The Best Movie Trailers of 2016

By  · Published on December 21st, 2016


From dead presidents to killer sharks, we count down the best trailers of the year.

While most of the ink spilled about movie trailers tends to focus on their role as part of an endless Hollywood hype machine, there are trailers that manage to do more than just progressively tease footage from an upcoming film. The best trailers can act as their own mini-movie, combining music and motion in ways designed to tell an exciting story in the smallest possible space. Back in 2013, Wired magazine spoke with video editor Mark Woollen about his approach to cutting the perfect trailer. For Woollen, it all boils down to the right song. “Directors talk about how it’s all about casting for them – when they get the right actors, their jobs are easier,” Woollen explained. “For us, that’s true of music.”

Not every trailer listed below uses an original song, but the ones that do utilize them perfectly, blurring the line between movie marketing and short-form video installations. And that means creating something worth watching, regardless of the medium. At the end of the day, my criteria for a great trailer is pretty simple: a truly great trailer is one I keep returning to, not because it promotes a movie I want to see, but because the trailer itself is wildly entertaining or evocative. With that in mind, here are the movie trailers I found myself re-watching like mad in 2016.

10. Wonder Woman (Comic Con Trailer)

What Makes It Great: With Warner Bros. effectively zero for two this year outside of its hardcore base— few people who were skeptical of the DC Cinematic Universe had their doubts squashed by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad — the studio went into this year’s Comic-Con International desperate to show audiences that it was capable of more than just scowls and fifty different shades of grey. Enter Woman Woman. The first Wonder Woman footage offered brightness and a sense of grandeur lacking from the previous Superman films, making fans wonder if we might be entering a new era for the beleaguered studio and its franchise goals.

9. Live By Night (Trailer 1)

What Makes It Great: At this point in his career, Ben Affleck could probably record himself describing his next film to an iPhone – held in portrait, no less – and release that footage as a theatrical trailer to wild acclaim. Instead, we got this first trailer for Live By Night, a haunting string of forlorn predictions by the people in his character’s life (“Repent. Repent.”) set to ‘Arsonist’s Lullabye’ by Hozier. Everything about this trailer works to perfection; from Affleck’s thousand-yard stare in the opening seconds to the syncopated gunfire and drumbeats, this trailer tries to impart the essence of its main character in just a few short minutes, and absolutely succeeds.

8. Get Out (Official Trailer)

What Makes It Great: While blockbuster films are often judged by the footage they hide from audiences, smaller genre films often benefit from throwing a bunch of visuals onto the screen and leaving audiences wanting more. I’m not sure if Get Out will weave together its imagery in a way that makes for a coherent film, but the fragments we are treated to in the theatrical trailer – terrifying hypnosis sessions, skeleton deer, a Stepford bingo game – certainly whet the appetite for one of 2017’s most enticing horror films. Horror film trailers always work best as fragments; even if Get Out fails to live up to its promise, this will still be a trailer for the ages.

7. Jackie (Teaser Trailer)

What Makes It Great: Hollywood has known for a while now that the right scratchy jazz standard or Broadway song can really sell an atmosphere of dread. While the full Jackie theatrical trailer suggests a fairly conventional take on your standard Hollywood biopic, this teaser really underlines the horror aesthetic present throughout the film. Jackie is as much about memory as it is about history; here the editors show the fractured state of Jackie Onassis’s mind as she comes to terms with the loss of her husband (and, to an equal extent, the loss of her legacy). If post-traumatic stress had a trailer, this would be it.

6. Swiss Army Man (Official Trailer)

What Makes It Great: While many trailers choose to look outside their own soundtracks for the perfect trailer song, with all due respect to the rest of Hollywood, few movies have a soundtrack quite like Swiss Army Man. This first trailer is basically just a window into the film’s utterly unique world; like so many of the films on this list, if you like what you see in the trailer – and there are some bizarre and delightful scenes on display here – then you’re definitely ready for what comes next. It also doesn’t hurt that the Swiss Army Man trailer shows how well the soundtrack will be organically situated in the film.

5. A Cure for Wellness (Official Trailer)

What Makes It Great: You may be skeptical of a high concept horror film from the guy who directed The Lone Ranger, but there’s no denying that Gore Verbinski knows how to capture a haunting image. The commuter train entering the tunnel? One. Perfect Shot. The medicine ball exercises in the pool? One. Perfect. Shot. The image of Dane DeHaan looking through the porthole at an underground pool full of swimmers? One. Perfect. Shot! The compositions in this trailer are so spot on that I can’t even ding A Cure for Wellness for jumping on the sad pop cover bandwagon. This may not be the best movie of 2017, but it’s the one I’m looking forward to the most.

3. The Fits (Official Trailer)

What Makes It Great: Unquestionably the least talkative film on this list, The Fits chooses to lean into that silence for its lone theatrical trailer, cutting scenes and snippets from the film’s many glowing reviews against an excerpt from the soundtrack. It’s certainly not the first trailer to sync text and music together, but here it serves a narrative purpose: letting audiences know the importance of performance and rhythm in the final film. If these two short minutes hook you on the characters and their sense of displacement, then you won’t be disappointed by the final product. The footage and music speak volumes by saying very little at all.

3. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Trailer 1)

What Makes It Great: As with many of the films in the Bad Robot lineup, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps its twists and turns as close to its chest as humanly possible. And while plenty of fans were excited to discover a surprise Cloverfield anthology film in their summer lineup, I’d wager that this trailer had just as much to do with putting butts into seats. This is the mystery box at its best; we sense something dark lurking both inside and outside the bomb shelter, but the trailer begins with such a cheery sense of 1950’s American that we almost think we’re in store for another film altogether. Almost.

2. The Handmaiden (Official Trailer)

What Makes It Great: If you liked the trailer for The Fits, you’re going to love this teaser for The Handmaiden. Not only did the trailer editors find that mythical perfect background song – “Red Sex” by the emerging British electronic artist Vessel – they also cut the trailer with absolute precision, assaulting audiences with lurid images from the film in rapid succession. Watching the trailer again after seeing the film only heightens your appreciation for what the editors accomplished; while the pacing of the film is nowhere near as frantic as the trailer would suggest, the energy present in The Handmaiden’s lone trailer feels just right.

1. The Shallows (‘The Beginning’)

What Makes It Great: And here it is, the best trailer of the year. In that Wired article, Mark Woollen described the perfect trailer as a combination of “rthym, pacing, and feeling,” and The Shallows has each in spades. The X Factor here, of course, are the excerpts from a 1951 PSA on self-reliance, but it is each piece working in tandem – the upbeat music, the stern narrator, the snippets of Blake Lively being pulled underwater – that makes this a winner. If I’m right and the best trailers are the ones that are enjoyable to watch in-and-of themselves, then The Shallows wins this competition in a landslide. I cannot count the number of times I’ve watched ‘The Beginning’ this past year simply because I love the way the trailer came together. It’s almost (almost) as entertaining as the movie itself.

Honorable Mentions: The LEGO Batman Movie, Suicide Squad, John Wick: Chapter 2, Moonlight, The Nice Guys, Captain America: Civil War, Logan, The Neon Demon

Follow the rest of our #2016Rewind here:

Related Topics: ,

Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)