a character with despicable qualities, but at least in this trailer, it's hard not to fall for Keaton's Kroc.
7 X-Men: Apocalypse ("Don't Panic")
This preview to the crescendo of the First Class saga is fast-paced, it's filled with eye candy, and yet it's also somehow deeply emotional. A ton of fresh faces are introduced, including Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Psylocke, and Archangel, along with the return of plenty of favorites like Magneto, Xavier, Mystique, Beast, and Quicksilver.
Set to a moody remake of Coldplay's "Don't Panic," this second trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse is ultimately all about the visuals. It presents us with one eye-popping, mind-blowing moment after another, never letting up. That breathtaking sight of Psylocke cutting a car in half with her psychic blade. Mystique taking charge of Xavier's students. A giant Apocalypse flinging Xavier against the school's walls. Cyclops running up to what looks like the smoldering ruins of the Xavier School. Dozens of nuclear missiles launching. A quick glimpse of Stryker. Xavier crawling through air ducts, bleeding. Quicksilver signing on with the team.
And then there's all the mutant fighting. Psylocke vs. Beast. Storm vs. Cyclops. And you know you want to see Sophie Turner go full-on badass as Jean Grey after all her character's gone through on Game of Thrones. In Bryan Singer we trust, and this self-assured trailer shows why.
6 Independence Day: Resurgence (Trailer #1)
All it took was one replay of Bill Pullman's rousing speech from the original movie, and we were right back in that theater twenty years ago, experiencing the spectacle of one of the most perfect "summer popcorn" movies of all time. Was Independence Day impossible to believe in? Sure. Did it border on cheesy? Yeah. But it was Independence Day! It had a great cast, a fascinating premise, and it delivered spectacle on a scale we hadn't seen in ages.
What's most enticing about Resurgence isn't that the aliens are back, twenty years later. It's that twenty years later, the Earth in these movies is nothing like the world we live in. There's now an alternate history involving nations of the world working in harmony, science adopting alien technologies to advance our own, and an entire generation that's been raised on stories of what happened in that fateful 1996 attack.
As sequels go, a good trailer should remind you of everything you loved about the original, while showing how the stakes have been raised for the second go — and that's precisely what this one does. Who cares if it's a movie that's fifteen years late? Nobody destroys the world like Roland Emmerich, and nobody makes it feel real like Pullman and Jeff Goldblum. We're there.
What looks like a simple condominium at first soon reveals itself to be a post-apocalyptic, self-contained city, with a class war waging between the stereotypical high-classes and lower bowels. But there's nothing typical about this trailer, which looks like it was filmed and edited in the 1980s — and that's intentional.
Tom Hiddleston leads the way with a detached calm, in a role that should continue his rise as one of the most interesting and diverse actors working today. He's joined by a fascinating British cast that includes the likes of Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, and more. This stylishly modern trailer for a movie based on the classic novel by J.G. Ballard strikes an analogue tone, despite its currently-relevant subject matter.
What really grabs you is its unique point of view, which shows off a look, feel, and tone that's nothing like your average trip to the cinema. Oozing charisma, sex, and danger, you'll be hard-pressed to find a trailer this summer with more confidence in its presentation.
4 Jason Bourne
Something special happens when Matt Damon is teamed with director Paul Greengrass, something you only get in a Jason Bourne movie. It's one of those "lightning in a bottle" collaborations that can't be recreated anywhere else, by anyone else. Any fears we had that the two might be a little rusty were swept away instantly by this sleek, thrilling trailer.
Damon's amnesiac wetwork operative Jason Bourne may be showing more silver in his hair these days, but he looks more lethal than ever. Greengrass hasn't missed a step either, giving us crisp visuals that retain his kinetic, stylized filmmaking. Bringing the action to new locations — including the Las Vegas Strip, of all places, which serves as an awesome backdrop for one of the films' crunchy, jarring car chases — adds some new geographical twists, and Tommy Lee Jones looks like a fun addition. He's doing his fugitive-hunting officer-of-the-law thing, and yeah it's getting a little worn, but it's not quite worn out.
Bourne's story has always been about his attempts to rediscover the truth behind his past, and he seemingly discovered it all in the last film, The Bourne Ultimatum. This trailer's promise that he volunteered for brainwashing/reprogramming training "based on a lie" could change everything. And that possibility is more enticing than all the fights and car chases money could buy.
3 Captain America: Civil War (Spider-Man reveal)
Yeah, we're excited to see what happens when Steve Rogers and Tony Stark go at it. Sure, it's super awesome that almost every Avenger shows up, and new heroes are added to the roster as well. Yes, the self-referential callbacks to massive battles of the past are super cool. And absolutely, we can't wait to see Joe and Anthony Russo's sequel to The Winter Soldier and lead-up to Avengers: Infinity War.
All of that is going to be great. But come on. There's exactly one reason why nobody could stop talking about this trailer, and his name is Spider-Man. Actor Tom Holland makes his buzzy debut as the new Spidey in a short clip tagged onto the end, and from scrutinizing his new costume to sorting out his place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans found themselves playing those last few seconds of the trailer over and over again.
If there's one thing Marvel's proven repeatedly, it's the company's virtuoso capacity for marketing its movies effectively. The Civil War trailer drives that point home with the "Underoos!" moment, showing that not only does Marvel make good movies, it completely gets its characters and what we love about them.
2 The Nice Guys
After his triumphant turn on Iron Man 3, writer/director Shane Black had the Hollywood equivalent of a blank check. What would he do next? How would he follow up such a hugely successful film? His answer arrived in the form of this first trailer for The Nice Guys. Anybody could make a "buddy cop" action/comedy with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Those two are such pros, you could phone the whole thing in and it'd still be a hit. But that didn't interest Black, a filmmaker known for giving his movies a strong personality all their own.
Gosling is the pornstached private investigator who wants to be a "tough guy," but is really a coward who can't handle the sight of blood. Crowe is the matter-of-fact hired muscle who's seen it all and has no patience for anybody's crap. Together, they're in the middle of a mob-fueled crime spree in the late 1970s. But Black keeps the focus on his characters in this euphoric two-and-one-half-minutes of dark comedy, culminating in a moment that winks heavily at Hunter S. Thompson.
We have no idea how indicative it is of the movie, but this witty trailer had us rolling in the aisles.
1 Suicide Squad ("Bohemian Rhapsody")
How better to communicate the completely gonzo nature of a wild movie about forcing bad guys to do good...than by utilizing the ultimate gonzo song of our time? Queen's classic rock opera creates the perfect foundation for a trailer that has it all: explosions, guns, banter, wild visual effects, loads of laughs, Margot Robbie as bat**** crazy Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Will Smith, and an appearance by the divine Viola Davis that we don't deserve.
What makes the trailer work is that it's fully aware of just how wacky Suicide Squad's premise is, and it knows how to take itself just the right amount of seriously (and not). It doesn't hurt that this is the first DC Cinematic Universe flick to ditch Zack Snyder's dreary solemnity in favor of a real sense of fun.
The Suicide Squad trailer perfectly conveys the promise of this cast and this story, and it gets absolutely everything right. If the movie is half as good as this preview, then writer/director David Ayer will have utterly nailed it.
What was your favorite trailer for the summer movie season? Can Suicide Squad live up to the hype? Sound off in the comments section.