How do you distill a two-hour film into a three-minute reel?
Enigmatic editing, key one-liners, and inspired song selections are tactics Hollywood editing rooms may leverage in efforts to grab an audience’s attention. But editing a trailer requires a gentle balance—do everything you can to entice audiences while revealing as little as you can. Show the almost-best content, without releasing the best-best content.
Film studios sound like a tricky client, no?
While a lack of trailer recognition is far from the Academy Awards’ biggest problem, the agency creative in me was compelled to take a closer look at best-in-show trailers from this past year. After all, if hair stylists and makeup teams qualify for an Academy Award, don’t marketing teams deserve some recognition, too?
Without further ado, here they are: my nominees for Best Trailer for a Feature Film.
5. Steve Jobs—First Trailer
The first Steve Jobs trailer is brimming with examples of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s heavy intellectualism. His signature style of writing has been criticized in previous efforts, but when the characters involved are a generation’s most accomplished innovators, the sardonic witticisms feel right at home.
The trailer successfully positions the Apple founder’s story as both raw and polished—decrying Jobs’ personal failures as it sings of his professional triumphs. The trailer works steadily towards a crescendo before ending abruptly on a quiet black-and-white screen—echoing the minimalist white-on-black aesthetic of Apple’s own advertising.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road—Official Theatrical Teaser Trailer
This past year was a monumental one for blockbusters, none of which roared more loudly than Mad Max: Fury Road. The film’s first theatrical teaser wastes no time getting to the action, raging with the intensity of a War Rig cutting through a desert plain. But what sets the trailer apart is not the adrenaline-soaked action teases, but rather the mayhem playing out against the backdrop of classical music.
The result is poetic in its madness. Explosions, sand storms, and kamikaze leaps are set to orchestral swells. This seemingly small decision subverts expectation, tipping off astute moviegoers that Mad Max might offer more than bland excitement and genre tropes—and, in fact, it does.
3. The Revenant—First Trailer
It’s incredible how much storytelling can be accomplished with a simple exhale.
Somehow, the most impactful takeaway from The Revenant’s first trailer is not the brutality of a bear mauling, but the rhythmic breathing of the film’s protagonist, Leo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass. Paired with the heartbeat-mimicking thump of drums, it persists like an anxious war march, communicating the soul of the narrative without need of dialogue. It puts you in the shoes of the villain, hearing the determined panting of Glass getting closer. And louder. And closer. And louder. It’s immersive and epic while clenching tightly to the intimacy of the film’s driving conflict.
2. Creed—First Trailer
It happens about a third of the way into the trailer: Lupe Fiasco’s “Prisoner” drops its first beat and suddenly Creed feels like the kind of movie you can’t afford to miss.
The scenes start cutting more quickly, syncing flawlessly to Fiasco’s own pacing. The rhythmic pull of tape, the clang of a punching bag, and the beat of a fist—each land with surprising momentum, and you begin to appreciate what a worthy Rocky successor looks like.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens—First Teaser
What do you get when you combine two lines of dialogue, one controversial lightsaber design, and a triumphant blast of John Williams’ score? A $2 billion movie trailer, apparently.
The first teaser for The Force Awakens is like Han Solo—confident to the point of arrogance. Rather than introducing new characters, revealing plot details, or showcasing big-budget CGI bells and whistles, the trailer featured a series of simple shots that toy with fans’ expectations (a Storm Trooper without a helmet?) while embodying a simplicity recalling the Star Wars of old.
The teaser quickly became the most-watched trailer of all time, racking up 55 million views in just 24 hours. Now that is marketing.