The Best Movie Trailers of the Decade

Best Movie Trailers of the Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

A well-cut trailer is a thing of beauty. To be clear: trailers are pieces of advertising. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be art, too. A bad trailer either shows us too much, relies heavily on cliches, or fails to grab our interest. A great trailer, however, can make or break a film. Put together a compelling, interesting, and original trailer, and you’ve gone a long way towards drawing in your audience. Which is exactly what the best trailers of the decade did.

Cloud Atlas

When this list was first published, I failed to include Cloud Atlas. I had intended to (I swear!), but felt the list was running too long, so I cut it. But it deserves to be here, and so here it is. Running for almost six minutes, this is less a trailer and more of a short film. It packs in how wild, inventive, and different the Wachowskis‘ sci-fi extravaganza is in a nice, neat package. More movies – and movie trailers – should strive for this level of originality.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher‘s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trailer is like a one-and-a-half-minute gut punch. Cut to Karen O covering “Immigrant Song”, the trailer doesn’t even bother with plot. It just throws a barrage of dark, violent images in our faces as Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara navigate the icy landscape. It all culminates with one of the best kickers in trailer history as the words THE FEEL BAD MOVIE OF CHRISTMAS hammers across the screen. What an absolute blast.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

A case could be made for the 2014 Godzilla reboot teaser to be on this list as well, featuring the haunting sounds of Ligeti’s “Requiem” made famous in 2001: A Space Odyessy. But the trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters edges it out. Featuring wall-to-wall monster mayhem set to the sounds of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune”, the trailer hints at something powerful and beautiful. “You’re a monster,” Millie Bobby Brown tells her mother Vera Farmiga, suggesting the movie is less about the big beasts and more about flawed humans. Sadly, the film itself never lived up to this gorgeous trailer, but hey, we can always just rewatch this instead.

Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s easy to forget these days, but there was a time when Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a risky bet for Marvel. The weird space comedy was filled with characters no one had even heard of, and featured the first real leading man role for Chris Pratt. This trailer went a long way towards selling everyone, playing up the movie’s comedic tone as well as giving us a hint of its pop music infused soundtrack. By the time Guardians hit theaters, it ended up becoming a surprising mega-hit, and proved Marvel could really sell anything at this point.

Hail, Caesar!

I seem to like Hail, Ceasar! more than most, but I’ll still admit the film never quite matched the glee of its trailers. Particularly this one, which highlights the hilarious scene in which Alden Ehrenreich‘s slow-witted cowboy movie star Hobie Doyle attempts to get out the line “Would that it were so simple”, but can’t manage to make his director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) very happy. It’s silly as hell and ends with the perfect conclusion: we finally see the final scene in question, and Hobie ends up swapping “Would that it were so simple” for the much simpler “It’s complicated.”

The Handmaiden

Stylish, sexy, and dialogue-free, the trailer for Park Chan-wook‘s sumptuous thriller The Handmaiden hooks you with its arresting imagery. You may not know what the movie is about based on this footage, but you’re nearly hypnotized by what’s unfolding. And you want to know more. That’s what a great trailer should do: pique your interest without giving the game away.

Inception

Christopher Nolan loves to keep secrets, so his trailers tend to play things close to the vest. That’s fine! Trailers shouldn’t give the whole dang movie away. Of all the Nolan trailers, this trailer for Inception might be the best. It’s also the most influential, not just on Nolan’s future trailers, but trailers in general. As the mysteries of Nolan’s dream heist thriller unfold, the soundtrack is loaded with a sound created by Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack – a loud, booming horn-like noise that sounds like BRAAM!! or BWAAM! or BWAHH! (I’ve seen it stylized multiple ways). That sound has been a fixture for trailers ever since, for better or worse. But it’s never worked so well as it works here.

Jackie

In this teaser for Jackie, the recognizable imagery of the Kennedys, recreated by Pablo Larraín and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, rolls out, underscored by music from the musical Camelot – which came to symbolize the glitzy Kennedy administration. But more than halfway through, the song from Camelot gives way to Stéphane Fontaine‘s disturbing score, and the footage becomes more and more distraught, bringing us into the fractured post-assassination world of Jackie Kennedy. It finishes with a slow zoom in on Natalie Portman‘s haunted face, looking both right at us, and past us.

Logan

Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” and the rough and tumble imagery were both indications that Logan wasn’t going to be your typical comic book movie. James Mangold’s R-rated modern-day Western turns Wolverine into a tragic hero, with Hugh Jackman playing the mutant nearing the end of his days. After setting up the plot, Cash’s music kicks back in with the images jumping alongside the pounding of piano keys. There’s action, there’s violence, but there’s also pathos – Logan sitting around a table sharing a brief, fleeting smile with Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Dafne Keen as Laura. It’s okay, you can cry a little as you watch this, no one will judge you.

Mad Max: Fury Road

We had no idea what we were in for with Mad Max: Fury Road, but this colorful, action-packed trailer gave us a hint. It was clear from the jump that director George Miller wasn’t interested in the same old same old. He had created something bigger, bolder, and crazier than modern action movie audiences were used to. Oh what a lovely day, indeed.

Man of Steel

What’s the best Superman movie? It’s not the 1978 Christopher Reeve movie (although that’s very good), and it’s not Man of Steel (which isn’t very good). It’s actually the trailer for Man of Steel. Specifically, this trailer which runs three minutes and packs in all the mythos you could possibly need. Superman’s parents send him away from the dying Krypton, and we watch the little boy of steel grow into a man. And gosh does young Supes asking Kevin Costner‘s Pa Kent, “Can’t I keep pretending I’m your son?” and Costner’s tearful reply, “You are my son” tug on the old heartstrings. The beautiful bow on this package is that killer music from Hans Zimmer. And then there’s the very cute ending where Henry Cavill‘s Superman tells Amy Adam’s Lois Lane that the S on his chest stands for “hope”, and before she suggests it should be “Superman”, she gets cut off. I remember being so incredibly excited for this movie based on this trailer. And then I saw the film. And…well…let’s move on.

The Master

Another one of those trailers that barely touches on plot or story. Instead, this early look at The Master features Jonny Greenwood‘s weird musical score while showing us the troubled life of Freddie Quill, played by Joaquin Phoenix. In true Paul Thomas Anderson fashion, the entirety of this interrogation with Freddie doesn’t play out exactly the same way in the movie. And that’s fine. Anderson is simply setting the mood, and giving Phoenix all the attention. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character doesn’t even appear here – it’s all Phoenix, and the actor is pitch-perfect at selling how disturbed his character is.

Mission Impossible: Fallout

How freakin’ cool is this Mission: Impossible – Fallout trailer? So cool that it manages to make an Imagine Dragons song enjoyable. That’s impressive! This look at the most recent Mission is action-packed, as you might expect from this franchise. It’s exciting and fun, and perfectly sells great blockbuster entertainment. Chases, fights, rock climbing, and – of course – Henry Cavill cocking his two fists as if they were guns. What’s not to love?

Moonlight

Barry Jenkins Moonlight is one of the best movies of the decade, so it’s only fitting that it has one of the best trailers as well. Subtle, slow, and visually poetic, this trailer highlights the three timelines of the story, all focused on Chiron at different stages of his life as he grapples with his sexuality. The images are stark and colorful, with a heavy emphasis on different hues of blue. And then there’s Nicholas Britell‘s gorgeous score. Here is a trailer that signals a must-see movie.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Snappy, funny, and a little chaotic, the trailer for Quentin Tarantino‘s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is almost as delightful as the film itself. The first half of the trailer is all about playing up the comedy, but midway through things the tone changes to something a little more melancholy while Neil Diamond’s “Brother Loves Travellin Salvation Show” blasts over the soundtrack. The proceedings are wrapped-up with Brad Pitt‘s memorable delivery: “You’re Rick Fucking Dalton. And don’t you forget it.” What’s perhaps so fascinating about this trailer is that even though there’s a lot going on here, the trailer itself gives almost nothing away. I must’ve watched this trailer a dozen times before I saw the movie, and I was still completely surprised by what I got in the end.

The Social Network

A movie about Facebook sounded like a really bad idea. We were all pretty skeptical. And then we saw this trailer. There was something ominous and unsettling about this first look at David Fincher‘s The Social Network, which begins with shots of the social media platform back in the days before it completely destroyed democracy. And then the main narrative unfolds: motormouthed Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) invents Facebook, makes millions, and destroys pretty much everyone and anyone around him. This trailer is so great at selling what a rude creep Zuckerberg is. And speaking of creeps, like InceptionThe Social Network trailer started a trend. As this trailer plays out, we hear Scala & Kolacny Brothers’ choir-like cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” It works wonderfully here, but the concept – a slowed-down, slightly spooky cover of a famous song – would be ripped-off by many, many trailers to come.

A Star is Born

There are moments in this life that we can never forget. Moments that become ingrained into our minds to the point where we can always recall where we were, and what we were doing, when they first happened. Moments like the scene in the A Star Is Born trailer where Lady Gaga belts out that impossibly long, wavering note. As Gaga’s voice rings out we go through various moments of Bradley Cooper‘s fantastic directorial debut. We’re far from the shallow now, folks.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“Chewie, we’re home.” All the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers were memorable, but this second teaser is the best of the bunch. It’s loaded with imagery that looks both familiar and new, gives a sense of the scale and action on display in the first Star Wars movies in over a decade, and, best of all, ends with a heavy blast of nostalgia. After spending the entire trailer with new characters and only quick glimpses of old ones, the screen cuts to black and we hear the familiar voice of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) before the image faded back in on Han and his old buddy Chewie. Even the most cynical of folks (like me) felt a swell of emotion.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

After The Force Awakens, expectations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi were through the roof. And the first trailer did not disappoint (neither did the movie, but let’s move on, shall we?). The imagery here is much richer than what we saw in Force Awakens, hinting that Rian Johnson was delivering something much different. And to underscore it all, the trailer concludes with Luke Skywalker telling us all: “It’s time for the Jedi…to end.” Right from the start Johnson was clueing us in to the fact that the return of Luke Skywalker wasn’t going to be about Luke taking up his lightsaber and immediately launching into action.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Oh, what the hell, might as well include the one other new Star Wars trilogy movie trailer, too. Like Man of Steel, this trailer is better than the movie itself. It’s exciting, pulse-pounding, and full of striking imagery. It also features a wonderful arrangement of John Williams’ classic Star Wars theme (sadly, it’s not from the movie’s soundtrack, but was created specifically for the trailer). As disappointed as I may have been with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I feely admit this trailer still gives me goosebumps.

Us

UsJordan Peele‘s highly anticipated follow-up to Get Out, delivers the goods with this trailer. Launching with what appears to be a family vacation set to “I Got 5 on It”, at first glance this looks like it’s going to be some sort of comedy. And then the creepiness kicks-in as the trailer slowly takes its time revealing its big twist: doppelgangers. Does this trailer give too much away? I guess you could make that argument (the fates of a few characters are clearly revealed here), but there are so many twists and turns in the final film that it was nearly impossible to spoil Us.

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