As we turn our eyes back to the Best of 2019, it’s time once again for the Top Ten Best Trailers of 2019! These are the trailers that did their best to excite and fascinate us, promising us action, adventure, suspense, and laughter, all while avoiding spoilers that would ruin the experience. And whether the film in question went on to deliver on the hype – like Roma, Vox Lux, or Moonlight – or promised more than it could deliver – like Serenity and Godzilla: King of the Monsters – these trailers still managed to intrigue and dazzle us as we waited with baited breath for the wonders to come.
Overall, 2019 was a bit of a bummer year for trailers. While there were some impressive films across genres and platforms, the inside looks they provided often fell well short of the joy to come. However, there are still a few films that made us laugh, scream, or cheer in our seats, whether in the theater or on our computers. From the indie scene, The Beach Bum promised a bombastic performance from Matthew McConaughey, while Velvet Buzzsaw offered a frighteningly hilarious Jake Gyllenhaal role. For blockbusters, Hustlers promised the fun, smart time at the movies it turned out to be, while Top Gun: Maverick promised more aerial thrills in the highly anticipated sequel. A Hidden Life promised a haunting masterpiece from Terrence Malick, Ford v Ferrari promised a classic blockbuster in the Old Hollywood model, and Crawl offered a tense low-budget horror film. Films I didn’t watch the trailer for include Tenet (my most anticipated of next year), Waves (which I meant to see in theaters unspoiled but didn’t), and Black Christmas (a good choice, since the trailer inevitably gave everything away). And two of my very dear favorites that didn’t make the list include Doctor Sleep’s Shining-inspired trailer and Always Be My Maybe’s classic rom-com appeal. Oh, and of course I must give a Dishonorable Mention to Cats. I’ve never seen a film go so off the rails in its first trailer alone. With all that settled, let’s take a look at the Top Ten Trailers of 2019!
10. Marriage Story
The eventual Oscar winner has become one of Film Twitter’s most buzzed about pictures, and that has a lot to do with their dual-trailer marketing format. Functioning as an introduction to the film’s themes of love and loss, as well the conflicting nature of personal truth and what drives people apart, the trailers split the film’s opening monologues into two individual spots, each showing clips of the couple laughing, interacting, and yet gradually growing apart. One is dedicated to Johansson’s Nicole, the other to Driver’s Charlie, and each narrated by their counterpart. By the time you see the duo appearing in court together for the climactic trial, you’re already invested and want to watch. It was smart marketing on Netflix’s part, and are two of the best trailers of the year.
9. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
Truth be told, the first trailer for Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood wasn’t very indicative of the powerhouse spectacle it would become. It was a little too loose, a little too unclear, and while it focused on jokes, it didn’t capture how truly funny this film was. It wasn’t until the second trailer that audiences truly understood what Quentin Tarantino was promising them. As opposed to his previous films of bloody violence underscored to classic movies and music, the second trailer promised us a rarity for Tarantino: a breezy, warm comedy about the last days of innocence in Old Hollywood. Whereas the first trailer smelled of cognitive dissonance, the second trailer captured the funny, warm world that was being constructed. Set to Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show,” the trailer hints at (but never overplays) the comedic highpoints of the film – including the Fourteen Fists Of McClusky, the on-set freeze, and the eventual trailer meltdown. The trailer even hints at the darkness underlying the story, with Margaret Qualley’s ominous delivery of “Charlie’s gonna dig you” standing out in all its creepy glory. By the end of the trailer, culminating in Brad Pitt’s delivery of “You’re Rick F*cking Dalton. Don’t you forget it,” you’ve come to understand the funny, eerie, nostalgic, joyful film that Tarantino eventually delivered on.
8. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
John Wick: Chapter 3 was exactly the bloody good time we all expected. There’s something so incredibly relaxing about watching Keanu Reeves’ assassin-with-a-heart-of-gold killing dog murderers and violent mobsters in a technicolor world where everyone is secretly an assassin and the city is a technicolor noir. But even if audiences somehow weren’t feeling a third entry in the John Wick canon, it’s hard to deny that the trailer for Parabellum promised a raising of the stakes that couldn’t be missed. Scored strangely (but hauntingly) to “The Impossible Dream” (a reference to Wick’s desire to live a normal life free of his past), the trailer is bombastic, insane, and hilarious – just like the movie. John Wick in the desert! John Wick on a horse! John Wick fighting motorcycle assassins! HALLE BERRY KILLING PEOPLE WITH A DOG ARMY!!!! Each image is more insane than the last, and yet never feels out of place. It stands tall as one of the best trailers of the past year.
7. It: Chapter Two
I’m not going to mince words: It: Chapter Two was one of my least favorite experiences of last year. It was too long, the story too convoluted, and the scares just utterly disappointing. But there were a few things it did get right. The adult cast was truly impressive. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise drastically improved over the first. And while it was, for the most part, relatively un-scary, there are at least two sequences that are amongst the best moments of terror I’ve seen in a long time. And thankfully for the film’s bottom line, the trailer for It: Chapter Two managed to boil down all these fantastic moments into one fantastic two-minute trailer. The second trailer not only provides us with a glimpse at the adult cast in action (James McAvoy’s Bill! Jessica Chastain’s Bev! BILL HADER’S RICHIE!!!), but it also gives us a look at the themes and scares of the film in a more succinct look than the actual film did. For example, the best scene in the film, The Funhouse Sequence, is portrayed here in all its nightmarish hellscape glory – and cuts off before the bad CGI! And underscoring the scene is the feeling of guilt and grief found inside Bill’s relationship with Georgie, as found in the increasingly-terrifying “You lied and I died!” Between the sharp editing, strategic imagery, and terrifying execution, It: Chapter Two isn’t just one of the best trailers of last year – it’s a trailer that’s better than the film!
Judy ended up serving as the quiet little hit of 2019. It didn’t set out for any bold, dramatic retellings, or deep inside looks into character or history. It was a simple story told effectively, starring a great Renée Zellweger, and it captured its target audience (older generations with nothing to do in the early fall) effectively. But before the film became a huge hit and Oscar winner, it’s easy to forget that it was talked about as a potential bomb. Garland’s family had ripped it for not consulting with them and shooting without their blessing, and multiple delays showed signs of potential failure. That’s why this first teaser was not only impressively made, but dramatically important to the film’s success. Set to Zellweger’s haunting rendition/impression of “Over The Rainbow,” the teaser showcases Zellweger’s transformative performance, the masterful staging by director Rupert Goold, and the film’s nostalgic look at Garland’s life and legacy. It’s a sweet, somber teaser that impressed and delighted, and helped a little film become big.
5. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Sometimes there are trailers and films that aren’t necessarily good, but know exactly how to market themselves. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is one of those films. Because unlike the occasionally-more-grounded film series that birthed it, Hobbs & Shaw fully leaned into the silliness of both its premise and its execution. And no trailer inherently sold this silliness quite like the second trailer, one of the best of the year. While the first trailer sold a typical buddy comedy to audiences set inside the Fast and Furious universe, the superior second trailer made it clear exactly what kind of film this was. Nonstop quips from two peacocking alpha males while they fist fight roomfuls of henchmen! Bad guys declaring themselves “Black Superman!” Childish heroes who are more than willing to throw each other out of planes because there are no stakes! And of course, the most insanely bombastic stunts you’ll ever see – they’re running down skyscrapers! They’re flipping cars midair! They’re using Old School Samoan weaponry to take down bad guys! THE ROCK IS PULLING A HELICOPTOR OUT OF THE SKY BY HAND! Combined with the fact that each punch in the trailer is timed perfectly to the backing score, this is a fun trailer that promises a fun blockbuster – a great trailer for a “great” movie.
4. Jojo Rabbit
Let’s face it; it was always going to require near-perfect marketing to sell Jojo Rabbit to the public. Despite its cheery execution and more base-level jokes (not necessarily a criticism), Jojo Rabbit is still the story of a young boy becoming disillusioned with brainwashing in 1940s Nazi Germany, with the brainwashing physically manifested in the form of an idiotic, childish Adolf Hitler. But to those who doubted Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winning assured hand, the first teaser trailer made sure that audiences understood the silliness, intelligence, and beyond that made the film a critical and commercial smash. Featuring some of the best sight gags without giving away the plot, the film shows the Nazi Youth accidentally stabbing each other with knives, Sam Rockwell showing off his shooting skills, and Metal Man. And of course, there’s the payoff of Waititi’s idiotic Hitler, who pops out from behind a tree to declare “Let people say whatever they want. They used to say lots of nasty things about me. ‘Look at that psycho, he’s going to get us all killed!’” followed by the greatest shrug put on film. The second trailer, featuring the fantastic line “Let’s burn down the house and blame Winston Churchill!” is also excellent, but it’s the first one that guaranteed Jojo to be the hit it became.
3. In The Heights
It is disappointing that we haven’t already seen In The Heights, or that we aren’t able to debate its awards potential thanks to the current virus. That said, for one brief shining moment, we did have hope, all thanks to a bright, exciting trailer that brought Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first major hit to life. The first few moments of the trailer are, admittedly, a bit boring – Usnavi’s telling the story on a beach, presumably in the Dominican Republic? That’s grade 1 storytelling. But slowly, the trailer draws you in, with beautiful imagery, the perfect sound mixing, and a group of actors that look dedicated to fun. Look at Jimmy Smits harmonizing! Watch Corey Hawkins seduce you with his Good Guy eyes! Watch Anthony Ramos dominate the camera! And as the trailer devolves into a technicolor musical fantasia of Latinx and Black actors and actresses, each singing about their day-to-day activities in Washington Heights, it’s impossible not to get teary eyed at the sheer power of the experience. Sadly, In The Heights has been pushed to Summer of 2021, so we won’t have a chance to revel in its Oscar glory and box office appeal just yet. But you can bet I’ll be first in line once it’s safe to do so.
2. In Fabric
You know a film is going to be something special when its trailer provides a quote declaring it “a modern day David Lynch/Dario Argento film” and the trailer backs it up. So is the case with In Fabric, one of the strangest films I saw last year, and one that I only attended on the strength of this trailer. The definitive aesthetic draws you in immediately, showing you a time that could be the past, but also the present, and also feeling very very wrong despite the mundanity. As the trailer goes on, it shifts into the same sense of creeping dread that Hereditary sold itself on the previous year, with flailing saleswomen of unknown origin, flapping red dresses beckoning one to death, haunting faces overlooking the chaos, and beyond. Each moment builds and builds, catering both to its inherent silliness and the underlying tension of the premise. And I could write an entire essay on the final jump scare of a mannequin hand at the end of the teaser. Underscored with a haunting electronic beat that reminisces both Lynch, Argento, and Carpenter, this is a haunting trailer for a haunting film, and it stands tall as one of the best trailers of 2019.
1. Honey Boy
And finally, we come to the best trailer of 2019, which not only made for top notch advertising, but managed to convince people that the inherent premise was not, in fact, a joke. Shia LaBeouf has made a name for himself in recent years for his high-octane performance art and general pseudo-intellectual douchebaggery. So when he announced he had written a film about his life story and he would play his own father, most critics and audiences scoffed. But as it turns out, LaBeouf and director Ariel Ha’rel had something deeper in mind – a story about trauma, and grief, and family relations, and the cost of fame. And the trailer helped establish it as one of the best, most important films of the year. The trailer balances out imagery clearly reminiscent of LaBeouf’s storied life (there are blatant references to Even Stevens and Transformers scattered throughout the trailer) as well as glimpses of the terrific performances at the core – Noah Jupe, and Lucas Hedges, and especially LaBeouf’s crushing turn as his alcoholic, troubled father. This is raw filmmaking, it’s honest filmmaking, and the trailer makes a weighty, creative promise that the film makes sure to deliver on. It’s one of the best films of 2019, and easily the best trailer by far.
That wraps up the Best Trailers of 2019! I’ll be sporadically chiming in with my Best of the Year lists, hoping to catch up before the hellscape that is 2020 comes to a close. In the meantime, comment below with some of your favorite trailers from last year, if there are any that you remember, and I’ll see you all soon!