Top 10 lists are stupid and dumb and boring to write and boring to read. At Reel Entropy, we know better, so we do better — instead of talking about the best movies of the year, we’re going to bring you a list of what look to be the most influential.
Jordan Peele’s vicious social satire came out early and dominated headlines for months, and has begun to take them over again as awards voters thrust it back into the public eye. The film skewering the under-the-surface racism of liberal America released on wave of horrifying police violence against black Americans and with the general public’s tacit endorsement of Donald Trump’s overt racism still a fresh wound.
The film made Peele the first ever black writer/director to gross $100 million with his debut movie, and later became the highest-grossing debut for a director of any race based on an original screenplay, on its way to a domestic total of $175.5 million off of a budget of just $4.5 million. Its condemnation of even the most innocent forms of racism and nail-biting ending have loomed over the zeitgeist ever since.
As much as I disliked the movie, it obviously represents an important step forward for superheroes in film. It’s a radical remix for a genre that has, despite tremendous effort, gone quite stale. Wisecracked put together a wonderful video on all the references and genre play that went into it-
Social justice in a film reel.
Wonder Woman is a landmark for a lot of reasons. Despite her being the third prong in DC’s triumvirate of intertextually famous superheroes along with Batman and Superman, this is Diana’s only major solo feature out of the 14 now shared between the three of them, and is the first major comic book movie overall to be focused on a female lead — Suicide Squad has an argument, but is really not the same thing. Marvel and DC had a bit of an arms race a couple of years ago over who could broaden representation in their superhero movies the fastest, and Wonder Woman is the first product of that. The February release of Marvel’s Black Panther is hotly anticipated, as is Brie Larson’s turn as Captain Marvel, scheduled for 2019.
It’s also the first well-received DCEU movie, and there’s a non-zero chance it will go down in history as the only one. Justice League, which should have been the series’ brass bonanza, opened in November to in-context a pitiful $93.8 million on its way to just $225.9 million domestic as of New Year’s Day — that’s seven weeks in release for a movie with every major DC superhero, half of whom are making their debut. Its counterpart, The Avengers, made almost that much in just its opening weekend, albeit a record-breaking one. Sitting at $652.9 million worldwide, Justice League is on track to become the second straight DC movie to feature all three of its major heroes — both of which rank among the most expensive movies ever made — and still not break the $1 billion mark, an absolutely unthinkable failure at the series’ outset.
Warner Bros. is considering drastic measures to right the ship, which they’ve taken after almost every movie they’ve released in this franchise, but it’s starting to look like the studio will literally run out of money before that happens. Their schedule from this point forward has completely fallen apart — the Aquaman movie that was supposed to release in July has been pushed back to December, leaving more than a year’s gap between it and the preceding film, and the Flash movie that was due in March doesn’t even have a director yet.
John Wick: Chapter 2 and Atomic Blonde
Twice is a coincidence, three times is an attack. And “attack” is a really good description for what directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch are doing to the action genre.
Mad Max: Fury Road rocked the action world and the Oscars in 2015, but Stahelski’s and Leitch’s co-directed 2014 project, the first John Wick, may end up being even more influential. In retrospect, it’s a much more practical application of the same philosophies — actually doing every stunt and shooting them in a way that shows that off. The difference is John Wick didn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars worth of purpose-built vehicles and an entire desert to play around with them in.
John Wick: Chapter 2, directed by Stahelski, and Atomic Blonde, directed by Leitch, take that torch and carry it into the mainstream, offering much more than just immaculate action. A neon retelling of the Hercules myth, John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of the most thematically rich films of the entire year, and Atomic Blonde brings easily 2017’s best espionage plot to the table alongside its brilliant colors, performances, soundtrack and, of course, action.
These entries represent filmmaking in general and action filmmaking in particular at their absolute finest, done consistently and sustainably. If there’s any justice in the world at all, they represent the shape of things to come.
Leitch is directing Deadpool 2, due June 1, and Stahelski is signed on for several projects including a third John Wick scheduled for 2019 and an entire reboot trilogy of The Highlander.
The film that was going to save the mid-budget movie and bring big directors back to Hollywood didn’t quite.
What makes Logan Lucky so significant is its revolutionary financing model — director Steven Soderbergh sold the movie’s distribution rights before it was made, and used that money to pay for its production and marketing. It’s the basic equivalent of mortgaging a house that doesn’t exist and using the money to build the house.
Soderbergh had retired from Hollywood in 2013 because he was tired of the increasing emphasis on big-budget tentpole movies driving studios away from funding smaller projects. A lot of ink has been spilled over this problem, and Logan Lucky presents a very feasible solution. With the film’s poor performance, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not this ever gets tried again.
After the worst August in 20 years, It exploded into theaters Sept. 5 with a $123.4 million debut, setting opening weekend records for both September releases and horror films and coming in second only to 2016’s Deadpool for openings for R-rated movies. With nothing major on the docket until Blade Runner 2049 Oct. 6, and that movie disappointing, It stood as really the only successful movie until Thor: Ragnarok hit theaters Nov. 3.
The film raised financial bars, but it lowered social ones. This movie had thousands rationalizing the fetishization of minors, saying that the sexualization of 13-year-old Bev Marsh (Sophia Lillis, who was 14 during production) was OK because it was worse in the book.
That’s not really an argument. You don’t really get to sexualize minors less than another, extremely egregious example. Doing it at all is completely unacceptable to me, and I find it truly disturbing that viewpoint isn’t as widespread as I thought.
In what was expected to be a quiet release underneath the second weekend of It leading to maybe some early Oscar buzz, Darren Aronofsky’s outrageous allegory came out of nowhere to become the most divisive movie of 2017 — for a couple of months, at least. The film delightfully straddles the line between a masterpiece and feverish nonsense, and is guaranteed to get a rise out of everyone who sees it.
Blade Runner 2049
The hypnotic, devastatingly beautiful Blade Runner 2049 easily ranks among the best films ever made, and nobody watched it.
It’s a pretty baffling case from a market perspective. The $150 million blockbuster with a marketing campaign that dates back to December 2016 opened at just $32.8 million, fell out of the top spot next week and went on to a domestic run of just $91.5 million, leaving theaters before Christmas. This is in spite of the film’s soaring praise — it sits at 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and has been called the best sequel of all time.
As director Denis Villeneuve’s legend grows, this is almost certainly going to be remembered as the year’s best film in short order, just not when it can make any money from that recognition.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
When the dust settled, the biggest and most divisive film of the year.
The Last Jedi has a critic/audience split on Rotten Tomatoes that belongs to only the most obscure and unengaging arthouse ticket, not a $200 million guaranteed smash-hit. It stands as one of the most well received entries in the entire Star Wars saga, but by far the least popular.
Adding to the tension is the backlash against the backlash. It’s really hard to find an article that takes the widespread dissatisfaction with The Last Jedi seriously — there were even rumors, dispelled by Rotten Tomatoes, that the low audience score was simply the result of hacking. This in the face of the movie having the worst week two hold of any movie in the saga, undeniable and extremely painful evidence of its poor word-of-mouth.
Though The Force Awakens and Rogue One were met with acclaim in 2015 and 2016, both of their standings have faded quickly, making The Last Jedi the third of three Disney Star Wars movies to be generally seen as lackluster. No one alive to day will see the final Star Wars movie if all goes as Disney plans, but is cynicism already growing toward the franchise?
Rogue One was the center of a pretty public fiasco in which 40 percent of the movie was rumored to have been reshot and director Gareth Edwards’ influence was mitigated, and Disney famously parted ways with writer/director Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. Now, the next two Star Wars movies, Solo and the yet-untitled Episode IX, have both seen their directors fired.
A $90 million blockbuster with a name director starring Will Smith released on Netflix. No matter how poorly it was received — by critics, that is — this movie shakes the Hollywood business model to its foundations merely by virtue of its existence.
BONUS MOVIE: Beauty and the Beast
When I started doing this in 2014, the only rule was that the top grossing movie of the year was guaranteed a place on the list. People have to actually see a movie for it to influence them, after all.
Well, right up until New Year’s Eve, when Star Wars finally overtook it, Beauty and the Beast was that movie. Does anyone even remember it?
This is kind of what Disney’s been doing lately. They’ve been making movies so forgettable that the only evidence anyone watched them is the massive pile of receipts, which is of course all the company cares about. After acquiring Fox, Mickey’s only competitors are Sony and Warner Bros., which were already struggling to keep up. This doesn’t bode well for the future of American cinema.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.