Wild conjecture: In 2015, the single most-talked about “movie” was the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released just after Thanksgiving 2014 and endlessly dissected across the next 13 months of cultural dialogue.
Trailer culture has never been more important to the movie business. Late-night TV shows battle for first-play exclusives on superhero sequels. Major media companies compete with Internet citizens to craft the perfect in-summation trailer GIF. The fortunes of megafranchises can be made or broken in 150 seconds or less.
But which trailers stood out from the pack in 2015? Which trailers made you want to see the movie? Or, perhaps the more interesting question: Which trailers were actually better than the movie?
10. American Ultra, red-band version
The movie is a confused mixture of sloppy ultraviolence and Junovian hipster romcom. But the trailer for American Ultra knows exactly what kind of movie you really want: A hard-R stoner Bourne Identity starring a convincingly unconvincing action hero.
With all due respect to The Force Awakens, here’s another angle on how to sell you on the seventh film in a four-decade-old franchise. The first 90 seconds of Creed grab your attention the old-fashioned way: A brilliant young actor, immediately captivating you. Suddenly, he’s in a restaurant, talking about the past — and there’s Rocky Balboa, never older, maybe never more human.
8. The Big Short
A potentially hard sell — a movie about finance! — becomes the year’s most out-of-nowhere must-see, with the help of a radically high-power cast. Big Short wins the prize for best closing gag, by a mile.
7. We Are Your Friends
The boy from High School Musical is all grown up, and he’s doing 8 Mile for EDM. Show this to your children; tell them about The Millennials.
6. Point Break
“I believe that, like me, the people behind these robberies are extreme athletes. Using their skills to disrupt the international financial markets. And they don’t care who gets killed in the process.” Carry us away, Xtreme Johnny Utah. (In theaters Dec. 25)
5. The Revenant
You’ve heard of Boot Camp workouts? Is there a Revenant workout? (In theaters Dec. 25)
4. Suicide Squad
The winner of this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Memorial Prize, the Comic-Con trailer for David Ayer’s dark-DC movie took a fringe comic property and made it an event. (In theaters Aug. 5)
3. The Boy
Is it a trailer, or a spoof trailer? You laugh, at first. Then you get a bit scared. Then you laugh again. Then: Scared again. Run from the evil doll, Walking Dead Maggie! (In theaters Jan 22)
2. Hail, Caesar
Not the best trailer, but unquestionably the “most” trailer. Clooney! Johansson! Brolin! Tatum! Hollywood! (In theaters Feb. 5)
1. Straight Outta Compton
Can you believe there was a time when they thought an N.W.A. biopic would be a tough sell? In the year’s most invigorating advertisement, Universal etched Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E back into the public consciousness. The trailer pitches the movie as a panoramic portrait of their moment: The rise of hip-hop in the face of tremendous adversity, history made freakily topical.
Best James Bond trailer: Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation
In a year full of Bond (Spectre) and imitation Bond (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and meta-Bond (Kingsman), all it took to bring us back to Ethan Hunt was the sight of Tom Cruise hanging off a plane.
Best Batman v. Superman trailer: Captain America: Civil War
When you’ve got two of the most popular superheroes of the decade fighting each other, you don’t need to oversell things too much. But just in case, Marvel adds in freaking Black Panther, too! (In theaters May 6)
Best Fantastic Four Trailer: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
When you’ve got two of the most popular superheroes of all time fighting each other, you don’t need to oversell things too much. But just in case, here’s Doomsday, a.k.a. “Some Gray Guy?” if you’re one of the few billion humans who weren’t reading comics in the early ’90s. (In theaters March 25)