Movie trailers have become an odd business unto themselves. As the promotional budgets for blockbusters spiral upwards to ridiculous heights, we’ve recently seen the introduction of things like trailer teasers (ultra-brief trailers for trailers). Studios now want to build anticipation for things meant to build anticipation for other things. Where will it end? It won’t. Things will only get more ridiculous from here – just wait and see.
Still, on their own, trailers make for addictive viewing. I reinforced that for myself in perusing every notable trailer that came out this year in order to make this list. They are made to suck you in, to be watched over and over; the hope is to create a void in the viewer that can only be satisfied by seeing the film proper. Taken independently of their films, trailers are curious beings. They are all potential, all speculation generators, even after their movies come out and we know whether their promise ends up fulfilled. Even though I didn’t end up enjoying the films that each trailer here promoted, I still come back to those trailers. They still stand alone as works of … perhaps not art, but something artistic, at least.
So without further ado, here are 14 of the trailers I just couldn’t shake from 2014.
The Unknown Known
This trailer compresses all the frustrated anger that its film makes you feel into two and a half minutes, which in some ways is a more potent reaction than The Unknown Known itself may evoke from you. All it takes for your hackles to raise is a passing familiarity with Donald Rumsfeld’s role in America’s many ill-ventured wars over the past decades. Beyond that, the back-and-forth Rumsfeld said / history said cutting conveys the documentaries themes of filtering history through one’s personal agenda.
I’m a sucker for an ominous parable narrating some ominous action. That’s a trope that doesn’t show up in enough trailers, but then again, not too many movies use parables into their scripts. Even better, The Double’s trailer has a gruff Eastern-European-sounding man delivering the speech, exponentially increasing its effectiveness. That’s the first half of this trailer, which expertly sets up the tension that breaks free for the frantic chaos of the second half.
Under the Skin
I considered going with this film’s initial red band trailer, which was a minute of slow, ambiguous imagery followed by thirty seconds of rapid cutting. But this one is more measured throughout, making it a better primer for the mood of the movie proper, which is all slow-burn creepiness. Plus, this trailer incorporates bits of the movie’s incredibly eerie score. And while getting across the plot isn’t truly the most important part of a trailer (concocting a mood is much more vital), this one does make Under the Skin (slightly) more comprehensible to anyone musing on seeing it.
The Final Member
Trying to get a friend to see The Final Member on a description alone (“It’s about a guy with a penis museum who wants to get a human penis! No, stop, where are you going?”) may be … difficult. In fact, documentaries are often a hard sell on their mere premises, since how they’re about those premises is what makes them distinct. So show a friend this trailer, which perfectly captures the movie’s gloriously off-beat cast of characters and gleeful tone.
It takes tremendous gumption to use a snippet of Ligeti’s Requiem in your trailer. The piece is inextricably associated with the “Dawn of Man” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and inviting comparison to that film is daring, to say the least. But while critics are split as to whether Godzilla proper lived up to expectations, this trailer certainly earns the use of that music, which stacks up an atmosphere of dread to match it. Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe’s speeches, combined with contextless images of planes falling from the sky and mass destruction, make this trailer a mini-masterstroke of apocalyptic horror.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson films are so full of great little moments that work on their own as standalone jokes. This trailer cobbles some of the best beats together, while at the same time providing a good summation of the plot that still doesn’t give away all its delightful convolutions. This is a roller coaster, rushing through absurdities before screeching to a slow for deadpan wryness. And it all builds to M. Gustave’s soon-to-be-iconic brief soliloquy on humanity in a barbaric world, which sums up the film’s whole attitude at once.
In case you’re wondering, Borgman isn’t much easier to understand than this trailer for it. But it’s also even better than this trailer, which is already rather great. It’s chock-full of grotesque disrespect to the integrity of the human body, which is the basis for much of the movie’s more unsettling scenes and images (the most indelible of which caps off the trailer).
We Are the Best!
It’s important to remember the exclamation point in We Are the Best!, because it’s as much a declaration as it is a title. And this trailer is one big exclamation point after another, beginning with the rather rude disruption that one of the characters makes at its beginning, which shifts things from synthy ’80s music to the punk rock that drives the movie’s heart and soul. Additionally, the trailer includes many of the film’s best lines, but leaves more of them to be discovered by anyone who possesses enough common sense to seek it out as soon as they can (which you totally should).
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
This is the only trailer on this list for a movie that came out this year that I have not seen. So for all I know, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is much more straightforward and less insane than this makes it out to be. Regardless, it’s a cavalcade of vivid, often startling imagery that lodges in my mind, constantly reminding me that this movie is waiting for me on Netflix Instant, if I would only get around to it.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Oh goodness me. Goodness, gracious me. Look at all that grievous harm. Look at all those explosions. Look at all those stunts. Look at how much of them are practically-done effects. Look at Tom Hardy. Look at Charlize Theron. Look at the madness. Look at it. Look at it. Look. At. It. You know what, take the official trailer too, while you’re at it:
Joanna Newsom. Sly and the Family Stone. Jaoquin Pheonix’s scream. Josh Brolin trying to speak Japanese. Sam Cooke. Neon. But the best part is how this trailer shuffles together random snatches of dialog into an ersatz “conversation” that makes sense to your ears even as it makes no sense at all. A lot of movie trailers do something similar, but never with the finesse that this one does. This is a hilarious encapsulation of Inherent Vice’s weird story and weirder feel.
While a lot of the other trailers on this list are going for abstract emotions, this one is extremely direct. It aims to get your blood pumping with activistic fervor, and it does so beautifully. The mood both of Selma’s story and the time period it’s set in are established within seconds, and you can get a sense for David Oyelowo’s uncanny performance of Martin Luther King Jr. as well.
Dogs are better than people. Why more movies don’t recognize and exploit this, we’ll never know. But White God gets it. This is one of those trailers that gives away essentially the entire plot of its film, which I know drives a lot of people up the wall. But I don’t mind that so much. I especially don’t mind it here, since it makes for a terrifically rousing piece of work. And can you imagine if it had just stuck to the part of the film that looks like another piece of European realism? Not only would it have seemed far too grim, but it would miss the hook that will undoubtedly pull in most audiences: a dog rebellion! Holy cow, yes I want that in my life.
Knight of Cups
A late addition, but we must always make room in our hearts for Terrence Malick. This trailer has the requisite Malick visual sumptuousness (though there’s not a field of wheat in sight) and dreamy narration. But we’ve never seen the man’s movies go to nightclubs before. I would have thought that strobe lights were alien to his sensibilities, but here we are! Anyway, it’s mysterious and evocative and gorgeous and I want it right now.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Editor’s Note: Just when you thought we’d let this list get all the way through without including Star Wars, here it is. This was the trailer the world watched over and over again at record rates. Its inclusion pushes our list well beyond the promised 14 entries. Then again, we’re here to talk about movies, not math.