The best movie trailers can be as good as — or sometimes better than — the movies they’re advertising. That’s not exactly a hot take. The film industry is increasingly focused on selling brands and franchises, so it makes sense that potent marketing would be a high priority. Really, a lot of movies would be better off if they just stayed as trailers (including some on this list). The rise of the internet and social media has opened the door for a new breed of buzzworthy ads designed to encourage screenshots, memes, and trending topics. In that spirit, we’re counting down the best trailers since the year 2000. Grab your popcorn and Big Gulp, because here are the best trailers from each year!
Requiem for a Dream accomplished what millions of guidance counselors and dozens of D.A.R.E. videos never could — show that taking hard drugs really is not cool. The movie is a fever dream meant to evoke the feeling of heroin addiction and accomplishes that beautifully… well, to be more accurate, horribly. The terrifying trailer does the same, but in less than 90 seconds. Rather than telling you much about the story, it mimics the movie’s maniacal modus operandi, but on speed. Watching this trailer makes your brain feel like a fried egg. Lighting-fast cuts. Frightening imagery. Pulsing music that pounds like reverberations against your skull from the inside. Watching it isn’t pleasant, but that’s the point. So watch this movie, kids. Stay in school and don’t do drugs.
Enough has been written about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to fill the 1,200 pages of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s source material. It’s really one of the great cinematic achievements of the 21st century. It can be easy to forget that New Line Cinema had a daunting task in selling these three epic movies to a general audience. The Fellowship of the Rings‘ trailer essentially had to subvert its genre (we’ll see that a lot on this list) while conveying the massive journey ahead in just a couple of minutes. It doesn’t feel like it’s showing you scenes from an old-fashioned high fantasy movie, but an adventure movie with horror elements, hints of romance, and bits of a “men on a mission” war epic thrown in. This was a savvy move, as big budget fantasy has a history of being a risky investment, and would remain so even after Rings‘ success. For every Game of Thrones banking billions, there’s an Eragon or a Golden Compass stinking up the joint. Billions of dollars and dozens of Oscars later, though, we’d say New Line made the right move in convincing audiences to turn out for Fellowship.
“Who am I? Do you really wanna know?” Kids these days can’t comprehend just how hotly anticipated Spider-Man was. In the early 2000s, the Dark Knight’s reign at the box office had recently come crashing to an end with Batman and Robin, with Blade and the first X-Men movie just barely beginning to turn the tide. For superhero fans, it was a pretty dreary time. Whether Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy has aged well is a matter for debate, and the trailer is undeniably dated, but there’s still a rush of nostalgia one gets from watching both. Much like the movie, this trailer is less a fully formed entity and more a bridge between the blockbuster filmmaking of the 1990s and that of the new millennium. Make no mistake: without the Spider-Man hype encapsulated perfectly by this trailer, there’d be no MCU, no Dark Knight trilogy, none of it. So while we may roll our eyes at the one-liners or the tagline (“get ready for the ultimate spin”), this trailer — and the film that followed — changed everything.
“The 4th Film by Quentin Tarantino” is how Kill Bill was billed, introducing the numbering conventions that would accompany most QT trailers going forward. By 2003, the moviegoing public had a pretty solid idea about what “a film by Quentin Tarantino” entailed: lots of blood, a soundtrack of deep cut pop songs, and a geyser of quotable dialogue. It’s all here in this trailer, which hits you with the swiftness of a swinging blade. However, Tarantino had only ever done crime pics. Kill Bill is a hyper-stylized revenge/samurai/kung fu/spaghetti western genre mish-mash. How do you sell that? Just get the simple plot across (Uma Thurman wants revenge) and fill two-and-a-half minutes with cool images and snappy one-liners, which Kill Bill provided plenty of. Oh, having Tomoyasu Hotei’s now iconic “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” blaring certainly helped too.
Much like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson had established his aesthetic with audiences by the early 2000s — all-star casts, quirky camera angles, colorful scenery, an indie-pop sensibility, and a general sense of detached irony. Like Kill Bill, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was also something of a departure for the film’s director, as well as a sign of the more elaborate genres and bigger budgets he’d get to play with now that he’d been established. The best thing you can say about the Steve Zissou trailer is that it feels like the movie. A lot of great trailers are misleading (more on that later), but this is an example of a trailer that is a nicely distilled microcosm of the movie it’s selling.
What if you had a summer blockbuster that starred one of the world’s biggest A-Listers (Tom Cruise), and was directed by the world’s most famous director (Steven Spielberg), but the trailer didn’t include any footage from the film itself, and none with Cruise? Ballsy, right? Well, you’d have this first teaser trailer for 2005’s War of the Worlds. While narrator-driven trailers were the rage in the 1980s and ’90s (think of the “In a world…” trope), they’ve been mostly sidelined ever since. That’s too bad, because this teaser shows just how effective they can be. Basically, it’s just a deep-voiced, cryptic-sounding narrator talking about mankind’s naive arrogance over b-roll of various cityscapes until unidentified explosions conquer the screen. Cut to black. Cruise. Spielberg. War of the Worlds. Nice. Given Cruise’s couch-hopping antics at the time, maybe it would’ve done better if he wasn’t featured in any promotion.
Most trailers begin with the studio’s logo. It gives you a comforting sense of familiarity. The Departed‘s trailer skips the formalities. It starts with a silhouette of Jack Nicholson smoking a cigarette while the foreboding, apocalyptic strings of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” play in the background. And then, bam — the trailer dives right into Martin Scorsese’s wham-bang hard cuts, ruthless violence, and spot-on, hard-as-nails soundtrack. Somehow this trailer combines the aforementioned “Gimme Shelter” with Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up to Boston” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” and yet it all feels tonally consistent. However you feel about The Departed being Scorsese’s lone Best Picture winner, you can’t deny this trailer is about as cool as it gets.
With its dark imagery and ominous, string-laden score, the trailer for There Will Be Blood feels like a glimpse at a horror film. While this may sound like the trailer is doing the same genre-subverting as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (which we will see again), it’s not. This trailer was meant to look, feel, and sound like a horror film because the movie does too. This Paul Thomas Anderson epic is a character study heavy on atmosphere, so the trailer doesn’t try to convey the plot — it simply thrusts us into the troubling world of Daniel Plainview. This is the perfect example of a trailer that communicates a film’s aesthetic, while at the same time giving you only a hint of what’s in store.
This trailer certainly put a smile on our faces. Hoo boy, it’s good. When Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, the moviegoing world was skeptical. Sure he was a good actor, but his screen persona was cool and laconic, an Australian James Dean. It was hard to imagine how Christopher Nolan intended to use that sort of energy to bring pop culture’s most outrageous villain to life. But within a few seconds of hearing the voice and maniacal laughter, you knew this wasn’t Heath Ledger. This was the Joker. As much as this first trailer is about the Joker, though, it still thrusts us into the action-packed spectacle of The Dark Knight. Considering Batman Begins had been only a mild success and The Dark Knight went on to shatter records, it’s no exaggeration to say that when it came to building hype, this trailer was one of the most successful of all time.
This is a toughie. If you want to claim that Where the Wild Things Are was the best 2009 trailer, you’ll get no argument from us. It’s masterful. But we’re giving the trailer for Taken the edge for a few reasons. It transformed Liam Neeson’s screen persona. It was a cultural moment in its own right (“I have a certain set of skills”). And finally, it makes chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. The movie itself is honestly a so-so action pic with a straight-to-DVD storyline. This trailer is a better thriller than the movie itself. It helped Taken open with $25 million, on its way to a $145 million domestic gross.
“Bwwwwoooonnnngggg!” Just like that, a single sound became a pop culture milestone in itself. Inception had a lot going for it, being Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight. It starred Leonardo DiCaprio and a stacked cast. Despite this pedigree, its success was in no way guaranteed. Far from it. Inception is original sci-fi story, arguably the riskiest genre. How exactly do you sell it in two minutes? “BWONG!” Inception’s trailer gives a taste of the storyline, but mostly relies on compelling images and sound, as well as your trust in Nolan and DiCaprio. You don’t have to understand what it’s about in order to be excited by it. In fact, not knowing is part of the fun.
You could certainly argue that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was 2011’s best trailer. But while Dragon Tattoo was based on a popular book series with Daniel Craig in the lead role, Super 8 was… what exactly? Much like Inception, the not knowing was the fun. It felt like Cloverfield (our runner-up for best 2008 trailer). Like that film, it involved J.J. Abrams (this time as director), who had built a reputation as a cinematic magician, with Steven Spielberg on-board as a very hands-on producer. The title probably meant nothing to 90% of filmgoers, but to movie nerds it was provocative, suggesting a meeting between sci-fi mystery and the gritty feel of old-school “Super 8” cameras. The film’s recreation of the suburban Spielbergian 1980s universe has already pretty much faded from the public consciousness, but the trailer provided hope. That same aesthetic would later be replicated with much greater success by Stranger Things.
The trailer for Prometheus got our hopes up. Too high, in fact. While the film was pretty mediocre, in fairness it could not possibly live up to the standards its own trailer had set. The trailer looked and felt like the film to which it was a prequel, Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien, but at the same time promised a philosophical heft unseen in big budget, blockbuster sci-fi since 2001: A Space Odyssey. The thing is, nobody was really asking for a prequel to Alien, yet this trailer made you want one. Much like Inception, this trailer also brilliantly used sound, though instead of one loud “BWONG!” it was a wailing alarm (originally heard in the first Alien trailer) that sounded like a scream. But as we know, in space nobody can hear you scream… or hear you complain about how disappointing this movie was.
If they gave the Academy Award for Best Picture to trailers, Man of Steel would have won. Can you imagine if the actual film was even half this good? Or if the DCEU that followed could have maintained that momentum? That would have provided a real alternative to the MCU. This trailer carries the weight and aura of Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, and countless other prestige pictures, but applies it to arguably America’s most iconic character. What’s not to love? It’s exciting. It’s romantic. It’s epic. The use of Lisa Gerrard’s “Elegy” is brilliant, as is the use of “Storm” from Elizabeth: The Golden Age. The Man of Steel trailer reinvents and reimagines a beloved character, while at the same time being respectful, reverent and relevant. That the film didn’t recreate this feeling isn’t too surprising. But the fact that it didn’t even come close is super disappointing.
Like Superman, Godzilla is one of the world’s most famous characters. When Warner Bros. and Legendary prepared to unleash their new take on the King of the Monsters, though, they faced a marketing challenge. After all, the last American Godzilla movie had been the largely reviled 1998 effort. Their solution was brilliant. Instead of marketing Godzilla as a monster romp, it was positioned as a horror and disaster pic. The trailer is highlighted by the H.A.L.O. jump (a scene that would have been iconic in a better film), accompanied by György Ligeti’s “Requiem,” famously used by Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Glimpses of terror and destruction follow, ending with a silhouette of Godzilla and his ear-splitting, instantly recognizable roar. Chills.
The marketing would continue this trend, focusing on Bryan Cranston’s performance and the human effects of monster destruction. This turned out to be misleading. Much like Man of Steel, if the movie were more like the trailer, this franchise would be in much better shape.
Really, you could put any trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on this list. They were all awe-inspiring. We chose trailer #3 because, well, watch it and you’ll understand why. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this trailer. But it’s impossible to watch it without getting goosebumps. For one, there’s Harrison Ford returning as Han Solo for the first time in more than 30 years, a sight we (and he) thought we’d never see; John Williams’ Force Theme trumpeting in the background; tie-fighters, X-wings and the Millennium Falcon whooshing by; and finally the calm, classy ending that ends this action-packed trailer on a soft, almost soothing note. The marketing for this film had one job: to show the world that Star Wars was back. This trailer delivered in spades.
So here’s a trailer completely different from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While that trailer had to convince audiences that their beloved franchise was back and in good hands, La La Land‘s trailer had to make you fall in love with two characters you’ve never met. Sure, it helps when you have the beautiful mugs of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, with the low-key, jazzy, romantic “City of Stars” the background. But that’s what makes this trailer so effective. It knew it had something special and was confident enough to show it off. The result is an enchanting visual poem of sorts. It doesn’t really tell you what the film is about, but tells you exactly how it feels, and more importantly how you’ll feel watching it.
The Warner Bros. trailer team is really great, yeah? That said, why WB thought an expensive sequel to a 35-year old cult classic/box office bomb would lead to box office glory is beyond us. But after seeing the first trailer for Blade Runner 2049, we could kinda see a glimmer of hope. The trailer perfectly evokes the mood of the 1982 original, starting with Harrison Ford’s voiceover from that film, but over striking new visuals. What follows is Ryan Gosling traversing a desert wasteland, spoiling the movie’s biggest scene, but creating a cool trailer moment. Much like Star Wars’ marketing, this trailer cleverly waits until the end to introduce Harrison Ford reprising his role as another one of his most famous characters. Alas, Rick Deckard doesn’t have the same pull on audiences as Han Solo, and Ryan Gosling’s star power wasn’t enough to make up the difference.
Like a lot of others on this list, there’s nothing groundbreaking about the trailer for Mission Impossible: Fallout. It just does its own thing really freaking well. The actual movie is pretty darn good too, even if you feel like you’ve seen it before. But all of the big moments in the movie are even better in this trailer. Henry Cavil’s cold-cock punches from his cannon-like arms hit even harder, the car crashes are even more violent, and the weapons firing are even more brutal and intense. As solid as the final film was, the trailer for Mission Impossible: Fallout was probably the best action movie of the year. 2018 was a pretty great year for trailers actually, with honorable mentions going to the bonkers trailers for indie horror flicks Mandy and Suspiria. Really, if you want to go with either of those instead, you’ll get no arguments from us.
“Whatever it takes.” Avenger’s Endgame was over a decade and more than 20 films in the making. So it’s only appropriate the trailer starts off with footage from previous MCU films, reminding us why we fell in love with these characters in the first place. It then thrusts us immediately into the action, giving us a glimpse of what happens and why, without ever really answering how. That’s pretty impressive, considering we live in a spoilerific culture that ruins everything. Sure, lots of people online figured out how the Avengers would save the day, but you wouldn’t know how from this trailer. It does exactly what it needs to do — get you so amped that you have to be one of the first people in the world to see the resolution to this story.