The Trailer Songs That Sold Us on Movies (And Some That Made Us Skip Them)

Johnny Cash's "Hurt" really sold us on Logan.
Johnny Cash's "Hurt" really sold us on Logan. Michael Ochs/Getty
In 2022, would you have expected “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Highway to the Danger Zone” to be trending? These 1980s classic hits are on the rise again thanks to their prominent use in Thor: Love and Thunder and Top Gun: Maverick, respectively.

Just like TV and TikTok allow new generations to discover songs from before their time — let's not even count all of the teenagers who are listening to Kate Bush, courtesy of Stranger Things — summer blockbusters are a great way to introduce younger listeners to songs and bands that would be considered "oldies" to them.

Regardless of whether it's featured in the actual movie, a great song goes a long way in selling a movie trailer. Some movies have a pretty easy song selection process; the new Elvis is obviously going to use the music of The King, and any new Star Wars movie is bound to use John Williams’ classic theme. All the trailer has to do is play a few familiar notes.

Marketing a trailer is more important than ever. In fact, the 2016 film Suicide Squad was actually recut entirely so that the tone would be closer to the one in the trailer, which used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Forget that the movie itself is garbage, that’s a darn good trailer.

On the flip side, the wrong song can really turn us off from wanting to see a movie. Here are some movie trailer songs that got us to buy our tickets in advance and a few that terminated our interest all together.

Best: “Hurt” cover by Johnny Cash, Logan

This R-rated superhero movie is far different from any of the other films in the X-Men franchise. The gritty, realistic tone is closer to classic Westerns than it is to your standard comic book adventure. Logan takes itself seriously and sells its Western vibe with Johnny Cash’s iconic cover of Nine Inch Nails' “Hurt.” The morose track foreshadows that the future is bleak for Wolverine. Worst: “I’ve Got No Strings," Avengers: Age of Ultron
This one is just weird. Why follow up one of the most exciting Marvel films ever with a dark, scary sequel about how we’re all doomed? It’s all Tony Stark’s fault, apparently. His robotic creation, Ultron, develops a consciousness and rebels against his master. The initial teaser trailer used a dark rendition of “I’ve Got No Strings” from the original Pinocchio. Pinocchio has always been a little creepy, come to think of it. Best: “Creep” cover by Scala, The Social Network
“Creep” couldn’t be a more accurate word to tell the origins of Facebook. The Social Network trailer featured the original “slow cover,” and we may even prefer the Scala version to Radiohead’s original. This haunting rendition eerily scores the story leading up to how social media took over our lives. Worst: “Do You Realize?” cover by Ursine Vulpine, Transformers: The Last Knight
Forget about the fact that this movie makes no sense. Of all the songs of which you could do a dark, haunting version, why pick this Flaming Lips favorite? The awkward cover just feels like it's begging to be taken seriously. Sorry, we’re not going to treat Optimus Prime like he’s a Shakespearean character. Best: “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, Star Trek Beyond
This isn’t your grandparents’ Star Trek. The 2009 reboot of the franchise established that Chris Pine’s version of Captain James T. Kirk grew up loving the Beastie Boys. We’re not sure what William Shatner’s take is. The trailer for the third film in the reboot series, Star Trek Beyond, brings back “Sabotage” to close the circle. As Spock says, it's “classical music.” Worst: “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, Sonic the Hedgehog
Remember when they put out a trailer for Sonic that was so bad they had to completely redesign the trailer? It says a lot about a company’s confidence in their product to rework the movie in order to satisfy angry fans. The use of “Gangsta’s Paradise” doesn’t make “Creepy Sonic” any cooler. Best: “Eclipse” by Pink Floyd, Dune
Dune fans had been anticipating a good film version of Frank Herbert’s beloved science fiction book for a long time, as the original 1984 adaptation paled in comparison to the novel. Thankfully, last year’s Dune did not disappoint. The use of the final track from Dark Side of the Moon was the perfect way to show the epic scope of the story. Worst: “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, Rambo: Last Blood
We really did not need another Rambo movie. Rambo: Last Blood is the final nail in the coffin for a franchise that hasn’t been relevant in decades. Sylvester Stallone is clearly mailing it in, but he attempted to draw in a younger crowd by using “Old Town Road” in the trailer. At this point, the song had already been widely overused. Best: “Friction” by Imagine Dragons, Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Tom Cruise literally risks his life to make these Mission: Impossible movies. It’s starting to make us a little concerned about his safety. Fallout has Cruise hanging from a helicopter, fighting Henry Cavill on the side of a cliff and speeding through the streets of Europe on a motorcycle. “Friction” by Imagine Dragons was a great way to indicate that the action was not going to let up. Worst: “This Is Not The End” by Fieldwork, Edge of Tomorrow
The movie? Great! The trailer? Bad! Edge of Tomorrow is a fun take on the Groundhog Day premise, but set amid an alien invasion. You probably didn’t get that vibe from the dramatic trailer that used Fieldwork’s “The Is Not the End.” It makes the movie look more like Pearl Harbor than Alien. Best: “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James & The Shondells, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Surprise! It’s a new Cloverfield movie. The secret spinoff to the hit monster movie wasn't marketed until a few months before its release. As John Goodman asserts his control over the situation, “I Think We’re Alone Now” suggests that he may not be exactly what he seems. Worst: “Glitter and Gold” by Barns Courtney, Gold
It’s a movie called Gold that uses “Glitter and Gold” in the trailer. We appreciate how straight to the point this is, but could it get any less creative?
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.