This year’s San Diego Comic-Con brought a treasure trove of trailers for some of the upcoming year’s most buzzworthy movies, from superhero movies and franchise tentpole blockbusters to, curiously enough, Oliver Stone’s upcoming Edward Snowden biopic. (Watching the filmmaker warn the attendees of his Hall H panel that Pokémon Go watches them as they slumber was a rare, unexpected treat.)
We’ve got a nice long wait for most of these — enjoy that Justice League clip, people, because we’ve still got another 16 months before it swoops into theaters — but for now, the teaser’s the thing. We’ve collected and ranked the whole lot of movie trailer from this year’s SDCC — the best, the worst and everything in between.
Release date: September 16th, 2016
What’s the Deal: Ground zero for the found-footage wave that swept horror cinema during the 2000s, The Blair Witch Project gets a brand new sequel courtesy of You’re Next director Adam Wingard. A gaggle of college kids venture out into the forests of Maryland in search of one of the original victims that they suspect may still be alive — and naturally, in the process, stumble into a violent new nightmare all their own.
How’s It Do: The most effective advertisement for Blair Witch has nothing to do with the trailer; the project was marketed as The Woods until this past weekend, when Lionsgate surprised everyone by revealing that in a few months, we’d all actually be watching a sequel to one of the most successful horror films in recent memory. That surprise did a lot to drum up buzz, which may be for the best, because this trailer doesn’t make the most persuasive argument for the film it’s advertising. Same old kids running around, same old unsettling bundles of sticks, cleaner-looking videotape cinematography, but mostly same-old same-old.
Ranking: Jury’s still out – the slow-building tension of the original Blair Witch wasn’t best expressed in trailer form, either – but this is a 3/10 for now.
Doctor Strange (Release date: November 4th, 2016)
Plot: Marvel’s resident Sorcerer Supreme magicks himself onto the silver screen with Benedict Cumberbatch portraying doctor-turned-warlock Stephen Strange, Hannibal‘s Mads Mikkelsen stepping in as the villainous Kaecilius, and a fittingly weird, bald Tilda Swinton as Strange’s mentor and trainer, the Ancient One.
How’s It Do: Marvel’s putting all their money on the assumption that audiences are clamoring for more of that scene from Inception where Leo folds the city in half. The crazy thing is that that might not be a bad place to start for a blockbuster – the which-way-is-up spatial warps highlighted in the trailer both pay homage to the psychedelic source material and give the sophisticated CGI a full, imaginative workout. Throw in Swinton finally confessing in her own way that she’s possessed magic powers for all these years, and this could be an entertaining curveball from the Marvel-industrial complex.
Ranking: We’re staying optimistic with an 8/10.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Release date: November 18th, 2016)
Plot: Decades before Harry Potter triumphed over Voldemort and the forces of evil, a charming and eccentric wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) inadvertently releases a menagerie of magical monstrosities all over 1920s Manhattan. He’ll have to round them up before they’re discovered by the easily frightened muggles, or worse, magical types with more crooked intentions.
How’s It Do: The trailer doesn’t lean too hard on the Harry Potter nostalgia factor, only nodding back to the original series with a subtly placed snippet of John Williams’ iconic theme music. The team that cut this clip together clearly knows that the most potent element of all is that desire to live in the world of witchcraft and wizardry, as Newt’s pal Jacob (Dan Fogler) so simply expresses at the close. The appeal of Harry Potter was always rooted in escapism, and with a premise that places the supernatural right alongside unwitting ordinary folks, that blending of the everyday with the fantastic is more direct than ever.
Ranking: Not much to see here from Katherine Waterston as Newt’s associate Tina as of yet, but the free-floating sense of wonder earns this one a 7/10.
Justice League (Release date: November 17th, 2017)
Plot: DC’s hoping for an Avengers-caliber hit with their long-awaited crossover, which unites Batman (Ben Affleck), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the Flash (Ezra Miller) against a maniac known as Steppenwolf bent on global domination. And though Henry Cavill has announced that he’ll appear in Justice League as Superman, the defender of truth and justice is nowhere to be seen in the clip.
How’s It Do: After director Zack Snyder dropped a brick with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this year, both he and DC needed some serious image rehabilitation. In a much-needed change of pace, the Justice League trailer smartly gives the Flash a chance to inject some levity into a cinematic universe that has otherwise been defined by joylessness and grim shadows. The pre-release buzz for Suicide Squad seems to suggest that DC fans are ready to have fun again; Snyder and Justice League know enough to give the people what they want.
Ranking: Still a lot of question marks – what’s this villain’s deal? And where’s Supes? – but for now, a solid 6/10.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Release date: March 24th, 2017)
Plot: Guy Ritchie rewrites the age-old folktales of King Arthur with his signature rakish sense of humor and street-taught grit. Charlie Hunnam’s take on the knight of legend imagines him as a grittier, brawnier sort of gallant, and the film tracks his earliest days as urchin through to his momentous pulling of the sword Excalibur from the stone.
How’s It Do: While the playfully edited first bit promises a palpable sense of fun, that’s quickly replaced by another indistinguishably dour vibe in the rest of the trailer. Faceless CGI armies crashing into one another, heavily processed vistas of Middle Earth-lite beauty, that look where everything is covered in a thin layer of grime – it looks like reheated fantasy business as usual.
Ranking: Ritchie has eight months to cut another trailer that’ll convince us that this isn’t a 3/10.
Kong: Skull Island (Release date: March 10th, 2017)
Plot: Cinema’s most famous gigantic ape rears his ugly head once again in this film that hits the reset button on Peter Jackson’s 2005 reboot. From the looks of the trailer, this time, Kong won’t lay waste to Manhattan – instead, intrepid explorers Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman will blaze a path into the jungle’s heart of darkness to reckon with primal fury.
How’s It Do: Trailers like this live and die with their monster, and Fay Wray’s former lover smartly waits to show his three-story-tall face until the clip’s final moments. Before that, though, there’s a lot to like: untested director Jordan Vogt-Roberts sneaking the dragonfly in among the choppers, yellow-hued visions of fiery deforestation, Goodman having a staring contest with Jackson. Larson’s not given too much to do apart from looking shocked, but on the whole, this trailer conveys an exciting, coherent visual style.
Ranking: Just might be best of the bunch, hard 9/10.
LEGO Batman (Release date: February 10th, 2017)
Plot: The breakout figurine from 2014’s The LEGO Movie, Will Arnett’s Batman now stars in a buddy-adventure of his own alongside stalwart sidekick Robin (voiced by Michael Cera, sounding more excited in every line than he’s ever sounded about anything, ever). Together, they’re Gotham’s only line of defense against the Joker (voiced here by Zach Galifianakis), and who knows, they might even learn a few life lessons along the way.
How’s It Do: The LEGO Movie looked like a cheap cash-grab from the outside, but upon closer inspection, overflowed with imagination, good humor, and warmth. This spin-off likewise reeks of brand-capitalizing, but the trailer reassures audiences that the antic comedy and heartwarming character work has survived intact. (The password joke alone qualifies as worth the cost of admission. With original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller turning the reins over to their former co-animator and Robot Chicken alum Chris McKay, the franchise appears to be in good hands.
Ranking: For intellectual property synergy we can all feel good about, this one gets an 8/10.
Snowden (Release date: September 16th, 2016)
Plot: Is Edward Snowden, the computer specialist who leaked confidential documents from the National Security Agency to the public in 2013, a hero? Is he a traitor? Is he just lucky to be dating Shailene Woodley, who portrays Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills in the film? Trust that director Oliver Stone’s got plenty of thoughts to share on all these matters.
How’s It Do: Stone’s visualization of the internet as a neon-colored mosh pit of digital-looking CGI nonsense is kinda goofy, but the trailer devotes most of its time to playing up Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s studied performance as Snowden. His Kermit the Frog-esque vocal affectation sounds eerily like Snowden, and could potentially give a strong foundation to this unpredictable project. The paranoid espionage bits – sticky notes covering the laptop camera, cell phones in the microwave – are creepy fun as well.
Ranking: We give it a 6/10.
Suicide Squad (Release date: August 5th, 2016)
Plot: DC’s newest superteam is a pack of bloodthirsty villains strong-armed into black ops work by a shady government branch – think of them as the Injustice League. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith) and more get their moral ambiguity on as they do all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
How’s It Do: The clip unveiled at Comic-Con is more of a trailer for the soundtrack than anything else, showcasing the Imagine Dragons cut “Sucker for Pain,” along with the Rick Ross/Skrillex collaboration “Purple Lamborghini.” And while the quality of those songs is very much up for debate, the visuals they accompany are pretty tantalizing. (And that’s not just referring to the shot of Robbie suspended in mid-air.) Suicide Squad looks like a lively, messy, colorful, and mercifully atypical sort of superhero flick in the new trailer, a potential godsend for a genre threatening to stagnate.
Wonder Woman (Release date: June 2nd, 2017)
Plot: At last, the superhero gender gap will begin its long, slow close with a solo vehicle for Gal Gadot’s invincible Amazonian warrior Diana. During World War I, an American pilot (Chris Pine) crash-lands on Wonder Woman’s remote island home and tells her of the armed conflict consuming the globe. In her singularly wondrous way, she leaves her paradise to defend all that is good in the world.
How’s It Do: Director Patty Jenkins ain’t playin’ no games. The dialogue included in the trailer was clearly chosen to emphasize the feminine-empowerment angle of the film, with Diana refusing to play second banana to a prettyboy pilot and exposing the misogyny baked into the secretarial profession. Combine that with a suitably epic sweep in the battle scenes pitting mortal soldiers against demigoddesses on horseback, and DC could have a new icon on their hands.
Ranking: For beautifully mounted spectacles with a girl-power overtone, Wonder Woman gets a 8/10.