Not to get all technical on you or anything, but in order to be as objective as possible (read: not at all) with this list, we defined a great trailer by three criteria: 1) That the trailer provided something external to the film it previews, an exclusive of sorts; 2) That the trailer was assembled with an expert eye for technique, editing or unique something that held it apart from the craft and voice of the parent film; or 3) That the trailer made you really, really want to see that friggin’ movie. So, in some form or another, distinguished by complex algorithms and long, dedicated nights of debate, here are undeniably the best 20 trailers of 2014.
(Oh, and check out the bottom of the list for some honorable mentions.)
20. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1
For a film franchise into which not even a staggeringly drunk Woody Harrelson can inject enough of a sense of humor to make bearable, the first part of the dead-serious conclusion to The Hunger Games has the kind of tummy-tickling teaser trailer that is so ludicrous you can imagine Donald Sutherland cashing his check and paying a prostitute only to watch him shit into a bucket just to match the sheer ease in which he can don the President Snow persona without one iota of effort expended or one single fuck given. It’s a handsome thing, this teaser, and more believable than the second one, in which Jeffrey Wright “pirates” your “transmission” to give you a “message” about the “Mockingjay” or whatever, but what’s better is that this teaser tells you exactly everything you need to know about the Hunger Games universe in one fake commercial: that if you actually take this crap seriously you are just as much of a poor lunkhead as every single District schlub subject to the rule of a bunch of Gary Glitter types hundreds of miles away. —Dom Sinacola
19. Gone Girl
There’s a definite formula to the trailers for David Fincher films. Namely, string together a montage of striking, beautifully crafted shots; add an idiosyncratic cover song (see Karen O.’s “Immigrant Song” for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the haunting choral version of “Creep” attending to The Social Network); and then watch it all simmer. For Gone Girl, the tact is no different, showcasing Fincher’s intensely mannered eye to the bombast of Richard Butler’s cover of “She”—last heard in the opening credits to Notting Hill, where it was sung by Elvis Costello, and bore no trace of the sociopathic steez of Fincher’s vision. Even without knowing the nature of the film’s central husband-and-wife relationship, such a subversive choice of music is nothing short of perfect, belying the simpering evil in the film that runs counter to the romance the song proclaims. —Mark Rozeman
With such a shocking preamble, how could this trailer not inhale us right away? The rest, then, is a matter of spitting us out. From its first few beats, this teaser lets us know that John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson aren’t playing around quite as much as in their last outing together (2011’s The Guard). By invoking the sex scandal tearing through the Catholic Church, they’re making an immediate statement about their film’s timeliness, and in doing so they paint Calvary as something so much more somber, so much more tonally slippery, than their thoroughly delightful buddy cop comedy riff.
Perhaps most striking about the footage we’re allowed is that it’s certifiably haunting, buttressed by McDonagh’s genre blend of American Western and neo-noir. A fine combination, but despite its darker intentions and murderous portents, the clip still manages to be funny—blackly funny, but funny nonetheless. (Gleeson is the kind of guy who can making a sideways tilt of the head into a punchline.) It’s a preview intent on chewing you up so relentlessly, whatever gristle of you is left may question the moral fortitude you’ll be able to lug to the cinema. —Andy Crump
17. The Grand Budapest Hotel
There’s gunfire. There’s sex. There’s swearing. There’s murder most foul. There’s punching. There’s throwing cats out windows. Then there’s more swearing. How is this a Wes Anderson movie again? Not that his characters have never before used dirty words or gotten into scuffles, but The Grand Budapest Hotel’s teaser acts as if the film’s fused together with the mortar of vulgarity and violence—intense, fast-paced and borderline nihilistic. Stuff doesn’t just happen, it happens, lots of stuff, and lots of that lots of stuff is as handsome as anything Anderson’s ever captured. In other words, he hasn’t lost one bit of technical flair since working on Moonrise Kingdom—the trailer shows off his typically precise compositions, his love of artifice, his deadpan comedy, his fondness for all things bygone and antiquated—but this is Anderson on meth, as if he’s no longer confident he’ll see the director chair on another film, let alone see another tomorrow. —Andy Crump
No surprise this trailer is defined as much by its use of sound as is it by the absence of the same. Everything begins innocuously enough, until the moment J.K. Simmons (playing the film’s drill-sergeant-like conductor) tosses a chair at our protagonist (Miles Teller), and the trailer begins to look less like a charming coming-of-age story for a young go-get-‘em musician and more like some kind of demented, seething, Roman-Polanski-esque horror/thriller stomach-turner. From there the trailer heaves toward its final few seconds, in which various quick cuts are scored by the intensifying pit-pat of a snare drum: visceral momentum; a dread-soaked atmosphere; and Miles Teller weeping as if he’s about to go full Private Pyle and lose his shit. Here’s a preview that might chastise you for wanting to get up and cheer. —Mark Rozeman