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The best superhero movie trailers of all time

We've had a more-or-less steady stream of superhero movies landing in our lives ever since X-Men kicked off a rise in comic book films in 2000, followed closely by Spider-Man and then the returns of Batman and Superman to the big screen. Since 2008, the output of superhero flicks has absolutely exploded, to the point that we're now expected to see several full-blown blockbusters adapted from the comics page each year. Their weapons in the battle for our attention? Trailers, lots and lots of trailers, with some bound to stand out more than others.

What makes a good superhero trailer? Well, the hero or heroes you're promoting have to look cool, of course, but there's more to it than that, especially in an age when it feels like half the trailers we see are advertising comic book fare. They have to be stylish, suspenseful, and even inspiring. They have to prove that even if you're sick of superhero movies, this superhero movie is worth seeing. The following trailers did all of that, and more.

Here are a dozen of the greatest superhero trailers of all time.

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Batman

It's really hard to overstate, even in the current superhero landscape, what a big event the first Batman film was when Warner Bros. rolled it out in 1989. At the time, the last Batman movie had the Caped Crusader deploying shark repellent and keeping ducks safe from bombs (not that there's anything wrong with that). This time, though, the Dark Knight was getting a slick, stylish, and serious cinematic adventure with all the trappings of the other action blockbusters of the decade, and people were stoked.

The trailer for Tim Burton's Batman isn't as heavily stylized or focused on quick cuts and flash as modern superhero trailers are, but that actually works in its favor. It's not afraid to take its time with the quiet moments, and then intersperse them with more of the film's action-heavy setpieces. Plus, it opens with the Batwing zipping around Gotham City. If you were a kid in 1989 and that was the first you saw of this Batman, it was the event of your life.

Then there's the closing moments. The trailer tells us who the stars are, then cuts to the metallic gold Batsymbol that adorned most of the film's marketing. It doesn't say "Batman" because it doesn't need to. It just shows you that symbol. That's a statement for the ages.

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Spider-Man

Spider-Man is one of those heroes that was on the movie wishlist of comic book fans for decades, but the particular visual challenges that come with the character always felt like something of a barrier. Not only are we talking about a hero whose entire face is obscured while he's in costume — he's also a guy who swings through New York City doing acrobatic tricks on a thin strand of webbing. Superman soaring through Metropolis is one thing, but a live-action Spider-Man is a whole other world of technical considerations.

This trailer is just 75 seconds of director Sam Raimi convincing the world that he could do the webslinger justice. People who watched a lot of trailers in the early 2000s will recognize the music and the cutting style as very much of their time, but that doesn't matter once the thing really picks up steam. It's just an avalanche of cool, and it's all capped off by that famous upside-down kiss.

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Superman Returns

In 2006, it had been nearly two decades since we last had a live-action Superman film, and even longer than that since we'd had a good one. Superman Returns was meant to be a return to the classic form of the franchise and the standard set by director Richard Donner. It was a direct follow-up to Superman II, meant to recapture the classic iconography of the original two Superman films, and to evoke that same "you will believe a man can fly" aspirational aesthetic.

Fans disagree on whether or not Superman Returns actually achieved that goal. The film had mixed results and did not get a sequel, but this trailer manages to convey exactly what the film as a whole was going for. The Marlon Brando voiceover, the Kent family mailbox, the camera tilting up to reveal the Daily Planet, and of course John Williams' iconic theme all come together to create a chill-inducing experience.

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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The first pair of Fantastic Four movies launched at Fox in the early 2000s are little more than a footnote in superhero film history to many fans who have long since moved on to the shared universe era. Still, they definitely had their charms, and they knew how to invoke a sense of larger-than-life fun without ever taking anything too seriously.

This trailer doesn't really function in the way most traditional trailers do. There's no montage, no narration, and no text flashing marketing terms at you between shots. It's just a little mini-movie featuring the Silver Surfer arriving and interrupting the wedding of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman before leading the Human Torch on a chase through New York City. It's pretty, it's fast, it's got jokes, and it immediately makes you lean forward and wonder what happens next. It does everything you'd hope a trailer will do for your movie without relying on a lot of the bells and whistles. If more superhero movies went this route, we'd probably get fewer complaints about "superhero fatigue" as people sat back and enjoyed these little cliffhanger-laden short films.

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The Dark Knight

Wind the clocks back to the years between the acclaimed release of Batman Begins and the arrival of The Dark Knight and one thing becomes very clear: a lot of people didn't want Heath Ledger to play the Joker. Director Christopher Nolan's choice for his version of the Clown Prince of Crime didn't sit well with many fans, and it was up to the film's marketing department to show those fans how wrong they were.

This trailer accomplishes exactly that. While there are moments devoted to Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne and the choices he must make throughout the film, this Dark Knight spot is a showcase for Ledger's Joker as he narrates the first half of the footage and pops up frequently in the second half, cackling all the while. It's a showcase for the character, a rebuke to the naysayers, and a hype machine all at once. Throw in that absolutely killer score and the incredible stunt work that led to the film's famous truck flip, and it's easy to see why The Dark Knight absolutely dominated at the box office when it was finally released.

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Watchmen

For a very long time, Watchmen was the most important comic book that would never be made into a movie. Some had tried, most notably Terry Gilliam, but writer Alan Moore was opposed to the idea of his work ever making it to the screen, and the comic's many complexities made adaptation difficult. The final film, directed by Zack Snyder, is a divisive one, in part because it tried to be so devoted to the imagery of Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' visionary work.

When this teaser trailer dropped, set to Smashing Pumpkins' "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" (a song, amusingly, recorded for the Batman & Robin soundtrack), it was instantly haunting. There, at long last, were cinematic versions of Rorschach, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, The Comedian, Ozymandias, and Doctor Manhattan, in many cases doing exactly what we'd seen them do in the comic. Even if you felt cynical about a Watchmen movie and took Moore's side in the debate over whether or not it should come to the big screen, it was hard not to be excited by this footage presented in this form.

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Iron Man 2

There aren't many Marvel Cinematic Universe fans who would call Iron Man 2 their favorite movie in the franchise, or even their favorite movie in the Iron Man series. The second outing for star Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau is generally viewed as an underwhelming effort compared to the films which surround it, even though it does pack plenty of fun into its runtime. This trailer, though, is a little mini-masterpiece that sends one very clear, very welcome message to the audience: Tony Stark is back, and he's just as charming as ever.

Beginning with Stark's congressional testimony here is a master stroke, because it gives us a chance to just see Downey's Armored Avenger holding court before we're taken to him in the Iron Man suit, and a brilliant little romcom moment that unfortunately didn't make it into the finished film. Downey's little "You complete me!" spin as he dives out of the plane after Pepper tosses his helmet is easily one of the great Iron Man cinematic moments, even if only survived in the trailer, and it cements the feeling of meeting up with an old friend again.

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The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy builds and builds throughout its overall arc, beginning with the intimate (by superhero standards at least) Batman Begins, climbing to the heights of an epic with The Dark Knight, and then reaching the territory of a full-blown mythic opera by the time The Dark Knight Rises rolled around. All of Nolan's themes — identity, perseverance, sacrifice, and the power of symbols — were writ larger than ever in the final film, and this trailer had to convey that.

It manages to pull it off by showing us a version of Gotham that we don't quite recognize anymore. Bruce Wayne is walking around with a cane, Alfred looks broken, Commission Gordon is on the way out, and Selina Kyle is whispering prophecies of doom, all while Tom Hardy's Bane stalks in the background. Then that chant hits, and the drums, and it becomes a hypnotic war march to the finale. The Dark Knight Rises was always going to be a hit, but trailers like this helped make it a blockbuster.

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Man of Steel

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder's take on Superman, is a divisive movie. Some fans love it for daring to give the Man of Tomorrow more of an edge and a sense of internal conflict, while others can't stand the ultra-destructive turn it takes in the third act, or the portrayal of Superman as a young man who can't quite figure out his place in the world. Debate the film's merits or lack thereof all you like, but this trailer just works.

It presents us with a version of Clark Kent who's still trying to figure out who he is, with his parental figures in his ear as he journeys throughout the world, still learning what kind of man he needs to be. It conveys this in a concise way that the film simply can't because it wants to explore those themes further, and something about the condensing of these moments serves to underline them. Then it all culminates in that moment when the Man of Steel feels the sun on his face, kneels, and then shoots into the sky. It's a fantastic example of how to build a trailer to an aspirational moment.

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Captain America: Civil War

By the time Captain America: Civil War rolled around, we'd all gotten used to the trailer formulas applied by Marvel Studios, whether they were dark or funny. We'd gotten used to the assembling of the teams, the laying out of the problems, the slow reveal of various potential setpieces and the glory of shots of characters who looked like they stepped right off the comics page. Yes, we were used to all of that, but that doesn't mean the formula ever stopped working.

This trailer for Civil War is laid out in a classic superhero trailer fashion, but it's riveting in its ability to get right to the heart of what we want to see. We want tension to build between Cap and Iron Man. We want glimpses of the supporting cast, we want Captain America's haunting voiceover and the clear connections to the films that came before to remind us that we're watching something that's part of a universe. This trailer delivers all of that, and then, at the very end, it delivers something more. The arrival of Spider-Man — clutching Cap's shield, no less — was a signal to the world that Marvel Studios can basically achieve just about anything if given enough time and support. Spidey's arrival was the beginning of something much bigger, and it's a moment fans will never forget. This is the trailer that launched the Thwip! heard 'round the world.

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Logan

Many fans were onboard with the idea of an "Old Man Logan" movie as soon as it was announced, but if anyone out there still wasn't onboard when this trailer came out, they were likely silenced. Logan is a masterpiece, a bittersweet curtain call for the longest-serving screen superhero of the modern era, and director James Mangold's film is distilled to its purist, most tearjerking essence by this trailer, set to Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt."

This Logan trailer has it all, and it's all guided by Hugh Jackman's incredible final performance as the legendary X-Man. It gives us a broken Logan, the promise of a new hope, a battered and decaying professor Xavier, and superhero action unfolding in a wasted landscape. Then it ends with Xavier's haunting declaration that "we still have time," giving us a ray of hope even as we head into a film that seems determined to break our hearts. It's pitch-perfect marketing.

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Thor: Ragnarok

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been watching the evolution of Thor as a character, as he shifted from stiff, proud fish out of water to the MCU's Happy Warrior, smiling through the pain of his character's arc and using his pompous past more as a comedic persona than an actual personality. Thor: Ragnarok represented the apex of that evolution, and this trailer shows it off perfectly.

Thor himself narrates this trailer, talking the viewer through the major beats that set up Ragnarok as director Taika Waititi's Jack Kirby-inspired neon visuals flash by. It's a blend of humor, spectacle, and flat-out comic book bombast, as we see everything from Thor lying to Bruce Banner about winning a fight to the Hulk grabbing a giant zombie wolf by the jaws. This was a different kind of Marvel movie, and this trailer made that very clear.