5 best San Diego Comic-Con movie trailer debuts ever

tom cruise top gun sdcc 2019

One of the things that San Diego Comic-Con has become famous for is its epic trailer drops. The con has become such an exclusive event that some of the biggest and most anticipated comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy trailers have been premiering there for years. This year’s premieres include Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves with Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez, Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, DC’s Black Adam, The Walking Dead spinoff, The Tales of the Walking Dead, and the Batman-themed video game, Gotham Knights.

These trailer reveals continue the growing Comic-Con legacy of being the place to drive fans into an ever greater tizzy of excitement about new content — for films and TV shows that then often let them down, but never mind about that! We all know that getting excited about content is usually more fun than the content itself. In that spirit, we remember some of the biggest Comic-Con trailer drops over the last decade.

Top Gun: Maverick — 2019

The teaser for Maverick dropped at SDCC in 2019, introduced by Tom Cruise himself in Hall H, and it has even more historical significance given that the movie business — and the world — was about to turn upside down (not unlike ol’ Mav doing trick flying in his F-18.) The teaser advertises the film as hitting theaters in 2020, but of course, we all know how that turned out. The only new Cruise material we got during that time was the leaked tantrum of him dressing down the Mission Impossible crew for not respecting COVID protocols.

The trailer itself doesn’t give away much. It’s little more than a few shots of planes over the desert, Maverick on a motorcycle, and his pithy exchange with the admiral played by Ed Harris in which Maverick tells him that, while the world may change eventually, it won’t’ be while Tom Cruise can still do really impressive stunt work and look several decades younger.

The teaser itself only looks so-so. It doesn’t quite seem to justify making a sequel to a film from 35 years earlier. Given that, as well as the constantly changing release dates over the course of the pandemic, it was hard to imagine that Maverick would not become one of the all-time biggest box office hits, but be a pretty darned good movie as well.

Star Trek: Discovery — 2017

The big deal here was that Star Trek hadn’t been on television in almost a decade and a half, since the middling Enterprise unceremoniously concluded a great era for Star Trek on television that included The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. Discovery was meant to return Star Trek to the medium where it not only had great success, but where some felt it belonged, pointing to the blockbuster J.J. Abrams Star Trek films as evidence that the more dialogue-driven realm of TV better captured the philosophical Star Trek ethos.

Discovery had been a troubled production, with showrunner Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) departing, and Trekkers were not thrilled by the fact that the new show would be behind the CBS All Access paywall. But the trailer was well-received and the Star Trek faithful were happy to see the show make good on its progressive traditions, casting an African American woman as the lead (Sonequa Martin-Green), and a legendary Asian star (Michelle Yeoh) as the show’s captain.

The results have been uneven, with Discovery’s first few seasons earning mixed reviews, though it seems to have settled into a groove (not uncommon for Star Trek). Rather than flirt with cancellation, as was the case with past Star Trek projects, Paramount went all-in on Star Trek on TV, adding Picard, Lower Decks, Short Treks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds to the mix. Star Trek also became a streaming service fixture (now Paramount+), though, after five years of the streaming wars, it’s something we’ve all grown accustomed to. The most recent season of Discovery and the well-received Strange New Worlds appear to forecast a bright future for Trek on TV and it all kicked off at Comic-con.

Justice League — 2016

Given the tumultuous events surrounding the DC Extended Universe, as well as the disappointment many viewers feel about the films (especially compared to the MCU), it’s hard to believe it wasn’t that long ago that fans were fired up about the impending Justice League as a potential rival to The Avengers. At the time, the trailer was hailed as above all things, funny, and the fresh characters, especially Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and The Flash (Ezra Miller), promised loads of fun. And if DCEU shepherd, Zack Snyder, had to be replaced by Joss Whedon, who would object to the contributions of the director of The Avengers and the creator of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

The subsequent years, of course, have seen the production, release, and reboot become one of Hollywood’s messiest sagas, involving fan outrage, tragedies, scandals, the end of one man’s career (Whedon) and the possible end of another’s (Miller). After all the sturm and drang, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) was only marginally better than Whedon’s version (there are only so many ways to recut mediocre footage). Meanwhile, Snyder keeps making movies and they aren’t getting any better. I’m looking at you, Army of the Dead.

Suicide Squad — 2015

And the DC hits keep on coming (or not, as it were). Another one that fans were psyched about that turned out to be a total shambles (let’s all take a moment and thank Joker and The Batman for basically saving DC at the movies). But at the time, boy oh boy, this movie looked promising, especially at the, ahem, dawn of the DCEU before the unholy mess of Batman v. Superman, which would be released in 2016 a few months before Suicide Squad.

Fans were especially excited about the casting, including Margot Robbie, Will Smith, and even Jared Leto! But even more than that, after the grim Man of Steel (2013) and the exhausting Götterdämmerung of The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Suicide Squad seemed to promise a lighter touch and some devilish fun. What it delivered was incoherence, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a huge global hit anyway. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (2021) and spinoff show, Peacemaker, are, um, leagues better (so many opportunities for puns!), but after this and an underwhelming Birds of Prey (2020), audiences seemed to lose interest.

Mad Max: Fury Road — 2014

And then, occasionally, we get a miracle, a film that not only lives up to its hype but eclipses it — the anti-Suicide Squad. Especially given its famously troubled production, which included floods that hit the Australian Outback where they were filming, no one could possibly guess that Mad Max: Fury Road would be considered one of the greatest movies of all time, and earn 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Director for the visionary George Miller (and win six of them).

But it did look awfully exciting when Warner Bros. gave an exclusive look at the trailer at its Comic-Con presentation before releasing it to the world the next day. No one knew what to expect, but the trailer — screened in Hall H — showed that not only was Miller’s expertise in worldbuilding and action still intact decades after he made the originals but that the technology in creating such spectacle had become utterly jaw-dropping. And that was before fans had any idea that Imperator Furiosa would become one of the great characters in science fiction cinema!

The Fury Road trailer drop was yet another historic moment delivered by Comic-Con, an event that keeps amazing fans with its cosplays, trailer drops, and cast reveals. May they keep on coming for years to come.

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