The Year in Film, 2016
By Chris Kavan - 12/29/16 at 08:53 AM CT
Well, with no new MPAA Ratings issued this week and no new wide release films coming out, either, I guess now is as good as any time to look back at the year that was. I could come up with a best/worst 2016 film list, but I have decided I just haven't seen enough films to make up a decent list so instead I will focus on some of the biggest stories of the year that helped shape the landscape of film - for better or worse. Here, then, are what I consider the most important revelations that 2016 has brought us.
1) BLOCKBUSTER ADDITIONS MAKE HUGE WAVES
It was a good year to be a spinoff, stand-alone or new superhero. Doctor Strange became the latest Marvel superhero to make a splash - earning over $225 million in the U.S. and over $650 million worldwide. The wizarding world of Harry Potter received the prequel focusing on Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - earning $216 million in the U.S. and a worldwide total of over $744 million. Finally, after last year's record-breaking The Force Awakens, Star Wars returned to the big screen with the stand-alone story Rogue One - which has exploded at the year's end, having already earned $318 million in the U.S. and quickly approaching the $600 million mark worldwide - after a mere two weeks in theaters. It just goes to show that if you put out quality products with interesting stories, characters and, yes, visual effects, audiences will continue to support it. With Marvel, Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts not going anywhere in a long time - as long as the studios mix quality with quantity, I don't see why the respective franchises have anywhere to go but up.
2) DISNEY BREAKS RECORDS
Speaking of blockbusters, the aforementioned Doctor Strange and Rogue One (along with the likes of Moana, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory and The Jungle Book) helped Disney easily topped its own domestic record of $5.85 billion back in November and, with the success of Rogue One, can now also claim the title of the biggest global year on record, topping $6.9 billion set last year by Universal. Disney has handled the Star Wars acquisition perfectly and with the continued success of Marvel, their live-action adaptations of their classic animated films and their high-quality animation - I don't see any studio coming close to touching the studio in the near future. As a counter-point, Disney did have missteps (Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, The BFG and Pete's Dragon were all disappointing) but when you make that much money, even a few failures pale in comparison.
3) BLACK FILMS MATTER
After last year's #OscarsSoWhite backlash that erupted after the awards ceremony, 2016 seems poised to reverse that trend in a big way. As the year closes and awards season heats up, many of the films in consideration explore race and its implications, and have been getting attention. Moonlight has already won AFI's top honor, along with several critics choice awards (Chicago, Boston to name a few) with Mahershala Ali often being singled out for his performance. Loving, following the story of an interracial couple in Virginia whose arrest led to a case leading to the Supreme Court has likewise courted a fair share of nominations while the just-released Fences with Denzel Washington both directing and acting has also been in the awards-season talk. While not every films I was expecting to make waves, did, (Birth of a Nation went out with a whimper) and not every film in consideration (La La Land, Manchester by the Sea) features a black cast - it's great to see that anger has led to something powerful.
4) DC STILL ON ROCKY GROUND?
Despite the fact that both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad are among the top 10 movies of the year, I can't help but feel that both were underwhelming. Batman v. Superman followed in the footsteps of Man of Steel in being far too dark for its own good - not even an awesome introduction to Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman or Ben Affleck's surprisingly decent take on Bruce Wayne/Batman could muster up my excitement. Jesse Eisenberg was far too grating as Lex Luthor while the big Apocalypse was a big disappointment. Suicide Squad was frantic and fun, but also suffered from a weak villain and squandered Jared Leto in what amounted to an extended cameo as The Joker. In any case, though Will Smith and Margot Robbie brought their A-games, most other characters were given far too little screen time and any kind of story. Viola Davis was wonderful but Cara Delevingne was criminally under-used while Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Kinnaman and Karen Fukuhara just seemed to get the short end of the stick. Sure, they made money but I just can't help feeling they pale in comparison to the Marvel films. With Wonder Woman on the horizon (and many more films planned), the franchise can still get things right - but as long as their big-budget films don't utterly fall flat, I don't see Warner Bros. sweating too heavily.
5) STOP WITH THE "LONG-AWAITED" SEQUELS AND REMAKES
It was a rough year for movies that no one really asked for. Independence Day: Resurgence was a laughable disaster. Ben-Hur was already a classic remake back in 1959 - the updated 2016 version was a noted bomb. Inferno couldn't be saved by Tom Hanks. Bad Santa 2 couldn't capture the dark humor of the original. Alice Through the Looking Glass tanked. Zoolander 2 isn't going to be anyone's new cult film. X-Men Apocalypse still had an excellent Quicksilver scene, but was ultimately empty. Bridget Jones came back to have a baby and very few cared. Big Fat Greeks came back for another wedding and very few cared. And while the all-female Ghostbusters gets points for its cast, it still felt like a wasted effort. All told, 2016 has to be a banner year for egregious sequels and remakes but I'm sure we'll keep getting more because Hollywood never seems to tire in its efforts to rehash everything until it's completely and utterly beaten to a lifeless pulp.
6) KEVIN SPACEY PLAYED A TALKING CAT
One of the worst-reviewed films of the year is surely a sign of the impending end of the world? Where is Francis Underwood when you need him?
7) END ON A HIGH HORROR NOTE
While big blockbuster and huge bombs get all the attention, let's not forget that low-budget horror is still one of the best games in town. From The Conjuring 2 to Don't Breathe to the highly-regarded The Witch and the trippy Neon Demon, 2016 was a good year for horror. Other standout films include The Purge: Election Year (which is becoming ever so more prescient in my mind), 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Green Room and Boo! A Madea Halloween (okay, technically not a horror film - but it was scary how much money it made!). In any case, the low-budget, high-return rate for most horror films continues to be a good success story and I just hope we can count on a few more quality horror films to make their way to the big screen next year.
That's my take on the year that was 2016. Questions? Comments? Additions? Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions any time!