Like last year’s movie trailers countdown, the list below tries to find something creative and unique within a medium that’s really only supposed to do one thing: sell you tickets. But perhaps more than many years before, the trailers of 2016 seemed to capture everything beautifully right and everything horribly wrong about the film industry. It was, after all, the year in which the trailer for Suicide Squad was so successful the studio had the people who cut the trailer re-cut the film. As you can remember, that went well.
Still: One of these trailers made me nauseous; more than one made me cry. One trailer could prove, like Amy Adams discovered in Arrival, that we can manipulate reality, and not the other way around. One is the anecdote to that simmering, subcutaneous misery you’ve been feeling all year.
Still: Shout out to the Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 trailer; shout out to The Mummy; shout out to the Spiderman: Homecoming trailer, which I just saw like an hour ago. Shout out to the full trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes that came out today, which still looks phenomenal even if Woody Harrelson’s line-readings are weirdly sedate. (“And in the end, we learned that the Planet of the Apes was inside of us all along.”) Shout out to next year’s Star Wars: Episode VIII trailer, I’m sure you’ll do well.
2016 movie trailers have shown us what’s to come—may we march into the next year expecting more out of 2017.
16. The Boss Baby
The Boss Baby is an actual full-length feature film directed by the man who has stayed gainfully employed by churning out Madagascar flicks as fast as children can inhale them. The Boss Baby is not a well-tuned SNL Digital short or similar sketch-show parody of a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist. The Boss Baby does exist, and its plot is fully available within the tidy two minutes of its trailer, which efficiently sets up the movie’s conflict and lays out its protagonist’s stakes and ensures that babies will do real people things and also baby things and it will be hilarious when the two things are conflated because: Imagine a baby having cream applied to its butthole while wearing a three-piece suit! Priceless family entertainment.
The special-ness of the trailer for The Boss Baby is that it removes all necessity for The Boss Baby to even exist. A sneak peek so by-the-numbers, so marketably unaware of its raison d’être as movie trailer, so completely uninterested in being anything but something a Millennial could shit out in an hour using the first 20 minutes of the film, some outdated version of iMovie and a funk/soul song that might as well be a part of the public domain (in this case, it’s the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing”—because business is this baby’s thing I guess?), the trailer for The Boss Baby rests comfortably in that liminal chasm between willing the full film into and wiping the full film from existence. There is still time: 20 million people have seen this trailer. What if we all just agree that we’ve already seen the whole movie? One-point-five out of four stars.
15. War for the Planet of the Apes
Whether it’s a metaphor for the civilization the talking war criminal apes will build from the ashes of our incinerated humanity, or a literal demonstration of how mo-cap works now, in this, the Worst Timeline, the face of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and an ominous threat of violence are enough to mean-mug us into submission. We get it: “War has begun.” And we know there’s nothing we can do about it.
14. Cars 3
Cars 3—at least, that’s what I guess it’s called. Whatever; it doesn’t matter. None of this matters.
Count the Cars “franchise” amongst my least favorite pile of pixels to ever exist abreast the now iconic Pixar logo, but I have to give it to the studio for replacing John Lasseter with storyboard artist Brian Fee and setting up the Cars universe for a grim paradigm shift. We can only hope: “From This Moment, Everything Will Change.” Yup: If there’s anything the past couple years of supposedly family friendly fare has shown us, it’s that we’re scraping the bottom of the Uncanny Valley at this point, and our animated films better be representing the same failure and amorality of the world surrounding us lest our kids fail to learn at any early age that the world is pain and death awaits us all.
13. The LEGO Batman Movie
Every new trailer loaded with franchise baggage has the heavy weight of cynicism to shoulder, especially when it comes to Batman and the Affleck’d damage Zack Snyder and David Ayer hath wrought (cue “Sounds of Silence”). Which is probably why The Lego Batman Movie has pushed a small armory of previews into the gaping maws of anyone willing to open their face to declare that 2016 crushed the Batman brand beyond repair. All it takes to shut up the critics, apparently, is a healthy pile of self-awareness. When Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) lists the many times we’ve been suckered into re-watching Bruce Wayne’s origin story over and over, we commiserate with his exhaustion, and we feel hope again: This may not be the Batman story we want, but it will be the Batman story we need—and also maybe the Batman story we want too.
The beauty of the Logan trailer is that it revels in a world without beauty—and what better song to serenade that “Empire of Dirt” than Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” cover, humanity’s favorite bummer hymn. Reexamining the ubiquity of the song, the trailer simultaneously redeploys it to suck all the tears from your face, and edits it so that we wonder if the song was ever actually all that good in the first place. The Logan trailer does not realize it is doing this—it wields “Hurt” in the same way Cash did, wringing all melodrama from the saddest, most xenophobic of the X-Men timelines—but by abridging the song to its empirical bits, segmenting it perfectly for maximum emotional impact, the ponderous melody which you feel like you’ve felt every inch of by now becomes yet another tool in an overused arsenal, as obvious as Logan’s desaturated color palette and as super-serious as the Wolverine’s drinking problem. Yet, despite all contrivance and however many shots there are of Jackman sucking his way to the bottom of a bottle, the song choice works. And so does the trailer. Which either means that the tone of our comic book movies are now expected to be set in brimstone if they ever hope to be taken seriously, or that we are an officially broken society of consumers, and the onslaught of over-budgeted, overhyped, overdone superhero flicks has worn our poor nerves down to their nubs.
11. The Handmaiden
A face-melting orgasm in slow motion, the trailer for The Handmaiden is so good I want to buy it a nice dinner and sit in silence and just watch it chew.
10. Voyage of Time
Like the two different versions of the film itself, the better of the available trailers for Terence Malick’s incomprehensibly immense opus is the second, narrated by Cate Blanchette. The first, starring Brad Pitt’s “reading a text book” voice, can barely hold a cosmic candle to Cate Blanchette’s few words, limned in portent and spoken with the intensity due a visual story about, literally, the Universe. Rather than simply give some context to the insane images Malick, without one hint of humility, has unleashed—really: Where do you have to go as a filmmaker when you’ve already made a movie about Everything?—Blanchette makes myth out of nothing; hers is the Word made interstellar flesh. This trailer readies viewers for something closer to a transformative experience, an emotional journey, rather than the big-budget National Geographic special Pitt’s voice sets Voyage of Time up as. I mean, it technically is a big-budget National Geographic special, but Malick’s ambitions greatly outstrip those origins, and Blanchette, first heard here, allows the filmmaker the right tone to make his vision a reality.
9. The Greasy Strangler
Forget work—there is no safe place to watch this trailer, not even within your own skull. There is nothing you can unsee here, which quite possibly is all of it. There is only depravity manifest, accompanied by a trailer doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: Separating the wheat from the chaff, knowing that you will know that within 10 seconds of this you’ll either be in or you’ll be definitely out. Most will be out, a select few will be in, cult status will be achieved, and many long, scalding-hot showers will be had. All for naught: this movie will stain your soul.
8. Always Shine
Amidst mounting dread, so metric it hurts, the Always Shine trailer argues that all the anxiety you feel watching it is actually your fault. Jealousy, bitterness, drunken leering, bad decisions, decimated friendships, rage, apoplectic freak-outs simmering just beneath the surface of a markedly surreal exterior —all of this, Always Shine’s trailer suggests, you had coming, because you are probably a bad person. You deserve your own version of Single White Female or Fatal Attraction or Persona or Three Women or whatever else mind-bindingly tense thriller this trailer is alluding to, awesome title font and all. And if Always Shine makes you feel bad—sorry, but that’s on you.
7. Shin Godzilla
Whoever made this, the trailer to this reboot of the Godzilla property, understands that iconography doesn’t have to be poignant, it only has to feel that way. Even if you’ve never seen a Godzilla movie in your life, you watch the Shin Godzilla preview and are appeased. Every image here—from the urban Japanese horizon stomped on by the silhouette of a giant, fat-thighed dinosaur to the face of a screaming bystander so close you can see his shivering uvula—seems like something spiritually in line with the 1954 original, even if it isn’t. This, you think, is exactly as it should be—even if you have no idea what you’re talking about.
6. Kubo and the Two Strings
With mathematical precision, the Kubo and the Two Strings trailer rips your windpipe from your throat and puts it back in upside down, all before you can even catch your breath—and then you suddenly realize you can breathe better than you could before. Why had God made you that way? The trailer helps you accept that there are some things in this life over which you have no choice, some things that are just inevitable, such as when you hear “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” you immediately think of every person you’ve ever loved who you’ve lost, and the epic silence they’ve left behind.
5. The Alchemist Cookbook
With the trailer for Always Shine, the trailer for The Alchemist Cookbook makes it clear that Oscilloscope Laboratories knows its way around a stylish promotion, finding a way to make the “unclassifiable” nature of Joel Potrykus’s seemingly lurid, loose cinematic thing a lot more classifiable—at least enough to want to give it a chance. If 2016 was a big year for movies with scary woods, then this trailer stakes The Alchemist Cookbook’s claim to being the fucking weirdest.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
When, in the hours running up to the November 8th election, President Obama addressed the nation, “No matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning,” he was talking about this trailer.
Hi, cishet white male here to remind you: The trailer for the film Moonlight made me cry. You should give your money to this film. It’s a really good film. A trailer needn’t do anything but reside in implication, to hint that the incense-thin silk that webs these images one to the next is more than a matter of cause and effect, or melodrama, or action—that the way one person says “yeah” to another person can have, buried deep and warmly within, the desire to connect to another person, to stave off meaninglessness, to not feel like the end of one’s life will be as lonely as the life itself. A trailer doesn’t have to be so spare, but neither does Moonlight: Don’t you want reminders like this?
2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
With an economy of which every American could be proud, the first 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer arrived as unexpectedly as the Apocalypse, came to us as unwilling to be an actual Cloverfield sequel as we were to come to terms with David Bowie’s death barely five days before. It felt nice, being surprised and then, even better, terrified by that surprise—it meant that simplicity was still a scarce commodity, that sometimes instincts could still be trusted, and that maybe the best thing to do in January was to look to the coming months and hope for the best.
1. Wonder Woman
When the Wonder Woman trailer emerged viscera-slick from the Cronenbergian mess of Batman v Superman, there but for a bright shining moment came a whiff of light within the doomed dankness of that shitpile of diarrhea’d expectations we called Life in 2016. Because BvS, which appropriately sounds like a venereal disease, came to represent so much of how blockbuster culture was failing us this year: Instead of gifting us spectacle and escape and awe, it labored over incoherence and tedium and treated us (the audience already feeling pretty bad about ourselves) like the dumb shitty insects we already knew we were, a massive population of dung beetles, making our homes out of the crap of way bigger animals and in thrall to Zack Snyder’s sweatpants-pessimism. But Patty Jenkins thinks better of us. With our first glimpse of her Wonder Woman, there is grace and clarity to her action, a consistent visual language to the way her camera moves, emotional heft to her conflict—something besides might and misplaced mommy issues and the punishing boredom of Snyder’s dispatches from Mt. Brolympus. Let us pray that we’re not normalizing anything we shouldn’t by having faith that, next year, DC movies can be good again.
Dom Sinacola is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.