Five years ago, I made a list of movie trailers featuring sad covers of pop songs. In 2015, these trailers seemed to be everywhere. I documented 15 of the most notable examples — starting with The Social Network, the influential ad that launched this structure — and figured that was the end of it.
Today, I bring you the third sequel to that list. A professor once told me that two instances of something could be a coincidence, but three is a trend worth observing and considering. At this point, the use of sad pop covers in trailers has gone on so long that my observing the trend is in and of itself a trend.
I previously updated my initial list in 2016 and 2018. In 2020, the use of sad pop songs in commercials shows no signs of abating — and it’s spread from movie trailers to advertisements for all kinds of things. The practice has become so ubiquitous that The New Yorker considered its history and impact in a recent article. Here are 15 more recent examples — and I didn’t even include the Justice League Snyder Cut trailer featuring “Hallelujah,” because that’s not a cover. (The theatrical trailer for Justice League featuring “Heroes” did appear one of our previous lists.)
Even after a full decade of this sort of trailer, these do occasionally seem to make an impression. That’s what happened with Dune, which featured an atmospheric cover of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” by composer Hans Zimmer. The track was supposedly recorded during quarantine, over FaceTime, by small pods of musicians who were then combined in the editing room.
“Another Brick in the Wall” in The New Mutants
Dune was not the only recent movie to co-opt an old Pink Floyd song — a few months earlier The New Mutants did much the same thing with a creepy, chanted version of “Another Brick in the Wall.” In this film’s defense, it sat on the shelf for so long that it’s possible that when this ad was created the whole sad cover of a pop song thing still felt fresh.
“Old Town Road,” in Last Blood
If you were wondering whether a sad version of the biggest song of the last couple years, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” had made it into a trailer yet, it has. When the song gets to the part about riding a horse you see Rambo riding a horse!
“Say My Name,” in Candyman
My personal favorite on this list is the spooky use of Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” in the trailer for Candyman, about that vengeful ghost who appears when you repeat his name five times in a mirror. It’s on the nose, but sometimes that still works. (Technically this is a remix, not a cover version, but it’s clearly in the same spirit as the other songs on this list. Let’s allow it.)
“What a Wonderful World,” in Wonder Park
Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” remains a perennial favorite of trailer editors. Typically their choices are more ironic — as in the trailer for Geostorm, where (SPOILER ALERT!) the world is not actually wonderful — but in Wonder Park the use of the sad cover is more wistful and sincere. Then again, I never saw Wonder Park, so I guess it is possible that at some point this magical amusement park is hit by a geostorm.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” From The Rhythm Section
Answer the question, Stephanie Patrick! Where did you sleep last night? (I have no idea what this song has to do with this revenge thriller.)
“Für Elise,” From Morbius
You know what’s cooler than Beethoven? Sad techno Beethoven over images of Jared Leto as a superhero vampire.
“Top Gun Anthem,” From Top Gun: Maverick
The trailer for the long-awaited Top Gun sequel borrowed a trick from Jurassic World, which repurposed its predecessor’s original score at a snail’s pace, in a way that evoked both awe and dread. Maverick lays on the Harold Faltermeyer slow and thick to suggest the dramatic return of a beloved ’80s film icon.
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” From The Craft: Legacy
This is like an archetypal sad cover song trailer, with an instantly recognizable — and relentlessly upbeat — track repurposed as a winking commentary in a dark, sinister commercial for a horror movie. If we hadn’t seen this exact trick used over and over for the last five years, it would almost be clever.
“Policy of Truth,” From Death on the Nile
Something tells me the suspects in an Agatha Christie mystery do not actually have a policy of truth.
“Toxic,” From Promising Young Woman
This Promising Young Woman clip combines two different trailer trends: The sad cover of a pop song (in this case Britney Spears’ “Toxic”) and sound effects edited to sync up perfectly with the music. Neither is particularly original, although when used together like this they can be pretty effective.
“The Times They Are a-Changin,” From The Crown
Although the sad cover trailer started in movies, it’s since expanded to pretty much every area of pop culture ads. Here’s a recent example from Netflix’s The Crown.
“(Ready Or Not) Here I Come,” From The Stand
“(Ready Or Not) Here I Come,” certainly fits the story of an apocalyptic plague followed by a war between supernatural forces for the fate of humanity. In this instance, though, a very melancholic rendition of R.E.M.’s “Stand” would have been more appropriate, and even funnier.
“X Gon’ Give It To Ya,” From CrossfireX
Vdeo games have gotten into this trend in recent years as well. This example, which features — of all things! — a hushed cover of DMX’s bombastic “X Gon’ Give It To Ya,” got a lot of attention on social media earlier this summer. I will give it to ya, trailer editors: You have now milked this technique for an entire decade.
“In the End,” From Magic: The Gathering
Even trailers for collectible card games come with sad covers of pop songs now. After making four full lists of these clips in a futile attempt to encourage editors to come up with some new tricks, I can’t help but think: I tried so hard, and got so far. And in the end, it didn’t even matter.