In a year when one company had a white-gloved hand in eight of the top 10 highest-grossing films, it’s evidently more difficult than ever to break free of Disney’s stranglehold on the box office. The trailers below, whether facing the challenge of introducing viewers to as-yet-untouched IP or not, did an admirable job of beckoning the viewing public up off their couches and into their nearest theater (though whether the films themselves deliver on that promise is another question entirely—one you can take up with our ranking of the year’s best movies). These are the trailers released in 2019 to which we eagerly sent our significant others YouTube links; for which we elbowed our friends, telling them to watch closely when they came on in theaters; that got us excited for that always-magic moment when the lights go down and the story begins.
It gives us no pleasure to remind you of this movie’s existence—we simply had no choice. The above footage was released into the world over the summer, back when Cats was only part punchline. It now seems hard to believe, but this film was seen as a legitimate Oscar and box-office inevitability at that point, and though its first trailer inspired mostly mockery, it also got people talking like few other promotional efforts made this year. We’re not going to sit here on Al Gore’s internet and tell you it’s the “best” of anything, but surely Cats is worth at least a mention on this list, if only for the nightmares Tom Hooper’s profane creation is already infamous for inspiring.
A late entry among 2019 trailers, the first for Downhill had a tall order to fulfill: making the forthcoming U.S. remake of Ruben Östlund’s acclaimed dark comedy Force Majeure look like a good idea. It defied the odds to do just that, riding the considerable comedic talents of its cleverly cast leads, Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, all the way to “You know what, I’ll give this one a chance” land.
The ninth film from Quentin Tarantino is far more interested in capturing a place and time than it is in telling a plot-driven story, and the teaser certainly reflects that. We meet showbiz buddies Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (a Golden Globe-winning Brad Pitt), with an opening interview clip establishing their (somewhat one-sided) relationship, but beyond that, the trailer is content to just drop us into late-’60s Los Angeles, where Bruce Lee and Charles Manson rub elbows with Old Hollywood stars like Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate. This laid-back approach could easily have fallen flat—instead, it gave Tarantino the best opening weekend of his career.
You could easily argue that the crowd-pleasing, beans-spilling first trailer for Robert Eggers’ The Witch follow-up is the one that belongs on this list, but for our money, it’s the second that earns the accolade, making more out of much less. What it lacks in sea shanty singing and liquor chugging, it makes up for with eerie quiet and knife’s-edge tension, cranking up the paranoia with each increasingly manic “what,” and crowding each 1.19:1 frame with claustrophobia. Watching this trailer feels like going slowly mad beside the sea, punctuated perfectly by the crash of the smash-cut accompanying Willem Dafoe’s climactic “Hark!”
When you cast Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in your movie, you know exactly what you’re doing: gearing up to make audiences cry. The film’s first trailer is unashamed to play that trump card early and often (the low keys on the piano device is also a nice touch), but the real emotional hammer blow comes at the end, when a subway car full of kids sing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” to the beloved children’s TV personality. This is essentially the Baby Yoda of trailers: You can sense you’re being manipulated—that your own good nature is being weaponized to sell you on something—but you’re helpless to stop it.
All grandeur and emotion, the first trailer for Terrence Malick’s latest epic moves from panoramic vistas and idyllic domestic snapshots to archival footage and disorienting fish-eye closeups, providing a concise visual representation of the film’s all-encompassing ambitions. Its emotional shifts are just as impactful, intercutting harrowing violence and brutality with intimate family moments of peace and joy. The preview lives up to the lofty plaudits scattered throughout, conveying A Hidden Life’s scope and poignance with aplomb.
In essence, the third John Wick film’s pitch is the same as the second’s: An army of assassins want Wick dead, and the iconic Keanu Reeves character will have to climb a mountain of spent bullets and bodies if he wants to be the last man standing. Yet the Parabellum trailer is able to keep upping the franchise’s ante, putting Wick’s back against the wall (at one point literally) like never before—he hobbles through the rainy, neon-soaked New York City streets, dreaming “The Impossible Dream” of survival as the clock ticks and his would-be murderers muster. The action obviously rocks: Wick slays with gun, knife and book (!), on foot, motorcycle and horseback … and that’s all before Halle Berry and her German Shepherds even show up. Are you not entertained?
A24’s trailer for Lulu Wang-directed dramedy The Farewell is nothing if not direct, spending all of 11 seconds establishing the conflict of the film (which it bills as “Based on an actual lie”), then providing a litmus test of its dark humor: “Chinese people have a saying,” says Diana Lin’s character: “When people get cancer, they die.” Dramatic irony hangs over the entire preview, which sets pieces of Awkwafina’s Golden Globe-winning performance against Zhao Shuzen’s unrelentingly endearing Nai Nai. When the main attraction itself is this good (one of Paste’s top films of 2019, as a matter of fact), all the trailer needs to do is tell the truth—The Farewell’s sure does, even as it doesn’t.
The Goldfinch is perhaps the biggest critical disappointment on this list, but the film’s first trailer is undeniably effective, using Perfume Genius’ “The Other Side” as its emotionally explosive keystone. The trailer gives us a passing glance at the plot—at Ansel Elgort’s protagonist, the tragic death of his mother and his connection to the story’s eponymous painting—but mostly takes aim at the heartstrings, scoring a direct hit.
Rian Johnson’s hit whodunnit needed a killer first trailer that established its time-tested premise, flaunted its obscenely stacked cast and set its sharp-tongued, darkly comic tone, all without giving anything too important away. That’s just about exactly what it got in the above, a deftly edited clip that places Daniel Craig’s genteel investigator Benoit Blanc at the center of a “twisted web” of family animosity, deceit and death. Sure, it shows a tad more than it should—a sin the second trailer commits to a much more significant extent—but it keeps most of the film’s many secrets, including the identity of its actual protagonist, and makes Knives Out look like the cinematic joyride that it is, wisely emphasizing the Chris Evans character, whose gleefully telling his whole family to “eat shit” is a highlight.
Remember the Dark Universe? Universal’s complete nonstarter of an MCU imitator made it through all of one movie, 2017’s phoned-in The Mummy, before collapsing into irrelevance. That’s all the more reason to be impressed by the trailer for writer-director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, a Universal/Blumhouse co-production previewed with shocking competence (remember that Mummy trailer? Godawful!). It eschews jump scares almost entirely, practically unheard of in modern horror trailers, instead emphasizing the personal nature of its protagonist’s (Elisabeth Moss, excellent at unraveling) torment and rewarding attentive viewers via the devil in the details (keep an eye on that knife). Those same viewers may find the trailer reveals too much, but with Whannell of Upgrade fame at its helm, you can bet The Invisible Man will still have plenty of nasty tricks up its unseen sleeves.
The Hustlers team could have just taken the Jennifer Lopez character’s introductory pole dancing scene, repackaged it as a trailer and called it a day. But they did us all one better, editing her already-iconic dance together with a key scene between Lopez’s pro and Constance Wu’s rookie—which lays the foundation of the film—in a way that maxes out the resonance of each sequence. The ensuing preview nails the infectious energy of Lorene Scafaria’s film, taking us along for the ride as Lopez and Wu hustle Wall Street out of its ill-gotten gains, turning the wolves’ appetites against them. Cardi B hit “Money” soundtracks the trailer—at one point the song skips in time to repeated credit card swipes—a subtle flex considering the rap star also makes her feature debut in the film.
The Golden Globe-nominated story of Fox News’ reckoning (at least in sexual harassment and toxic workplace terms) went over like a lead balloon at the box office, but don’t hold that against its first teaser, which takes an admirable “less is more” approach to hyping up the politically charged Jay Roach joint. Title cards handle the hard sell (“Based on the real scandal … What started as a whisper,” etc.) while Margot Robbie’s composite character, visibly upset, steps into an elevator alongside an unrecognizable Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, with Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson later following suit. The trio hardly say a word to each other, but their furtive glances and body language speak volumes. The teaser sets the viewer on edge by bombarding them with unvarnished tension, providing a good look at Bombshell’s key players, but little else.
The first teaser for Ari Aster’s Hereditary follow-up excels where its full trailer would later falter, conveying Midsommar’s mind-bending malevolence without tipping Aster’s hand. Granted, these tea leaves aren’t tough to read: A group of young Americans go to a mysterious Swedish festival, and things don’t go well for them there. But the Midsommar teaser captivates by simply skipping over any set-up, dropping us straight into Florence Pugh’s shoes and playing its mind games with us. Creepy chimes interlock with rhythmic breaths and arcane imagery, with the trailer spiraling into quick-cut chaos as it crescendoes. The unnerving post-title stinger, in which Pugh peers through a keyhole as a chorus of unseen women wail, invites us to imagine the horrors Aster has conjured, expertly playing on the most powerful fear of all.
A trailer for the film equivalent of a child making monster action figures fight by smashing them together has no business being this … beautiful. American attempts at bringing the big G to the big screen have consistently produced, if not good movies, then at least enthralling trailers, and the first for Michael Dougherty’s sequel to 2014’s Godzilla is no exception. Set to Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” the clip front-loads the film’s big idea (certain environmental catastrophe, for which humanity is culpable) and inconspicuously showcases its stacked cast, only showing off its titular monsters in serene and unexpected ways, with an unmistakable sense of wonder. It presents King of the Monsters as a sweeping epic with ambitions of imbuing its plentiful destruction with deeper meaning; one as interested in the monstrousness of humanity as it is in that of its awe-inspiring Titans. But at the end of the day (and of the trailer), it’s all about Godzilla himself: “Long live the king,” indeed.
To dismiss Spies in Disguise as your average animated family feature is to make a grave mistake. Sure, the trailer may start out that way: Will Smith’s impossibly suave super-spy Lance Sterling drives a car fit for a 00 agent, jumps out of a helicopter and effortlessly tangles with baddies—so far, so standard. But halfway through, title cards tease, “He’s going from super spy … to super fly,” at which point the trailer takes the silliest, least predictable left turn possible. We sincerely hope you’re seeing it for the first time and won’t spoil the surprise for you, but even if Spies in Disguise falls short of being as fun, you simply have to admire the balls-out audacity of marketing a movie this way. They’re not trying to convince you the arbitrary mishmash of spy movie and [REDACTED] makes sense: They’re inviting you to delight in how little sense it makes.
The latest effort from irreverent Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi doesn’t leave much room for indecision—either you’re onboard with a lighthearted romp in which a young Nazi boy’s imaginary best friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi), or you’re not. That’s the beauty of the full trailer for Waititi’s “anti-hate satire”: It makes a tough sell look like a sure thing, breezing blithely along on Jojo’s (Roman Griffin Davis) journey from “blind fanaticism” to finding empathy for the Other he’s been indoctrinated to despise. Meanwhile, German-language covers of “I’m a Believer” and “Heroes” imbue the trailer with happy-go-lucky charm and starry-eyed idealism, respectively. Whether Jojo Rabbit can actually cash the check this writes is a subject of much debate—Paste reviewer Joelle Monique says yes, for the record, praising the film as a “tender, thought-provoking and gorgeous exploration into anger and despair”—but the trailer’s efficacy is hard to argue.
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut struggled at the box office, with many blaming producers Annapurna and their release strategy for the film’s failure to connect with audiences en masse. That shouldn’t take away from Booksmart’s undeniably fun first trailer, an energetic red-band blast that depicts the film as much more than a Superbad rehash. The trailer’s snappy editing and party-starting soundtrack (Lizzo’s “Boys,” DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak” feat. Run the Jewels) nail the pace and tone of the film, while Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly’s (Beanie Feldstein) misguided attempts to achieve cool-girl glory on their last night of high school go hilariously awry. Paste writer Joelle Monique hailed Booksmart as “an instant classic”—you might say the same of its trailer.
Although Jim Jarmusch’s star-studded zom-com was a critical disappointment, at least its first trailer didn’t get that memo. The Dead Don’t Die touts “the greatest zombie cast ever disassembled,” and with Iggy Pop and Carol Kane showing up undead in its first 30 seconds, the trailer sure does walk that shambling walk. Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny as small-town buddy cops; Tilda Swinton swinging a samurai sword; Tom Waits popping up as a bedraggled hermit—it’s all good, bloody fun, set to Love’s rollicking “Seven and Seven Is.” Watch it once and you’ll be thinking fondly about Driver’s delivery of the word “ghouls” forevermore.
If there was one 2019 trailer it was a treat to watch other viewers watch for the first time, it was absolutely IT: Chapter Two. The horror hit’s extensive first teaser sticks mostly with Jessica Chastain’s adult Beverly Marsh as she meets a kindly old woman—slowly but surely, though, in a sequence so uncanny it inspires as many laughs as gasps, we realize this woman isn’t who she appears to be. Some deft sound mixing, ghastly images of a certain killer clown and the introduction of the adult Losers Club, reassembling 27 years later to settle their unfinished business, combine to make a clip that got audiences excited to see the story of IT concluded.
The new film from Christoper Nolan jumped onto this list awfully late in the game, with Tenet’s first trailer debuting in mid-December. Rather than offering pat answers to the many questions swirling around this film, its trailer raises many more: Opening on a distinctly Dark Knight-like, IMAX-friendly zoom, it establishes John David Washington’s elite agent, who is tasked with preventing “something worse” than a nuclear holocaust upon entry to the afterlife. People and vehicles move in impossible ways, like tangible palindromes; Washington’s handler (Martin Donovan) offers the film’s title as a password unlocking goodness knows what; Washington and his partner (Robert Pattinson) investigate crimes that haven’t happened yet. “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it,” urges Dimple Kapadia’s character, as if advising audiences on processing Tenet itself.
While the first trailer for James Gray’s Ad Astra emphasized the acclaimed sci-fi drama’s action, depicting it as a Gravity-esque space disaster movie, the second is far more keyed into what this film actually is: about a son attempting to connect with his father, as we see literally play out in the trailer’s opening moments. Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride is on a journey as emotionally challenging as it is physically, venturing beyond the ends of the earth to solve the mystery of the man who raised him. Set to Jon Opstad’s mesmerizing “Ignis: IV.,” the trailer merely backgrounds Roy’s interstellar exploits, focusing instead on his internal struggle, and exposing Ad Astra’s heart of darkness.
Jordan Peele’s much-anticipated Get Out follow-up was mostly a mystery when its first trailer dropped on Christmas Day 2018 (the movie came out this year, though, so we’re counting it; whatever, nothing matters), allowing us a spine-tingling first crack at getting to the bottom of the writer-director’s “new nightmare.” This is the rare trailer that gets better and better the more you know about the film: Hints at Us’ most shocking revelations pepper the trailer from its first frames, with layers of meaning masterfully hidden in plain sight. And this being a Jordan Peele joint, it’s also funny, until it’s terrifying—Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” transforms from a Winston Duke dad-friendly “dope song” to utterly unnerving, tracing the trailer’s descent into the uncanny.
The Rise of Skywalker’s exhilarating first teaser is everything the finished film wasn’t: Serene and focused, its sweeping grandeur promises a fittingly powerful end to the so-called Skywalker Saga, as opposed to the mess of McGuffin-ridden fetch quests, recycled plot lines and, as Andy Crump put it in his Paste review, “hyperactive cacophony” J.J. Abrams and company delivered. The teaser confidently dedicates half its runtime to an epic Rey and Kylo showdown (the film’s first), then flips through one stirring image after another—droid friends new and old, a laughing Lando Calrissian, Leia and Rey’s emotional embrace—as Luke speaks to a new generation’s champion on behalf of all Jedi. We close on a group shot of our heroes, surveying the ruined shell of the Death Star, and cut to black as Emperor Palpatine, the franchise’s ultimate villain, cackles in announcement of his return. The reveal of The Rise of Skywalker’s title puts a thrilling exclamation point on a trailer worth celebrating, even if the film itself isn’t.
Josh and Benny Safdie’s white-knuckle Diamond District thriller is one of the most stressful cinematic experiences in memory—it also happens to be one of the best. The film’s electrifying trailer perfectly represents its nigh-unbearable tension, the maelstrom of frenetic activity, nerve-shredding risk and gaudy glamor swirling constantly around Howard Ratner (a never-better Adam Sandler), his sphinx-like smile ever-present regardless of the circling sharks. Within a week of its wide release, Uncut Gems was already one of A24’s biggest-ever box office hits, and you can bet this trailer played a part, however small, in its success.
The beautiful first trailer for A24’s Waves, the breakout third film from Krisha and It Comes at Night writer-director Trey Edward Shults, is asked to toe an impossible line: It has to bowl the viewer over by tapping into the film’s poignance and power, while simultaneously telling us next to nothing about its plot. This clip succeeds in every way, combining Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed,” lush footage of the film’s South Florida setting and pieces of a knockout Sterling K. Brown performance (among others) into a tidal wave of imagery and emotion that’s impossible to resist being swept away by. It will give you chills, break your heart and piece it back together again, all in 90 seconds flat.
Scott Russell is Paste’s news editor—wait, now he’s a pigeon. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.