The 15 Best Movie Trailers Of 2021

To talk about the best trailer of 2021, we should first discuss an ad that often followed them.

"Heartbreak feels good in a place like this" — that's one of many dazzling non-sequiturs Nicole Kidman offered in an AMC spot this year, one which found the cinema legend in a private screening room enjoying "Creed," "La La Land," and countless other movies. Questionable movie night programming and general strangeness aside, the ad is almost uncomfortably sincere. It suggests, at its best, that the act of moviegoing is genuinely necessary (even for Nicole Kidman, who might actually have it all). There's a kind of catharsis only the communal viewing of dazzling images on a silver screen can provide, which means that this year's many trailers were more than mere advertisements. At their best, they were an artful and healing promise that movies were back or, what's more, that the theatrical experience was back, as well. They were a thrilling balm for the soul, replete with money shots and misdirections. 

Here, then, are the 15 best trailers of 2021, ranked. 

15. Jackass Forever

I hadn't pegged the trailer for "Jackass Forever" to be one of 2021's most moving. I also didn't expect to ever utter the words "Omicron variant" sixteen dozen times, or for "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" to be a rom-com. That's prognostication for you.

In truth, no one at Paramount Pictures could've imagined a world in which the sight of old friends gathering for one last batch of deeply sophomoric and dangerous stunts would prove cathartic when they green-lit a ninth (ninth!) "Jackass" movie. But when Johnny Knoxville throws his arm around Steve-O near the trailer's midpoint, or when the entire gang's jaw drops at the sight of Aaron TK, chained to a chair and covered in salmon and honey, being approached by a barely-restrained brown bear, it's hard to resist tearing up. Art is art, no matter how silly or seemingly trite. The "Jackass" gang have survived each other, their own stunts, and a pandemic to give the world just a little more. 

Bless them and this trailer for that.

14. Shang-Chi (Official Teaser)

17 years into their historic and pop-culture shifting run, Marvel has character-establishing teasers down cold. They err on the side of stone-faced. More often than not, they employ bombastic, trendy music, to boot. And without fail, they both show and tell us that the latest addition to the MCU is the most awe-inspiring yet. It's formulaic enough to inspire eye-rolls, but here's the thing about the "Shang Chi" teaser: It absolutely works.

The "Shang-Chi" teaser plays like gangbusters. A low-key masterclass in elegant structure, it opens with Shang at his childhood training post and uses his fitful punches as an excuse to jump back in time, offering glimpses of Tony Leung's magnetic performance and into the film's treatise on trauma. By the time it's built to a dizzyingly re-cut series of clips from the movie's "bus fight" sequence, there's little question that Daniel Dae Cresson's movie is trying to level up the recipe that's made Marvel movies and their advertising so effective for almost two decades. 

It runs rings around almost everything else the company sold audiences on this year. 

13. Everything, Everywhere All At Once

To paraphrase SNL's Stefon: In 2021, cinema's hottest trope is ... multiverse. 

It's a trope that literally has everything, from Spider-Men who cross dimensions (and studios) to find redemption to Michael Keaton coming back as Batman. And as the trailer for Daniels' "Everything, Everywhere All At Once" rapidly proved, even A24 is getting in on the multiverse game next year.

In many ways, the genre-busting "Everything, Everywhere..." seems like an inflection point for the A24 aesthetic, melting some of their more recognizable hallmarks into one (possibly overstuffed) movie. But the trailer itself is almost pure euphoria, careening from Short Round explaining quantum chaos to multiple items shockingly dressed with googly eyes. If you had no idea what Daniels or Michelle Yeoh were about before watching it, you'd run to IMDB to find out after. What's more, "Everything, Everywhere..." passes a referendum on Yeoh as a movie star, reminding the world at large that there's almost nothing she cannot do, from martial arts to slapstick to naturalistic drama. 

Ultimately, A multiversal movie should offer the ecstasy of possibility regardless of how it's actually celebrated. For the two-plus minutes it's in your system, the "Everything, Everywhere..." trailer does just that. No wonder it's so hot right now. 

12. Mortal Kombat

There were multiple points over the course of 2021 where Film Twitter would, effectively, come together as one to tweet-scream a single word in unison. One of these was "DUNNNNNNNE." Another was "MALIGNANT." My favorite of the bunch, however, was easily a two-word phrase that feels utterly inconsequential in retrospect: "Blood dagger."

For a brief, shining two months and change, the "Mortal Kombat" trailer gave legions of Mortal Kombat fans and action movie aficionadoes the precious commodity of hope. It made us believe that director Simon McQuaid had staged impeccable action scenes. It looked genuinely R-rated (this much was accurate). And it sold video-game cinema skeptics on the notion that if you present the right characters alongside fantastic fight beats, such as a blood dagger, that little else actually matters. 

And, ultimately, that's still worth celebrating. Movies are a reason to come together, even when quality wanes. "Mortal Kombat" may fade from memory, but — unlike its characters — the joy of tweet-screaming "blood dagger" will never die. 

11. Wrath of Man

The "Wrath of Man" trailer is up against a particular challenge: How do you convince an audience that Guy Ritchie, who's known for quippy crime comedies, has directed a quippy crime comedy that's electrically nihilistic? The answer is the "Wrath of Man" trailer. 

Fiendishly rhythmic and cut to the sounds of loading guns and falling bullets, the clip overflows with juicy plot twists, claustrophobic camera work, and a winking Johnny Cash needle drop for two-plus minutes. It's all Guy Ritchie, but not as we know him. 

There's also the matter of the cast, never named by the trailer but readily recognizable by anyone with eyes (Post Malone, Josh Hartnett, and Andy Garcia are among the near-household names here.) It all adds up to suggest a project that's more than the sum of its logline, and one that's just fun enough to make its descent into multiple hearts of darkness worth the journey. 

10. TItane

How do you sell an unsellable movie? By leaning into, rather than away from, the strangeness. 

That's the singular genius of the "Titane" trailer, which front-loads its "Official Selection — Festival De Cannes" stamp of approval before diving headlong into erotic dances atop automobiles, horror show editing, and strongly hinted-at violence. Then, at the trailer's midpoint, a montage of gentle intimacy set to The Zombies' "She's Not There."

This sounds insane. Reading it back, I'm forced to ask myself if the "Titane" trailer is a description I made up just to get clicks. But it's very real, and a true indicator for just how many boundaries director Julia Ducouranu actually smashes with her gentle yet savage horror hybrid. The entire film is in this trailer. It has all the sexuality, all the dancing, all the dripping oil that foreshadows a flood of future sludge. And none of it, at any point, feels like too much. "Titane" is one of the year's most inclusive and lovely movies (despite its many mutilations and divisive decisions), and this trailer knows it and shows it. That makes it a minor miracle. 

9. West Side Story (Official Trailer)

In the parlance of the internet, I'm old enough to remember when some people thought it was a bad idea for Steven Spielberg to remake "West Side Story." And while its paltry box-office returns might convince the project's detractors that they were correct, the film's official trailer — which was released in September — is proof that we should hand Spielberg a blank check to make whatever he wants. 

The clip doesn't just sell the director's vision, but old-school moviemaking itself, stacking gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot of graceful choreography and simmering tension against Leonard Bernstein's world-beating score, burying the film's least effective elements (looking at you, Ansel Elgort) in favor of Rachel Zegler's star-making performance, to say nothing of the cinematography that is all but guaranteed to earn Janusz Kamiński an Oscar nomination. 

If anything, the film's trailer now serves as a eulogy for a kind of film we may not see for some time. By and large, movie musicals failed to catch on with audiences in 2021, be they animated or live-action, and if the trailer for Spielberg's "West Side Story" was any indication, the fault lay not in these films stars but ourselves. 

8. Spider Man: No Way Home (Official Trailer)

The trailers for "Spider-Man: No Way Home" are objectively good. Of that, there's zero question. One could argue they do an above-average job of mounting interest in a film whose audience and likelihood of succeeding at the box office were baked in from the jump. A film like "Spider-Man: No Way Home" almost doesn't need a trailer, not in the conventional sense. 

But here's the thing: There's nothing conventional about fandom in 2021. A trailer is a blueprint to be dissected and held under black light, and in the case of a film whose continuity revelations are part and parcel with its appeal, it also has to work as an act of explicit yet subtle misdirection. The internet was quick to notice a shot in the official trailer for "No Way Home" where one Spider-Man was jumping towards three villains and cry "Tobey and Andrew!" They barely noticed the voice-over of Tom Holland whispering "This is all my fault. I can't save everyone." 

That's why the "Spider-Man: No Way Home" trailer is brilliant. It sells the movie its fans were imagining while placing the devastating and excellent one they eventually got right under their noses. That's objectively excellent. 

7. Zola (Red Band Trailer)

The idea that Twitter is manifesting great art is only strange to those who can't imagine it. For years, a social platform has existed which makes "main characters" of profiles or news events on a daily basis; it's been a factory for stories since its inception. So the fact that "Zola" (which is arguably the first great Twitter movie) exists should come as no surprise. Yet a movie directly culled from a viral Twitter thread still seemed hard for many to conceive of. 

The trailer for "Zola" helped. Beyond that, it scorched cinematic Earth. Embracing its social media origins with multiple references to Twitter and Facebook and scoring itself to the sounds of tweet notifications and Mykki Blanco's sinister hip-hop, the "Zola" trailer announced the arrival of director Janicza Bravo in a big way. 

When we tweet or post on Instagram, the noise of the internet that follows is really all in our heads. As the trailer for "Zola" proved, as art it becomes a disorienting highlight reel of sight, sound, and furiously realized characters. More Twitter movies, please. 

6. The Batman (Official Trailer)

The official trailer for "The Batman" could have been a victory lap. The successor to what was arguably the best trailer of 2020, Matt Reeves' reimagining of the Dark Knight's early days was already one of 2022's most anticipated movies. Releasing any further footage from it is something of a calculated gamble. 

The solution Warner Brothers arrived at? Cut a clip that bridges the teaser's explicitly grungy aesthetics with a new, profoundly excellent gothic streak. Retconning the teaser's Nirvana needle drop for a minute and change, the "Batman" trailer hints at grave plot developments before gear-shifting into Michael Giacchino's rain-soaked score, honing in on a near-operatic car chase involving Robert Pattinson's Batman and Colin Farrell's Penguin. If anyone doubted we needed another Batman movie, this sequence — with its electrifying performances and gorgeous cinematography — is the argument that we deserve as many as can be, just as long as they're singular and special. 

Based on this trailer, "The Batman" looks very singular and special, indeed.

5. Godzilla Vs. Kong

There are moments that rob us of our critical faculties. We don't get to choose these moments. They choose us. For some, it's the opening crawl of "Star Wars." For others, it's Jim Carrey in "The Mask," mugging to the point where a man screaming "Smmmmmmokin'" becomes truth to one's imagination. Sometimes art transcends good or bad. And so it is at the 1:17 mark of the "Godzilla Vs. Kong" trailer, when noted thespian Rebecca Hall deadpans the words "It's Godzilla" before Kong and Godzilla punch each other to the sounds of WWE theme music. Good? No. Euphoric? Yes.

In truth, the Chris Classic needle drop doesn't inform the "Godzilla Vs. Kong" trailer so much as reveal its ethos. Professional wrestling hinges on kayfabe, defined as the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic. Godzilla and Kong are entirely CGI creations. But director Adam Wingard doesn't just render their stories in a way that makes them feel like flesh and blood creations — he treats their battle with all the sincerity, opera, and loving silliness of a World Championship title shot. 

Wingard and the "Godzilla Vs. Kong" trailer understand that a kaiju battle is something audiences want to buy into, and it rewards that leap of faith with drama so silly (yet genuine!) that it makes the entire notion of truth feel elevated, however briefly. I, like any human, am powerless before Godzilla and Kong in this trailer. I wouldn't have it any other way.

4. The Harder They Fall (Official Teaser)

"The Harder They Fall" didn't just sell itself as a Western with its first official teaser — it declared itself a reclamation of an entire genre. 

With just two minutes' worth of footage, director Jeymes Samuel catches multiple generations and movements of black cinema up to the modern-day western, sticking the landing of two iconic needle drops while making her already legendary cast of actors (Regina King, Idris Elba, Delroy Lindo, so many others) look as goodas they ever have. There's no world in which any self-respecting movie fan walks away from "The Harder They Fall" teaser less than intrigued ... though a certain sect of close-minded film fans might be triggered by the movie's defiantly proud anachronisms.

Good. Trailers aren't meant to appease an audience — they're meant to sell an audience on what they're in for. The pitch for "The Harder They Fall" is every bit as righteous, cool, and fiery as the film itself. It belongs. 

3. Licorice Pizza

More than two decades into his career, it's clear that few filmmakers move from the intimate to the epic more effortlessly than Paul Thomas Anderson. 

"Licorice Pizza," Anderson's latest (and a possible "Punch Drunk Love" prequel), vacillates between the familiar and mythic with subtle yet persistent frequency. That's part of its power. The film's trailer doesn't hint at this secret weapon so much as lay it bare to the tune of David Bowie's "Life on Mars," constructing a movie-in-microcosm that sells the film's soul without revealing much about its plot. 

In its own way, "Licorice Pizza" buries its biggest surprises as thoroughly as "Spider-Man: No Way Home." There's no hint of its "The Wages Of Fear"-worthy truck sequence. There's no context for Sean Penn's motorcycle ride. It doesn't matter. For the "Licorice Pizza" trailer, the subtext is text. And the gorgeousness with which it makes that clear cements it as one of the year's best trailers. 

2. The Suicide Squad

There was a trend which emerged amongst 2021 trailers, one that followed a very simple formula: needle drop a well-known or obscure pop song in its original form; as the trailer builds, add epic instrumentation to said pop song; continue to build until a fever pitch is reached. Many trailers nailed this trend, but none did it more entertainingly or more in service of their chosen film than "The Suicide Squad."

The first trailer for "The Suicide Squad" is set to Steely Dan's "Dirty Work." Steely Dan is a group that sounds folksy and psychedelic, but write songs about sexual predation, murder, and drug addiction. They blend the comical with the not-funny-whatsoever, much like James Gunn's comic book epic. And as the first look at "The Suicide Squad" gives Steely Dan a new coat of artistic paint, so too does the trailer reclaim the Squad itself from David Ayer's 2016 film. 

It's a remarkable act of synergy that is all the batter for being gob-smackingly entertaining. "The Suicide Squad" trailer was the promise of a film, trailer convention, and filmmaker's gift all realized at once. I didn't enjoy a trailer more than it all year.

1. The Matrix Resurrections (Official Trailer 1)

No trailer had a harder ask this year than "The Matrix Resurrections." No trailer both disguised and sold its film more artfully than "The Matrix Resurrections." No trailer honored the truth of its movie more fully — namely, that the end product was as angry, awesome, and confounding as its creator wanted it to be. 

The first look at "Matrix Resurrections" convinced one legion of audience members that it was everything they wanted even as it telegraphed the aces up its sleeve, doubling down on the legacies of the original trilogy, Jefferson Airplane, and Lewis Carrol in its brief but epic quest to do so. It was a trailer that both stoked conversation and was the conversation, an ad that became art unto itself. 

I watch it for pleasure even though it sells a movie no one actually saw. It's one of the most 2021 works of art to be released this year, and its impeccable craft and meta-textual depth make it the year's best trailer by an inch and a mile.