This job, as you might imagine, involves having to write about a certain amount of movie marketing as well as the actual damn movies themselves. It’s a mixed blessing (who created the motion poster, and why do they hate the world so much?), but there can also be an artfulness to the craft of luring people into movie theaters that shouldn’t be overlooked.
We’ve already looked at some of the Best Posters of the year, and now, continuing our year-end coverage (which you can find in full here), we’ve decided to look at the top movie trailers of 2014. Little 60- to 180-second mini-movies can give the whole plot away and ruin the best jokes, but they can also excite, intrigue, and even stand alone.
Below you’ll find thirteen trailers that debuted over the past twelve months. Not all are from films we liked, some are from films that won’t arrive til next summer, or even next Christmas, but all are examples of excellent trailer-making. Take a look and a watch below, and let us know your own favorites in the comments.
The brief tease (tease in the best sense) of Brad Bird’s secretive sci-fi “Tomorrowland” makes this list in large part because of how different it felt to most hyperactive tentpole trailers. It was mostly made up of a single scene, as a young girl being released from lock-up (played by Britt Robertson), touches a small pin emblazoned with a Tomorrowland T, and is briefly transported to a Malickian cornfield through a cunningly lo-fi effect. Giving little away (we get a glimpse of George Clooney, and another of a futuristic city), but promising much. With echoes of ‘Close Encounters‘ and a curious meld of both optimism and pessimism, it was just enough to get us hooked.
12. “Dear White People”
The comedy trailer fake-out is something of a hackneyed technique these days, but when the first teaser for Justin Simien’s deliriously smart satire “Dear White People” landed, claiming wryly it was “in the tradition of ‘The Help,’ ‘The Blind Side’ and ‘The Butler,’” it got a new lease on life. Less a trailer than a statement of intent, it’s pretty much only made up of two scenes: one that sees an African-American activist group confront a theater box-office worker talking about the lack of decent roles for black people on screen, the other featuring a professor talking to Tessa Thompson‘s Sam about her theory that “Gremlins” represents suburban America’s fear of black culture. Both are funny, but more importantly, both showcase the film’s ability to poke at racial taboos in a smart, engaging way. That the clip ends with a bunch of white dudes shifting uncomfortably in their seats seems very deliberate….
11. “The Rover”
By now we know how critically hushed the reception of David Michod’s “The Rover” has been (though, as seen in our 20 Best Films Of 2014 list, and our Cannes review, we do not agree with the general perception), but the early trailer is an intriguing glimpse at everything that’s fascinating in the film. The images, showcasing the film’s gorgeous cinematography and merciless spirit, just keep adding to the poetic nature hinted at by an early W.B. Yeats quote, until Robert Pattinson’s tragic lost soul comes up on screen. Once Sol Seppy’s “Enter One” glides in (one of the most effective uses of a song in any trailer this year), it becomes pretty clear that Michod’s film is imbued with melancholia and evokes a deep longing for any semblance of humanity left in a Godless world.
Before the trailer for Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” arrived, it was an unknown quantity — an Oscar contender on paper, certainly, but from a director taking a big leap in scale and scope, with subject matter that had already thwarted directors like Paul Greengrass. But the 150 seconds that Paramount assembled to sell the movie helped to make the film a must-see: showcasing David Oyelowo’s transformative performance and the film’s expansive cast, including the warmth and humor that makes the film so special, and scored electrically to Public Enemy’s “Say It Like It Really Is,” it was a pulse-pounding indication that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary biopic.
Want a lesson on how to quickly grab the audience and clue them into your protagonist’s peculiar worldview? Watch this trailer, and see how it’s done. Selling the film’s thrills in a minute and a half while also feeding the viewer with plenty of snapshots of the film’s moody, Michael Mann-esque nighttime L.A. cinematography by Robert Elswit, the build in the final 30 seconds is near-perfect, as Lou’s monologue repeats the line, “you gotta buy a ticket” until his rage hits a boiling point. Though on average most trailers are at least a minute longer, there’s just no need to show any more; there’s enough here to entice, but also a lot left to the imagination. Lou Bloom would be proud.
8. “Knight Of Cups”
A late-breaking addition to this list, and a very pleasant surprise to close off the year in trailers, the promo for Terrence Malick’s latest was something of a stunner even by the director’s standards. Looking like a spiritual sequel to “To The Wonder” by way of “8 1/2” and “The Great Beauty,” it sees Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki following Christian Bale through a startlingly different kind of landscape, without a cornfield in sight, and instead we get scenes of celebrity excess, neon-soaked concerts and empty L.A mansions. Complete with startling Go-Pro close-ups that seem more “Crank” than “Tree Of Life,” and stuffed with glimpses of stars who presumably haven’t been cut out of the final edit (Jason Clarke! Antonio Banderas! Brian Dennehy!), it has us champing at the bit for the film’s Berlin premiere.
7. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
It might have been presaged by a frankly ludicrous amount of hype, but as soon as Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) breaks the lingering shot of the desert at the beginning of “The Force Awakens” teaser, it was hard to retain much skepticism: this was the “Star Wars” you know and love, but with a giddying sense of the new as well. The rest of the trailer zips by in a joyous blur, before that final money shot: a single, whirligig look at the Millennium Falcon, accompanied by the classic John Williams “Star Wars” theme. Playing up the things that people loved about the original movies, ignoring what they hated about the prequels, and introducing enough new ideas and images (in a bewilderingly short amount of time) to maintain excitement about the future of the franchise, The Force was strong with this one.
6. “American Sniper”
Putting you on the spot — that’s what the first trailer for Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” is all about. Though we had somewhat mixed feelings when we finally got to see the film at the AFI Fest, this promo was pure, overwrought tension, brilliantly pivoting around a single scene: Bradley Cooper’s titular sniper Chris Kyle is on the field, and has his crosshairs pegged on a site that potentially breeds terrorists, with a child as his target. The heartbeat introduced at the halfway mark also introduces flashes from the pivotal moments in Kyle’s life (wedding day, the birth of his child) and watching those synced with his decision to potentially save countless lives by killing a child is tantalizing stuff. The clincher, and what boosts this trailer from great to fantastic, is the final few shots of the close-up on the trigger finger, Cooper’s distressed expression, and then…no bang. Just a much louder heart beat over the film’s title. Phew. We break a sweat just thinking about it.
5. “Gone Girl”
Even A-list filmmakers don’t necessarily get much input into their marketing materials, but you can always see a David Fincher trailer from miles away, from “The Social Network” clip with the choral version of “Creep” to that dazzlingly abrasive ‘leaked’ “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” one with Karen O doing “Immigrant Song.” The first footage from “Gone Girl” was very much in that mold. A near-wordless montage to a cover of “She” by the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler, it was a perfect way for the movie to subvert rom-com cliches, show off its media maelstrom, and, with that closing image of a drowning Rosamund Pike, wrongfoot the audience going in. Can we just get Fincher to do trailers for every movie?
4. “Under The Skin”
Kicking off with a brace of intriguing, abstracted images, A24’s U.S. trailer for “Under The Skin” is full of glimpses at some of the film’s most striking visual compositions and wide shots, but most haunting of all, as is the case with the film, is the teaser’s pillar: the contrast between a victim stepping into the black goo (0:56) and the consequence of what happens (1:52), with Johansson’s voice over asking “you don’t want to wake up, do you?” It’s eerie, it’s dreamy, it’s supernatural, it’s gorgeous to look at. Every frame makes you scratch your head at what you’re watching and, thanks to the editing and composer Mica Levi’s entrancing chords, compels you to follow this mysterious film wherever it may lead you.
The finished film proved to be more divisive than expected, but back in the innocent days of July, when the third trailer for “Interstellar” debuted at Comic-Con, pretty much everyone was on board. Foregrounding the relationship between Matthew McConaughey’s Coop and Mackenzie Foy’s Murph that proved to be the key to the movie, scored hauntingly by Confidential’s “View From The Voyager” and Thomas Bergesen’s “Final Frontier,” it was a perfect encapsulation of the film’s themes, giant heart, and grand, old-school sci-fi images, ending with Michael Caine quoting Dylan Thomas (much more effective here for not being repeated about four times). “Interstellar” might have been brilliantly flawed — and flawed brilliance — but this clip was just about perfect.
2. “Inherent Vice”
A movie as wonky, dense and drug-fueled as “Inherent Vice” was always going to be a difficult sell — after all, it’s an adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon book. But the first trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie flies by with a kinetic rhythm, and dialogue edited together like an episode of “Archer.” Expertly deploying Sly and The Family Stone and Sam Cooke to excellent effect, it’s so niftily edited — from the way Benicio del Toro shakes his hands as the song builds towards a gunshot to Owen Wilson mouthing “what the fuck” behind his credit (subversive touch, that one) — that you feel like you’ve had a full meal rather than just an amuse-bouche. Fortunately, even better was to come…
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
The Comic-Con trailer for what looks to be next year’s craziest blockbuster was already a sight to see, but the more recent theatrical look at George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world gone furiously apoplectic in 2 minutes and 29 seconds somehow topped it. There’s an initially quiet build towards Tom Hardy rising out of the sand like a monster truck (made literal through brilliant juxtaposition) as Mascgani’s “Regina Coeli” bursts out of a radio frequency, before a curious stop while Charlize Theron desperately cries to the heavens, only for Yuri Temirkanov’s “Dies Irae” to crescendo, and the trailer shifts gear into truly and literally operatic insanity. There are some staggering images here (the shot of Hardy strapped to a pole rotating above the car chase is some Harold Lloyd-level shit), indicating that the long wait for the movie might just turn out to be worth it.
Others that stood out but didn’t quite make the list included trailers for “Enemy,” “Godzilla,” “The Double,” “Avengers: Age Of Ultron,” “Birdman,” “Unbroken” and “The Babadook,” while there were more divided responses to “Chappie” and “Jurassic World.” Anything else we’ve left off? Let us know in the comments. – Oliver Lyttelton, Nik Grozdanovic, Drew Taylor, Erik McLanahan