In cinema, anticipation is half the thrill, and trailers serve as the pulse-pounding prelude to cinematic experiences that capture our imaginations. They're the siren call that beckons us to the darkened theaters, the ones that make our hearts race and our minds wander.
Some people avoid watching trailers altogether for fear of spoiling the movie. I like to think of it as an art form. These previews aren't just advertisements — they are works of art in their own right, setting the stage for films that redefine the boundaries of storytelling and leave us yearning for more.
1. Watchmen (2009)
The trailer for Watchmen teases a dark and gritty alternate reality where masked vigilantes exist. It showcases a world on the brink of disaster, with vigilantes facing moral dilemmas. The trailer sets a tone of mystery and intrigue as it introduces viewers to the complex characters and their struggles in a society teetering on the edge.
Set to the tune of an iconic Smashing Pumpkins song, my only complaint is my utter disappointment with the song's glaring omission from the film itself. Watchmen tells a story that is true to the film — not a fun little superhero movie, but something much deeper.
2. Alien (1979)
The Alien trailer slowly builds tension, hinting at the terror lurking in the dark corners of a spaceship. It offers glimpses of the otherworldly horror and suspenseful moments, creating an atmosphere of dread. The trailer leaves audiences with a sense of impending danger and the unknown without spoiling too much.
The atmosphere is unbearably ominous. You can't help but think, “What are those eggs? This music surely means something awful is about to happen. Oh, a cat! Please tell me the cat survives.” Then everything goes silent and unsettling text appears: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” 10/10, no further notes.
3. The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight trailer showcases the chaos and anarchy brought by the Joker to Gotham City. It highlights the conflict between Batman and his nemesis, promising a battle of wits and a descent into darkness. The trailer captivates with its iconic Heath Ledger Joker moments and a mixture of funny and menacing lines.
The film's stunning cinematography is on full display with a carefully curated selection of the movie's best shots. What brings it all together, though, is Hans Zimmer's score, which raises the hairs on the back of your neck like hearing the biting sound of a thousand razors.
4. Inception (2010)
The Inception trailer is a mind-bending journey through layers of reality and dreams. It introduces the concept of dream infiltration and manipulation while keeping the plot's intricacies hidden. The visuals are awe-inspiring, with gravity-defying scenes and a hauntingly dramatic score. Without knowing any of the intricate details of the plot, you're captivated by the otherworldy depictions of collapsing dreams and physics-defying scenes.
5. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix trailer introduces the audience to a world where reality is an illusion and humans are enslaved by machines. It teases iconic scenes such as Neo's ability to dodge bullets and Trinity jumping across skyscrapers at impossible distances. It showcases the protagonist, Neo, as he discovers his true potential as he goes through the rabbit hole to uncover the true nature of reality. The fashion, music, cinematography, and choreography are like a time capsule of the turn of the millennium.
6. The Shining (1980)
The Shining‘s trailer takes a considerable departure from the rest on this list in that it's hardly a teaser of anything in the film. Instead, it portrays a singular shot of an iconic red elevator at the Overlook Hotel.
As ominous music plays, crimson red blood pours from the corners of the elevator, drenching the floors until it splashes against the walls and pools through the room, even causing the furniture to stir. This is how you create terrifying ambiance, suspense, and hook in an audience before they even know what the film is about. I've never seen another trailer quite like this one. It has audacity.
7. The Exorcist (1973)
There's a particular trailer for The Exorcist that utilizes a strobe light effect to induce utter terror. The trailer opens up to a dark, moody street illuminated only by a single street light. A narrator with a gravelly voice menacingly utters, “Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house. A man has been sent for her as a last resort to try and save her.”
Hair-raising music plays as flashes of lights reveal faces of shock, horror, and evil. The viewer is left terrified to look at the screen for fear of what might reveal itself. It imparts a feeling of demonic possession while leaving much to the imagination. Even forty years later, it's just as spine-tingling.
8. The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network‘s trailer delves into the drama and intrigue behind the creation of Facebook. It portrays the intense rivalry and legal battles, set to a haunting choral cover of Radiohead's “Creep.” The trailer hints at the complexity of Mark Zuckerberg's character.
The opening montage of Facebook photos, relationship statuses, and oversharing perfectly captures the zeitgeist of social media — how it transformed our lives for better or worse. The fast-paced editing, quick-witted characters, and high stakes reel you in and make you feel like you're about to go on an insane journey with a highly controversial man.
9. Suicide Squad (2016)
The Suicide Squad trailer introduces a team of antiheroes and villains tasked with a dangerous mission. It's filled with action, humor, and a memorable introduction of characters like Harley Quinn. The trailer sets a tone of irreverence and unpredictability. While the movie itself was a flop, the trailers for the film were untouchable and had me so excited to see it.
The first version featured Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the backtrack for a high-octane, action-packed superhero flick that got your blood pumping. However, I much prefer the more somber version set to the tune of “I Started a Joke,” which thematically feels very similar to The Dark Knight.
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
10 Cloverfield Lane gives a suspenseful glimpse into a woman's captivity in an underground bunker. It builds tension and intrigue, raising questions about the nature of her captor and the outside world. What I love about this trailer is it uses some clever misdirection to keep the mystery alive. You're unsure if John Goodman's character is a crazy, dangerous captor or if he's a benevolent savior. The trailer splices tense scenes together without giving anything away, and you definitely leave feeling like you need to know what's going to happen.
11. Dune (2021)
The Dune trailer introduces a visually stunning and epic science fiction world where noble houses vie for control of the desert planet Arrakis. It showcases breathtaking landscapes, futuristic technology, and the hero's journey of Paul Atreides. The trailer promises an immersive and grand cinematic experience that is only further complimented by haunting vocals that sound like cries from across the desert.
12. Logan (2017)
The Logan trailer offers a somber and poignant look at an aging Wolverine's last journey. Johnny Cash's “Hurt” adds a much more self-reflective, depressing tone to what has otherwise been a much more upbeat superhero arc. It highlights the emotional stakes as Logan and a young mutant named Laura face danger. The trailer sets a tone of finality and reflection, foreshadowing the heartbreaking tones of the film.
13. Pearl Harbor (2001)
This trailer transports viewers to the heart of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. It features intense aerial combat sequences, romance, and the camaraderie of soldiers. The trailer captures the historical event's scale and drama accompanied by Hans Zimmer's always emotionally moving scores.
14. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo delves into a mystery involving a journalist and a hacker as they investigate a decades-old disappearance. In a dark and atmospheric trailer, Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song” gets a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross twist, building up tension and suspense as we flash back and forth between different scenes and timelines.
This trailer stands out in my mind as one that floored me when I first saw it in the theater, immediately grabbing my attention and ensuring I would see the film. Embarrassingly, I recall going through a phase where I'd watch this trailer on my phone every morning when I wanted to feel a thrill.
15. Interstellar (2014)
The official Interstellar trailer takes viewers on an intergalactic journey to save humanity from a dying Earth. It features awe-inspiring visuals of space, time dilation, and the emotional struggle of a father leaving his family behind. The trailer hints at the film's philosophical themes and features Christopher Nolan's signature talents — spectacle, emotion, and a grand vision.
16. Arrival (2016)
Arrival‘s trailer teases the emergence of mysterious extraterrestrial visitors and the efforts of a linguist to communicate with them. It explores the themes of communication, understanding, and the unknown, successfully creating a sense of wonder and anticipation. Released during an era of trailers that gave away the entire plots of their movies, Arrival teases just enough to make you think you know what's going on without giving away any big revelations.
17. The Fourth Kind (2009)
The Fourth Kind presents a gripping blend of found footage and dramatic reenactments as it delves into claims of alien abductions in Alaska. It blurs the lines between fact and fiction, creating an atmosphere of fear and intrigue. There's something about sci-fi horror mysteries revolving around aliens that pulls me in, and this trailer checks all those boxes.
Presenting the film as a documentary reenactment of actual events is a nice touch. Scenes of actress Milla Jovovich wandering around the woods in Nome, Alaska, as she recalls “real” events that are all “supported by real archived footage” and warning what you're about to see is extremely disturbing made me reach for my popcorn and a blanket.
18. The Master (2012)
The trailer for The Master offers a glimpse into the complex mentor-protégé relationship between Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, respectively. It showcases the film's meticulous period detail, powerful performances, and complexity of the post-World War II era. The trailer hints at the movie's themes of power, manipulation, and identity while creating an atmosphere of intrigue and psychological depth.
19. Sicario (2015)
The Sicario trailer plunges viewers into a world of intense drug cartel warfare and law enforcement operations. It highlights gripping action sequences, the enigmatic character of Alejandro (played by Benicio del Toro), and the moral complexities faced by FBI agent Kate Macer (played by Emily Blunt).
Accompanied by a haunting soundtrack, the trailer creates an atmosphere of suspense and moral ambiguity, promising a riveting and thought-provoking thriller. It avoids giving away the heart of the film, which is about the indiscriminate horrors and dehumanization of the drug war.
20. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
The trailer for Everything Everywhere All at Once is a kaleidoscope of parallel universes, showcasing a Chinese-American mother's surreal and visually stunning journey. It hints at themes of identity, family, and the multiverse, creating an atmosphere of surreal wonder. Some of the most stunning visuals I've ever seen grab your attention in this trailer.
Your mind is enraptured by the uncanny valley scenes of hot dog fingers, whimsical references to the multiverse, and impressively choreographed combat scenes. This is one of the few jaw-dropping trailers whose film lives up to the hype.
21. The Batman (2022)
The Batman trailer introduces a darker and grittier version of the iconic superhero. It showcases the enigmatic and brooding Bruce Wayne as he confronts a series of gruesome crimes in Gotham.
The trailer promises a noir-inspired take on the character, with a much more emo look, perfectly captured by the brooding Nirvana lyrics occupying the background. In these two and a half minutes, we see that Bruce Wayne is not so much a playboy billionaire flexing his wealth and beautiful women but a depressed altruist whose desire to help those in need has taken a profound toll on him.
22. Taken (2008)
The Taken trailer is an action-packed preview of a retired CIA operative's relentless pursuit of his kidnapped daughter. It features intense fight sequences and Liam Neeson's iconic “I will find you, and I will kill you” line, setting up a thrilling rescue mission.
Like a rising crescendo, the trailer builds up tension and perfectly balances it with climactic moments that terrify and iconic lines from Neeson's character that establish his background as a ruthless killing machine. Action-packed sequences, emotional stakes, and Neeson's commanding presence make the trailer a gripping preview of a high-stakes thriller centered around a father's unwavering determination to rescue his child.
23. Us (2019)
The Us trailer introduces a family on vacation who encounters malevolent doppelgängers of themselves, setting the stage for a psychological horror experience. It teases eerie and suspenseful moments, particularly highlighting the menacing doppelgängers in red jumpsuits.
Lupita Nyong'o's character takes center stage as she must protect her family from this otherworldly threat, while a haunting rendition of “I Got 5 on It” adds to the trailer's sense of foreboding. The trailer hints at larger societal themes and promises a thought-provoking exploration of identity and fear.
24. Hereditary (2018)
The Hereditary trailer introduces the Graham family and their descent into unsettling darkness following the loss of their matriarch. Eerie visuals, disturbing symbolism, and an unsettling atmosphere are central to the trailer's impact.
Toni Collette's intense performance adds to the trailer's sense of foreboding, and the dissonant soundtrack heightens the tension. The trailer effectively sets the stage for a harrowing and psychologically disturbing horror film that explores family secrets and inherited trauma, promising a chilling and thought-provoking cinematic experience.
Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.
At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.