Best Blockbusters of 2018
By Zach Dennis, Logan Kenny, Andrew Swafford, Malcolm Baum, Jessica Carr, Reid Ramsey, Michael O’Malley, Robyn C., and Lydia Creech
**NOTE** This is not in ranked order
Crazy Rich Asians (2018) by Jon M. Chu
From the moment I first saw the Crazy Rich Asians trailer, I was so excited I could barely stand it. The film looked like an extravagant blockbuster with glitzy sets, gorgeous costuming and a splash of romance--Oh! And the most important part….an all Asian cast. I was just as pleased when I actually sat down and watched the film. I LOVE Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as a character and I hardcore relate to her fighter mentality.
There were ALWAYS girls growing up that tried to make me feel inferior and one day I just decided that if they wanted to play chicken with me then LET'S GO and I fought them using my wit and my kindness. Seeing Rachel finally realize her worth at the end of the film made me so damn emotional. Watching a bunch of Asians make dumplings around a table made me emotional. Watching Michelle Yeoh tell Rachel she was never going to be good enough because SHE herself was never good enough made me emotional.
I could just go on and on about how this film really cares about who it is representing and I thought about all the white people in the theater with me who would go home and say I didn't really get the part when....or how they kind of felt like an outsider which is honestly how most Asian people feel when they go see a movie without a cast like this.
And OMG I am so in love with Rachel's red dress and really all the lavish outfits and parties and weddings. This is a new brand of rom-com that just makes all the others pale in comparison. I seriously can’t wait for the sequel.
Final note: Michelle Yeoh is so badass that she just really makes me feel like I need to apologize for existing. — Jessica Carr
Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018) by Christopher McQuarrie
I do sometimes wonder if I’m too easy to please when it comes to Mission: Impossible. After all, there’s nothing particularly new about this franchise’s modus operandi: protagonist(s) have to get from Point A to Point B to obtain Object C or catch Person D, and this plot is made exciting by a combination of actor athleticism and cinematic energy. It’s the hamburger of film, and I guess there’s an argument to be made that crafting an above-par hamburger in a pretty low bar to clear. But also, maybe that’s part of the problem--the bar is low enough that there’s just no nuance once something clears it and enters that very wide realm beyond, say, your typical Marvel flick. There was something of a backlash against Fallout, a backlash that often included eye-rolls at the comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road that this film’s supporters breathlessly lobbed when emerging from its July premiere. There’s something so perfectly of this current moment in mainstream English-language cinema that:
We’re short enough on excellent action blockbusters that the only reference point people can find for the very un-Fury-Road-like Fallout is George Miller’s 2015 opus;
People identified this limitation in the discourse as a flaw in the film itself.
I dunno if I can do much better. Writing about action films is devilishly difficult for me, especially once we get to the nuance of describing that above-par tier; I can describe everything in technical detail, which is a great way to turn all the fantastic, tactile energy of Fallout’s bathroom brawl to dust; I can talk about the themes, but is anyone watching the film’s bravado helicopter-chase finale to dissect the film’s preoccupation with philosophy’s Trolley Problem? The best conversations I’ve had about this film aren’t particularly substantial; in fact, they’re less conversations than just me and a friend going “Remember that part?” and then laughing and gushing about how “That was so cool!”--an interchange that translates terribly to the written word but that also capture the humming kineticism of the movie better than any “discourse” I’ve seen. Wasn’t this movie dope? Wasn’t it badass? Wasn’t it awesome?? It’s a hamburger, sure, but it’s an exquisitely crafted one, and anything short of communally sharing in the experience of having had my taste buds stand up and sing as I watched the single-take HALO jump fight scene just feels like a diminishment of what I enjoyed about it. — Michael O’Malley
Paddington 2 (2018) by Paul King
It’s easy to be cynical in society, but more difficult to pull off sincerity.
In the movies, it poses even more of a challenge. Too schmaltzy seems forced and hackney, while cynicism can be laboring or, quite honestly, draining after a bit. Especially on the kinder side, that genuine touch can feel like its spoon-feeding joy for the sake of pleasure and makes most children’s entertainment flacid and boring.
Luckily, imagination and kindness flow through the first Paddington film like a river of marmalade, and its sequel is no different.
The formula doesn’t stray too far, both in terms of Paddington stories or kids fare at large, but the attention to detail in its handling of story and visuals set the film apart. Orchestrated by writer/director Paul King, the films have been labelled everything from Michel Gondry-esque to Wes Anderson, and even some of the color works of Jacques Demy (guily).
The hyperbole may be rampant, but it isn’t undeserved. Surveying the layout of your average children’s movie, the amount of effort employed in making it seem fresh and original is hard to come by. Paddington, and by extension Paddington 2, carry the edges of classic cinema (parts Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin or Harold Lloyd to boot) and the confection of Willy Wonka or Terry Gilliam films in its design.
At times, some could see it as forced — London unravels like a picture book and Paddington weeds around the world in a fantastical way, but there is something genuine about it. Especially in a post-Brexit world, seared with distrust, frustration and outright hate towards one another, Paddington 2 seems untethered to what dominates the headlines of British newspapers and more focused on the smaller stories inhabiting London’s streets. The people, and characters, living their lives on simple ambitions and simple pleasures.
We look to art to find answers at times, whether we want to admit it or not, and Paddington 2 doesn’t have that fix-all you may desire. It also may not quench your thirst for unkeethed anxiety. But there is a passion and joy surging through the veins of this movie that is near obsolete in what we would call children’s programming, and honestly film as a whole.
If someone like George Méliès was making dreams come alive in the early days of cinema, King and Paddington are doing the same with similar tricks to great effect. — Zach Dennis
The Meg (2018) by Jon Turteltaub
The main hook for The Meg, is that the meg is an extremely big shark. People love to look down into the terrifying depths of a shark’s gullet and think they could be swallowed whole. Turteltaub never shied away from showing his monster, even within 30 seconds of the trailer. This was the real thing, this was not a con, it was as if they knew we were jaded with bad CGI and lackluster action of the mid-naughties creature feature. I was instantly smitten, I even watched every promo that popped up between Instagram Stories, just to feel that flicker of excitement in my belly.
The second hook is that Jason Statham throughout the promos uttered the wonderful line “my God… it’s a Megalodon!” in every single one, without a knowing wink to the camera. This is a film that was played straight, just a bunch of every day marine scientists and deep sea divers caught up in a ferocious prehistoric attack. It’s a nice contrast to Sharknado or even Lake Placid, it feels brave to not embrace the schlock which would afford the easy ‘you’re not cool enough to get the joke’ get-out clause if the film tanked.
It would be easy to become complacent when you have a draw as big as a megalodon guaranteed to put bums on seats, but The Meg surpasses all expectations with lovingly thought out set pieces, giant future-tech underwater laboratories and, in the most memorable scene, vibrant blue sea peppered with pastel-clad beach goers.
Criticisms of The Meg lament the time spent building up character backstory, but are we that far gone as a species that we cannot sit through some family drama to make us actually care what happens once someone inevitably gets thrown into the sea with an apex predator? The surprisingly diverse cast have their own hopes and aspirations, differences of opinion that need to be pushed aside to face the embodiment of destruction, a true Man vs Beast story.
The Meg left me feeling so satisfied, that I could easily live out the rest of my life without ever watching another new shark movie ever again. Fin. — Robyn C.
The Commuter (2018) by Jaume Collet-Serra
When thinking back on the images that most stick with me from the past year of movies, I’m reminded of what is not quite the most poignant of the year, but is certainly one of the most potent: Liam Neeson grabbing the head of an electric guitar and slinging it into the head of a would-be assassin. When the bulk of the guitar shatters, he uses the broken, dangling strings as a whip to fend off his nemesis. He then flips him over a table and eventually out the broken window of a commuter train. And all of this happens in one long-take shot. Don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled The Commuter for you. Being able to spoil such a movie would mean being able to properly convey the depths of Neeson’s wrinkles, the joylessness of the demands imposed upon him, and the joy he still finds in regaining his zeal for life. And I can’t do that through writing.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra has always had a knack for conveying grief through his images — see The Shallows — but it is here, with a grizzled Liam Neeson conspiracy thriller, that he decides to focus on intangible grief. Michael (Neeson’s character in the movie), an ex-cop who became an insurance salesman when his family became more important than his work, suffers from the fatigue that can only be felt by those “let-go” from jobs that they mostly enjoyed, but now seem pointless. As Michael tells his boss as he is handed his lackluster severance plan, “I’m sixty-years of age.” Does losing his purpose in life make it easier for him to then find his true purpose? I’m not sure. But if you’re Liam Neeson, and your true purpose is to save the lives of many people in the midst of a major conspiracy, while smashing electric guitars and becoming the 21st Century Hercule Poirot we didn’t know we needed; then I would say yes, you have found your true purpose. — Reid Ramsey
Creed II (2018) by Steven Caple, Jr.
What struck the critical consensus about the 2015 film, Creed, is that while it respected the legacy and iconography of the Rocky series, it brought a certain element of tenderness and humanism not often found in Hollywood offshoots. The simple beauty of the relationship between Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson’s characters simultaneously calls back to the original Rocky, while being well executed enough to stand on its own right. While the emotional complexity of the original Creed, may not be as present in its sequel, Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II’s director) does a good job of continuing what was started by Coogler by following classic templates established by films in Rocky series in order to give our character’s emotional beats that pay off in ways that satisfy the viewer.
With Creed II being penned by Sylvester Stallone along with Cheo Hodari Coker, we see a lot of the legacy from the Rocky series work its way into the new mythology of Creed. Dolph Lundgren and Brigitte Nielsen reappraise their roles from Rocky IV, both appearing mostly as stoic statues and visions of the past for the viewers familiar with the mythology. The joy in this movie is found in the templates, the training montages, and all of the ego and pride at stake that comes with the territory of competitive sports movies. It’s all a familiar domain for Stallone and most of the viewers watching, but ultimately Creed II delivers on what it promises while interacting with the legacy of previous films before it.
The movie rings of a blockbuster of years past, one that’s marketed in most part to middle aged men in windbreakers, ones who showed up in droves to my screening. The comfort found in the familiarity of these characters is similar to the comfort people find in enjoying Marvel movies or other franchise films, but it’s just nice to see one with attention towards bringing out the humanity in its characters like the Creed series has proven to have done. — Malcolm Baum
Christopher Robin (2018) by Marc Forster
In my adult life, I’ve become attached to the character of Winnie the Pooh. Whether that’s a response to emotional trauma that I’ve dealt with over the last few years, a burst of childhood that I desperately needed or just because I love bears, I don’t know. But I’ve grown a strong attachment to the yellow buddy and his collection of oddball friends and feel protected when they’re on screen. It’s nice to believe that everything will and can be okay, even just for a few whimsical moments. Pooh’s stories have always been about taking you away from the realities of the universe and allowing you to become overwhelmed by pleasure, songs and honey. That’s taken to a newer level with this film, where the stories of Winnie become reflective, about a grown man struggling with the burdens of modern life being able to find solace in those stuffed animals that made him feel safe as a kid. The arc of the film is about Christopher learning to prioritize the people in his life over his work, about realizing that the purpose of life is one of family and joy and love, but more subtly, it’s about the nature of passing on stories and experiences to the next generation. Christopher’s had his time in the Hundred Acre Wood and he can always go back but his daughter can become the primary person there now, she can tell her own stories and make her own adventures and grow as a being like he once did. Stories are designed to be passed on, to be heard and told forever and the message of this truly wonderful film is that we need to keep telling the stories for those that are here when we’re gone. It’s so easy to let cynicism cloud everything especially with the horrors of the world becoming increasingly hard to not think about, but focusing on a silly yellow bear and his friends can make the day a little easier and give hope to a young child. Hell, even an adult like me. – Logan Kenny
Black Panther (2018) by Ryan Coogler
My favorite blockbuster of 2018 also happens to be the movie that made the most on the domestic front: Black Panther, Marvel’s cultural-phenomenon of a movie that managed to gross $1 billion in 4 weeks and spend 6 weeks at #1 in the box office. Black Panther is currently at $1.34 billion worldwide.
And, if you ask me, Black Panther deserves every cent. Anyone who knows me knows that I haven’t stopped talking about Black Panther since Feb. 16, 2018. The film was my most anticipated one of the year, and I have to admit that I was actually quite nervous when I went to see it. I didn’t think it was possible for the movie to live up to mind-boggling amount of hype surrounding it.
I knew this movie wouldn’t be a flop or be of poor quality. I just questioned whether it would be as successful as a lot of us wanted it to be.
Because Black Panther had a lot jobs to do at one time. It had to be an origin film for a not-particularly-well-known superhero; introduce audiences to the world of Wakanda; expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that made sense and didn’t detract from the overall arc of the franchise; and it had provide proper representation for both Black-American and African audiences (because they are most definitely not the same thing.) Although it feels like a sure thing now, Black Panther was actually a huge risk for director Ryan Coogler and the cast and crew.
I remember that, right before the movie came out, there were a lot of projections regarding how much the film was going to make in its opening weekend. I recall seeing a lot of “$100 million--$150 million” projections for the opening weekend, which, in hindsight, is mad low. I personally thought it would make somewhere around $200 million during its opening weekend, and I wasn’t that far off.
Thankfully, Black Panther rose past the occasion. Coogler and his crew were able to craft a stunning, intricate, culturally significant movie that raised the bar for Marvel movies and superhero movies in general.
Black Panther managed to be a superhero movie that touches on child neglect, imperialism, systemic racism, tradition vs. innovation, globalization and what it means to have to atone for your ancestors’ sins. The film created a fictional African country that pulls from actual surrounding African cultures while still being respectful and referential to those cultures. We got a portrayal of the disconnect many members of the African Diaspora feel to the home of their ancestors and how that disconnect can create the sense of being a stateless person. And we got to see four gorgeous, fierce women--all brown/dark- skinned--with separate values and roles in the story, and they all have agency; they prove that female characters can support a male character and still be interesting, complex and integral to the overall plot of the film.
And, thanks to Marvel’s big budget, Black Panther was able to convey all these messages in a way that is visually stunning and technically impressive. You can tell that great care and support went into making this movie.
Black Panther also introduced the world to the wonderfully talented Letitia Wright and Winston Duke, showed us just how slept on Danai Gurira is, and catapulted Michael B. Jordan into official “Hollywood Leading Man” territory.
Black Panther was an absolute gamer-changer for Marvel and the industry as a whole. It broke all sorts of records and made history (history like being the first movie to premiere in Saudi Arabia in 35 years.) The box office is just quantitative proof. — Courtney Anderson
Annihilation (2018) by Alex Garland
Like mother! last year, Paramount Pictures’s release of Annihilation was an extremely abnormal multiplex phenomenon. On the one hand, it’s a guns-blazing, sci-fi-infused jungle exploration film – a gender-swapped Predator of sorts – and on the other, it’s a slasher film in which the slasher is a Lovecraftian presence that picks off its victims one-by-one by mutating their DNA. Often combining bizarre practical effects with bizarre sound design, Annihilation features some of the strangest – and therefore scariest – sequences in any film last year. I’ll never quite be able to shake the lumbering deer-skull-bear creature with a roar that sounds like it contains a crying woman, nor will I ever forget the film’s final confrontation with fear – a balletic, wordless, and paralyzingly freaky sequence driven by a sinister, 5-note synth melody that sounds like it’s redning itself open from the inside out. Who allowed this madness to screen in every mall across America?
I was a little hard on the film when it first came out, citing its thin supporting characters, unnecessary flashbacks / frame story, and clunky dialogue as evidence that the movie fumbles the basics while even when it succeeds at its grander ambitions. As time has passed and I’ve had more time to reflect on the film, its flaws seem more minor while its ambitions seem more marvelous. Annihilation is a rare beast – the heady, ideas-driven blockbuster (the ideas of which have been best analyzed by Dan Olson) – but despite its admirable thematic weight, I find myself drawn back to the experience of watching it: the unnerving sounds and the prismatic imagery. Maybe this is a case of a movie’s afterglow blinding me to its actual shortcomings, but when I think about Annihilation, I think about the image above: it’s swirling, warped, disconcerting beauty pulling me back to the shimmer. – Andrew Swafford