To say that 2016 has been a down year for film might be a bit of a dramatic overstatement, but it certainly has been a rather peculiar year of (what seems to be) transition in terms of the future of movie going (and whether or not there’s a future of going to the cinema at all). With that said, let’s take a look at the past year, and some of the best films of 2016.
Like most years, 2016 started out with little more than a fizzle, as January and February are famously poor months to release films – aka the “Dump Months” – but despite the magnificent flops from The Finest Hours and Zoolander 2, a couple of top-notch underdogs broke through – Deadpool (not the biggest underdog, but still did better than expected) and The Witch (which was ultimately the scariest freaking movie of the year, by future Nosferatu remake director Robert Eggers).
While the breakthroughs were few and far between during the Dump Months, there was plenty of fanfare to be had in the interim, as Sundance Film Festival was in full swing in Park City, Utah from late January into February. The now stigmatized (and virtually forgotten) Birth of a Nation won best dramatic feature, and was touted as an early frontrunner for Best Picture, only to be derailed by rape allegations happening sixteen years prior in writer/director/producer/star Nate Parker’s time as a college wrestler at Penn State University.
Meanwhile, as Oscar buzz was slowly but surely beginning to gain a head of steam, there were more and big budget flops flipping and flapping every which way in the cinema, as Gods of Egypt, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Batman v. Superman all managed to fall short of expectation, while more indie-underdogs continued to pop up here and there to critical acclaim – Eye in the Sky, Midnight Special – and the first couple of bonafide blockbuster hits managed to summit the mountain that is movie going skepticism – Zootopia, Everybody Wants Some!, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Slowly but surely, 2016 looked like it had managed to pick itself up by the bootstraps and limp its way into a relatively successful pre-blockbuster season run, with Green Room serving as an unintended farewell before the tragic death of Anton Yelchin, and The Jungle Book continuing what already looked to be another exceedingly banner year for all things Disney.
If there’s any doubt that consumers might still have a fear of going to the multiplex, let it be known that there is seemingly no fear for anyone at all when it comes to seeing a Disney movie – the consensus seems to be “see it.” Come the end of the calendar year – Rogue One still has to come out, which will inevitably create a very nice “bump” in profit margins over the final month of the year – Disney will have made over $5 billion in revenue off of its films released in the year of 2016. Captain America: Civil War and the return of Spidey, along with Doctor Strange’s introduction were massive boons, and 2016 was a phenomenal year for Disney’s animated films, which pulled in more than their fair share of moolah, so when in doubt, make sure Mickey has something to do with your film.
And so, as the year pressed on, we continued to see more than our fair share of high profile flops – Warcraft, Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters – proving Hollywood still doesn’t know that messing with much-beloved properties typically doesn’t end well. But in the realm of indie originals, 2016 has managed to set itself up quite nicely with some excellent originals – The Neon Demon, Hell or High Water, Don’t Breathe – but still making the Awards Season precariously difficult to gauge.
That is, until Fall rolled around as early Oscar buzz was beginning to swirl around films like Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle’s Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone Oscar vehicle La La Land and Sicario (and Blade Runner 2) director Denis Vilenueve’s Arrival, making the Oscar season remarkably unique with a musical and sci-fi flick offering themselves as fierce competitors for Best Picture nominations (with La La Land being all but certain for at the very least, a nomination). But soon came the heavy hitters, with the poignant and powerful Moonlight and the Casey Affleck vehicle Manchester By The Sea looking like the legitimate front runners for everything Oscar.
Then there are the blockbusters – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did relatively well in the box office (though the movie itself is terrible, seriously), and Disney has two more cash cows to milk for all they’re worth in Moana and Rogue One, so we may not even have seen the best films of 2016 yet.