The Best Movie Trailers of 2016
December is officially upon us, and so is year-end list-making season. We’re kicking things off by looking backwards and forwards: By ranking the finest teasers, trailers, and coming attractions of 2016. To qualify, only the trailer had to be released in this calendar year; you’ll see trailers below for movies that haven’t even been released yet and can’t be judged next to the films they represent. That’s as it should be; beyond their function as pieces of advertising, trailers should stand alone, as bite-sized entertainments and even, in a few rare occasions, as works of art. Here are the ten trailers of 2016 (plus a few honorable mentions) that came closest to that lofty ideal.
10. The Woods
Here’s a strange trailer: An advertisement for a movie that kind of doesn’t exist. The Woods, we later learned, was actually Blair Witch, a secret sequel to the original Blair Witch Project. The finished movie was a disappointment, but this trailer, featuring a sad cover version of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and pull-quotes from critics hailing The Woods as, among other things, “one of the scariest movies ever made” was eerie enough to convince you the hyperbole could be true. The fact that it wasn’t doesn’t diminish the impact of the trailer. We may not have gotten Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s The Woods, but we’ll always have this.
9. Wonder Woman
Some anecdotal, non-scientific evidence of this trailer’s excellence: When I saw it last weekend in front of Fantastic Beasts, my wife — who is no lover of comic books and has no particular affinity for Wonder Woman — turned to me in its final moments and said “Oooo, we have to go see this.” She liked Gal Gadot, she liked Chris Pine, and she loved the promise of a woman kicking epic amounts of butt. If you can get my wife excited about a comic-book movie, you’re doing something right.
8. Ghost in the Shell
The standard operating procedures for trailers, particularly for massive tentpoles that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, is to market them to the masses by minimizing (or straight-up avoiding) their quirks. With Ghost in the Shell, Paramount decided not to go that route. They leaned into the weirdness and embraced the tripped-out visuals and surreal characters in this live-action adaptation of the classic manga, so much so that the trailer lines up perfectly with visuals from the Ghost in the Shell anime. Now it’s possible the movie is so batcrap crazy that it would have required a Houdini-esque act of sleight of hand to hide its madness. But the studio could have done it anyway, and they didn’t.
7. The LEGO Batman Movie
LEGO Batman, and that vocal performance by Will Arnett, is The LEGO Batman Movie’s greatest asset, so it was a smart move to focus on him in this early trailer for the cartoon spinoff. Batman gets to introduce the clip (which, he claims, he edited himself), and say “Batman out!” and then “Batman back in!” I’ve always been a big fan of trailers that just let a single scene play out, and this clip uses that model well. All you need to know about who LEGO Batman is can be explained by how poorly he uses his microwave. (He accidentally types in 20 minutes instead of two, then mutters about it.)
6. John Wick: Chapter 2
The operatic score, slick visuals, and opulent Italian settings make this seem like a lot more than a sequel to an action movie where Keanu Reeves shot a lot of bad guys in the head. The trailer’s last beat is brilliant, with Wick at some kind of classy social function, where he realizes he’s surrounded and pulls out his pistol. We don’t see him shoot anyone; it’s maybe the only moment in the entire clip that exercises even the slightest bit of restraint. That’s the point. This is a killer setup; don’t you want to see the payoff?
5. Suicide Squad
If a trailer can be too good, this one is. Audiences ate up Suicide Squad’s clever marketing (this clip has been viewed 77 million times on YouTube alone). But these videos, which blended dark humor with classic rock tracks like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” promised a “fun, edgy tone” that the rough cuts for the actual movie didn’t provide. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. then “set about working on a different cut, with an assist from Trailer Park, the company that had made the teaser.” It’s still unclear just how much this trailer’s success impacted the final film’s content, not to mention its complete and utter tonal confusion. You could call the Suicide Squad trailer false advertising, but you could also just as easily call it a better and more satisfying experience than the film it was designed to advertise.
4. Get Out
When our list of the most anticipated movies of 2017 comes out in a couple weeks, you can bet Get Out will be on it, and that’s mostly because of this outstanding trailer. A horror movie from a comedian (Key and Peele’s Jordan Peele) making his directorial debut might make for a tough sell, but Get Out gets across its scary-but-satirical premise beautifully. Much like the trailer for Suicide Squad, this clip sets our expectations really high. Let’s hope this movie actually delivers.
3. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A lot of the trailers on our list make superb use of music, but the best of the bunch in that regard might be 10 Cloverfield Lane, which announced the arrival of a surprise spinoff project and instantly turned a movie no one knew about into a must-see. Someone pops Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” on the jukebox, and it seems like a happy family is enjoying some quality time together. But then the music starts to slow down, as the footage reveals glimpses of guns, handcuffs, and other ominous imagery. What is going on here? Then it’s revealed we’re in a fallout shelter. And John Goodman begs Mary Elizabeth Winstead not to go outside. Something she sees makes her cover her mouth in shock. The trailer doesn’t show us what frightened her, of course, but the next image is the title, which at first just reads Cloverfield, followed by the 10 and Lane, a great “Holy s---!” moment if ever I’ve seen one in a coming attraction.
2. La La Land
Iris in on the Los Angeles skyline. Cue the piano, and a lone, plaintive whistle. The whistle stops and we see the whistler: Ryan Gosling. Immediately, we know what this is and where we are: An old-fashioned Hollywood musical about glitz and glamour, loneliness and romance. There’s no dialogue in this La La Land trailer other than the lyrics of the song “City of Stars,” but there’s tons of atmosphere in the scenes of Gosling and Emma Stone dancing, smiling, and staring deeply into each other’s eyes. No other trailer in 2016 more effectively conveyed its subject’s mood, setting, and style while revealing almost nothing about its story or characters. It convinces you that this movie has be seen, without spoiling anything about what it’s going to show you.
Little of what makes Moonlight such a special film can be put into words, even by the characters onscreen, something that surely made it a challenging movie to market. This trailer poses a question — “Who is you, Chiron?” — and then offers a series of gorgeous images as potential answers to that complicated question, before returning back to a variation of the same question. (“Who is you, man?”) It ends on another question (“Well, what did you expect?”) and starts with one as well: “What you looking at me like that for?” With a trailer this good, it’s hard not to stare, and to watch it over and over, even after you’ve already seen the film itself.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): A Bigger Splash, Green Room, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, The Handmaiden, Keanu, Logan, The Neon Demon, The Nice Guys, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Sing Street.