What makes a great movie or television series trailer? It’s less about conveying the plot and more about selling the overall atmosphere of what it will feel like to watch the entire project. The best trailers bottle up the energy of an entire show or feature-length movie and unleash that same energy in under three minutes without losing any edge. These 10 trailers below did that the best in 2020.
“Killing Eve” Season 3 Official Trailer
A perfect example of a trailer that is more tantalizing than the resulting show, the sneak peek at “Killing Eve’s” third season even cleverly obscures the fact that one of the heavily featured characters (spoiler!) dies in the first episode. Get excited by Villanelle’s fashion choices and deeply weirded out by her homicidal clown, because it’s pretty much all diminishing returns from there.
“Perry Mason” Official Trailer
Wait, wait, wait, Matthew Rhys scruffily fedora-ing around a noirish Depression-era Los Angeles AND a charismatic evangelist played by Tatiana Maslany? Sign us up. The trailer for HBO’s prequel reinvention of the classic TV series won us over with its atmospherics and shadow-lit grit, teasing the story of how Perry Mason became, well, Perry Mason.
“The Crown” Season 4 Official Trailer
God save the Queen — and the Netflix accounting department — because the pomp and circumstance of this trailer seemingly has a budget equivalent to most mid-tier movies. Flyovers! Fireworks! Everyone being posh in expensive clothes and awful to each other in expensive accents! Season 4 of the “The Crown” has to marry a Margaret Thatcher plotline with a Charles and Di plotline — and this trailer was the first indication of how deft the show would be this year.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 4 Teaser
What does it say about 2020 that the trailer for Hulu’s relentlessly dystopian show — which was released over the summer to tease a pushed-to-2021 release — gave us something to look forward to in the middle of a pandemic? Filled with the striking visuals the show is known for, it also gives us a sneak peek at June’s (Elisabeth Moss) apparent path towards vengeance. Is there light at the end of the bleak tunnel? Maybe? Hopefully?
“Westworld: When Caleb Meets Dolores” Teaser
I mean, “Westworld” is basically incomprehensible at this point, so why not make a romantic comedy out of it? The “Westworld: When Caleb Meets Dolores” trailer was an easter egg for fans navigating through HBO’s interactive online show elements…and…it’s good? It makes perfect sense? It’s a lot less convoluted than the show? It’s the perfect example of guerrilla marketing gone wrong when you’d rather watch the spoof than the real thing.
“The Batman” DC FanDome Teaser Trailer
Hollywood’s predictable trend of marketing tentpoles with moody song covers continued this year (see Hans Zimmer’s Pink Floyd cover in the first “Dune” trailer), which part of the reason “The Batman” teaser’s straightforward use of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” felt so refreshing. The original version of the song also fits Matt Reeves’ vision for the Caped Crusader long a glove: slow-building tension and brooding rage. The first “Batman” trailer sticks the Dark Knight in the middle of a David Fincher serial killer thriller, and it works like gangbusters. The teaser is so good it made Warner Bros. delaying the film to March 2022 all the more painful.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” Official Trailer
A lot of people had no idea Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” was on the docket for this awards season. That blindspot changed in August when Warner Bros. dropped this blood-boiling powder keg of an official trailer in August. Framed around an impassioned speech by Fred Hampton (played here with big screen dominance by Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya), this trailer for “Judas and the Black Messiah” hits with brute force and left the biggest impression of 2020.
“Nomadland” Official Trailer
Searchlight Pictures’ official trailer for “Nomadland” debuted earlier this month, well after the Chloé Zhao-directed drama won the Venice Film Festival, garnered universal critical acclaim, and became a leading frontrunner in various top Oscar categories. What’s so impactful about the “Nomadland” trailer then is how it refuses to go the austere route and paint itself as some huge glorious Oscar contender. The trailer sticks to what works so impactful about the film: Zhao’s lyrical direction, Frances McDordmand’s emotional canvas of a face, and Ludovico Einaudi’s resonant piano soundtrack. No wonder the trailer alone elicits tears.
“Possessor” Red Band Teaser Trailer
Neon’s teaser trailer for Brandon Cronenberg’s “Possessor” is no small feat. It manages to bottle up the sickening body horror, slick body-swapping storyline, and pulsating pace of the uncut feature film and package it into an unrelenting one minute and 17 seconds of footage. For this reason, it’s the definition of a perfect teaser trailer.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Official Trailer
Netflix had a great year in movie trailers (from the old Hollywood rush of the “Mank” teaser trailer to the rock n’ roll thrills of the “Da 5 Bloods” official trailer), but no Netflix trailer was as jaw-dropping or perfect as the official clip for Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Much like the film itself, the trailer is a brain-melting bait and switch as it sets up a “meet the parents” narrative only to pull the rug out without warning and descend into a surreal fantasy. A Charlie Kaufman trailer with nearly 3.5 million views is a bright spot in 2020.