January 2, 2018
Year-in-Review

The 8 Most Provocative Trailers of 2017

The year's best trailers were all-inclusive to dogs, replicants, musical performers, and clowns.

If a movie trailer's job is to hype a film, then the eight trailers represented below make a strong case for running to your computer and signing up for MoviePass. A great trailer evokes excitement and buzz, and there was quite a bit of that to go around this year. 

Beyond its purpose as an organic marketing tool, however, a trailer should stand alone independent of anything else, posing a profusion of intriguing questions along the way. Mystery sells. One misconception is that an overabundance of plot-recapping is necessary for a trailer to be successful. The more information, the better, right? No! Please allow your audience to put the story together for themselves and don't hold their hand through all facets of your film's marketing campaign. In fact, it's encouraging when a trailer leaves us a little disoriented and scratching our head.

It's with this belief that No Film School presents the year's best head-scratchers. If you think we missed out on a few good ones, definitely let us know down in the comments and be sure to follow our Trailer Watch column for upcoming trailer news.

1. IT

First, some background information: the world premiere of this trailer debuted at SXSW 2017 as part of the special "FACE YOUR FEARS: An Exclusive First Look & Filmmaker Discussion" event presented by Warner Bros. featuring their genre filmmakers Andrés Muschietti (IT) and David F. Sandberg (Annabelle 2). Sitting in the front row of the Vimeo Theater at the Austin Convention Center, I was there for one reason and one reason only: the very first glimpse of footage from the upcoming IT remake. After several minutes of Muschietti warning the audience of how the trailer would creep us out, the lights went down and the trailer was set to begin. The sound came on and....there was no picture. Still on stage, Muschietti jumped out of his chair, waving his arms as if to draw the attention of the projectionist. Was the footage too scary for us to see?

After the technical snafu was corrected, the trailer played in front of an audience for the very first time. Effectively creepy and, most importantly, careful not to reveal too much, the trailer is very much like the film, a consistent stream of creepy high points amped up to the highest degree. And like the feature, it all starts with an innocent boy wishing to play with his paper sailboat on an abnormally rainy day. 

2. All the Money in the World

A trailer that slowly builds to a scene-chewing performance we'll never actually get to see? This had to make the list. Few recent production hurdles have been more well-documented than what Ridley Scott had to pull off in the wake of Kevin Spacey's sexual abuse scandal that came to light two months ago. Recasting and re-shooting his slimy antagonist with the great Christopher Plummer in a matter of weeks in order to make a Christmas release date made Scott an even more heralded auteur, as his heroic efforts made sure the film wouldn't be tainted by the crimes of his former leading man.

And yet, this original trailer still exists out there in the ether, representing what appears to be a totally different take on the character of J. Paul Getty. At 58 years of age, Spacey is a full 30 years younger than Plummer, and for the role, found himself caked to the high heavens in facial prosthetics and globs of expensive old-age makeup. The tone of the film would have been decidedly different had Spacey remained in the film, and now we're left to wonder how it all would've turned out.

Let this not detract from the trailer's clever and devilish implementation of The Zombies' Time of the Season as an ironic punchline used to cap off the sinister tone.

3. Blade Runner: 2049

The first full-length trailer for the long-awaited sequel didn't disappoint. After whetting our appetite with an "announcement teaser" that briefly gave us a returning Deckard in all his golden-soaked glory, this longer trailer works masterfully at balancing fan nostalgia with a pretty solid case justifying the sequel's existence ("don't be mistaken, this is no mere cash grab," the trailer seems to be declaring). The trailer arrives almost anticipating the specific questions audiences will have—is Ryan Gosling's character a replicant?—and has fun lightly teasing an answer. With beautiful visuals, an instantly recognizable score, and editing that builds to a suffocating crescendo, this trailer went above and beyond fueling the hype machine into full motion.

4.  The Greatest Showman's "live trailer"

Represented on this list more for its theatrical chutzpah than for its substance, this live trailer featured the Hugh Jackman-lead cast of 20th Century Fox's new musical The Greatest Showman performing a number from the film on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. As the trailer premiered during Fox's A Christmas Story Live! broadcast, the format made sense in the context of one live presentation following another. If only all other commercials on the evening would have followed suit!

A 150-person cast helped bring the Come Alive number to life, and this trailer, while feeling more appropriate for the Tony Awards than the multiplex, represented a break from tradition, ala Alfred Hitchock walking us through each room of the Bates Motel in his deadpan promotion for Psycho. It's something unique and does what a strong trailer is supposed to do: make an uninitiated viewer excited to seek out the film.

5. Isle of Dogs

Most cinephiles await a new Wes Anderson film with heightened anticipation, and when the trailer for his latest stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs dropped in September, we could all breathe a sigh of relief. This trailer is both fun and mind-boggling, and it's all the better for it. I've seen this trailer several times now and am not entirely sure I could relay an accurate description of the plot, but there is Japanese iconography, a concerned young woman, a kind young boy,  and a sneezing canine. Given its subject matter, the Japanese lettering used to announce the extremely accomplished cast Anderson has assembled is hilarious and inspired too.

6. The Post

Oozing prestige, thrills, and a 21st century relevance, the first trailer for Steven Spielberg's The Post is appropriately rousing and to the point: The Washington Post, lead by Katharine Graham (played by Meryl Streep), faces a journalistic dilemma that can boost the paper's integrity while landing the editorial team in prison. The scrappy underdogs versus the President of the United States? Sounds pretty important!

As this is a trailer mean to sell the excitement of journalism to a wide audience—Tom Hanks is the star, after all—there are numerous shots of reporters having closed-door meetings and banging on their keyboards as the scariest villain of all looms just up ahead: impending deadlines. It's an exciting and somber trailer that represents a moment in history where everything hung in the balance.

7. Song to Song

Playful, sexy, and by its conclusion deeply unsettling, this trailer didn't reveal too much about the latest film from notoriously enigmatic Terrence Malick, and yet it works as its own piece. The familiar camera angles and fluid movements are on full display, although this time within a musically-tinged concert setting comprised of rockers living with reckless abandon, and an all-star cast is glanced at and occasionally heard (Ryan Gosling sings!). It does what a solid trailer should do, providing the viewer with a number of questions and a sense of intrigue to be satisfied upon seeing the final product. It also has a character mention the film's title in a line of dialogue 25 seconds into the trailer, and that's always appreciated.

8. Donnie Darko (15th anniversary re-release)

A particular favorite of mine from years past, Richard Kelly's teen mindbender celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. Released only one month after 9/11 occurred, this cult classic featuring a prominent plane crash wasn't what the American public was interested in back in 2001, and it took a home video release (and subsequent director's cut) for the film to reach its passionate fan base. 

This trailer serves as a pretty good example of playing to those fans while welcoming the uninitiated. Most of the key scenes are quickly glanced at, and some text justifying the re-release get its reason for being across pretty quickly (it's a 15th anniversary release complete with 4K transfer!). Bonus points for the clever audio syncing of Donnie's penetrating knife matching the beat of the song at the trailer's conclusion.

 

See all of our 2017 Year-in-Review coverage.

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