2016 has been a punishing year for all of us. Amidst the countless celebrity deaths and global political disarray, Hollywood had a particularly weak year as well.
Unoriginal sequels dominated and underwhelmed eager audiences everywhere — but there were a few blockbusters that stood out in the realm of great film. So which big, popular movies actually helped redeem 2016?
10) The Jungle Book
Disney is in the business of making live action versions of all their animated movies, and while this may seem like a cash grab, they’re actually doing a fine job of it. Funnily enough, the best thing about “The Jungle Book” is its CGI animation — talking animals have never looked so photorealistic before. Kids and adults alike will get lost in its detailed world.
9) The Edge of Seventeen
The next classic teen movie is here. “The Edge of Seventeen” takes cues from classics like “The Breakfast Club” to render our adolescent struggles in all of their awkwardness, but this film finds an original tone by exploring modern views of teen connection and sexuality. It’s an affecting and funny journey.
The world’s most irreverent superhero did not disappoint with one of 2016’s first commendable blockbusters. If you enjoy meta humor and gratuitous violence, “Deadpool” deserves multiple views for copious amounts of both. It’s now hard to imagine Ryan Reynolds in any other role.
Director Shane Black has specialized his filmmaking career around the buddy cop comedy, and “The Nice Guys” may be his most perfect version of the formula yet. Russell Crowe is enjoyable as a hardened hired hand, but Ryan Gosling’s bumbling private eye and Angourie Rice’s preteen comedic chops steal the show.
Marvel is determined to heighten the superhero genre. “Captain America: Civil War” is certainly one of their smartest efforts: the stakes are personal and the construction echoes some of cinema’s most effective adventure films. This is a high bar to surpass for comic book movies.
It’s an R-rated animated movie about talking food — but it doubles as a scathingly funny condemnation of blind belief and religious control. “Sausage Party” isn’t exceptionally deep, but its satire of religious fervor is clever and exceedingly raunchy enough to charm.
Horror master James Wan returned with another film with screams, scares and artistry in equal measure. Not only is “The Conjuring 2” sure to leave you quaking in your seat (and having terrifying nightmares), it’s a gorgeous slice of cinema that draws you in until it shocks you back with demonic imagery.
3) 10 Cloverfield Lane
The first “Cloverfield” was a fairly straightforward found-footage monster movie, so the world was especially shocked when this cousin to the original turned out to be a terrific thriller. Lean pacing, pitch-perfect tension, and a sinister turn from John Goodman burn this blockbuster into your memory.
Disney’s effort early in the year is perhaps their modern magnum opus. Not only does Zootopia boast lovable characters and intricate animation, it explores the complexities of systemic racism in a way that educates children and informs the understandings of adults. This is an important animated film.
Surprisingly and thankfully, the year’s most intelligent film was a studio blockbuster that shattered expectations of what movies can do. Both life informing and life affirming, “Arrival” is filmmaking at its greatest: mysterious, awe-inspiring, unforgettable, and possibly life changing.