Mike’s Favorite Movie Trailers of 2020

Okay. Time for trailers. One thing I noticed this year in particular — which is something we still get a lot of anyway, in the age of streaming platforms — a lot of ‘only one trailer’ situations. Which, if it’s a well-cut trailer, is perfectly fine. But I did notice a lot of things just got the one trailer and then you get the later on ‘TV spot’ trailers, which aren’t the same. I think only four films on this list got more than one trailer. Two of them came out before the pandemic/lockdown period started in March. And on another… the difference between the two trailers is negligible. But, as I said… cut a good trailer and it’s fine if that’s the only one. Nine trailers on this list come from either Netflix or Amazon, and if you add Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+ and HBO, that adds another five.

It’s not like the trailer-making process has changed, it’s just that the odds of great trailers are decreasing, since so often now, films tend to have the first teaser trailer, which is more abstract and gets you in the mood for the film, and then there’s the second trailer, which pretty much spells out the entire plot of the movie. So I have concerns that we might be only getting those second trailers from now on, but we’ll see where it goes.

Anyway, here are my favorite movie trailers of 2020:

There’s only 20 here. Maybe I’ve only done 20 in recent years, but I feel like I probably do 25 most years. I can’t be bothered to check, because it’s not like I put a lot of effort into content here most of the time. Point is, we’re only doing 20 this year because there wasn’t a whole lot that I really liked. Maybe a sign of the times, maybe just the pandemic making people go, “Why spend money marketing when we’re dumping shit on PVOD anyway?” Guess we’ll find out… eventually, I guess. Who the hell knows.

I’m also not gonna be spending a lot of time talking about these. I don’t think anyone actually reads this article anyway, so mostly I’ll just point out the feature of each trailer I liked and link to it as I always do. The point is to get you to watch the damn things anyway and be exposed to what a good trailer looks like. You don’t need me prattling on a bunch telling you what you can plainly see. And, honestly, I’m just not in the mood this year. And with the options being don’t do the article at all or just write less, I’m choosing option B.

Did you need to know that? Absolutely not. But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t spend more time telling you I’m not gonna write much than I’m gonna write probably over the rest of this entire article.

This is why you come to me.

20. Hamilton

They know they don’t need to do anything to sell this. Just give you bits of the music and sell that it’s ‘finally happening’. The musical editing is great and they build to that climactic moment. It’s a perfect trailer for what it needs to accomplish.

19. Shirley

Starts off pretty generically, but they make good use of music and editing to really sell the tone. They also make good use of that old trope of typewriter keys as editing beats.

18. Enola Holmes

Fun, jaunty tone, sets up the playfulness of the film. Then there’s the great use of “Celebrity Skin.” It always works when you use a known song and do this little editing beats to the song. Mostly this makes you know the movie’s gonna actually be entertaining if you were going in iffy on the concept (as I did).

17. On the Rocks

There’s just a comfort level here that I like. Bill Murray brings his own relaxed screen presence to films, and that’s how this trailer feels. It’s trying to sell the story of the film, but really it’s just Murray doing his own thing. It’s weird how this trailer almost crosses over into ‘not a very good trailer’ territory and yet you never notice it.

16. The Trial of the Chicago 7

I’m a little torn on this one, since it’s two trailers in one. The first half is perfect. The pacing (they do the typewriter keys thing again), the setting of the story, the trial movie aspect and how rigged the whole thing was against them. It’s wonderful. Then it takes that turn of ‘the whole world is watching’ and tries to become that uplifting ‘message’ movie. Which, I get why they do it, but it’s a bit much. I’m ultimately okay with it, because it sells the purpose of the film well, but admittedly it is a bit of a cheap move.

15. The Invisible Man

An Elisabeth Moss double play. This one’s great because of that opening scene. Immediately builds tension, as those sequences always do . Then they get a bit too far into story, but they use the ‘invisible’ scares really well. It’s a really well-edited trailer.

14. Yes, God, Yes

This is a trailer that excels in cringe, which perfectly sells what it’s like to be that age. I like trailers that sell the movie without needing to go the full two-plus minutes that other trailers do. You get exactly what this movie is in just over a minute.

13. Let Him Go

I love the slow build up, which works perfectly with the tone of the film. That’s a western. The slow build up to the violence. The way they reveal Lesley Manville with that one wordless moment is wonderful. I also love that they really don’t show too much of the violence but rather everything else. Which is to make the violence feel like it’s not the purpose of the film but the eventual end that all of this is gonna take. That’s the western. It’s a wonderful trailer.

12. Palm Springs

I’ll begin by saying — giant spoiler alert, this trailer. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet and know nothing about it, then probably don’t watch it. Because it ruins the great ‘oh, so this is what it is’ moment about ten minutes in. And also probably stop reading this entry because I’m gonna obviously spoil it.

Okay, that said — the “Time After Time”/making it seem like a cheesy rom com is great, before they get into the time loop aspect. They sell the tone well. You know it’s gonna be both smart and funny just fun. Then there’s that great Bowie needle drop, which is just perfect. This is just one of those trailers you see and you go, “That looks really good.” The best trailers make you excited for something and somehow let you know there’s more to be had than what they’ve already given away.

11. Sound of Metal

Honestly it’s just a perfectly cut trailer. You go on a journey in just two minutes and it really does make you feel something and really want to see this movie.

10. American Utopia

Tell me you’re not sold immediately from that ‘Burning Down the House’ riff. This is built around the music, which is what the show is. They do a great job of putting all the blurbs and stuff on the screen and editing that to the music. But really it’s how they structure the whole thing around ‘Burning Down the House’. That’s wonderful.

9. The Vast of Night

This looks like so much more of an expensive movie than it is based on this trailer. It’s just beautifully cut. I don’t even have specific things to point out. This is just an all-around great trailer.

8. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

This had to make this list because I went from the day before finding out this was even a thing to seeing this and immediately forgetting any reservations I may have had about the fact that they made this fourteen years after the fact. You get it, you get why the made it, you get what they’re going for, you see some of the funny moments, and they still manage to hide some of the really big stuff. I guess this was the exhale of humor we needed in 2020.

7. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

This just perfectly captures the wonderful mind-fuck that is this movie. It looks gorgeous, it’s intriguing, it’s got everything you want out of a trailer. The beautiful thing about this trailer is that, unlike most other trailers, you don’t pretty much understand everything you’re getting with the movie. So you’re left intrigued and curious. And somehow it underdelivers on the promise of the film, if that’s even possible.

6. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

I remember seeing this back in December or January or whenever it was and going, “Oh wow, this actually looks kinda good.” The use of Edith Piaf is wonderful, turning this ridiculously cartoonish movie into opera. And then you get stuff like the Marilyn Monroe stuff and some of the action and you think, “This looks wild.” And you can tell they’re extremely confident in the material as well, which is always a good sign. I remember not wanting to get my hopes up with it at the time, but this is definitely one of those trailers that stayed with me over the course of the year.

5. I’m Your Woman

Oh I loved this trailer. The low key greatness of it. It’s so understated, just like the film, in the most wonderful ways. The music choice is also wonderful. Thematically, rhythmically, the way they let it kick in at just the right moment. This is definitely one of the best trailers I’ve seen in a while.

4. Mank

I mean — you knew this was gonna be somewhere in here. It sells everything about the experience of this movie, which I knew I was gonna love from the jump. This is one of those situations where — if you were in for the film, you’re gonna love the trailer, and if not, you won’t. I love how they cut this like a 40s trailer. It’s so perfectly done. I could have had this at #1 if I wanted, but instead here we are.

3. Bad Education

I love how they structure this one. That opening bit with the sandwich that brings you in as these people’s pals (and the dropping of the ‘fuck’, which hints at an edge to the proceedings), that clapping that sets a consistent pacing and lets you think it’s one kind of movie, building it all up… then tearing it all down. That White Stripes needle drop is fantastic. The way they perfectly capture that tone that hovers between funny and dramatic. That ending beat of Jackman’s underlying menace. It’s incredible.

2. Da 5 Bloods

“Time Has Come Today” — great song choice. The stock footage look, brilliant. And he cuts it like a grindhouse trailer. Which is also brilliant. The psychedelic interludes/intertitles — wonderful. The actual music video in between? Legitimately better than 95-98% of all trailers that have come out the past decade. This sells the story better than I ever thought possible. That BlacKkKlansman trailer was perfect, but somehow he topped that with this one. This is a note perfect trailer.

1. Promising Young Woman

I’m gonna be honest — the minute you gave me that string version of “Toxic,” there was almost no way this wasn’t going to be #1. But also, kind of like how I remember having to put the Joker trailer as #1 last year or Straight Outta Compton in 2015… this is the signature movie trailer of the year. There’s almost no more iconic imagery than Carey Mulligan in this movie. Plus you get that great opening where you know where it’s going and then you get them turning it on its head, then the slow, almost horror movie build of Mulligan explaining what she does with the strings slowly kicking in, building little by little to that “Toxic” drop, whether you realize it or not. Then it drops and you’re just all in. It’s so perfectly cut too, because you get sold what you need to go into this movie in such a great way. I can’t see anyone seeing this and not being immensely intrigued. There wasn’t even a question about this being #1.

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