The Best Video Game Trailers

Over the past decade, video game trailers have gone from blurry little montages bundled on magazine cover discs to a multi-million dollar industry that exists almost entirely separate from the actual games they're representing.

This post has been updated since it was originally published in January 2016.

They have become perhaps the single most important part of video games marketing, and just like we see with movies (and sometimes TV), can be something that fans anticipate (and obsess over) almost as much as the game itself.

So vital have trailers become to publishers that around the world there are now studios that specialise in just making trailers and cinematics for video games. Even many indie games, which once might have got by via word of mouth and some gameplay, now spend time and money on trailers trying to hype their title.

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Because of this, trailers have gotten good. Really good. So good that we've moved well beyond the point of getting huffy over their lack of gameplay footage and usually assess trailers as their own distinct artform, a video intended to sell the mood of a game, if not the actual playable content.

Which is why you might notice most of the trailers below are relatively recent. A collection like this is always going to skew towards trailers that have had millions spent on them, instead of a quick and dirty montage of blurry gameplay set to public domain guitar tracks.

Here, then, are our picks. Some did their job as instigators of hype. Some are funny. Some are weird. All of them are The Best.


DEAD ISLAND

For many people, the gold standard in video game trailers. Memorable, emotional...and yet, it's legacy is somewhat tainted, because people remember it as much for the impact it had on them at the time as they remember the feel of the actual game was nothing like this sombre, moving clip.


STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC

This game actually has a whole series of excellent cinematic clips, but as you'll see as we go down this list, it's usually the first that's remembered as the best, as it's a game's debut trailer that often makes the biggest impression. As it did here, this clip making the most of people's fond feelings towards the words "BioWare" and "KOTOR".


STARCRAFT 2: HEART OF THE SWARM

You just can't make a list like this without including at least one Blizzard clip, and my favourite is probably this one, if only for the way it comes closest to actually recreating what a StarCraft 2 battle should feel like, instead of the puny little skirmishes we see during a game. It's cool they're making a WarCraft movie and all, but I'd much rather watch a StarCraft movie that looked this good.


CRUSADER KINGS II

A left-field choice, but one deserving of its place on this list. Crusader Kings II was a very hard game to sell, since it's about history, maps, menus and politics, so gameplay footage was never going to cut it. Instead, Paradox decided to sell how the game's systems felt to actually play, and in a series of seven videos loosely based on the Deadly Sins (the one above is "Greed") they somehow pulled it off. You can watch all seven clips here (the "piracy" one is excellent).


GRAND THEFT AUTO V

Rockstar's games feature prominently on this list, and with good reason: few studios know how to sell the spirit of their experience better. This might have been one of the most-hyped video game trailers of all time, and what's more -- unlike a lot of other trailers here -- it was made entirely with in-engine footage.


THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TWILIGHT PRINCESS

This video was recorded at E3 2004. It's a thoroughly unprofessional response from a room full of supposed professionals, but then, how would you react to seeing something like this? Remember, this was 2004: Wind Waker's critical renaissance had yet to take place, so the last time fans had seen a more serious Link (the ones a maturing fanbase and press were clamouring for) was in...Majora's Mask. A more "adult" look for Twilight Princess, a trailer heavily influenced by both Westerns and Lord of the Rings and Shiugeru Miyamoto's sword-wielding cameo was a perfect storm.


METAL GEAR SOLID V

An absurd game deserves an absurd trailer. From the soundtrack to the ashes, this was the best way to be introduced to Metal Gear Solid V, and is also the best way to remember the game.


RED DEAD REDEMPTION

It's easy to forget now, since the history books have recorded this as one of the all-time great video games, but before this trailer landed we knew very little about Red Dead Redemption. Aside from the fact it was a sequel to a weird shooter (partly-developed by Capcom) and had gone through serious development hell. Ninety seconds later we'd been introduced to the game's world and lead, and all that uncertainty had been washed away by hype.


THE WITCHER 3

What is this, a trailer or an animated short? This sequence doesn't even take place in the game, all we're doing here is setting the scene for one of the best games of all time. A fantastic example of trailers having become an artform unto themselves.


FINAL FANTASY VII

One of the biggest games ever with one of the biggest spoilers ever and...oh, there it is, right there in the trailer at 0:11.


GEARS OF WAR

I fucking hate this trailer. It kicked off a super tedious trend of over-wrought trailers for games that didn't deserve or deliver that kind of emotional punch. But enough of my sappier colleagues voted for it that I put it in.


NOT A HERO

Not every great trailer has to be for a blockbuster game, nor does it have to come from a bit and fancy content studio. Sometimes all you need is to make jokes and show some giant hairy balls (See also: Super Time Force's launch trailer).


PRINCE OF PERSIA

Sigur Ros? Prince of Persia? Cel-shading? A beautiful and underrated game deserved a beautiful and underrated trailer. And once more, like Rockstar's clips, Ubisoft show that you don't always need to splash the cash on cinematic fluff to wow people with your visuals.


HALO 3

Halo has had a few memorable trailers over the years, but this one is probably the best. It somehow manages to straddle the game's tonal poles of earnest military sacrifice and goofball military hijinx almost perfectly. Yes, the music is very sad, and yes, this is trying to evoke the feeling of memorial dioramas, but...it still feels a bit silly. Not enough to derail the trailer, but just enough to remind you that, yeah, this balancing act is what Halo -- at the peak of its cultural influence -- was all about.


MASS EFFECT 3

Another game with a long history of excellent trailers, I went with this one because it doesn't tease an upcoming game so much as act as a short prequel, fleshing out an invasion that we actually see very little of in the game itself. Also, it's a badass trailer.


THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST

Just because most quality trailers come from the past five years doesn't mean all of them do. This Japanese TV commercial for Link's Super Nintendo adventure was great, is great and shall forever be great (See also: this fantastic Link's Awakening ad, with puppets!)


FAMICOM WARS

Another Japanese classic. What we know in the West as Advance Wars launched in Japan in the 80s as Famicom Wars. Like Crusader Kings II above, the gameplay itself isn't terribly exciting stuff for a trailer, so instead of blocky little orange tanks we got...this.


THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM

We're going to close with two examples from another company that has a long history of good trailers: Bethesda. This Skyrim clip is awesome, building excitement through that classic score before exploding into a montage of combat and scale that gave players a look at what remains one of the most memorable and expansive worlds in video games.


FALLOUT 3

"Guys, we need to make a trailer that doesn't just sell the game that's coming, but allays the fears of millions of fans who are wary about the massive changes we're making to a revered old franchise."

"How about we run a camera through a busted old bus."

"Perfect."


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Comments

    No Deus Ex: Human Revolution? I remember watching that trailer over and over again.

      You mean this one? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=elQC62FUgqw
      It may not have had any gameplay footage, but bloody hell, it did a great job of setting up the theme for the game. And it makes me REALLY want a Deus Ex movie.

        That's a good trailer, but I was actually talking about this one:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq5KWLqUewc

        Of the 'I never asked for this' variety.

      This. Was an excellent trailer!

      Also always liked all of the Mass Effect game trailers and the Old Republic trailers.

    Again... this list lacks Jazz Boatman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxxnq5YAVHw

    I maintain that the Dawn of War cinematics are some of the best I've ever seen, I can still watch them now and love them to bits!

    I believe the majority of them, if not all, were created by Blur Studios;

    http://www.blur.com/work/

    They've got a ton of other works including Batman, Elder Scrolls, Bioshock, Transformers etc.

      Also an Aussie company called Plasticwax, got to work on one of the Dawn Of War trailers there (plus Bioshock) quite a few years ago now. Look em up they do really great work.

      Was going to link to these guys, we can thank them for majority of the amazing trailers over the years. The Elder Scrolls Online series of trailers are a favourite.

    I really like the "Uncharted 4: Man Behind the Treasure" teaser. It's short and not much happens in it, but the tone and that slow pan, hits me a bit in the feels. So looking forward to it!

    MGSV E3 2015
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJVxPAiB7as

    Battleborn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUz8zzK-Bjs

    Advent Rising
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1atrmoPObc

    Beserk (PS2)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSKMqKHQrh8

    Space Hulk: Deathwing
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGmmXd8r4YQ

    Magicka 2
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDj6bjvDiY0

      God Hand
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY90Jl-W6Bg

      Starcraft 2
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnSlg-I03oQ

      Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (NSFW, I think)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfnMpFG9wrk

    These are two of my favourites:

    Evolve "Happy Hunting" trailer:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEP_PyRyrfo

    Left4Dead trailer:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvOGCZPDv7g

    The MGSV 2013 E3 extended trailer is the best trailer ive seen period.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMyoCr2MnpM

    That music, those feels...

    Too bad the game wasn't as good thematically.

    Must admit the Halo 5 trailer with Muse last year had me seriously pumped up.
    Otherwise the GoW trailer will go down as an all time classic.

    "Genesis Does, What Nintendon't!" I don't think anyone will ever top the 90's Sega TV ad's.

    The 1st BioShock Infinite teaser was the best. "Oh, it's under the sea again, just great" "Nope! it's in the sky!" boom goes my mind!

    Duke Nukem Forever 2001 E3 Trailer.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDlB2P1leRM

    It's 15 years old and still looks damn good and far better than the final product we got.

    For cinematics I've always loved blizzards trailers. wrath ,cata and draenor trailers are good but Starcraft 1 and wc3 in game cinematics were also breathtaking and for the time their special effects were amazing! (Watch the end of the Protoss campaign or almost any wc3 one)

    We may never see the game, but the Edge of Twilight trailer is easily my favourite game trailer of all time. That voice! So good:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgVaiOQV-CA

    I always liked the Grim Fandango trailer:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV1NBHL9Fa4

    I was obsessed with the Assassin's Creed trailer, too:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc-ClutaN_I

      Hell yes Edge of Twilight! We have no idea how it may have turned out, but that trailer alone makes me miss it as another great game that Australia could've been known for.

        They're reportedly still working on it in a phoenix company in Asia (China, I think, not 100% sure). The iOS prequel and endless runner they released don't really fill me with confidence, though.

        We'll always have that trailer, though.

    Love the trailers for both the need for speed hot pursuit games (headphones required)

    Borderlands:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3ZWbpce_Os

    Within 2 minutes, it nails the tone and world of a pretty fresh IP.

    The Last of Us:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4pYIsaZqE0&feature=youtu.be

    Everything in the TLoU marketing was on point (bonus points for anything with the Gustavo Santaolalla soundtrack).

    The Witcher 3:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0i88t0Kacs

    "Killing monsters...".. 'Nuff said.

    Honourable mentions, Bioshock and anything by Blizzard.

    I'm partial to Halo Reach's 'Deliver Hope' trailer over Halo 3's 'Believe'. There's just something about that trailer that sums up the game perfectly. It's a figurative and literal swansong on multiple levels.

    It also sits in the ground of 'trailers that count as short movies' alongside the likes of Fallout 4. I heavily respect a game trailer that isn't 'this is all the cool things that's in the game' or 'lookit our main character being awesome in this pre-rendered cutscene!', just for trying to be different.

    Unreal Tournament! This trailer not only showcases the glorious carnage of the game, but it's kind of a nostalgic return to a beloved classic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POcdrHSJUY0

    The Borderlands 2 Doomsday trailer was cut perfectly to a pumping track that really sold me on what I could expect playing the game. As far as trailers go, it worked.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKVf5feSMEg

    I also remember thinking the Dead Space launch trailer was epic, with that Sigur Rós soundtrack. Still holds up in my opinion. A welcomed revamp on the survival horror genre. In space!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NzdixdTFLg

    Uncharted 2 had a couple of great ones...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SVAvhEY2AQ

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk5Td2vNr8c

    Clive Barker's Undying (2001)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emJ1nweouss

    Legend Of Zelda Windwaker (2002)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxMos9muPYQ

    Megaman Zero (2002)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCo9fstbIKg

    Not a single Kojima trailer? No, sorry, that is wrong.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctlefthn6H8

    I remember loving the World of Warcraft trailers. Could have dropped at least one MMO in there.

    The Skyrim trailer ALWAYS gives me goosebumps and a wide grin whenever I watch it. 2011 feels like forever ago *sigh*.

      I remember the announcement of that game.
      All these hooded monks came out on stage and sang it live... it was incredible.

    Hardware Shipbreakers which became Homeworld Deserts of Kharak. Awesome trailer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgylViCFHAs

    Secret world launch trailer

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yMIcKmsbzk

    Mass Effect 2

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjOEmHEd2XM

    The Music Machine (the best indie game of 2015 that no-one played as opposed to Undertale the best indie game of 2015 everyone played). I've watched the trailer after finishing the game, it pretty much perfectly sells the atmosphere of the game and tells you everything you need to know without spoiling a thing.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTYP3qRfG5U

    The trailer for CUBE is by far the best one IMO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aGDCE6Nrz0

    The Silent Hill 4: The Room trailer. Still creepier than any movie out there. The sound design is mental:

    https://youtu.be/GW_is7yL6_U

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