Last year was a reality check for a studio system focused more on creating franchises and cinematic universes than making great movies.
Choosing the best films of the year is usually fraught with indecision, but 2017 was too easy. Christopher Nolan’s intense and masterfully shot Dunkirk delivered the kind of immersive, sensory experience sorely lacking in today’s blockbusters (especially if you saw it in an IMAX theatre). And Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was a visually magnificent and cerebral sequel – everything diehard fans of Ridley Scott’s classic hoped it would be.
Both were atypical event movies that celebrated artistic vision, narrative structure, and a passion for the craft of filmmaking – a rarity in a contemporary Hollywood preoccupied with reboots, remakes, and films that exist solely to set up a potential franchise or further an existing one.
The major studios’ obsession with world building over storytelling received a wake up call with the failure of Universal’s The Mummy. Conceived solely to launch a new ‘Dark Universe’ that would resurrect the studio’s classic monsters of yesteryear (the Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, et al), the Tom Cruise turkey was more a whimper than a big bang, and consequently consigned this fledgling universe to a black hole. That’s probably a good thing if it means we won’t have to suffer through more of Russell Crowe’s cockney Mr. Hyde, or Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man. (Although Bill Condon’s take on Bride of Frankenstein did sound promising, given the strength of his 1998 James Whale biopic, Gods and Monsters.)
On the superhero front, the DCEU finally received the critical approval that had long eluded it with Wonder Woman. But its tentpole title, Justice League, was a bigger letdown than anyone could have anticipated, leading Warner Bros. to finally announce a restructuring of the DC division moving forward. Note to execs: Recasting Batman and paying out Zack Snyder’s contract would be a good start.
Marvel, on the other hand, scored a double whammy with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. Guardians 2 was never going to be as good as the original, and wasn’t, but the third Thor was every bit the quirky and outrageous romp you’d expect from Taika Waititi. The studio’s practice of recruiting offbeat directors and giving them creative freedom continues to enrich the MCU; Ryan Coogler’s incoming Black Panther is already looking like another belter.
And the collective groan at the prospect of yet another Spider-Man reboot was silenced after Homecoming proved to be not only a triumphant comeback after those “Amazing” misfires, but also the best screen outing for the web-slinger since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.
It wasn’t all franchises and EUs in 2017, however.
Stephen King adaptations were back with a vengeance. IT arrived at precisely the right moment, capturing the vibe of Stranger Things (that King’s tale had partially inspired anyway) and its audience, which would explain how a film that wasn’t particularly scary (but still good) is now the highest grossing horror film to date. And after a 10-year wait, The Dark Tower movie finally appeared, albeit as a super-condensed remix of King’s epic saga that ultimately resembled bad fan fiction (another EU bites the dust).
The tail end of 2017 was rocked by the revelation that Hollywood was swarming with alleged sex pests, but it also delivered two of the best pictures of the year, as is customary with awards season just around the corner. You just had to venture into an arthouse to find them. Yorgos Lanthimos’s deliciously dark The Killing of a Sacred Deer invoked the spirit of Kubrick, and Luca Guadagnino’s sublime Call Me by Your Name served up a romantic feast with a Mediterranean flavour. Expect both to be duly acknowledged when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24.
GLOBAL BOX OFFICE TOP 10 FOR 2017
As at 8th December 2017. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is likely to shoot straight to No.1 before year’s end – The Force Awakens took $1.33 billion in 16 days!
- Beauty and the Beast (2017) – $1.26 billion
- The Fate of the Furious – $1.23b
- Despicable Me 3 – $1.03b
- Spider-Man: Homecoming – $879 million
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $863m
- Wolf Warrior 2 – $861m
- Thor: Ragnarok – $818m
- Wonder Woman – $817m
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – $794m
- IT – $694m