The Best Movie Trailers of the 2010s
Trailers got their name from their original placement on film reels; in their earliest days, they trailed the feature presentation and played as audiences exited the auditorium. These days they are, of course, a hallowed component of every theater’s pre-show ritual. But taking a page from their origins, our list of the best movie trailers of the 2010s comes near the end of our celebration of the last decade — trailing our previous lists of the best taglines, movie posters, TV shows, and films.
In selecting the best coming attractions of the last 10 years, our methodology focused on the trailers themselves, both as a way to drive interest in a movie and as a tiny unit of entertainment in their own right. They could come from good movies and terrible ones, from blockbusters and bombs. They just had to be memorable. Every single trailer on this list meets that qualification. In ascending order, they are…
The Dark Knight Rises
How do you top The Dark Knight? If you’re Christopher Nolan, you need to establish a villain even more ferocious than the Joker. The trailer for The Dark Knight Rises does that, pitting Batman against an entire army of bad guys. The scene in the football stadium does a particularly good job of establishing the enormous stakes of the conclusion of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
I was honestly a little underwhelmed by The Babadook, but perhaps that’s because the trailer for the film so effectively sold a horror story about a mother and her son under assault by a spooky old book. In practice, the movie didn’t scare me nearly as much as the trailer.
The trailer for Justin Kurzel’s Shakespeare adaptation is atmosphere galore, with smoke, fire, and Michael Fassbender’s glaring eyes. Somehow this manages to get across that this is a classic text and a very new version of it.
We have gotten way too many trailer this decade with incongruously depressing music played over blockbuster spectacle. The cliché still works sometimes, though, as in the moody ad for Logan. Look, if anyone knows what it’s like to hurt, it’s the guy who can heal any injury — and has spent the last century getting beaten and shot and slashed to death.
All of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2010s movies have had really solid trailers, but the best of the bunch was this enigmatic come-on for The Master. As Philip Seymour Hoffman recounts his character’s attributes, we see a series of brief glimpses of his life. “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.” It’s enough to make the viewer hopelessly inquisitive about the larger film.
The use of the title song from Lerner and Loewe’s musical Camelot may seem like a strange fit for a biopic about the life of Jackie Kennedy. But given the period, and the end of optimism that JFK’s assassination came to represent, it makes perfect sense. It’s a bold choice for a movie full of them.
Okay, so the movie itself was kind of bad. (Okay, so it was terrible.) But if you believe the stories that circulated back in 2016, the movie was in some ways a victim of the excellence of its trailers, which sold a fun, hyperkinetic adventure jam-packed with classic rock tunes. According to The Hollywood Reporter, when director David Ayer didn’t deliver a film that matched the trailers, the studio even brought in the company that made the trailer to help them create a version of the movie that matched their commercial. Which may have wound up working against the movie. But you gotta admit: The trailer itself was darn good.
I’m a sucker for a good tongue-in-cheek trailer, with an ironic music choice (“Beyond the Sea”) and Jason Statham extremely perturbed about a prehistoric shark ruining his day. That’s like Marketing 101.
One of the frustrating things about trailers for foreign films is how often they try to cut around the fact that the characters are speaking in another language (because, I guess, subtitles are not considered a selling point). If you are going to go that route, it pays to do it in a way as slick as this Handmaiden video, which is jam-packed with cuts and tantalizing glimpses of Park Chan-wook’s erotic thriller.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
“Chewie, we’re home.” In three words, the new Star Wars announced its intentions to pluck at its core audience’s nostalgic heartstrings until they yanked them right out of their chests. The use of John Williams’ iconic theme, the way it rises and falls, in time with the action on screen, is exceptional as well.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Tom Cruise is a trailer editor’s dream. He does all his own stunts, and he does a loooot of them in every single movie. Fill up 150 seconds with Cruise being Cruise, throw in a slick song, and you’ve got a winner.
Moonlight’s road to the Oscar for Best Picture might have really started with this trailer, which juxtaposed all three versions of its lead character, and each of their journeys in an elegant and artful way. In doing so, it turned a film with a pretty complex structure into something immediately digestible and very attractive.
A Star Is Born
I’m not sure I can adequately explain why this is one of the best trailers of the decade. I just know I’ve watched it 300 times. When I hear “Maybe It’s Time” I think of it. Then I watch it again. And when I start the clip, I always say “Hey. I just want to take another look at you.
Mad Max: Fury Road
“Hey, what’s your name?” Smash cut to the title card after two and a half minutes of pure, unrelenting fury. The use of classical music with hyperkinetic editing in this trailer’s second half is especially effective. The clash between high culture and low-brow car chases makes for some beautiful, bloody poetry.
The Tree of Life
The trailer for The Tree of Life has been wrestling inside Malick fans for almost a decade now. The images themselves all come from the film itself, of course. But the way they are assembled in this brief trailer lends them a unique emotional heft. It feels less like an advertisement, and more like the pure, distilled Malick essence.
I’m a sucker for a good trailer that just sticks to one scene that unfolds over two minutes and then ends on a cliffhanger that makes audiences desperate to see the rest of the movie — like this one from Gravity, which focuses just on the moment when all hell breaks loose out in space, and Sandra Bullock’s astronaut is flung into the abyss. I sincerely cannot comprehend of a person watching this clip and not being at least a little curious to find out what happens next.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
A ferocious cover of “Immigrant Song” by Karen O with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross powers this trailer for David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Banking on most viewers understanding the concept thanks to its basis in a wildly popular novel, the clip instead focuses on pounding the audience with Big Depraved Energy. Not the best Fincher trailer of the decade — but pretty close.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
An a cappella version of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” is the creepy accompaniment to this trailer, which lends extra oomph to the shots of fires and lighters and to the overall battle of wills between Barry Keoghan’s character and Colin Farrell’s.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Messing with tempo yields productive results in the Wolf of Wall Street trailer. The first half is like pharmaceutical-grade narcotics: A giddy, visceral rush. Then the whole thing stops on a dime for Matthew McConaughey to sing his weird song while he pounds on his chest. What is this thing? Whatever it is, the one-second shot of Leonardo DiCaprio dancing to Kayne’s “Black Skinhead” sold more tickets than other movies’ entire marketing campaigns.
Few directors blend images and music like Richard Linklater, and Family of the Year’s “Hero” was the perfect song for the trailer to his magnum opus. Flashes of each year’s version of Ellar Coltrane immediately get the premise across, and the rest of the trailer is littered with quotable moments. Life doesn’t give you bumpers, indeed.
La La Land
An iris in, a lonely whistle, a plaintive piano line. The trailer for La La Land immediately establishes a mood that is at once deeply romantic and painfully sad. In just a few seconds, you know this film will melt your heart and then stomp the remains into oblivion.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The marketing team at Marvel faced an uphill battle with the first Guardians of the Galaxy, a comic very few people knew before this film, with a cast full of wonderful actors who weren’t exactly A-list stars either. (The two biggest names in the film at the time played a tree and a raccoon, respectively.) The scenes with John C. Reilly listing off each Guardians’ crimes does an outstanding job of introducing audiences to these characters, and the music choices, jokes, and that final shot where the team stands together like the Usual Suspects in outer space (plus they’re all “a bunch of a-holes”) communicates that this is a Marvel movie unlike the rest.
Regardless of what you think of the movie itself, this is one of the greatest examples of the one-scene-one-trailer conceit in history. “The most lethal sniper in U.S. history” is moving through this dangerous territory. Is the man with the phone an enemy combatant? Is the woman? It appears that this child was handed a weapon. Can he kill him? Should he? The best trailers ask questions that only watching the finished film can answer. Exhibit A: American Sniper.
After this trailer, if the entirety of Hail, Caesar! had been Ralph Fiennes trying to direct Alden Ehrenreich as a socialite, I would have been 100 percent okay with that. Would that it t’were so simple.
The Social Network
The best trailer of the 2010s came early in the decade when editor Chad Misner of Mark Woollen & Associates paired images from Facebook with a choral cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers. The combination seemed to set the tone for the film to follow, and captured the greed, ego, and self-loathing at the heart of the film’s fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg and his quest to recreate the internet in his image. The results were so compelling they created an entire trend toward sad covers of famous songs in trailers that continues 10 years later. As usual, though, the original is still the best.