Year in Review: The 13 Best Trailers of 2013

By  · Published on December 30th, 2013

What were the best trailers of the year trying to sell? Movies and moods and ideas and awards and stars and sexiness and just a lot of great music. And maybe, just maybe, something more (read: more movie tickets).

Not every great trailer advertises a great film, but sometimes even the most lackluster productions can gift movie fans with two minutes of cinematic glory (all the better if said trailer can include Kanye West screaming or Nicole Kidman redefining “cold” or even the glories of street dancing) worth lauding all on their own. This year saw a vast batch of standout trailers, and while our listing of best trailers of the year is nothing if not varied, all of the videos contained within share one key element – they effectively conveyed tone and feeling without revealing too much about plot and characters. As mini mood pieces, these thirteen trailers nailed it, as bits of marketing, they made us want to buy and buy big time.

What were the best trailers of the year trying to sell? Oh, it doesn’t matter – we were ready to buy.

The Wolf of Wall Street

There is no better way to deliver the ego, the self-importance, and the decadence of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street than through the dulcet tones of Kanye West, all screams and YEAHS and thumps and beats and whatever it is the kids like these days. Sure, the sounds and screams of the first full-length WOWS trailer recommend it, but the entire thing becomes an instant classic around the twenty-five-second mark, when Leonardo DiCaprio just casually tosses a glass of orange juice into a bush. That’s all you need to know about WOWS, in a juicy little nutshell. -Kate Erbland

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The teaser trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty perfectly presented the feeling of the film without giving away too much of the plot. Thanks to Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws,” this trailer came across as exciting, uplifting, quirky, and magical without needing to say more than a few words. The hypnotic feeling of “Dirty Paws” draws you in as we see how Walter (Ben Stiller) looks at the world before crescendoing off a wave from Sean Penn, making the song feel like it was written for the trailer instead of being placed in it to simply grab attention. –Allison Loring


As one would expect from a Chan-wook Park film, the trailer for Stoker shows a highly stylized journey through the Stoker family’s odd and off-putting dynamic. The trailer not only highlights portions Clint Mansell’s fantastic score, it also shows how important the use of sound is throughout the film from the crushing of an egg’s shell to the scrape of a shovel to the tick of a metronome. Every look and every shot in Stoker means something and the trailer hints at how much lays beneath the surface with these distinct characters. –Allison Loring


With the simple strikes of the piano keys and Emmanuel Lubezki’s command over a camera, never has the serenity and vastness of space looked so beautiful. Only, to then, feel instantly like paralysis in motion. Many films have depicted space, but as this trailer shows, no other picture has ever truly captured just how frightening it can be to have all your wits and movements, but still have no control. Cuaron’s film is arguably the most immersive and exhausting picture of the year, and this trailer in all its hyperventilating glory lets you know precisely what you’re getting yourself into when you sit down in that seat. –Adam Charles

The Wind Rises

The Studio Ghibli label, and the Hayao Miyazaki name as an extension of the studio, always tends to evoke two very powerful emotions in many of those who still long for the days of hand-drawn animation artistry. One emotion is of immediate excitement, the other of fantastic wonderment. Ghibli pictures, and Mayazaki’s specifically, are historically spiritualistic fantasy stories, but this trailer of Miyazaki’s latest (and final) picture puts forth a picture in the era of World War II that looks balanced in poignancy and affection. It’s something we haven’t really seen from the studio since Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. Not much is derived from the trailer other than setting and possible theme, but the gracefulness of Miyazaki’s animation is highlighted to perfection to distract us from caring what the film is primarily about while selling us on the soul in its visuals. –Adam Charles

Iron Man 3

For those disappointed with Iron Man 2, this was a nice shot in the arm to get excited for the latest installment. It showed us that the new movie retained a bit of the look and feel that Jon Favreau established five years ago, but it also revealed a darker tone we expected from Shane Black as director. While this (and many other trailers recently) gets pretty spoilery at the end with the wonton destruction of Stark Manor and his Iron Man suits, it managed to keep the biggest (and most controversial) Mandarin surprise in the film hidden with misdirection. Also, kudos to the studio for resisting an “IRON M3N” title card at the end. –Kevin Carr

The Great Gatsby

From the moment this trailer starts, you know this wasn’t going to be the old Robert Redford and Mia Farrow version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Even with the expected narration, the soundtrack and opening cards showed the incredible energy the film would have. It also demonstrated director Baz Luhrmann’s command of imagery, recreating the Big Apple of the Roaring Twenties. Dropping in key elements from the novel for those who read it, yet featuring plenty of flash and powerful anachronistic music, this trailer managed to ramp up excitement for what some might have otherwise considered an adaptation of a boring book you were forced to read in school. –Kevin Carr

American Hustle

Once in a while a trailer comes around that you’ll want to watch again and again long after you’ve seen the actual film. Especially if the actual film is a disappointment. Not since Ted Demme’s Blow has there been something sold so well as a Goodfellas descendent that wound up being a very mediocre knockoff instead. The official spot for American Hustle makes David O. Russell’s latest seem to be a serious crime drama with mere hints of humor, mainly in the form of the period costumes and hair. It looks gritty and sexy and intent on being authentically in line with the greatest films of the ’70s, a sort of cross between Scorsese and Lumet and maybe just a smidgen of The Sting. Maybe it’s because there’s none of the campy stuff or footage of Louis CK or any sign at all that this is just a silly con-man romp with no substance. In a way, this is one of the worst trailers of the year for not properly advertising its film as it truly is. But it’s also one of the best in terms of how much I still enjoy watching it, partly just to imagine the movie I thought and wanted American Hustle to be. –Christopher Campbell


Sports movies may be a shameless weakness of mine, but growing up in Indianapolis instilled a particular penchant for auto racing. Ron Howard’s Rush therefore hooked me, conceptually, before the first image of the first trailer. Still, what was technically the movie’s third trailer adeptly emphasized everything that drives (no pun intended) the greatest of racers. From the opening cover of David Bowie’s “Fame” to the swagger and sexual appetite of our lead, played by Chris Hemsworth, the high-octane machismo of the redlined rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is perfectly encapsulated in the equivalent of one lap of a major race. The unquenchable desire for victory that defines the best drivers is further highlighted by the use of Flux Pavilion’s “I Can’t Stop” right at the end. We’ll leave it to you to judge whether the finished product shifted gears from its stellar marketing, but suffice to say that Rush presented one of the most thrilling trailers of 2013. –Brian Salisbury

Man of Steel

Perhaps the most promising thing about Man of Steel’s first trailer was that it marked a clear cutting of the cord from all the preceding entries in the franchise. It promised a reinvention of the character by taking us back to the Superman’s franchises defining principles. With Christopher Nolan’s track record on Batman, this film promised to be a winner. For my money, the biggest disappointment was that handheld effect shown prominently in the trailer was used in practically every shot of the feature film. — J.L. Sosa

The Counselor

This is exactly what a trailer should do: sell the mood, not the story. Some found the trailer’s vagueness frustrating – and most felt that way about the actual movie – but it shows you everything you need to know. This preview for Ridley Scott’s divisive film has a refined dread to it, with beautiful landscapes, implicit violence, and handsome cast member after handsome cast member. –Jack Giroux

Frances Ha

If the filming of Godard’s Masculin Feminin had somehow existed in the same universe as David Bowie’s mainstream blonde era, the end result might look and sound something like the Frances Ha trailer. Besides including the most memorable use of Bowie’s “Modern Love” ever put to film, this trailer for Noah Baumbach’s great NYC twentysomething tragicomedy is perhaps one of the most honest movie ads of the year: its tone accurately captures to manic-yet-contemplative tenor of the film, it alludes to the film’s quirky-but-not-annoyingly-so humor without giving away some of the best lines (which really only work in the context of the film), and it uses music that (gasp!) actually shows up in Frances Ha. Please excuse me while I go watch this wonderful movie again. –Landon Palmer

The Conjuring

The teaser trailer for The Conjuring was damn near perfect, though I didn’t fully realize it until the film came out. What I knew when the tinny music box chords played over the end of the teaser was that I couldn’t wait to see the film. The teaser set up the story quickly and jumped right into the supernatural, showcasing Lili Taylor playing the clap game, a Marco Polo variation on hide-and-seek, with her daughters. Creepiness abounds, the title fills the screen in giant yellow letters in a cool ‘70s-style font and the unsettling music plays. Sign me up! It got even better when I finally saw the film and discovered that the teaser is basically just a scene from the film, cut for time. Not only that, but in this era of trailers spoiling second and third act twists and showing us entire films, the scene used in The Conjuring’s teaser takes place entirely in the first 10–15 minutes of the film. Trailer-makers take note. This is how you do it right. –Luke Mullen