Already this year we’ve been treated to some excellent trailers in the form of 10 Cloverfield Lane (opens in new tab) and Suicide Squad (opens in new tab). With the final verdict on the movies themselves still to be decided, it made us think of previous trailers we’ve adored that have, in the end, turned out to be better than the movie they were advertising.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with 10 such trailers, but it would have been all too easy to just pick 10 awful movies (and we don’t like to make things too easy here at GR+). After all, a trailer is meant to make even the worst movie look palatable. So, instead, our list contains thoroughly decent movies with outstanding trailers that outshone them, with a few of the awful movies with great trailers that hoodwinked us into watching them thrown in for fun.
10. 300 (2006)
Zack Snyder’s movies have often favoured visual flair over storytelling, so it’s perhaps no surprise that 300’s trailer looks so enticing. Comprised almost entirely of his characteristic slow-motion shots and containing cinema’s greatest location-based burn, it’s a super-slick and dramatic trailer that promises an epic action movie. In the end, 300 does indeed boast several outstanding action set pieces, but fumbles whenever there aren’t swords on screen. Perhaps we should have known, given that the trailer chooses visuals over dialogue.
9. Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Whenever we see a truly great trailer, our excitement for the final movie is always tempered by remembering this outstanding teaser for the cliched sci-fi clunker Battle: Los Angeles. Starting off with images of 'UFOs' throughout the decades, the trailer is a montage of the movie’s set pieces and ignores dialogue in favour of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s suitably eerie “The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black”. The trailer is so great, it makes us want to rewatch the movie even though we KNOW we’re going to end up disappointed. Again.
8. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This minimalist teaser for one of the best movies of the '90s (opens in new tab), The Blair Witch Project, is arguably as terrifying as the final product, when you consider the context. Promoted as a genuine documentary ahead of its release, the teaser’s use of one segment of dialogue followed by the stark, now iconic, close-up of Heather (Heather Donahue) is utterly chilling. These days with found footage basically everywhere, it could never make the impact it did back in 1999 but that doesn’t make it any less of an effective pants-soiling trailer.
7. Cloverfield (2008)
Unlike the masterfully edited trailer for sort-of sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane, the teaser for Cloverfield consisted of one sequence from the final movie with just one title card “from producer JJ Abrams”. It doesn’t even have the title, so confident is it that the first glimpse of the monster and THAT shot of a decapitated Statue of Liberty has already hooked you. Paramount was right, we were. The movie remains one of the best modern-day found footage efforts, but it’s perhaps no surprise that once it’s revealed its whole hand, it was never going to live up to what you concocted in your head from the intriguing teaser.
6. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
This trailer for Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy will make you want to curl up in a ball in a darkened room. Filled with unsettling imagery and a haunting score, it cleverly holds back the movie’s third act shift and isn’t afraid to showcase that it’s a subtitled movie, unlike trailers for many other foreign movies. Horrifying as Goodnight Mommy is, the movie itself will likely prove too oblique for some tastes, but the trailer will creep anyone out and packs more chills in than most feature-length horrors.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Really, we could have picked any of The Hobbit trailers here. We’ve plumped for An Unexpected Journey as it made us forget our worries about stretching The Hobbit into three movies, and think that Peter Jackson had repeated his Lord of the Rings heroics. As it turned out, our initial fears were confirmed, but the announcement trailer seemed to suggest the movie would have everything that made LOTR so special: sing-songs, thrilling action scenes, pitch-perfect performances and a certain One Ring-obsessed creature. What it didn’t show was how bloody long it would take to get there.
4. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Possibly one of the most disappointing sequels of all time, The Matrix Reloaded looked to be on solid ground when its trailer was released. Cut to a pulsating soundtrack, the trailer shows off the movie’s boundary-pushing special effects and action set pieces seemingly bigger and better than the original. What it (smartly) doesn’t show is any of the philosophical and religious debates that slows the movie down to a halt, meaning it gave us real hope that the Wachowskis had done it again. Sadly, they hadn’t.
3. Quantum of Solace (2008)
I’m a bigger fan than most of Daniel Craig’s second outing as Bond, but even I have to admit that Quantum of Solace has its problems. Unlike the final product, the snappily edited trailer tells a cohesive story and promises a development on the grittiness of Casino Royale thanks to M’s (Judi Dench) ominous voiceover: “When you can’t tell your friends from your enemies, it’s time to go.” The problem was that in the movie itself, we could tell where the writer’s strike had affected the production, and the overwhelming feeling is that of a missed opportunity despite promising moments.
2. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
There are few out there that are as good with trailers as JJ Abrams, and the trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness is no exception. You’re left in no doubt that the sequel deserves the use of “darkness” in its title with a bleak trailer, all foreboding dialogue and sombre looks at the camera. The movie’s misjudged “secret” reveal (opens in new tab) and a feeling we’ve seen it all before (and done better) led to an enjoyable, if underwhelming, watch. But this spectacular trailer ranked as one of the year’s best.
1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
OK, so compared to the flawless trailer campaign we got for The Force Awakens, the trailer for The Phantom Menace (opens in new tab) doesn’t seem that great. However, at the time, for a Star Wars fan who’s waited decades for a new movie, it delivered everything they could have wanted in gleeful style. In hindsight, we should have been more wary of the glimpses we get of Jar Jar Binks, but the rest of it - pod racing! Yoda! double-bladed lightsaber! - is just so enticing. And not a single mention of trade routes.