America loves its superheroes… and so does the rest of the world. In 2016, four of the top ten grossing films at the box office (US) were of the superhero variety. The following year, superheroes claimed half the top ten spots. Last year, the masked, caped and clawed adventurers broke the halfway mark with six top ten spots. Will this upward trend continue until superheroes occupy all the top ten? Or will the kryptonite of sameness finally strike a blow to these films?
The infatuation with these films makes sense – they have huge advertising budgets, a well-established fan base, and a universal appeal stemming from the fusion of humour, drama, action, special effects, engaging plots, compelling characters and, in most cases, good guys beating the bad guys. Moreover, what would the average person rather see on the big screen: people sitting around talking, or a collection of eccentric superhumans fighting and destroying things?
Other films in this year’s top ten included an arguably underappreciated Jurassic Park entry, an animated remake of The Grinch, the latest Mission Impossible film, and Solo: A Star Wars Story. All these films rode the coattails of others, whether they were part of a series, a cinematic universe, or a remake. Remember, though, that the number of people who go to see a movie is by no means a measure of the quality of that film.
I was somewhat disappointed by the mass market genre film offerings in 2018. Only a couple films – not surprisingly works that aren’t connected to another film – stood out as truly innovative. Following are my top five selections, along with an honorable mention:
Don’t expect some profound truth to be unveiled with this one. Do expect to be thoroughly entertained. Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (with some of his The Walking Dead swagger), and gigantic monsters tearing apart Chicago – that’s a hard combination to resist on the big screen. Additionally, Rampage promotes environmental conservation by having the world’s leading action hero (Dwayne Johnson) play a character who fights for animal rights. Full review.
#4: Mary Poppins Returns
The umbrella-clutching nanny returns over fifty years after the original film to reignite the magic that caused the world to fall in love with her. Like its predecessor, Mary Poppins Returns is full of sage advice, iconic imagery, and toe-tapping songs. It’s hard to walk away from this one without feeling uplifted. Full review.
#3: Avengers: Infinity War
This is the Vegas-style, pull-out-all-the-stops superhero film of 2018. It brings together most of Marvel’s beloved characters, several of them at odds, to take on their most formidable foe yet. Thanos is a Hulk-like purple brute who plans to wipe out half the human population. What makes Avengers: Infinity War especially admirable is its focus on an antagonist – the story really is about Thanos – with a respectable goal (i.e. achieve ecological balance) muddied by an abhorrent method, as well as its departure from the rosy ending common in superhero films. Full review.
#2: Deadpool 2
The wisecracking antihero returns with a barrage of gore, vulgarity, and cultural references. Ryan Reynolds’s chatty Deadpool takes the viewer on a metatextual ride as he obliterates not only the bad guys, but also superhero film clichés. What other character would joke around with the viewer before blowing himself up? Full review.
#1: A Quiet Place
John Krasinski’s directorial debut silenced theaters, yet critics and the general public alike loved talking about it. This post-apocalyptic suspense/horror chronicles a family’s attempt to survive amid creatures with supersensitive hearing. It combines the suspense of Aliens (1986) with the tight focus on one family of Signs (2002). From the tragedy at its beginning to the triumphant open ending, A Quiet Place sets itself apart in a filmscape dominated by explosions and crumbling cities. Full review.
Special Mention: Hereditary
I limited my top five selections to films that I saw in the cinema. If I had done so with Hereditary, I may very well have included it among my top five. Again, this one follows a family in the wake of a tragedy. However, whereas A Quiet Place covers the themes of strength and perseverance, Hereditary explores deterioration and madness. Several scenes exhibit superb acting in which the characters convincingly convey shock or extreme grief. And it all builds to an ending that gives Rosemary’s Baby (1968) a run for its money.
See Douglas’s top five SF/F/H picks from 2017, 2016, and 2015.—Douglas J. Ogurek