The Best Movie Trailers of 2012


An effective trailer can do wonders for a film. For every movie that is guaranteed to have an audience, there are many more that need to build their own buzz, and there’s no faster way to do that than with a good trailer. A well made trailer can turn a monster movie from a first-time director starring a bunch of then-unknowns into the most-buzzed about movie for weeks, while a poor trailer can doom a movie right from the start. Every year sees some trailers that, independent of the film they’re promoting, capture one’s attention, and make people keep returning to them. Here are the trailers of 2012 that were able to do that best.


30) The Avengers

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The sheer impossibility of conceiving of a large screen movie about a team of Marvel superheroes even 15 years ago cannot be understated. While the technology needed to adequately show their true might may have been present, the logistical problems and overpowering idea that it would not be marketable to the general public seemed to be problems that were too large to overcome. However, Marvel studios laid out a plan that culminated in 2012’s The Avengers, and a lot of the movie’s success can be attributed to the trailers. This particular trailer, which aired with the year’s Superbowl, highlights a lot of what got fans excited; Iron Man taking out targets in an efficient manner, the team forming a circle to face whatever comes their way, and the now-famous line “We have a Hulk.” As a trailer that made its debut later in the marketing stage, it demonstrates a keen understanding of what made the earlier promotional material work, and promises an epic movie befitting of the effort it took to make the impossible happen.

29) World War Z

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Zombie movies are tricky to pull off. The sense of looming, unrelenting dread is something very few movies are able to convey, and being able to express that in a 2 minute trailer is even more difficult, which makes the trailer for World War Z stand out. It manages to convey a sense of global chaos, and a frantic attempt at escape when the zombies are closing in from all ends, while not giving away what the monsters look like. The trailer also manages to be fast paced without being choppy, a feat that even feature length movies are unable to pull off most of the time. It also highlights the sheer volume of the threat, a key point of all effective zombie movies.

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28) Iron Man 3

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2008’s Iron Man was a surprisingly strong success, commercially and critically, showing the first signs of Marvel Studio’s clear vision with regards to their film franchises, and kicking Robert Downey Jr.’s career comeback into full gear. The second film, however, was not as well received, and with pressure on the franchise to effectively deliver on beginning phase two of Marvel’s cinematic plan, Shane Black was brought onboard to replace Jon Favreau. The first trailer immediately shows the effects, highlighting a much bigger threat, and focusing on the destruction caused by the villains, rather than the villains themselves. It also manages to hint at the potential of the story without giving it away, and provide a glimpse at how the character of Tony Stark has changed post-Avengers.

27) Safety Not Guaranteed

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An indie cinema with a time travel storyline runs into a problem right from the start; it can draw in science fiction enthusiasts looking to see how the time travel aspect is handled, but possibly at the expense of alienating general audiences, something that no movie can afford, meaning that trailers for such movies have a very tight balancing act to pull off. Safety Not Guaranteed‘s trailer is the perfect example of one that does work; while it doesn’t shy away from the time travel aspect of the narrative, it makes it clear that there’s more to the story, doesn’t try to discuss the mechanics of the travel, and lets the characters express themselves, giving particular attention to Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza, both of whom are known for their character-driven work.

26) 42

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Biopics are ubiquitous in the modern film landscape, which means 42, the upcoming movie on the life of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, already faces an uphill battle. This trailer, however, is strangely effective, a lot of which can be attributed to the choice made to forego dialogue, choosing instead to give a glimpse of key moments in Robinson’s life while Jay-Z plays in the background. It manages to draw the viewer in without making them feel like they’ve seen a condensed version of the movie, which puts it well above most trailers.

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25) Jack Reacher

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Tom Cruise’s bankability as an action star is something very few people will dispute. While he has demonstrated considerable range over his career, many people are eager to see him in an action role, and this trailer demonstrates a keen perception of that fact. It’s a barebones teaser, one that doesn’t even acknowledge the supporting cast of the film, which includes Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Jai Courtney, Rosamund Pike, and Werner Herzog as the villain. Instead, this focuses on Cruise, and delivers a clear message; Cruise will be a badass hero in this film, and if you enjoy that, you will enjoy this film. It’s an efficient way to reach the intended audience, and deserves to be commended for it.

24) The Dark Knight Rises

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The conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was something a lot of people were anticipating since the release of The Dark Knight in 2008. With Ledger’s masterful performance carrying the second entry into this particular Batman franchise, many were eager to see how Nolan would wrap things up. A large part of the second film’s success, however, could be attributed to the excellent trailers that preceded it, trailers that even had people who weren’t fond of Batman Begins anticipating the film. Both these factors added pressure on the marketing team for The Dark Knight Rises, and fortunately the trailers delivered on that front, particularly the third one. Building on an ominous tone, the trailer shifts from smaller acts of destruction to larger ones, and indicates that Batman is about to face his biggest challenge yet, a claim that got people buzzing.

23) Seven Psychopaths

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Filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges was an unexpected delight for many, having found its audience gradually over the past few years. It had, however, a relatively small cast compared to his newest feature, Seven Psychopaths, which left many curious as to how he would juggle accomplished veterans such as Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson without short-changing anyone. The red-band trailer, while perfectly illustrating this, also allows McDonagh’s dialogue writing skills to shine through unencumbered. It gives a hint of how offbeat the characters are likely to be without fully divulging how they’ll factor into the larger plot, and indicates, and displays, a giddily fun time, promising that McDonagh’s last film was no flash in the pan.

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22) Carrie

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Stephen King’s prolific writing career kicked off with the novel Carrie, and the 1976 movie adaptation of the same name featured a then-rising Brian De Palma in the director’s chair, as well as Sissy Spacek and John Travolta in its cast. News of a remake has been met with some hesitation, as even King holds the original adaptation in good regard, but the selection of Kimberly Pierce as the new helmer, and Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore in the two key roles have raised interest nonetheless. For those still on the fence, this teaser goes a long way towards winning them over; the gradual shift from an idyllic suburban street to one ravaged by fires, the numerous voiceovers that evoke the documentary feel of the novel, and the final shot of Chloe Moretz all do a wonderful job painting a picture of a movie that captures the terror inherent in the story of Carrie White.

21) The Amazing Spider-Man

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2002’s Spider-Man broke the doors wide open on modern superhero fare, drawing in over $100 million in its opening weekend alone, and proving that comic book properties were no longer solely reliant on a niche market for their success. News of a reboot of the franchise a mere decade later elicited many groans, but the selection of talented individuals, from director Marc Webb to stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, proved that the studio was intent on making a quality product this time around as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the excellent third trailer for the film, which highlights both the webshooter technology and the Spiderman wisecracks, elements people sorely missed in the previous trilogy. This trailer also manages to use the cinematography to reveal the large scale of the story without giving away details, and provides an adrenaline rush that goes a long way towards getting even those ambivalent on the project excited to see what the final product has in store.

20) Star Trek Into Darkness

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While JJ Abrams’ sequel to the franchise-invigorating Star Trek is not due until next summer, in typical blockbuster fashion, the promotion for the movie has already begun. Fortunately, the promotion has led to two excellent trailers, of which this is the second. While the first teaser served to highlight the villain, being played by Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch, this trailer works very well to highlight the duality between Cumberbatch’s villain and Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk, as well as providing some breathtaking visuals. It gives just enough to whet one’s appetite for the film without spoiling it, which is a line very few blockbuster trailers are able to effectively straddle.

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19) Looper

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Filmmaker Rian Johnson is known for his unique concept cinemas, so there was already a level of excitement surrounding his latest project, Looper, which would see the writer-director take on the science fiction genre. A lot of doubt was expressed, however, over the castings of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as two versions of the same character. The first trailer that emerged for the film took both things into account; with a minimally-used voice-over, the central concept behind the film was explained to viewers, and the trailer then goes on to highlight the performance of Gordon-Levitt as the looper in question, giving viewers a good look at how he compares to a younger Willis in looks and mannerisms. By addressing both right away, the trailer gives the movie an opportunity to display its own merits free of any burden.

18) Skyfall

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The James Bond franchise has survived changes in lead actors, numerous directors, and time, all of which are factors that have sunk other movies. The Bond movies have become synonymous, however, with a certain kind of image and style, which the producers have attempted to move away from in recent years. This shift is plainly obvious in the first image of Bond that this teaser presents, as he appears gaunt and unshaven in a barebones interrogation room, a far cry from the tuxedo-clad suave character that is commonly found in high-end bars that the public associates with Bond. A few displays of the extraordinary work of Roger Deakins, a pulse-pounding theme, and a few choice lines of dialogue make this a particularly effective teaser, drawing in Bond fans and detractors alike.

17) Anna Karenina

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Director Joe Wright cut his feature film directing teeth on lavish period pieces, with adaptations of stories such Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, so his ability to tackle a film adaptation of the scope of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina has been proven, as has his ability to work with Kiera Knightley, who takes the titular role this time around. This trailer does a fine job, thus, of letting Wright’s pedigree speak for itself, while highlighting the cinematography, performances, and music. The story of a classic novel that has been around for as long as Anna Karenina has cannot be spoiled, but this trailer effectively sets this adaptation apart from the others that have preceded it, indicating that there’s something unique here for fans of the story.

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16) Savages

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When one evokes the name of director Oliver Stone, high-octane thrillers re not the first genre of movies that come to mind. This trailer smartly keeps Stone’s name out until the trailer is well underway, so it doesn’t have to fight the tide of audience expectations. Despite the use of a voiceover narrator at the beginning, the trailer kicks into high gear halfway through, and finds its skill in the process, as things escalate quickly, with no indication of giving up. While the story can seemingly pretty much be inferred from this trailer, it still manages to paint the movie as a great time and get people interested, and in that sense, the trailer succeeds quite well.

15) To The Wonder

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Filmmaker Terrence Malick’s films always deserve special consideration in the year they’re released, worthy of some mention even if they don’t crack the top 10 list. Due to the enigmatic nature of most of his films, their respective trailers, when done well, also turn out to be works of art in their own right, and that is perfectly illustrated in the first trailer for his newest feature, To The Wonder. The voiceover is used sparingly and only to point out the theme of the movie, with the rest of the trailer allowing the music and the visuals to sell the movie. It may not be enough to get people ambivalent about Malick’s work excited for his newest feature, but it gives fans of the auteur a clear indication that they will not have to worry about the quality of his next feature.

14) Zero Dark Thirty

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Kathryn Bigelow’s movie on America’s hunt for Bin Laden was bound to court controversy, not the least because many feared it would end up as little more than a jingoistic exercise in US military prowess, intentionally or unintentionally. While the first teaser gave more of an adrenaline rush feel to the movie, this trailer, seemingly aware of the potential jingoistic issues, delves more into the idea of doing problematic things for a necessary goal, and touches on the idea of doing something without complete knowledge, while still maintaining the high-octane feel of the first teaser. Regardless of how the film turns out, this trailer is very effective at capturing the necessary feel that would assuage many doubts about it.

Isabelle Allen and Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables

13) Les Misérables

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A movie directed by Tom Hooper was certainly not something a lot of people were eagerly anticipating, despite his Oscar win for The King’s Speech. However, this particular adaptation was of a hugely successful Broadway play, which was itself based on a classic novel, and had stars such as Hugh Jackman in it, and would feature live singing as opposed to playback. But none of that meant anything until this first teaser came along. By showcasing musical novice Anne Hathaway’s ability to carry one of the show’s most famous tunes, the trailer indicated, with the gradual upswell in music, that this was an adaptation to keep one’s eyes open for.

12) Evil Dead

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There was a lot of skepticism surrounding the remake of Sam Raimi’s cult horror classic The Evil Dead. Despite having the endorsement of Raimi and Bruce Campbell, star of the first trilogy, both of whom are producers, many fans expected little more than a studio cash grab that would ultimately be forgotten, or worse yet, a beat-by-beat recreation of the original that would turn out to be inferior. While those possibilities are still open, the first red band trailer for Evil Dead took a lot of people by surprise, displaying an unexpected level of brutality, and a clear awareness of the first film’s terrifying aspect, while still setting itself apart. The focus on Jane Levy is also a great idea on the part of the marketing team, as it automatically puts the film in a different perspective.

11) Django Unchained

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It’s very rare that an audience goes into a Quentin Tarantino movie knowing what to expect, which is what makes his movies worth anticipating. His movies, however, are always accompanied with trailers that play excellently on their own, and Django Unchained was no different, particularly the first trailer, which manages to convey a sense of the three primary characters played by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, without giving too much away. The music for the trailer, of course, speaks for itself, from the haunting Johnny Cash tune that starts it, to the up-tempo music that ends it, making this a trailer worth watching over and over regardless of one’s opinion of the final product itself.

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

10) Man Of Steel

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Despite the recent surge in superhero franchises, there are a number of well-known comic figures who’ve struggled in translating to the big screen, Supermen perhaps being the biggest name among the list. While the last son of Krypton arguably had the first successful superhero film with Richard Donner’s Superman, Bryan Singer’s modern adaptation fell short, leading the franchise’s reigns to be handed over to Zack Snyder. The selection garnered mixed responses, but these teasers did a lot to assuage the doubts raised, as it showed a different atmosphere than any previous movie adaptation of Clark Kent and his alter ego, while showing how the influence of both his parents shaped who he is.

9) Life of Pi

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Life of Pi is a movie that faced numerous uphill battles long before production got underway. Based on a critically acclaimed novel that many considered unfilmable, the movie had to contend with the idea that one of the lead characters was a tiger and that an overwhelming majority of the story took place on a lifeboat. As difficult as making such a movie is, marketing it, especially to individuals unfamiliar with the book, is no easy feat, and the presence of a newcomer in the lead role didn’t help matters. All these factors taken into consideration make this first trailer all the more impressive, as it chooses no dialogue and minimal music, instead allowing the visuals to entice the viewers, simultaneously engaging the interest of the movie-going public as well as telling fans of the book what kind of tone they can expect from the film adaptation.

8) Cosmopolis

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When it was announced that director David Cronenberg was going to take Robert Pattinson as the star of his next movie, many people expressed concern about the idea. After all, Pattinson was still an unproven talent, his major role to date having been that of Edward Cullen in the Twilight series, and a dull lead performance has rung the death knell for many movies. This first teaser for the film, making its debut just before the Cannes film festival where Cosmopolis would have its first showing, managed to blow a lot of those doubts away, as Pattinson is put in the middle of heavyweights like Samantha Morton and Juliette Binoche, yet manages to hold his own. More importantly, however, the trailer presents a slick film of a character about to go off the rails, and Pattinson manages to be a key part of that, as he sheds any previous image by merging seamlessly with the feel of the trailer.

Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Joel Edgerton in The Great Gatsby

7) The Great Gatsby

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Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 period musical Moulin Rouge!, despite all indications to the contrary, managed to become a hit, as well as stand the test of time. Despite this, however, people were skeptical when he was announced as the official helmer of the newest adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby. This trailer, however, goes a long way towards indicating that Luhrmann captured the spirit of the novel, as the use of a U2 song in a story set in the 1920s works perfectly, rather than jarring the viewer. The trailer also keeps the focus on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby, proving that his performance is one to look out for, an assertion that surely will not disappoint upon the movie’s release.

6) Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Independent movies often face an uphill battle in getting noticed, especially when they don’t have the requisite star power that would naturally attract fans to give the project a glance. While they can hope to gain momentum through positive word of mouth from film festivals, a good trailer can accelerate the process, and Beasts of the Southern Wild managed to create a fantastic one. While not giving away the larger story, a definite pitfall for an indie film hoping to draw an audience, the trailer manages to create some lasting images, while highlighting the oft-praised performance of Quvenzhane Wallis, the child star at the centre of the film.

5) Prometheus

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Despite director Ridley Scott’s spotty record of late, and the questionable decision to explore the origins of the space jockey glimpsed in Alien, many people were excited for Prometheus, and a large part of that was due to the excellent trailers that preceded the film. The first one, which came out late last year, was declared by many to be the best trailer released in 2011, and the second trailer admirably lived up to the high standards set by the first. With glimpses of the story, and longer looks at the striking visuals the movie employed, this trailer also went a long way towards raising anticipation for the film, and continues to be captivating even months after the feature’s release.

Amy Adams, Lorelai Hoey, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Ambyr Childers in The Master

4) The Master

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie was guaranteed to get an audience among film fans simply because it had Paul Thomas Anderson’s name under “directed by” and “written by”. But there were two big questions about The Master; what subject he would be tackling, and how Joaquin Phoenix would perform, having come off his faux-documentary I’m Still Here. While it was revealed that Anderson would be tackling cult mentalities in this film prior to the teasers, these two perfectly showed off the two leads, Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as gave an idea of the tone and look one can expect from the film without divulging any plot details.

3) Moonrise Kingdom

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Fans and detractors of auteur Wes Anderson will both agree that the filmmaker has a very specific aesthetic present in all his films. Part of what makes the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom stand out is the fact that its unmistakably the trailer for a Wes Anderson film. Another smart aspect of this trailer, however, is that it highlights Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, actors who are working with Anderson for the first time. While Anderson has a set of performers who he works very well with, there were a lot of questions about how the aforementioned two would fit into his movie, and highlighting them proves that they fit in quite well indeed.

2) Wuthering Heights

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Adapting a classic novel for the big screen is a tricky endeavour, especially one such as Wuthering Heights, that has seen numerous adaptations already. Effectively making a trailer for such an adaptation is doubly tricky, because it has to ensure that the film is portrayed as different enough from its film counterparts while still being close to its classic novel roots. This trailer manages to pull both off excellently, focusing on Heathcliff, Catherine, and the scenic locale, and allowing the lighting and ambient sounds to build an undertone of dread in the first half that becomes more prominent as the trailer progresses. It’s an excellent way to bring in old and new fans, and prove that this adaptation is in capable hands with Andrea Arnold.

James D'Arcy and Halle Berry in Cloud Atlas

1) Cloud Atlas

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Regardless of people’s opinions of their various movies, very few will argue that the Wachowski siblings are not ambitious filmmakers. This very strength of theirs, however, makes it very difficult to effectively market their films. Cloud Atlas, a film which tells the intergenerational stories of six characters, features a large ensemble cast, and had Tom Tykwer also directing alongside the Wachowskis, was also going to run down the same path. This extended trailer, however, by being the first footage anyone saw of the project, managed to convey the beauty of the imagery and the grand scale of the storytelling, creating a mesmerising experience that gave audiences a hint of what to expect while being a work of art in its own right.

Special Mention: Upstream Color

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This list was devised with an idea to highlight the best trailers of the year, and while some movies have had multiple trailers that were very good, most films have had only one trailer that truly stands as excellent. One notable exception this year has been Upstream Color, the newest feature from filmmaker Shane Carruth. Two independent teasers for the movie have been released to date, both of them fantastic in unique ways, and unlike the other films featuring multiple trailers on this list, both paint differing pictures of what to expect from the auteur who gave us Primer, neither of which is trepidation-worthy. There’s no real indication of what the movie will be about from these trailers, but it’s guaranteed to be fascinating, and not only do they make the prospect of the movie exciting, but they also make the prospect of what the next trailer might bring an exciting one as well.

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