Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.
Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.
They used to be simple little snippets shown exclusively in the theater, but the dawn of the Internet has made movie trailers almost as exciting as the movies themselves. No longer relegated to just the theater, trailers dropping online have become gigantic trending events, to the point where the trailers themselves now have smaller trailers hyping their release. A great trailer plays like a short film unto itself, and at times can be as good as (or better than) the film it's supposed to be promoting.
The most important question still remains, however: Does it make you want to see the film? Climb on in the hype machine and take a look at our list of the most amazing trailers from the last 25 years!
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
"I just want to apologize …" a girl says, before text tells us of three missing college students and their recently unearthed footage. The trailer doesn’t wink and makes the whole thing feel real, and when the now infamous and infinitely parodied "I am so scared" close-up happens at the end, most of us were "so scared" right along with her. This looked like something we’d never seen before and we all made plans to see it immediately. In groups, of course. This one was better in groups.
"What the heck was that?" most people said when this trailer showed for the first time. Consisting of mostly found footage, initial trailers for this film didn’t even have a title attached — just a date. A film with almost no advance word on it suddenly became a must-see, because people just had to know what, in fact, was going on. At the very least they were curious what the thing was called. Nobody wanted to be left out, so a lot of people showed up. It was an advertising risk for the ages, and one that paid off handsomely.
The Dark Knight (2008)
This was our first unforgettable taste of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Anyone who had doubts about that casting (we did) were blown away. He looked perfect, he sounded perfect … could he possibly be perfect? Between shooting machine guns and rocket launchers, staring cops down in a jail cell, or just cackling, he looked like the stuff demented dreams were made on. The trailer also features everything we loved about Nolan’s second Bat-film — and with this perfect avatar of anarchy in the mix, the hype machine began and didn’t let up for one second. This first look most certainly put a smile on our faces.
This one starts pretty seriously, but then Ryan Reynolds starts dishing one-liners and suddenly he's in full regalia on a bridge, drawing with crayon, and listening to "Shoop." Once the action kicks in, it’s clear that this might not be just another comic book movie. As different and crazy as Wade Wilson, itself, this trailer made us excited that the REAL Deadpool may finally be hitting our screens, this time without his mouth sewn shut. Jokes about animated green suits were also appreciated.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
It looks like a traditional rom-com, but then goes full warp sci-fi when it reveals that the film isn’t about creating new lovely memories, but erasing them. Charlie Kaufman fanatics had been expecting this film for a while after a leaked draft of the script got out, but, for everyone else, this gonzo mix of imagery set partially to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" had you curious. We see glimpses of famous actors playing roles they usually don’t play, we’re tapping our toes, and all the while we’re getting high on the promise of what this movie could possibly be. With few plot points but tons of tone and feeling, the trailer doesn't spoil anything. In the case of this film, that’s a very good thing.
"Life in space is impossible" and Sandra Bullock is spinning around a space shuttle that is breaking apart. We did not feel safe. No matter how many times you watch this, you never feel safe, and that is impressive for something around two minutes long. A wonder of sound and editing, this microcosm of the film plays like a tiny masterpiece. When the titles eventually say “Directed by Alfonso Cuaron” you simultaneously think “Of course, that’s why this is so great” as well as “Oh, my god, Mommy, he’s gonna scare the hell out of me, please don’t let him take us to space.”
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The minute we first saw this trailer, you could say that we were hooked on a feeling. The success of Marvel’s first real ride on the cosmic side that featured a talking raccoon and a sentient tree is due partially to the genius of the way they advertised it. This was kooky for sure, looking like a weird space movie starring the guy from Parks and Recreation. Feeling both new and retro at the same time, these A-holes being introduced under this classic song made even non-comic book fans take notice.
Behold, the trailer that launched a thousand BWAAAAMMMMMSSSS!!!! Around these now famous sounds, we hear various things about "dream security" while a city folds itself up like an MC Escher amusement park. By the time this perfectly scored trailer is over, we have been overloaded with incredible imagery and ideas yet we still have no real idea what the story is. So much the better. As if the preceding weren’t enough, we’re given the joy of the button at the end — Tom Hardy delivering the best line of the trailer (and the film) saying "You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling" before producing a massive firearm out of nowhere.
Independence Day (1996)
At first you think it’s just another flying saucer movie, but then you see the flying saucers and you marvel at how incredible and how massive they look. Their size is apparent because all of the saucers are hovering over landmarks. Then they BLOW UP THE WHITE HOUSE. Also the Empire State Building, the rest of NYC, and so forth. All you’re thinking is that if the aliens can do that, then they can do anything! How will we stop them? The trailer has possible answers — fighter jets, a presidential speech, and Will Smith being his best self. Would it be enough? We needed to know, and so did everyone else.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Much like the film, the trailer really comes in two parts. First, it sells you on the wonder and magic of dinosaurs being brought back to life. Wow! It’s beautiful! You almost believe they’re real, too, as the first glimpse at these creatures looked pretty incredible at the time (and still do). The second part of the trailer? Well, it’s a fictional Michael Crichton amusement park, so things go horribly, horribly wrong. In-between giving you a taste of these two parts the trailer finds time to deconstruct corporate greed and genetic tampering, plus it shows you that the film will have Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and NEWMAN. That it manages to be as powerful as it is without using what is arguably the film’s greatest asset (John Williams’ score) is no small feat either.
Sheer poetry. Poor Wolverine has been through the wringer in every way possible, and the song choice here (Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”) fits that tone perfectly. He looks pretty beaten down — by life, by being one of the last mutants standing, by his own solo films, all of it. He’s tired of being the hero, and his refusal in this trailer to help a young girl by saying “someone will come along” is a gut punch. Thankfully, it’s perfectly followed by Patrick Stewart (playing an old and feeble Charles Xavier) telling him that “someone has.” By the end we feel like the character may indeed find a way, and that they may have also found a way to make a great Wolverine film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
THIS DAY, WE FIGHT!!! It’s hard not to get emotional. With two brilliant films before it, this trailer has the advantage of audiences already being familiar with its epic cast of characters and story. From Gandalf’s look to Aragorn, to Gollum’s wicked smile at Sam, we are well past introductions and the trailer promises a film full of payoff. The action beats hint at battles larger than any we’d yet seen, but they don’t spoil anything. They leave the best action for the film, and remind us that, in the end, the entire fight is still dependent on one Mr. Frodo Baggins. The trailer’s final moment, though — we know that Frodo has been lusting for the ring, as well as what the inside of Mt. Doom looks like. Sam’s scream, surrounded by volcano flame, makes us think that it’s possible that all of the swords and sacrifice may end up being for naught. Chances are you were going anyway, but the first real shots of Minas Tirith, alone, made this a trailer we played over and over in the long months leading up to December 2003.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
What more do you need to know? George Miller, Mad Max, and ACTION. Tons and tons of action, and all of it coming at you every which way. Between multiple cars flying through the air, white painted bald guys tilting around on poles, and Tom Hardy giving his little thumbs up, this trailer delivers. If your question going in was, "Do I really need another Mad Max movie?" this trailer answered by screaming “YES YOU DAMN WELL DO” while dumping sand down your throat and kicking you a glimpse of the flame thrower guitar playing Doof as dessert.
Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
They were finally doing it! Nothing quite compared with seeing these classic characters team up for the first time, and that thrill still hasn’t worn off. This trailer teases everything you would want from a team up movie like this — hero fighting hero, hero fighting villain, hero snarking hero, and eventually all of the heroes fighting the villain. And the last scene of the entire team together, with the camera circling them? We certainly bought our tickets. Several.
Borrowing a couple of BWAAAAMMMMMSSS from the Inception trailer, this one really nails it with the lettering of its title. It’s a weird thing to say, but lines appearing on the screen to gradually reveal the title of the film evoked the classic opening of the original Alien perfectly, and this trailer suggested that this film would capture that film’s spirit with a fresh coat of dazzling special effect paint. More than just evoking Alien, the trailer also hints that we may finally get an answer that age old question — what is the deal with that space jockey thing? The final product ended up being pretty divisive, but the trailer is absolutely gorgeous.
Sin City (2005)
From moment one, this trailer is telling you that this is a different kind of comic book movie, and it is absolutely right. With a painted black-and-white approach merged with assorted accent colors, this first look at the film really looked as if the Frank Miller comic had come to life. It spells noir with a mile-high capital “N” and piles on great lines faster than it piles on actor names at the end. It gets any grindhouse movie fan’s wheels spinning hotter than Jessica Alba dancing, and made the rest of us want to prove to our friends that we were worth a damn.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
In this wonderful time of Star Wars being everywhere, it’s hard to remember the long years after 1983 when there wasn’t much of it to go around. In the post Yub Nub world, we had some good novels, an excellent role playing game, and nothing but rumors. For years, we heard that George Lucas was eventually going to take us back to the beginning and give us Episode I, but it wasn’t until this trailer appeared that we really believed it. Finally, Star Wars was coming back, it’s real, it’s coming soon, and here is ocular proof! Whether you love or loathe this film (a debate for another time) this trailer is a good time. Liam Neeson with a green lightsaber! Young Obi-Wan! Some cool looking red tattoo face guy! Ian McDiarmid! Was that a swoop race? Oh wow, the music is back! “Yousa people gonna die” who the hell was that? Who cares, YAY! With no mention of Midichlorians and very little of the Talented Mr. Binks or of little orphan Ani, this trailer was fantastic. Everyone went nuts for it. People went to see Meet Joe Black just to see it this, then slept through that film to see it again. Every generation has a legend, and our legend was coming back.
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)
Another famous Star Wars trailer drop! We’d already seen the first footage of this movie with its first trailer (promising a return to practical sets and effects after the green screen cavalcade of the prequels) but it was THIS trailer that brought us our first return to the beloved characters from the original trilogy. Whether you were at Star Wars Celebration, live-streaming the celebration at home, (what a time to be alive) or just watching the trailer itself, everyone had one line on their mind, and that line was “Yousa people gonna die?” Apologies, couldn’t resist. “CHEWIE, WE’RE HOME.” Han Solo is BACK everyone, he’s on board the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca is growling by his side, and all is right with the world. The rest of the trailer is fantastic as well (Daisy Ridley) but that moofmilking smuggler might as well have been speaking for all of us. He was finally home, and so were we.
Suicide Squad (2016)
You can pretty much set anything to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and it’ll be awesome. That said, these very well-timed images set to the epic tune make for a potent mix and gave us hope. People loved this so much that Warner Brothers is rumored to have revamped the entire film to be more like it, hiring the same guy who made this trailer to do a re-edit and add around 54 needle drops in the first ten minutes. Criticize the film all you like (and people certainly do) but it’s hard to criticize this wonderful trailer.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Classic images of Norse Mythology blended with scenes that look like a Super Nintendo fever dream in space? It looked veeeeeery promising. Taika Waititi was an inspired and bold choice of director here, and if Marvel was looking to shake up the Thor movies then they certainly made it happen. Every inch of this trailer had us excited — Cate Blanchett as the Mjolnir-shattering Hello, Jeff Goldblum in full Goldbloom, Thor once again having to team up with Loki, Hulk fighting Fenris Wolf, and so on and so on. After seeing this trailer for the first time we wondered whether the film itself could actually be as good as this trailer promised, and let’s just say we were not let down.
Bruce Willis has been in a train accident. He is the only survivor, has no injury whatsoever, and Samuel L. Jackson is going to help him figure out why. That’s all we know. That, and the fact that this was M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to the massively successful The Sixth Sense. When this trailer debuted, Shyamalan’s name appearing in it didn’t elicit laughs from theater audiences the way it occasionally does with his more recent films — at the time, it made people take notice that something special was coming. The pacing of this trailer is perfect, walking you through the aforementioned mystery step by step. It takes its time, telling you very little but telling you with purpose.
If the idea of Pixar doing a science fiction movie sounded good in theory, here was proof that it would be absolutely great in practice. As the Central Services track from Brazil starts playing, we meet Pixar’s version of the “lonely robot” and the result was love at first sight. Taking all of its scenes the first section of the film, this trailer mostly offers up the lovable WALL-E playing with bits of trash and being curious. We know by the end that he’s not going to stay in that trash heap called Earth for the entire film, but, more importantly, we get a real sense of his personality. He’s quizzical, a bit goofy, very lonely, and extremely adorable. How Pixar managed to make us instantly fall for a rolling trash compactor with binocular eyes is beyond us, but manage it they did.
Another instance of great footage set to an incredible song (“The End is the Beginning is the End” by Smashing Pumpkins), this got everyone excited and sounded the horn that this long awaited film adaptation was coming at last. The perfectly cast Jackie Earle Haley delivers the trailer’s only real line of dialogue, which tells fans they are in good hands, and tells not-yet fans what kind of story this is. Even the title card at the end mirrors the font used in the book, and yes, those details matter! The film is yet another divisive one (Zack Snyder movies usually are), but this perfect marriage of music and image is still incredible all these years later.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
The beginning is perfectly set up — something is carrying a young boy, a shadow tells us it might have horns, there’s a bit of fur, wait, it’s some kind of beast, wait it’s an iconic beast, and was that voice James Gandolfini? This trailer goes right to the heart with its song choice (yet again) and its full-on display of book characters brought to life. If you know the book, then you’re already into it. If you don’t know the book, then you know it’s about hope, fear, and adventure. You also know that you want to read the book and then see the film. With Spike Jonze at the helm anything was possible, and however you felt about the finished product the trailer can still bring a tear to your eye.
Wonder Woman (2017)
This was a tough call to make -- not whether or not to feature a trailer from this film, that was a given, the issue was WHICH ONE to feature. All of the trailers were fantastic, especially the first Comic-Con preview from 2016, which made us cautiously optimistic. That said, we had to go with this trailer, as it’s the one most likely to make you stand up and scream with joy. Watching it for the first time, it really felt like they were going to pull it off. They HAD to pull it off. The previous trailers gave us hope, but Suicide Squad had good trailers, too, and … um … not everyone loved that moviegoing experience. But this trailer? This trailer was TOO GOOD for the movie to be completely bad. We could breathe a little, maybe we didn’t have to hedge our bets as much. We felt like we were in good hands. As it turns out, we weren’t in good hands at all. We were in the hands of goddesses.
Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which trailers from the last 25 years you'd put on your list. And check out our complete "25 Greatest" lists here.