Honestly, what would we do without trailers? Besides have to show up on time to the movies more often. These are the vehicles through which we funnel our enthusiasm for the vast possibilities of movies unseen. They so often fall short—both the movies and the trailers. At their most frustrating, trailers can give too much away or set a bland or misleading tone. At their best? At their best, a trailer can be far better at conveying the message of the movie than the movie itself is.
What follows is a list of the best, most effective, most stirring, and most creative movie trailers of 2013.
Best Overall Depiction of a Film's Finished Product
The truth-in-advertising people were probably very happy with the trailer for Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's Frances Ha, since the clip was a perfect distillation of that film's goofy charm and appeal. That the David Bowie song that scores the bulk of it actually appears in the film doesn't hurt either.
Best Music (Song)
The use of Sleigh Bells' "Crown on the Ground" in the first teaser for Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring turned out to be a fine preview for the opening scene of the film itself. In both, it serves as a siren alarm for the teen delinquents as they strut around L.A. in a haze of larceny and selfies. Coppola's movies have always been smart about their music choices, and this trailer took that tendency and ran with it.
Best Music (Score)
It took them three tries, but Warner Bros. finally delivered the stirring trailer that a hero like Superman really deserves. Zack Snyder's film did not end up impressing the critics, but by harnessing the grandeur of Hans Zimmer's score, it certainly seemed like it might live up to expectations.
Best Multi-Trailer Campaign
All too often, a brilliant teaser—brief and punchy and evocative without being explainy—can give way to a humdrum trailer, if only due to the inflated expectations. Good for the people who cut the trailers for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for following up their rather poetic teaser with a longer trailer that doesn't lose any of the first clip's impact. Doubling down on the Of Monsters and Men track with José González's (sadly Oscar-ineligible) "Step Out" really pays off.
Most Sadly Unconvincing
How could a trailer front loaded with Emma Thompson dressed in a Sunday church hat and speaking in a hilarious southern accent have done anything but convince audiences to flock to their local multiplexes by the dozens? The teaser for Beautiful Creatures is an intoxicating blend of gothic atmosphere, top-notch actors (Viola Davis! Jeremy Irons!), doomed lovers (our favorites Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich), Emmy Rossum as diva'd out as you please, and a whole lotta Florence + the Machine. At the very least, this should have earned Creatures—the best possible version of the supernatural teen romance genre that Twilight foisted upon us—a bigger box-office haul than The Mortal Instruments. Alas.
Best TV Spot
Pretty much any preview footage of Gravity was going to look fantastic, and the full-length theatrical trailers got everybody whipped into a frenzy -- especially those who got to see them in 3D. What this subsequent TV spot, released mere weeks before the film opened, accomplished was marrying the harrowing outer space footage with the score from Danny Boyle's Sunshine, one of the better pieces of movie music (and trailer fodder) available.
Worst TV Spot
Who wouldn't want to watch a movie about slavery, set to a driving rock soundtrack and punctuated by macho action beats? After all, Django Unchained did so well! This 12 Years a Slave spot is not only entirely unrepresentative of the film it advertises, it also takes the audience at home for idiots who need action spectacle in order to think about slavery for two hours.
I flirted with giving this (dis)honor to World War Z, since that trailer ended up criminally underselling a movie that turned out to be pretty good. But, no, the worst trailer of the year was the clip for Jobs, which mangled Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Can't Hold Us" so as to better underline that "return of the Mac" line (GET IT, DO YOU, WE REALLY HOPE YOU GET IT). The tone of the trailer suggests something in between a smirking Ashton Kutcher vanity project and a smirking Ashton Kutcher vanity project wherein Steve Jobs gets laid a lot. No one saw this movie, and thank God, so maybe we should be thanking this terrible trailer?