Artwork by Kristin Frenzel
An excellent movie trailer used to be a rarity. Before Apple started uploading trailers online, previews were simply considered mundane commercials with the same “In a world…” narration, a few banner names, a cliffhanger clip, and a date. Sometimes, you’d catch a random teaser trailer for a highly-anticipated sequel without any notice. (For example, when the T.Rex stamped its foot into the mud and announced 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park, my father had to chase me around the aisles, popcorn in tow.) But really, it wasn’t until the last decade and a half that every trailer attempted to be as eventful as the film itself.
That’s certainly something we discovered when compiling this list. As you’ll notice, most of the previews ahead date post-1999 and that’s largely due to the evolution of the movie trailer itself. They’re sleeker, more self-aware, and snappy in ways that catch our eyes and make us want to rewatch them again and again and again. In some respects, they’re short films — ahem, Zach Braff’s Garden State — and that’s mostly because they have a stellar song championing the visuals. In light of that marriage in marketing, we thought it’d be wise to rope together the 30 best songs in 30 different trailers.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll remember why you paid $12 to see these movies.
30. Harvey Danger – “Flagpole Sitta”
When I first watched the trailer eons ago, I remember imagining it as an alternative-dimension Dawson’s Creek. Joey Potter had turned naughty, and Harvey Danger supplanted Paula Cole for the show’s theme song. Song remains a classic, the movie…
How’d the film turn out? …not so much. I caught it on TV years ago and remember very little.
29. Jay Z and Kanye West – “No Church in the Wild”
The Great Gatsby
While some were averse to Baz Lurhman’s contemporary soundtrack for Gatsby, Kanye West and Jay Z’s “No Church in the Wild” was a perfect fit for this candy-coated trailer. Gatsby’s depth as a character can be seen in Frank Ocean’s musings: “What’s a king to a God?/ What’s a God to a non-believer, who don’t believe in anything?”
How’d the film turn out? Not nearly as well as the trailer promised, but still–quality entertainment, as Leo can do no wrong.
28. Spoon – “The Way We Get By”
Stranger Than Fiction
You’re primed to expect something different if Will Ferrell’s dramatic gifts match his comedic talents. This charming, sentimentally uplifting trailer, together with Spoon’s accomplished hooks and serenading piano notes, allow themes of existential anxiety to remain at a comfortable and quirky ambience. Everything is pleasantly jarring with dramatic irony being buoyed by intelligent songwriting.
How’d the film turn out? In reality, the trailer was better than fiction — Will Ferrel proved he’s not just a pretty face when he was nominated for a Golden Globe as Harold Crick.
27. Sneaker Pimps – “6 Feet Underground”
At the time, this trailer was a dirty-minded adrenaline drenched ride perpetuated by the myth that teenagers scheming to deflower virgins and turn girls into tramps was a true betrayal of the New York City privileged crop of prep-schoolers. This standout trip-hop track was as symbolic of an era as the slow-motion Buffy versus Blair scene was to the movie and it fit perfectly.
How’d the film turn out? Fourteen years old thinking the mantra “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” was the definitive answer to everything, the iconic end scene injected with The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was perfect. (Joshua Jackson’s flamboyant gay trickster character still gives me day-mares, though.)
26. Ivy – “Edge of the Ocean”
After nine years, seeing the old clips here of Jesse and Celine again sent jolts of electricity through the veins of every hapless romantic who had waited on pins and paper hearts following Before Sunrise. Did they ever reunite? What happened after Vienna? The way Ivy’s sleek hit weaves in and out here, tapered with the sunlight fonts, and the expressions of our two wiser heroes — all delectable as an $87 bar of dark chocolate. In 2004, I cheered alone in Ft. Lauderdale’s art house theater, but I cheered loud.
How’d the film turn out? Similar to the wine these characters adore, Richard Linklater’s brilliant series gets better with each installment. Sunset and last year’s sequel, Midnight, both nabbed Oscar nominations for their screenplays.