Trailers have long been a sacred part of the movie going experience. Some people (this writer included) refuse to even set foot in a movie theater if it’s late enough to miss the coming attractions! There’s so much more to a movie trailer than just marketing. Editing a great movie trailer requires a lot of skill and artistry. Trailers need to grab the viewers’ attention, tell the story without giving it away, get people pumped about the movie, and be both visually and audibly appealing. And you only have about two minutes and thirty seconds to do it!
There have been a lot of superhero movies over the years, and even more superhero movie trailers! We decided to take a look at our top 12 totally terrific trailers of the superhero genre. Without further ado, here’s the first half of our list, starting from number 12. Up, up, and away we go!
12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
For number 12, we’re going to start off with an unconventional pick, the Heroes in a Half Shell, more commonly known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Famous for their children’s cartoon and toy line, the trailer for the Turtles’ first big screen movie took everyone by surprise. The initial dark and gritty shots seem to have more in common with Death Wish than a kid’s cartoon. But then a taxicab driver cracks a joke, “Looked like sort of a big turtle in a trench coat,” and the tone immediately emerges. The music lightens, the title cards get colorful, and the Turtles take to the screen. Juxtaposing four walking, talking, skateboarding turtles with intimidating crooks in grimy real-world settings was just the ticket for an overly serious crime ridden city. Michelangelo sucks his head into his shell to dodge an ax, as only a turtle can do, and exclaims, “I love being a turtle!” What more could a child of the 90s ask for?
11. The Dark Knight (2008)
Before The Dark Knight completely blew movie-goers away back in 2008, this trailer primed them for the big bang. “You’ve changed things forever,” says the Joker over a black screen and pulsating score. Then Batman pulls the darkness away with his cape revealing that our hero is on the run. The Dark Knight’s second trailer is noteworthy for imposingly teasing the anarchist threat of the Joker and Batman’s desperation to stop him. Visuals of Gotham being terrorized by realistic violence, including an 18-wheeler flipping head over heels, build toward a final confrontation with the clown prince of crime daring the caped crusader to do something – anything – about it. After the trailer, fans knew this iteration of the classic clown was going to be different than all that had come before, and Batman wouldn’t be getting out of this one unscathed.
10. X2: X-Men United (2003)
The first X-Men knocked everyone’s socks off back in 2000 and kick started the superhero movie craze that’s still going strong today. When the trailer for the sequel hit, it had to stand out in a growing marketplace of superhero extravaganzas. The trailer starts off with the socially relevant scene of Iceman “coming out” to his parents. Bobby Drake’s mom reacts with the memorable line, “Have you tried not being a mutant?” From there the trailer takes the tried and true route of running down the character roster. Hero and villain alike get their own title card, a clip showing off their mutant talents, and a witty line of dialogue. The technique is quite effective in exciting X-Men fans who will certainly see their favorite character highlighted among the cast. The trailer wraps up with some fantastic looking X-action and a funny tag featuring a harmless house cat getting the jump on ol’ Wolverine, unfazed by his deadly claws.
9. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Even with the plethora of superhero fare that the MCU bestows upon us year after year, Spider-Man 2 is still often ranked as the best superhero movie of all time. For a movie of such prestige, the trailer better be darn impressive. And it is! Just like the film itself, the preview piles problem after problem onto poor Peter Parker’s shoulders and doesn’t let up. It runs through the entire story from beginning to end in 2:30 flat. We go from Peter’s woes, to giving up the mantle of the web head, right into the creation of Doc Ock, then onto MJ in peril, and it even sneaks in Harry unmasking Spidey! The trailer builds anticipation like no other, enticing the viewer with such intense curiosity as they ask themselves with each shot how is all this crazy convoluted conflict going to play out!? Its grand confidence feels like a Stan Lee-era ad proudly boasting the next issue of the Amazing Spider-Man! All that’s missing is an exuberant “Excelsior!”
8. Iron Man (2008)
Up until 2008, superhero movies did their own thing. Then everything changed with the release of the first Iron Man and the dawn of the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man was a huge risk for the upstart Marvel Studios. The trailer had to sell a C-list character who wasn’t well-known outside of comicbook shops. To do so, the preview goes all in on Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark’s boozy billionaire weapons manufacturer. The piece showcases Stark’s fast and loose lifestyle before getting into the grounded origin story. The trailer smartly treats the Iron Man armor as a superhero sports car. While designing the shell RDJ quips, “Throw a little hotrod red in there,” before a slick montage of Tony suiting up. The tagline, “Heroes aren’t born, they’re built,” makes the obscure character feel new and cool, right before the ultra-badass needle drop of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath.
7. The Avengers (2012)
In 2012, the world finally saw the fruits of Marvel Studios’ considerable labor: a massive team-up movie connecting four separate superhero franchises into one unprecedented epic movie. It had never been done before and audiences flipped at the first glimpses of Earth’s mightiest heroes together. This particular piece works by building the team in a more organic manner than the X2 trailer’s character roster. Instead of title cards, Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit all of our favorite Avengers one by one. Loki spouts Joss Whedon’s signature dialogue, “You call on such lost creatures to defend you,” and the trailer climaxes with the now iconic shot of a comicbook splash-page brought to life. All six original Avengers assemble back-to-back, defending New York against an alien invasion. The film industry was never the same again.
There ya have it, Brigadiers! The first six entries in our list of top 12 superhero movie trailers of all time! We hope you agree with at least some of our championed choices! Join us next time when we reveal the coveted cream of the crop with numbers 1-6. Can you guess which trailer takes the top spot? It’s bound to shock you!