Mike’s Favorite Movie Trailers of the Decade (90-81)
While I call movie posters a lost art, trailers are a different beast altogether. They’ve definitely evolved over the years, and in a way, they’re getting better the more time goes on. Trailers 40 years ago were so much different than they are now. The way people sell a film is different now. Posters are just about imagery, but trailers have to show you what you’re in store for without giving away everything. Though, there is some artistry to that as well, since I think we can all agree that a lot of times, you can understand what the entire plot of a movie is gonna be just from a trailer. But once in a while, you get something really nice, where it’s cut real well and it makes you excited for the film without giving too many secrets away.
I track my favorite trailers each year, so now I’m gonna look back over the past decade and see which ones have held up best for me.
Here are my favorite film trailers of the past decade:
90. The Witch
What this does, more than anything else, is selling the tone of the film. You tell me something is set in Colonial America, with super religious people living in the woods, and I’m not that interested. But you show me this tone and this trailer and I think, “Okay, I can give this a shot.” It’s a perfectly A24 trailer. It’s edited really well and uses score and sound effects really well. Plus it sprinkles in Black Phillips, the breakout star of the film. But mostly what I like is that it sells this creepy/scary tone without really giving all that much away. It’s just people in the woods slowly losing their shit against what may or may not be a supernatural threat. It’s a great trailer.
89. The Greatest Showman
It’s the music. You’re selling this on the music and the joy that a musical brings. And it does it really well. The editing of the sound effects into an early rhythm before getting into the incredible songs the musical has is great. And it’s a very straightforward trailer — it’s basically spelling the plot of the movie out, but really it’s just selling you on music and dance and that energy. And it works, better than a lot of other musical trailers I’ve seen.
88. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
If you watch enough trailers, you start to notice patterns of how they’re cut. This one does the thing where it starts with a microcosm scene to give you an example of mood and tone and then broadens out to story. But that opening scene is just so cool. The gunshots, mixed with the sexy driving song. You get the tone within 45 seconds. And then, since it’s Man from U.N.C.L.E., they’re basically bringing you up to speed on the characters and the general premise — CIA and KGB agents forced to work together during the Cold War. It’s that Ocean’s tone, and I think we all get that. Fun, sexy, cool spy movie. How can you not want to see this from this trailer?
87. The Muppets
I love when a trailer sets up by selling a ‘fake’ version of a different kind of movie only to reveal what it’s really about. I almost put the Ted trailer on this list, which starts the same way. But this is the O.G. one of those for this decade. People forget how funny this was at the time — starting with the simply/generic rom com with Segal and Adams, which would be the fake movie people go see in another movie, down to the fake fight when they can’t agree on what to have for dinner/forgetting the anniversary to the needle drop of ‘You Get What You Give’, before doing that movie trailer voice thing and going over the cast and then that stuttering of, “Kermit the… frog” and “Miss… Piggy?” It’s great. It’s the kind of humor the Muppets have always exuded. A perfect way to get you interested in what that film was gonna be.
86. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I’ll be honest, 95% of this is them selling us on the fact that Middle Earth is back. That’s the tone, that’s the selling point, that’s what makes me love this trailer. The “Concerning Hobbits” drop and the shots of the Shire just bring you back to when you first saw the magic of that trilogy. But then they work in that new song, the ‘Misty Mountain’ song, which establishes this as a new adventure, but also making you feel comforted in familiar territory. It’s nice. The tipping point is the epic score use at the end, and of course that money shot of Gollum showing up is pretty sweet too.
There are gonna be a few red band comedy trailers on this list, and that’s because they’re usually really well cut and get you to laugh. The issue tends to be that they give away the best parts of the film. But that doesn’t affect the trailer. This establishes character and story and the general humor, which is what you want out of a comedy trailer. I’m way past the use of ‘Nobody Speak’ in these trailers, which is just so beyond stale at this point. But aside from that, it’s a great trailer. It sells a new angle of these kinds of high school movies, and just makes you want to see the film.
84. Shutter Island
Classically cut trailer, but really well done. I forgot how good this trailer was. It sells the mystery really well and is insanely well-cut. Having seen the film, they don’t really give anything away, which is nice. They even make you curious as to what’s actually going on, even. I shouldn’t be surprised that a Scorsese trailer is well-cut, but I didn’t, when I started this list, consider that this would be as good a trailer as it is. They sell the claustrophobic atmosphere and the ‘can’t trust anyone’/’everyone’s in on it’ narrative. The Max von Sydow touch (‘going somewhere?’) is really what sets it over the top for me. That’s such a sinister moment.
83. Black Mass
Structuring this around that dinner table scene was a perfect choice. Because that scene is the film. Gangster who is likable and you’re able to hang out with him, but at any moment, things can get real sinister. And then as the scene goes on, they sprinkle in other footage to show you just what happens when the mood gets this way. It works up both sides of the character and really gives you an idea of what you’re in for with the film. It’s an incredible trailer. And ending it on the laugh is real perfect.
82. All the Money in the World
Yes, this is the Kevin Spacey version of the film. And this trailer is so much better than the later ones. The posters were better the second time around, but the trailer was better this first time. The ‘Time of the Season’ drop is really terrific and it’s structured really well. The grandson telling you how rich they are and how they all live in a different reality from everyone else… and then he gets kidnapped and shit gets real. And then they chop up the song into tense score beats, which works really well. They drop the title in the dialogue, which is always great. And then they do that thing I really love in a trailer, where they drop the song out for the money shot moment at the end, which here is the reveal of Spacey as Getty, saying he won’t pay a dime to get his grandson back. Then rolling out on the chorus… it’s great. It’s a really terrific trailer that I’ve raised up twice on this list already as I’ve written it up because I like it so much.
This just hits me right in the heart, this trailer. You get everything just from this little teaser. The fact that they’re stuck in this space, but also how she tries to make it work for him and keep his spirits up. And they work up the sinister nature of the whole thing, building to the escape and that cathartic moment of freedom. The ‘you’re gonna love it… the world’ is just such a beautiful moment. All you want at the end of this is to see these people get out and get to live real lives. It’s a beautifully-cut trailer.
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