As we pulled together this list of the Best Movie Trailers of 2017, one thing is clear—it’s a good time to be a trailer. As a whole, the movie business is booming, the sheer spectacle available on the Big Screen any given month puts whole decades to shame, and as for sites that post news items and analyses on the trailers themselves (including ours)? Legion. And yet, the ultimate role of a trailer remains the same—to get butts into seats. In many ways, it’s not as easy as it used to be. Those seats are much more expensive and those butts can sit at home and stream and otherwise choose how to devour the content trailers promote. Still, the trailers on this list represent a pretty wide representation of just what makes a trailer a success. (Spoiler: The movie actually being good is not a necessary ingredient.)
Ah, for all the talk of how trailers get people pumped for amazing films, this list is the perfect place to talk about that other, perhaps more common, purpose they serve—building excitement for what would actually be a much better film than the one we’re eventually going to see. In this way, trailers like the one for Luc Besson’s Valerian serve the same function as pre-season chatter for your favorite underachieving sports team—allowing you to imagine the upcoming movie (season) will be a successful one. Just as frequently, as with this particular movie, that turns out not to be the case. But man, wasn’t it nice all those months prior to the film’s release to imagine that the creator of The Fifth Element was going to give us another glorious space opera romp?
While lists such as this one celebrate trailers that offer something beyond the normal, the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok is a good reminder that, ultimately, trailers are about selling tickets. (For tent pole, would-be blockbusters the opening weekend is key.) Though some have complained the teaser (and subsequent) trailer for director Taika Waititi’s entry in the MCU gave away too much—in particular the presence and active role of a certain large green guy—such arguments either ignore or minimize not just the importance of opening weekend box office, but also of just how weak the Thor franchise was perceived to be compared to its Avengers brethren (as well as Peter Quill and crew). The teaser above guaranteed folks who had been less than enthused by the first two installments would know this one had something more to offer—both the presence of everyone’s favorite gamma-irradiated rage beast and a decidedly more humorous spin. (“He’s a friend from work!”)
Though Dennis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult classic may have underperformed (unrealistic) studio expectations, this trailer was the first sign for fans of the original that the property was in good hands. Vangelis’s signature chords, light-diffused/rain-soaked settings and a good look at blade runners old and new were all signs that this sequel might be worth the price of admission.
Some trailers entice due to the snazzy meshing of song with imagery. Others unleash the spectacle (and, granted, often the entire plot). The Death of Stalin keeps things simpler—it just looks strange, wacky and, most of all, fun. The trailer makes Armando Iannucci’s film look like a spiritual heir to ’80s comdies like A Fish Called Wanda (though maybe that’s just due to Michael Palin’s presence).
The marketing campaign for It had a lot going for it from the start. Rather familiar (and much beloved) source material with an earlier familiar (but not too recently so) filmed iteration. But one could argue that these aspects add pitfalls to turning out a successful trailer since the balancing act splitting between keen expectations and familiarity and educating the uninitiated can be a difficult one. Nonetheless, the trailer lays out the familiar-to-many beats and continues the gradual unveiling of Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise.
Before Lady Bird arrived, Sean Baker’s followup to Tangerine had ruled much of the year’s festival buzz. This trailer gives viewers a good idea why, resting heavily—as does the film—on the charm of its pint-sized lead, Brooklyn Prince.
I won’t lie—I wish this trailer would have eschewed music cues completely. Even as it stands, the novel nature of a trailer that’s 90% more quiet than others involves the viewer in ways few trailers do. Will this movie be any good? I have no clue, but did this trailer interest me far more than a synopsis and cast list ever good have? Absolutely.
Everyone expects a good trailer to increase excitement among the source material’s already existing fan base, but a great trailer taps into appetites the unaware movie goer didn’t even know he or she had. When that sister-in-law who just knows you know movies texts out of the blue to announce, “I want to see this film!” you know the trailer is doing its job. Granted, Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde ticked off a lot of boxes, many of which had little to do with the trailer—there was the desire for more “Furiosa,” the rising plaints concerning why we hadn’t had a Black Widow stand-alone movie yet, and even a certain appetite for a cold war/collapse of the Berlin Wall atmospheric vibe. (Viewer appetite for certain eras and genres waxes and wanes depending on how often one is fed, after all.) The Atomic Blonde trailer knew it had something—several things—that a viewer wanted. It just had to package it nicely. Mission accomplished.
Trailers are ultimately all about triggering and teasing and building expectation. One could argue that the 18 MCU films that will have landed before Avengers: Infinity War ultimately serve that role far better than any trailer ever could, but even if true, it also means it should be easier for the trailer to underperform. But yeah, not so much. Showing that even their trailers are now in the business of melting performance records, this first trailer instead shows audiences their first real glimpse of just what exactly Kevin Feige and company have wrought with their patient, world-building, world-respecting approach. Even the little precursor video to marvel movies—that page flipping graphic drawn from the comic book pages of whatever character is being features—is now composed instead of images of the film characters. (That’s both impressive and really cool when you think about it.) It’s possible some followup trailer for the film will be on next year’s Best Trailers list, but for 2017, let’s appreciate how deftly this initial trailer weaves together the hordes of MCU characters … and pray that the film, when it arrives, successfully achieves the same.
Avengers: Infinity War might have broken the records, but in terms of jacking up expectations and creating anticipatory frenzy, nothing in 2017 beat the glorious afrofuturist spectacle of T’Challa and company being given their cinematic due. Paste’s own Shannon Houston has written on the importance of seeing heroes of color on the Big Screen, of the profound, transformative joy that accompanies something so many others (i.e., white people) take for granted—seeing versions of you doing amazing things. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther has been amazing from his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War (and the character has been the same for decades longer in the comics), and the above trailer seems to indicate the full movie will just be more of the same. I fully expect the movie to outperform studio expectations—it looks like it will be the first genre film that unreservedly celebrates black culture instead of just nibbling from and borrowing a convenient piece here or there, and movie studios are great at underestimating the popularity of such things. But just as importantly, the film looks like it’s going to reward everyone who turns out to see it.