Movie trailers are a special form of advertising.
They are typically 90 second to 2.5 minute affairs that aim to build awareness and hype for upcoming films. And they are increasingly difficult to do well.
With 2016 now solidly behind us, it’s time to evaluate the very best movie trailers of the year.
Here are my picks:
Best Trailers of 2016
Wonder Woman (Teaser)
I already wrote a full blog post about why this trailer works.
Suffice it to say, this trailer surprised audiences in a good way at last summer’s San Diego Comic Con.
Given the lukewarm to negative reception to DC comics films Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, getting folks excited about the first ever solo Wonder Woman film was no mean feat.
But from the decision to set the story during World War 1, to the unexpected bits of humor, this trailer did exactly what a movie trailer should – build not just brand awareness but genuine excitement.
Hmm…a horror movie about a potential serial killer / potential pedophile who kidnaps girls and holds them in a dungeon.
Can you say “I’ll pass?”
Wait…the antagonist has multiple personalities? 23 of them?
And is played by James McAvoy?
And it’s written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan?
I’m not saying the movie will do well at the box office, or even that I’ll see it, but the trailer was an incredible piece of marketing, and the prospect of seeing McAvoy attempt so many different roles is intriguing.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Teaser)
Another one that took me by surprise.
This could have been simply a cash grab – a way to extend the Harry Potter millions well beyond its expiration date, let alone pop cultural apex.
But the trailer demonstrated exactly how an “extended Harry Potter universe” film could look, and it looks like a wonderful place to visit.
The A-list cast (including Eddie Redmayne Colin Farrell) didn’t hurt either.
This trailer did its job – I went to see the film, which I previously had no interest in. And I had a wonderful time – would recommend it to all as escapist family fun.
The Nice Guys
It doesn’t take much to sell me on a Shane Black film. The guy’s a master. He specializes in smart action-comedy buddy flicks, having written such classics as Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight and the vastly underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Enter The Nice Guys – a neo noir private detective thriller set in 1970s LA.
The leads are Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
And it looks far funnier than its premise alone would dictate.
The Red Band (i.e., R-rated) trailer is even better, but the one above is more family-friendly.
Captain America: Civil War
Disney didn’t have to do much to advertise the next chapter in its blockbuster Avengers superhero franchise.
Even so, this one surprised to the upside, with the premise (the heroes we’ve grown to love over 7+ films fighting each other) and the surprise inclusion of Spider-Man.
Rogue One (Final)
Likewise, Star Wars is a big enough franchise that the battle for positive audience attention isn’t a heavy lift.
Still, it’s hard to overstate how much of an unknown Rogue One was just six months ago.
Here is a one-off story featuring totally unknown characters with a purportedly far darker tone than we’d seen Star Wars take before.
And then there were the re-shoots, rumored to have drastically lightened up the picture and make it far more family friendly.
After several previous attempts, this final trailer managed to build audience anticipation to a fever pitch, and the film ultimately delivered on its promise, grossing more than $500 million domestic so far.
La La Land Teaser (Audition)
I love the trailer because it’s dialogue free.
Rather, we’re treated to images of the young couple falling in love to the strains of Emma Stone singing her character’s touching theme song.
It was a brave choice that trusts the audience to be intrigued enough by the story without broader plot details.
And in this era of so many trailers that reveal the whole plot and more, that is a welcome and refreshing change.
Unlike the six franchise films and/or sequels on this list, Arrival was an unknown quantity charged with impressing an audience with no pre-existing knowledge of its plot or characters.
And it does so brilliantly, with a voice-over that introduces Amy Adams as our primary protagonist, and shows just enough special effects (with hints of violence) without fully revealing how the aliens look, let alone what they want or ultimately do to mankind.
From a marketing perspective, the trailer does exactly what it should – teases us into wanting more.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Teaser)
This trailer is unique on this list because it’s the one that is specifically not great and doesn’t stand on its own.
Rather, Disney relies entirely on audience familiarity with the first film and the characters (which, frankly, is a fair assumption, given its enormous success).
It’s the kind of minimalist trailer one can only produce if you’ve already built enormous goodwill (see also, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).
But, it’s enough.
By reintroducing the five main characters, juxtaposing brief sci-fi action shots with a pair of humorous conversations, the fan base is reminded of the first film and builds appropriate anticipation for this one.
Kong – Skull Island
Confession – I’m a movie buff who has seen none of the three King Kong movies thus far.
Not the 1933 classic, not the 1976 version with Jessica Lange, and not the 2005 version by Peter Jackson.
So my expectations were low for the forthcoming Skull Island.
And then this trailer hit, with a tone far closer to Predator or Apocalypse Now than what we would expect from King Kong.
It may not turn out to be a great movie, but the marketing team did its job.
There you have it — the 10 best movie trailers of 2016.
Are there any I missed that made your cut? Let me know below!