Studios Haven’t Yet Tired of Melancholy Pop Covers in Action Trailers

In the first trailer for Alita: Battle Angel, which Fox unveiled on Monday, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron’s eponymous android awakens into a futuristic world to the tune of a pensive version of Linkin Park’s 2009 hit “New Divide.” (Oddly, the song itself was originally written for Michael Bay’s Transformers sequel Revenge of the Fallen in 2009, only to come full circle and become part of the latest fad of remixing top 40 hits for action film trailers.)


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The epic is only the latest tentpole film to trot out that trailer mainstay: A trailer for Warner Bros.’ Tomb Raider reboot was scored with a melancholy cover of the 2001 Destiny’s Child song “Survivor”; at the crescendo of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time trailer in November, viewers were greeted with a haunting version of Eurythmics’ 1983 earworm “Sweet Dreams”; and, in December, Universal tried a brooding version of Vera Lynn’s patriotic British anthem “There’ll Always Be an England” to sell fans on Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines

While pop music in trailers is a timeworn tactic, the slowed-down, somber versions of hits played underneath the action of heroes battling CGI threats to the world seem to be Hollywood’s go-to trailer technique of the moment. And many of those tunes are being plucked and assigned out by The Ant Farm, a trailer house company that worked on both Tomb Raider and last year’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets spots (the latter of which featured a wordless, orchestral cover of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”). 

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“With cover songs in general, it’s a fine line between destroying a classic and honoring it and creating something new that goes with today’s zeitgeist,” Simon Heeger, one member of the two-man group 2WEI that covered “Survivor” for Tomb Raider, said in an interview earlier this year. 

It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning of any trend, but 2010’s The Social Network had one of the first high-profile trailers to implement a reworked, slowed-down cover of a well-known song. Utilizing a choral arrangement of Radiohead’s 1993 hit, “Creep,” performed by Belgian indie rock choir Scala & Kolacny Brothers, the trailer made waves for its fresh implementation of a recognizable hit with lyrics appropriately evocative of the film’s subject matter. 

Over the course of the last decade, the concept has been used in trailers for such films as Oscar winner Zero Dark ThirtyTransformers: The Last KnightHell or High WaterSan AndreasMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road and dozens of others, featuring hits from artists such as Metallica, Nina Simone, The Mamas & The Papas, The Flaming Lips, Bob Dylan and more. 

A rep for Ant Farm, which bills itself as a trailer collective, said about the Tomb Raider trailer: “There’s been an overall trend in film marketing to create custom covers of well-known songs. It gives audiences something both familiar and original, creating an emotional response and connection that lasts long after the trailer is over.”

The task of creating a new version of a best-selling song isn’t easy. Artists are often given the song choice from the get-go and given a “feel” to go with, often working without the benefit of footage from the film. 

The process begins with sitting down and coming up with a few options, often eyeing over a dozen different songs. There also is the issue of getting permission from the artists of the original songs themselves. The growing audience of big trailers, and the remixed songs used therein, has begun to attract artists who may have been wary of the industry before. Musicians can pull down anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 for work on large-scale film trailers.


“For ‘Survivor,’ we heard that Beyonce never approved a cover version before, but she liked our version, so we got a thumbs-up,” Heeger explained. “For a couple of composers sitting in Hamburg, that’s the best thing that can ever happen to you.”

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.