MUSIC SELLS MOVIES: The best uses of song in trailers


Collage by Chloe

Trailers are the biggest selling point of a film, an average 2-3 minutes is spent trying to lure you in with snippets of ‘best bits’, dialogue and a brief introduction to the plot and it’s cast. These trailers are the often boosted to their maximum potential through the use of music. This could be anything from a pop song to a piece of a classical score. Often, the music and shots form an audiovisual relationship that makes the entire composition aesthetically pleasing without giving too much away. Yes, the editors of these trailers did a wonderful job at choosing the right shots, but the music supervisors’ role should definitely be acknowledged as well. So here are 11 examples of great movie trailer music……


Watchmen/The Smashing Pumpkins

This is one of those cases where the trailer ends up being better than the actual movie. The music really starts to kick in when Dr. Osterman starts turning into Dr. Manhattan, the hairs on his arm stick up, making for a really creepy atmosphere. I love how the images and action perfectly sync with the drumbeats of the song. Zach Snyder’s gorgeous use of visuals and slo-mo paired with the Smashing Pumpkin’s “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” makes for a dark, eerie, and stylistic trailer that really grabs your attention, even if you haven’t read the graphic novel beforehand.

The Social Network/Scala & Koalcny Brothers

I think this trailer really saved this from making people think it was “just that Facebook movie” It makes it into something more. Scala & Koalcny Brothers cover Radiohead’s “Creep”, and the lyrics say a lot about the story. Mark Zuckerberg was the outsider, the weirdo who was trying to get noticed and fit in with the exclusives. His creation of Facebook turned us all into creeps ourselves, stalking people’s pages, comparing our lives, striving to appear and have that perfectness that the song describes. And to have the music continually play under the dialogue, paired with Fincher’s visuals turns the trailer into something almost operatic.


You’re Next/Lou Reed

Lou Reed’s whispy vocals accompany opening shots of idyllic family settings and reunion type activities, that is until the lyric ‘when it gets dark we go home’, the music stops, fades out and an incredibly tense and eerie atmosphere is left hanging. The trailer leaves us thinking that’s all we get from old Lou as your standard choppy jumpy screamy shots begin to unfold. Then just when you think it’s over we hear ‘OHHHHH ITTTTTT’S SUUUUUCHHHH A PERFECT DAAAAAAAYY’ ring through trailer as chaos and bloodshed take place. Intertwined with various screams and blood-curdling sounds, the juxtaposition of the middle class family reunion with the horror that ensues left me with shivers each time I saw the trailer in the cinema and propelled it to more than just another ‘The Strangers’ and a smart and original horror that didn’t get nearly enough credit.

The Virgin Suicides/Air & Fatboy Slim

Nearly every teen girl can instantly place Air’s ‘Playground Love’ with The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of the Jeffrey Eugenide’s novel. This song is on every Lux Lisbon 8tracks playlist you can get your hands on. It’s whispering nature immediately makes me think of muted tones and the Lisbon girls’ bedrooms full of trinkets. Judging by the trailer the movie seems plain enough at first, pretty girls in pretty suburbia America do pretty things and live pretty lives. This is until Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here Right Now’ kicks in around 1:16. The repetitive beat makes me think that things are spiralling out of control, the story behind the girls decides to take a darker turn. A flurry of hormones, questions and sinister statements are all blended together through the images and out-of-shot dialogue and the words ‘love. sex. death. passion. fear. obsession’ flash across the screen multiple times. Sometimes the girls look happy and sometimes they look sad and why are the boys so obsessed with them? It leaves you wondering what really is wrong with the Lisbon sisters.


Life of Pi/ Sigur Ros & Coldplay

This trailer starts of with Saeglopour by Sigur Ros, a beautiful song which combines a piano melody with peaceful vocals, creating a sense of relaxation in the listener, directly relating to how easy and peaceful Pi’s life was when he lived on a zoo with his family in India. After the ship wreck is shown, the song is then changed to Coldplay’s Paradise. Combined with amazing and aesthetically pleasing shots of all the things that Pi encounters on his time being stranded at sea, this song manages to evoke a feeling of euphoria and hope in the audience, which both sums up the movie entirely and manages to give me chills every time.

Trainspotting/Iggy Pop

The use of the thumping, upbeat and crazy sound of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life in the trailer for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting works so well as we are shown Ewan Mcgregor, sporting a shaved head and skin-tight jeans, and his junky friends running round, ducking from the law and making fun of those around him who choose a normal, boring life. I believe it works so well as the song, as well as the movie can be summed up by just one phrase: ‘Who needs reason when you’ve got heroin?’



Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ compliments Gummo with it’s choir like, ghostly opening verse, always giving me chills, which goes along with the haunting aspects of Gummo, the strange, unhappy or naive characters and their trash filled town. The heavy religious themes to this song contrast Gummo’s advert nihilism and this hopeful song contradicts the setting of this film, the town of Xenia that is down on its luck and residents are dissatisfied but coping with their mundane and slightly surreal surroundings.

Dead Poet’s Society/Wanda Jackson

I like the way Wanda Jackson is used in this trailer as soon as the rebellious Mr. Keating is introduces, because she was part of the rock and roll scene, which most adults disapproved of at the time. The adults in dead poets society all disapprove of Mr. Keating’s unorthodox methods of teaching. To express yourself truly, in these boys’ world was looked down upon and something to hide away from your parents and other close minded adults, just how rock and roll was tutted at by parents for being too sexually explicit in the 50s.

and for some very recent examples of great music in trailers….


Boyhood/Family of The Year

The trailer for Boyhood (directed by Richard Linklater, also known for Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy, Waking Life, School of Rock, and A Scanner Darkly) uses the song “Hero” by Family of the Year. As we see clips of the main character Mason throughout different stages of his life, the lyrics “I don’t want to be a big man. I just wanna fight like everyone else,” and “I don’t wanna be a part of your parade. Everyone deserves a chance to walk with everyone else,” are very fitting. Although we do not know the details of his life events based on the brief snippets, the song allows us to understand that this film will be a genuine representation of a boy overcoming the struggles that come with growing up.

Palo Alto/Devonte Hynes

Right after the first time I watched the Palo Alto trailer, I quickly went on Spotify to listen to the entire album. This was months before the film was even released, so by the time I saw it this past week, I knew all the songs by heart. The director, Gia Coppola, is the niece of Roman Coppola and Sofia Coppola, so it’s no wonder I was instantly entranced by the trailer. The first song that briefly plays, “Soccer Field” by Devonte Hynes (also known as Blood Orange), sets the mood for the rest of the trailer. Although the soundtrack consists of songs by other artists like Mac DeMarco, Tonstartssbandht, Coconut Records (AKA Jason Schwartzman…Gia’s cousin!), and Robert Schwartzman (Jason’s brother and Gia’s cousin!), the instrumental scores were written and performed by Devonte Hynes. The beginning of “Soccer Field” is the sound of a repetitive xylophone melody, but then a synthesizer is added to create a hazy, dream-like atmosphere. During this portion of the trailer, it is revealed that the main character, April (Emma Roberts), has a “thing” for her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco), a boy named Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is in love with April, and Teddy’s friend Fred (Nat Wolff…he was in The Naked Brothers Band, ha!) is a bad influence on him. The xylophone notes get higher which matches the anticipation of the troubling love triangle, until James Franco’s character says, “I’m older and I know that there aren’t a lot of good things around, and I know that you are really good.” The song then switches over to Devonte’s song “Palo Alto,” which sings “Wait until I know who you are. Waiting for a shot in the dark. Nothing that you’re used to, to.” This paired with the angsty visuals creates an odd nostalgia for high school, whilst perfectly matching the inappropriate relationship between April and Mr. B, Teddy’s ambition to sweep April off her feet, and Fred’s introduction to destructive decisions.

God Help the Girl/Emily Browning

Since Belle & Sebastian is one of my favorite bands, I was stoked to find out that lead singer, Stuart Murdoch, was directing this film. He originally started the side project, God Help the Girl, by hiring female singers to perform songs that he wrote specifically for it. According to Emily Browning in a Sundance interview, she states that Murdoch had a dream about the character she plays in the film, Eve. He then wrote songs that represented the narrative of Eve’s life and later wrote a screenplay for the film. I absolutely adore the trailer because it reminds me if a Wes Anderson film, which makes sense since the producer of the film is Barry Mendel ( producer of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). It is paired with Emily Browning’s cover of the song “God Help the Girl,” and although the song is meant to be Eve narrating her troublesome life, it is catchy and happy enough to make you feel giddy inside (at least, that’s how it makes me feel…) I would have to say this is my favorite trailer out of the three trailers I have discussed. Although the film itself left me a bit dissatisfied (unfortunately), the trailer was perfect because it presented a chaotic mashup of the shenanigans Eve gets herself into with her friends Cassie (Hannah Murray AKA Cassie in Skins) and James (Olly Alexander…what a babe.) And I mean that in the best way possible. I’ve seen the trailer about 15 times now. The feeling I get when I’m really into a song and just want to listen to it forever is how I feel when I listen to and watch this trailer. It’s also great because there is no way you can figure out what happens in the film based on the trailer, and even if you think you figured it out, I’m just going to go ahead and say you’re wrong.






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