Ranking The Best Coen Brothers Movie Trailers

By  · Published on January 14th, 2016

For the past few years, we’ve not only been treated to great Coen Brothers’ movies, but also great Coen Brothers’ trailers. The trailers for their latest project, Hail, Caesar!, have not disappointed. The first has a fast, screwball energy, highlighting the all-star cast. The latest trailer, however, begins with a wonderful scene between Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehreneich. The Southern actor has trouble delivering a line, and Fiennes’ director character frustration grows and grows.

More trailers should do this: show a clip that gives you a greater sense of the film. These kinds of trailers are rare, and you can say that about a lot of the trailers for the filmmakers’ work. Admittedly, not all of them are gems. Just go watch The Intolerable Cruelty trailer if you don’t believe me.

As for the ones that have left an impression, here are the 10 best trailers for Coen Brothers’ movies:

10. Barton Fink

Here’s proof that not all trailers for Coen Brothers have been worthy of their films, because this one spoils far too much. It literally shows the final minutes of the movie – which, sadly, is not the first time this has happened. We pretty much see the beginning, middle, and end of Barton’s troubles. But it is superior to The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona trailers, since it at least flows well and establishes the hilariously nightmarish atmosphere.

9. Burn After Reading (Red Band)

Spirit’s “I Got A Line On You” is the perfect song choice. Every character in Burn After Reading thinks they are the smartest character in the room, and yet have no idea what’s going on. The confidence and rocking sound of “I Got a Line On You” is spot on for a movie about a gang of morons mucking about. This trailer, unlike Barton Fink, doesn’t show the audience too much, either. For example, this Red Band commercial easily could show the amazing contraption Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) builds, but it doesn’t, thank God.

8. No Country for Old Men

The Coen Brothers are world builders. The worlds are generally heightened, for a surreal or comedic or dramatic effect. For that reason, some of their trailers struggle to communicate what exactly their movies are. Their pictures are often packed with oddball characters, conflicting tones, and are heavy on themes, which is sometimes difficult to express in two minutes. That’s not the case with this No Country for Old Men trailer, which efficiently sets up the plot, the leads, the landscape, the stakes, and even some of the themes (“you can’t stop what’s coming”). Some people prefer the Red Band trailer, but “Young Men Dead” by The Black Angels feels like a song for a different kind of thriller.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis

Coldness and desperation is on fully display in this trailer. These two-minutes aren’t only full of terrific comedic beats, especially from John Goodman, but it also does a really fine job of setting up what kind of sad, tortured schmuck Llewyn Davis is. The trailer is an assembly of brief character moments, which all tell the audience plenty about the protagonist and his predicament. It’s a very effective trailer, possibly even a great one.

6. Hail, Caesar! (Trailer 2)

As aforementioned, more trailers should lead off with clips. By this point, you generally know what you’re getting with a Coen Brothers’ movie, but it’s nice to be reminded of their tone every once in a while – which, depending on the project, often changes. The trailer is focused more on the quality of the writing than the stars of the film. Then again, you could call the directing duo stars by this point. Their name means something to moviegoers, and whoever cut this trailer is clearly aware of that.

5. The Hudsucker Proxy

“Would an imbecile come up with this?” I imagine Warner Bros. did not have the easiest time selling this delightful comedy. “A movie about a guy that invented the hula hoop? Who wants to see that movie?” I certainly do, especially if it’s from the Coen Brothers. To Warner Bros.’ credit, they cut together a trailer that properly reflects the spirit of the film, which unfortunately few too many people saw back in 1994.

4. Blood Simple

This trailer comes out swinging by quoting Alfred Hitchcock. Incorporating Hitchock’s name might raise expectations too high, but since Blood Simple is one excellent thriller, using the director of The Birds, Vertigo, and Shadow of a Doubt to sell the movie isn’t such a bad idea. This trailer is truly something sinister. That opening shot makes you want to lean in while in a state of anticipation, dreading what you’ll see revealed.

3. True Grit (Teaser)

When a misleading trailer is a blessing in disguise. Maybe “misleading” is too strong of a word, but this relies far more on the dark side of the film than its sense of humor. The shot of Josh Brolin gives the impression he’s not a man to be reckoned with, while the doofus is anything but. It sets up your expectations for a very specific kind of Western, but the film turns out to be far more than that. With that eerie but beautiful song and Roger Deakins’ lush cinematography (just look at Matt Damon’s character lighting up that pipe!), this is a beautiful teaser.

2. The Man Who Wasn’t There

Not enough people talk about this film. Perhaps it’s not their most accessible work, and the trailer shows you that. Billy Bob Thornton’s hilariously mundane opening probably wasn’t a huge selling point for some filmgoers, but having the protagonist start off a trailer by talking about hair? Bold move. Unlike the True Grit’s teaser, though, this one shows you exactly what you’re getting.

1. A Serious Man

How many times have we seen a trailer scored to the sound of a man having their head repeatedly slammed against a chalkboard? I don’t believe we’ve ever seen that before, which is a damn shame. The funny but uncomfortable sound plays alongside equally hilarious and disturbing images – which is a perfect way to sell a A Serious Man. Almost none of this trailer focuses on the plot, just the atmosphere of the film. What exactly is this Coen Brothers’ film about? It’s hard to tell from this footage, which is one of the many reasons why it is the best trailer for a Coen Brothers’ movie.

Honorable Mentions: Raising Arizona, The Lady Killers, and The Big Lebowski

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.