Movie trailers can be misleading. Their primary function is to sell us something, to get asses in seats any way they can. Sometimes, that entails making a film look like something it’s not, as when a moody arthouse crime pastiche is passed off as a de facto Transporter sequel. (Newsflash: Advertising isn’t always honest.) But in 2018, many of the best movie trailers—and make no mistake, there’s a real art to assembling these two-minute bids for your time and money—were the ones that seemed designed to mirror the very essence of the films they were selling. They were less commercials than inspired tributes, made with love and respect for the “product.” Most of the 10 trailers listed below fit that description, even as the subjects of their hocking and salesmanship span a spectrum of budgets, genres, and release strategies. Just remember: All had to drop sometime in 2018, which is why that first Black Panther ad, among other triumphs of marketing from last year, didn’t make our rundown.
10. Bisbee ’17
Conventional documentaries present an advertising challenge: How do you hook moviegoers with the unsexy promise of talking heads, still photographs, and archival footage? But there’s nothing very conventional about the slippery nonfiction films of Robert Greene, and maybe that’s an advantage for those tasked with selling his unclassifiable work—including his latest, Bisbee ’17, which heads out to an old mining town in Arizona on the centennial of its most shameful chapter. Since much of the film’s final stretch is a dramatic reenactment of the atrocity—the deportation-at-gunpoint of more than a thousand immigrant workers—there’s plenty of violent, tense imagery for the trailer to foreground, all while efficiently laying out disturbing contemporary parallels. Prominent use of Keegan DeWitt’s string-driven score, coupled with an ominous stomping sound and one of the subjects singing a delicate pro-union ballad, give the whole project the aura of a horror movie. Given the history Bisbee ’17 uncovers, revisits, and interrogates, that’s not really false advertising.
David Lowery’s nostalgic outlaw drama shines a spotlight on the legendary, undiminished star power of Robert Redford. So the trailer smartly treats it like the main selling point too, putting the actor’s chemistry with Sissy Spacek front and center by extensively excerpting their charming, film-opening meet-cute. No attempt is made to pass off The Old Man & The Gun as an urgent thriller; the film’s vibe, laidback but stylish, is faithfully previewed—we get a nice sense of its rhythms from some quick hits of Redford’s charismatic bank robber Forrest Tucker showing off his gregarious version of the stick-up game, as well as a good impression of its tone through the twangy accompaniment of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run The Game.” Perhaps the trailer has the same affectionate relationship to The Old Man & The Gun as the The Old Man & The Gun has to Redford’s decades-spanning career. Regardless, it’s rare to see a film so honestly, lovingly promoted, its very spirit offered up as enticement.
8. Thunder Road
Here’s another coming attraction built around the main attraction. If The Old Man & The Gun derives its power from Redford’s charms, Thunder Road is chiefly a showcase for the incredible lead performance of its writer-director-star, Jim Cummings, who plays a police officer going through what we’ll call a… difficult period in his life. To show off Cummings’ volatile cocktail of emotion, the two-minute spot zeroes in on his big meltdown scene, offering a perfect illustration of the film’s tricky blend of tones—the way it sits balanced on the edge between uproarious cringe comedy and uncontrollable anguish. (The structural choice of beginning and ending with a scene between Cummings’ character and his young daughter is a nice touch, too.) Ultimately, the trailer is a good demonstration of how to artfully—if maybe not lucratively—lean into a film’s eccentricities rather than sand them down into something more safely palatable; it makes Thunder Road look as fascinatingly offbeat as it really is.
The trailer for 2014’s Godzilla made the unintuitive but surprisingly effective choice of downplaying the titular behemoth in favor of an intense monologue from Bryan Cranston—the equivalent of talking up the big guy so his reputation preceded him, rather than diluting his fearsome presence by overexposing it before the movie was even out. The trailer for next year’s sequel—which debuted to much excitement and approval at Comic-Con over the summer—tries the trick again, this time allowing Vera Farmiga to posit in voice-over that Godzilla and his skyscraper-sized ilk are the “fever” to fight the Earth’s “infection,” a.k.a humanity. It’s a spooky thematic umbrella for a kaiju movie. It’s also the icing on the cake of a trailer that actually does feature some really spectacular (if still fleeting and selective) monster imagery, teasing a new-old trio of Toho foes to the perfectly incongruous tinkle of “Clair de Lune.” Plus: Eleven!
6. A Star Is Born (first trailer)
A lot of jokes were made at the expense of newly minted triple-threat Bradley Cooper when he announced that he was going to be directing, co-writing, and starring in yet another take on that oft-told Hollywood fable, A Star Is Born. But the laughter tapered off considerably once folks actually caught a glimpse of the footage and discovered that, wait, the guy has an eye for this, doesn’t he? The first of several very well-constructed Star Is Born trailers strings together some of Cooper’s most instantly iconic images, like that one up top of Lady Gaga in tight, emotive close-up. But it was more than just proof of talent; it also communicated the chemistry he forged with his (sort of) deglamorized pop-star costar. And of course, there was the music, those first notes of “Shallow” washing over a flurry of melodrama, getting stuck in your head before you’d even really heard the tune. Edited to snippets of its best songs, the trailer made A Star Is Born look like a must-see event instead of a vanity-project punchline. Not that the jokes completely stopped: We got a pretty great meme out of it, too.
5. Suspiria (teaser)
Regardless of how one ended up feeling about Luca Guadagnino’s long, arty reinterpretation of the Italian horror classic, its first teaser cast quite the spell of its own. It was clear, from this highlight reel of out-of-context spookiness, that Guadagnino had dramatically broken from the celebrated look and feel of Dario Argento’s original, meeting memories of its colorful, operatic imagery with a muted and gray and claustrophobic new style. Best of all, the chosen imagery spoiled nothing, preserving for Suspiria virgins any details of plot, while leaving the diehards wondering which set-pieces, if any, the 2018 version would recycle or reinvent. What the teaser teased, in other words, is something so few remakes do or even can offer: the mystery and menace of the unknown.
4. Tully (teaser)
A funny, inspired, even beautiful short film on the endless exhaustion of motherhood. That’s all there, of course, in Tully, the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, which casts their Young Adult star, Charlize Theron, as an extremely overtaxed parent. But the trailer itself breaks the film’s emotional conflict down to a succinct, nearly wordless procedural, told through a montage of pertinent shots and moments: alarm clock, bottle, rocking chair, playtime, afternoon coma, oven pizza. Punctuated by a couple of great pratfalls, and driven by a piano score that goes from quiet to loud to quiet again, the teaser turns the film’s inciting incident into a closing cliffhanger mystery: Who is this Tully knocking on the door, and where will she take Tully?
3. First Man (third trailer)
Most of the time, the trailers for a major new movie tend to get more expository and less suggestive in the run-up to the release date. In other words, the usual pattern is to start with a short, mysterious teaser, and then to offer additional plot details with each new trailer that follows. But Damien Chazelle’s First Man upended that strategy, saving its most mythic spot for last, as though the campaign were building to the same crescendo of pure emotion that the movie itself does. The hook of the third and final trailer is that it contains no written dialogue from the film, just snippets of President Kennedy’s Rice University speech about why we should go to the moon—a choice that gives its montage of striking imagery the weight of history and achievement. All three of the film’s trailers are effective, but it’s the JFK-narrated one that comes closest to the stratosphere—even if, come to think of it, taking this particular tact the third time around may have been a form of damage control, designed to convince skeptical conservatives that First Man would put America first.
2. If Beale Street Could Talk (teaser)
Then again, maybe Chazelle was just trying to keep the friendly Moonlight-versus-La La Land competition alive. After all, the last trailer for First Man bares a passing resemblance to the first teaser for If Beale Street Could Talk, the new movie written and directed by his one-time Best Picture competitor, Barry Jenkins. In the short, lovely, and equally plotless Beale Street spot, the sampled audio is from James Baldwin, author of the novel on which the film is based. His musings (“I was trying to make a connection between the life I saw and the life I lived”) provide context to James Laxton’s breathtaking imagery: Kiki Layne gripping the edge of a glass counter in anguish; Stephan James yanking at the closed gate of the subway platform like the bars of a jail cell; the two stars wandering a beautifully recreated 1970s Harlem. We get little sense of the story, but the film’s emotional and intellectual textures couldn’t be clearer. As with the Moonlight preview (our favorite trailer of 2016), it’s almost self-contained in its power, even as it serves the true function of getting everyone excited for a new communion of artistic kindred spirits.
1. Mission: Impossible—Fallout (first trailer)
Nearly as nonstop awesome as the movie it’s advertising, which is really saying something. One could argue, of course, that a film with this much exciting action to highlight kind of sells itself. But if the Fallout trailer doesn’t reinvent the wheel, there’s still a superb rhythm and internal logic to the thing—to the way it bolts, with a conviction worthy of Ethan Hunt himself, from the foreboding, whispered warnings of its opening seconds to the full-bore thrills (and solid laugh lines) that follow. Hell, the spot is so satisfying, so cool, that it makes Imagine Dragons sound good, which is basically the definition of a rising tide lifting all (speed)boats. Not that it needs them, but extra points for Henry Cavill dramatically reloading his biceps—the funny-amazing trailer moment of the year.