As video games have grown and become an integral part of pop culture, the gaming industry has learned to think differently about how they market the stories and experiences of the medium.
While gameplay showcases remain an important aspect that gamers want to see, studios have shifted their approach and adopted Hollywood marketing tactics, resulting in cinematic video game trailers.
Cinematic video game trailers have come to show the world how in-depth and incredible modern video games can be. In recent years, the video game trailer has reached the level of being its own artform.
In this article, we peer back across the modern gaming industry to see which video games had the best trailers that made audiences go wild with anticipation for the experiences awaiting them.
8. Assassins Creed 2 (2009)
None of the footage in the Assassin's Creed 2 trailer actually existed in the game itself because the trailer was designed to show off the setting and story of Assassin's Creed 2. Fortunately, that made no difference to the public, who instantly wanted the game.
The first Assassin's Creed proved a success and fans already had high hopes for the sequel, but when Ubisoft debuted the cinematic trailer for Assassin's Creed 2, it somehow exceeded expectations.
The way Ezio ran across the rooftops and dropped into the action felt like the Italian Renaissance had come alive on the screen, and it was a feeling that was perfectly captured in the finished game.
7. Spider-Man (2016)
For many, Spider-Man video games peaked with the release of 2004's Spider-Man 2, and most left it at that. But when the trailer for a new generation of Spider-Man games came along, it looked irresistible.
The story took notes from all the classic Spider-Man stories and made itself anew during the trailer, all while showing off next-gen graphics and the full span of New York City in brilliant glory.
It was so good that it instantly dispelled all memories of the previously beloved Spider-Man 2 as gamers rushed to get more from feeling the power of Spider-Man at their fingertips once again.
6. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Fans waited a long time for Rockstar to officially confirm the existence of Red Dead Redemption 2. It wasn't the same as Grand Theft Auto, a franchise where fans knew it'd come along eventually. They grew restless, but when the trailer dropped, it was clear why the wait was so long.
The visuals showcased in the trailer weren't just absolutely stunning—they were the same visuals found in the finished game. It solidified Rockstar's status as one of gaming's greatest studios of all time.
And it wasn't just the visuals that had fans excited. The teased story of Red Dead Redemption 2 hooked fans and had them combing over every second to find any clues that might tell them more about what to expect in what would become the most acclaimed Wild West game ever made.
5. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V was the much-awaited return to the grand old story of cash, women, booze, and destroying stuff at will. When the trailer for it dropped, it made eyes pop from skulls as the graphics and gameplay reached new levels of brilliance from the team at Rockstar.
By this time, it had been years since the last release of a Grand Theft Auto game and fans had long grown restless. So, when Rockstar finally pushed the announcement and trailer live, a wave of relief swept across audiences—followed quickly by a wave of pure anticipation.
In the end, it wasn't just a new Grand Theft Auto game; Grand Theft Auto V cemented itself as a legendary video game that reserved its own corner of gaming history in the hall of fame. The cinematic trailer was just a foretaste of the greatness this game would deliver.
4. The Last of Us Part II (2020)
Ellie's tale of revenge may not have impressed everybody when Naughty Dog finally released The Last of Us Part II, but when the trailer first dropped, gamers understood the studio's decision to continue the story.
Full of music and revenge, the trailer showed the brutality and beauty in Ellie's friendship/daughterhood with Joel. We felt chills as multiple enemies lay dead while Joel finds Ellie covered in blood, playing her guitar.
The trailer was a visual treat, a piece of the narrative that engrossed fans enough to make broad predictions about why Ellie was seeking such ruthless bloodshed against a new enemy. It stood up to any film's trailer and pushed the entire artform forward.
3. The Last of Us (2013)
Before any of us actually had the chance to play The Last of Us, we were dying to play—all because of the incredible trailer.
The Last of Us is a piece of gaming history that will always be remembered for the beauty and horror it showcased in equal measure, and that's something that permeated the initial trailer in spades.
The story felt detailed and nuanced in ways that gaming narratives hadn't been before, bringing across a visceral edge that connected us to the narrative before we'd even picked up a controller.
The journey of this vulnerable girl and broken man proved that gaming was more than the sum of its mechanical parts.
2. Gears of War (2006)
Completely set to "Mad World" by Gary Jules, the first trailer for Gears of War didn't just inspire audiences to buy it en masse—it challenged other gaming studios to create a piece of marketing that could hold up.
Gears of War was a perfect blend of horror and action, and that was perfectly conveyed by the first trailer as Marcus Fennix ran through desolate streets and dove through a window to fight off creatures that looked downright terrifying.
If it hadn't been for the perfection of that first trailer, the world would have missed out on so much. Not only would fans have been deprived of what would eventually become a beloved franchise, but gaming as a whole would've suffered the loss of everything this game did right.
1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015)
The first trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain debuted under a bogus production company as a completely new game that was disconnected from anything else. That mysterious context had fans clawing at walls to prove it was another installment in the MGS series.
The flame whales, the bullets whizzing around, the man with bandages all over his face—all of it screamed that this was the work of Hideo Kojima, but nobody could be 100% sure.
Either way, the trailer was stunning and the themes that propelled it were revolutionary. And when the game finally came out, it became the last time Hideo Kojima would be able to guide his legendary franchise. The end result was a fascinating experience that was beautiful to a fault.
It confused, it excited, and it left fans in complete shock. It truly had everything that anybody could want from a cinematic film trailer, let alone a video game trailer.