Marketing is a major part of the comic book movie hype machine, particularly trailers. These aren’t just nuggets of footage that can play before a feature in the movie theater. They offer concrete glimpses into what an anticipated project looks like after years of speculations, grainy set photos, and Reddit leaks. At their best, comic book movie trailers can offer stirring experiences that can even exceed the movies they’re promoting in quality.
However, it can be easy to lose track of those trailers over time. After all, there's always some new comic book movie coming out down the pipeline, diverting attention away from the old ones. However, the quality of the very best comic book movie trailers endures even if they’re no longer making headlines on pop culture sites.
With all the pre-release hype vanished, one can look at these trailers with a careful eye and thoroughly examine what makes them as super as the superheroes they're promoting. With that in mind, let’s examine the ten best comic book movie trailers.
Guardians of the Galaxy (Trailer 1)
Nowadays, it’s common to see superhero movie trailers cut to the tune of classic rock songs from the 1970s and ‘80s. But in the early months of 2014, the first Guardians of the Galaxy trailer being set to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” did feel like a bolt out of the blue. This wasn’t a slowed-down somber cover of the famous song, either; Guardians had the confidence to plop the original track and all those “ooga-chaka’s” against footage of weird aliens and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) firing off cosmic guns.
The song choice informed the unabashed confidence of this trailer, which was complemented by the frank way it showed off Galaxy’s obscure superhero protagonists. Rather than hide Rocket, this first look at Guardians of the Galaxy flaunted the irate mammal. It was a byproduct of just how bold and self-assured this trailer was. No wonder it inspired so many imitators.
Suicide Squad (Trailer 1)
Suicide Squad was an utter mess, a borderline incoherent concoction erratically trying to channel the vibes of six different comic book movies. Its first full trailer, on the other hand, was a much more distinctive creation. Set to the tune of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” this trailer perfectly used every inch of its needle drop to accentuate the inner lives of its supervillain characters. The opening lyrics (“Caught in a landslide / no escape from reality”) perfectly captured the loneliness of characters Deadshot (Will Smith) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), while its escalating level of energy was an excellent match for the escalating number of absurd visuals.
This Suicide Squad trailer was so good that it even suggested, in its sparing use of Jared Leto’s Joker, that this version of the iconic villain could be effective. In the end, that wouldn’t be true, but for a fleeting moment, it appeared every part of Suicide Squad had real promise.
Spider-Man (Twin Towers Teaser)
The first live-action Spider-Man film wasn’t just another superhero movie blockbuster. It was an event so big that it needed to kick off its marketing campaign with a bang. Thus, a special teaser trailer was commissioned primarily made up of footage that wouldn’t be in the final product. The trailer depicted a group of bank robbers who get away with all their loot in a helicopter only to get tangled up in a gigantic web put up between the two towers in the World Trade Center.
It’s very understandable why this trailer had to be taken out of theaters once the September 11 attacks happened. However, on its own merits, this is a fantastic teaser, particularly in its sense of timing. All the build-up to Spidey (who is offscreen for much of the teaser) makes the sudden sight of a helicopter caught inside an enormous web all the more impactful. Plus, that final montage of Spider-Man swinging around New York City features endearing examples of on-screen text, swooshing sound effects, and music that could only exist in pop culture circa 2001.
Black Panther (Teaser)
After years of build-up in various Marvel Cinematic Universe titles, the first teaser trailer for Black Panther confirmed it: the world would finally be seeing a live-action movie centered on the King of Wakanda. In just under two minutes, this debut trailer packed in a whole lot of arresting imagery: Kilmonger (Michael B. Jordan) placing that mask over his face, the Dora Milaje engaging in combat, and that closing action beat of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) flying through the air only to land on a car safe and sound. Plus, the shots of Wakanda and its technology perfectly sold this place as somewhere that could live up to the grand descriptions delivered by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). If you weren’t aware of Black Panther before, this teaser would get any moviegoer to be as excited for this MCU title as diehard fans of the character.
Zack Snyder movies always produce incredible trailers. The filmmaker’s penchant for compact storytelling, forged in his days as a commercial director, translates extremely well to the form of a movie trailer. For his 2009 film Watchmen, this gift proved particularly helpful in delivering a piece of promotional material that could engage die-hard fans of the comic and casual moviegoers alike.
Glorious shots abounded in this teaser, which largely eschewed dialogue in favor of letting the imagery do the talking. As a cherry on top, the whole piece was set to the tune of Smashing Pumpkins’ “The End Is the Beginning Is the End,” a song originally produced for the Batman & Robin soundtrack. Juxtaposing that ditty from a heavily stylized comic book movie against imagery from a deeply realistic genre entry was fascinating. This track, once meant to help sell a movie loaded with candy-coated escapism, took on a whole new ominous tone when placed against sights like Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup) blowing people to smithereens. What other hallmarks of the genre would the finished film turn on their head, just as its source material had done in the world of comics years prior?
Man of Steel (Final Trailer)
No 21st-century Superman movie comes anywhere close in quality to the final trailer for Man of Steel. Within three minutes, this last trailer for Zack Snyder’s 2013 feature conveyed an immediately captivating mythic tone that suggested a modern world of new possibilities. It’s also a trailer that shows the value of taking your time. Rather than engaging in rapid-fire cuts to grab the viewer’s attention, this Man of Steel trailer slows down in its midsection to allow Superman (Henry Cavill) to walk across the ice and absorb the words of his father.
Taking this measured approach allows both the narration and the subsequent depiction of Superman leaping into the sky for the first time to leave a profound impact. From there, an action montage set to the thrilling drumbeats in Hans Zimmer’s score similarly thrills. It’s strange to consider how the eventual Man of Steel movie struggled to tap into humanity considering how well this trailer succeeds in stirring the human soul.
Joker (Trailer 2)
The most impressive part of the second Joker trailer is how well it simulates the sensation of going mad. After starting in a sense of normalcy with Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) train encounter with a child, things get more and more unnerving as the trailer goes on. By the midway point, when we see Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) punching Fleck in the face, chaos has unraveled. The score in the trailer is heavy on shrieking string instruments and the imagery has escalated in intensity. It’s as if this trailer is placing us into the mindset of Joker’s protagonist.
A lot of comic book movie trailers convey their power by showing off cities exploding or massive CGI creatures. The second Joker trailer, meanwhile, commanded its memorability from portraying a discomforting, fraying grasp on the fabric of sanity.
The Dark Knight (Teaser)
The first teaser for The Dark Knight was released a whole year before the movie would ever grace multiplexes. As a result, there isn’t a frame of actual footage from the final product; as it turns out, it didn’t need it. The trailer’s visuals are restricted to illuminating the Batman logo with bright light behind it as Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) discuss how far the Gotham City mob has gone recently. Suddenly, the light starts to disintegrate the logo as Joker’s audio begins.
Here, we get to hear Heath Ledger’s Joker for the first time, and his unprecedentedly different vocals set up expectations for a radically unique comic book movie villain. Plus, we don’t even have to see the Joker do a “magic trick” involving a pencil to understand what a threat he poses to Batman; just merging these visuals with Joker’s dialogue is enough to get the job done. The restraint exhibited in this Dark Knight teaser was a perfectly thoughtful way to announce the impending arrival of this superhero sequel.
Logan did not ease viewers into its unique vision of a superhero world and its marketing materials were all the better for it. Right off the bat, its trailer delivered an unshakably ominous tone that stood apart not just from the other X-Men movies but most other comic book adaptations. told through its desolate imagery, Hugh Jackman’s haunted dialogue, and the guitar strums of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.”
The trailer for Logan maintained that tone, even when it offered glimpses of the movie’s action scenes. Director James Mangold’s unique vision for this production, one that adhered more to classic Westerns than Marvel Studios productions, was now readily apparent. In the span of one teaser trailer, Logan had made a compelling argument for being something as different as it was impactful.
Thor: Ragnarok (Teaser)
While some MCU sequels adhere closely to the tone and style of their predecessors, Thor: Ragnarok went in the opposite direction. This was made readily apparent just through its incredible teaser trailer. This inaugural promotional material wiped away all traces of prior Thor movies through its vibrant color palette, drastically new costumes for pre-existing characters, and the exceptional use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
As a cherry on top, the first Ragnarok trailer ended with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) referring to the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) as “a friend from work,” a great tease of the kind of humor director Taika Waititi would be bringing to the project. The teaser trailer for Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t just exciting on its own terms, it was also blood-pumping for how it promised a radical new direction for what a Thor movie could be.
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