This article is part of our 2021 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the best movie trailers of 2021.
Some people love movie trailers. Other folks avoid them like the plague. And some people don’t even realize that folks feel strongly either way. Personally, I’m somewhere in between. There is an art to a good movie trailer. The best of the best are able to draw you in without giving too much of anything away.
Looking back on 2021, plenty of top-shelf movie trailers put their best foot forward to assure that, yes, the movies are back. In compiling the best trailers of the year, bangers litter the cutting room floor. Hype-courting fare like Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home riled up blockbuster fans while smaller, weirder offerings like Lamb and Pig gave us freaks something to hoot and holler about.
The road was and still is a bumpy one thanks to the ongoing global pandemic. But, nevertheless, we were visited by some pretty rad movie trailers in 2021. So, without further ado, here’s a look back on how cinema sold itself this year:
15. The Power of the Dog
Here’s the thing: with merely a fraction of its feature-length power, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog can’t help but work its magic. Jonny Greenwood’s nerve-wracking, neo-Western guitar strings set us on edge as rolling hills dissolve into the bristled backs of horses. Offering glimpses of Ari Wegner’s exceptional cinematography of the New Zealand, uhh, Montana landscapes, we’re introduced to our core cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a central conundrum: an unspoken power play between a tense and tight-knit family.
The trailer for The Power of the Dog deserves props for holding its hand close to its chest, for this is a movie with an integral narrative twist best discovered in context. The atmospheric tension is plain enough, but its particularities and intimate demons are left unsaid between hate-filled looks and curious glares.
14. The Humans
The Humans marks the auspicious directorial debut of Stephen Karam, adapting his own 2014 Tony Award-winning stage play for the fine folks at A24. The movie showcases a Thanksgiving dinner tinged with hurt, trauma, unshakable bonds, and awkward change. Which is to say: any Thanksgiving dinner.
While the movie hits similar stage-to-screen notes and bears striking similarities to other intimate family dramas, like last year’s The Father, The Humans has a distinctly terrifying bent. In fact, while its plot beats, and even its terrifically realized characters may feel familiar and lived in, Karam’s decision to lean into the cinematic language of horror, thrillers, and more expressionistic genres sets The Humans apart.
It is, as such, a film of contradictions: of unseen bumps in the night, creaking floorboards, and character actors running circles around one another. The trailer does a solid job of encapsulating this tension, of showcasing the movie’s nightmarish imagery as well as the warmer, dialogue-driven interplay between this fragile family.
13. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first of two 2021 Marvel movies on this best trailers list. While you try to predict what the second will be, here’s what secured Shang-Chi a spot: I think when I reflect back on 2021 and to the tentpoles that made it feel like the movies were “back” inasmuch as they can be during an ongoing pandemic, Shang-Chi will be at the forefront of my mind. There were plenty of blockbusters stuck in neverending promotional purgatory over the course of 2020, and Shang-Chi felt like the first of its weight class to come out of the gate without more than a year of wheel-spinning. Or is that ring spinning?
The fact that Shang-Chi is relatively unknown as far as Marvel properties go sweetened the deal. This trailer promised a big, bold, fantasy with Tony Leung in it! What more could you ask for other than a big bowl of popcorn?
It’s always a treat to see what Walt Disney Animation Studios is up to with their next big project. Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, who previously worked together on 2016’s Zootopia, Encanto marks yet another good-faith notch in Disney Animation’s ongoing efforts to improve on-screen diversity. Set in an enchanted house in Columbia, it follows the story of Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the only inhabitant who has not been blessed with magic powers.
As the trailer shows, when the magic of the house comes under threat, it’s up to Mirabel to protect her home and save her family. The movie looks visually stunning — thanks, no doubt, to the studio’s ever-improving work on ray tracing, the technology that’s making all the lighting in Encanto look, well, enchanting.
11. King Richard
Perhaps more than any other title on this list, King Richard is here because it does what a good trailer ought to: it sells the movie. Not everyone has an intimate knowledge of the early life of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, let alone the role of their father, the titular Richard, in their success. And for those familiar with the real-life story, how do you sell them on a cinematic portrayal of something they’re already familiar with?
The answer, of course, is thematic. King Richard is ultimately a movie about a familial bond built on an unflappable desire to learn and reach for greatness. As the titular Richard, Will Smith sells us on a dream that sees a brighter future for the younger generation and unwavering support to back it up.