May 23

2015: The Year Big Movies Finally Stopped Sucking


Blockbusters are supposed to be bad. Popcorn flicks? Empty-calories. But from Star Wars to Mad Max, Inside Out to The Martian, it’s the year big movies were actually good.

Overnight, the entire galaxy crowded movie theatersless far, far away than in their local mallsto screen what is pegged to be the record-breaking opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Its unclear how quickly its box-office total will surpass that of the current 2015 top-earner, Jurassic World. But as one super old little green sage once said, Do. Or do not. There is no try. That The Force Awakens is going to be the highest-grossing movie of the year, if not all time, is a certainty.

What a great pleasure it is that a film as highly anticipated as The Force Awakens isnt a letdown.

This is no surprise, of course. A brand spanking new entry in the Star Wars franchise was always going to make money.

Plus, as the industry likes to think, moviegoers are basically drones, programmed to march en masse to any film featuring loud whizzes, bangs, and special effects. A new Star Wars is the shiniest beacon of all in that regard.

But heres the cool thing: The Force Awakens is actually good. In fact, its great. Not just good for a blockbuster, but a just-plain-good movie. Yes, the critical force is strong with this one.

As it stands, The Force Awakens is rocking a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95 percent. (Though, to be clear, not everyone is belting Wookie cries of praise for it.)

That 95 score makes The Force Awakens better reviewed on the site than major Oscar contenders like Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Steve Jobs, Trumbo, Joy, and The Revenant.

And its not the only box-office juggernaut to be that good. In fact, this might be the best year for big movies in a long time.

Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, Creed, The Martian, Mission: ImpossibleRogue Nation, Straight Outta Compton, Spy, Trainwreck: these movies were what has become a rare combination but were out in full force this year, films that made gobs of cash but were also, you know, good.

These were films that used special effects in pursuit of telling a transformative story, and that seized cinematic ambition in pursuit of elevating the genre rather than just showing off. They were smart. Entertaining. Thrilling. They were Big Movies. And they were great!

There was a time when popcorn flick was critical poison. Blockbuster was a dirty word.

The aggressive, oppressive, and, ultimately, exploitative baiting of movie fans to cineplexes with big-budget movies with small payoffsCGI porn with no creative arousal or emotional climaxsullied the name of a genre that was supposed to be a major part of what cinema was all about.

Movies like The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, and, yes, Star Wars were cinematic passports transporting us to other worlds and other lives, stirring our souls along the way.

As pundits weigh the Oscar chances of The Force Awakens and fellow blockbusters like Mad Max, The Martian, Inside Out, and Creed, its worth noting that all of those films listed above received Best Picture nominations when they were released decades ago.

But somewhere along the line, the genre, the popcorn flick, lost respect.

At some point after Battlefield Earth crash-landed into Waterworld, the cacophonous special-effects orgy Transformers replicated itself four times, Spider-Man had its 14th reboot, Krakens were released in headache-inducing shoddy 3D, and Superman became moodier and angstier than the teenagers forking over dads credit card to see him, we arrived at a conclusion. Blockbusters didnt have to be good to earn our money.

Everything, of course, has its peak, and that includes crappy action flicks.

The fawning over Christopher Nolan (at least pre-Interstellar), the cheering of Avatars grandness, the remarkable rejuvenation of the Fast and Furious franchise, the spectacle of Gravity, and Marvels great efforts to not be completely lazy in its filmmaking (Age of Ultron notwithstanding) in recent years speak to that.

Were not saying that 2015 has been a flawless years for blockbusters, either.

Jurassic World, though as entertaining as a movie in which Chris Pratt being chased on a motorcycle by a gang of raptors suggests, lacked the terrifying intensity of the franchises original (though it was Citizen Kane compared to the other Jurassic sequels). Avengers: Age of Ultron nearly squandered the creative goodwill its predecessor bought the Marvel universe, The Hunger Games finale whimpered to its conclusion, and Spectre was a spectacle of hot-mess filmmaking.

But they are outliers in what was a banner year when it comes to the quality of movies that people actually saw.

To make an even more convincing point of this being a standout year in that trendthe return of the blockbusterlets compare 2015 directly to last year. Operating under the assumption that The Force Awakens will end up being one of the Top 10 highest-grossing releases of the year (a safe assumption, we think), we averaged the Rotten Tomatoes scores of last years Top 10 films and compared them to the average score for this years.

The average score for 2014which included American Sniper, MockingjayPart 1, Transformer: Age of Extinction, Maleficent, and Guardians of the Galaxy in the Top 10was 72. The average score for 2015with a Top 10 including Star Wars, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Furious 7, and The Martianis 81.5

Thats nearly 10 points higher. Thats a huge increase.

But thats just a metric, and one that people could arguably dispute. Its more fun to just talk anecdotally.

What a great pleasure it is that a film as highly anticipated as The Force Awakens isnt a letdown. And what a great surprise that Mad Max: Fury Road stormed the summer with such stunning feminist dystopian badassery, was so impressively executed, and packed such an emotional wallop that its in hot pursuit of the Best Picture Oscar nod it so richly deserves.

Who knew that stranding Matt Damon on Mars could be so entertaining? Or that Tom Cruise still had as much action-star steeliness as he did in the latest ambitious Mission: Impossible installment?

Creed was so goodwe laughed, we cried, we cheered, we went to the gym once right after we were so inspiredthat all of the Creed Is a Knockout! headlines are forgiven. Inside Out was so much smarter, so much richer, and so much more inventive than any animated film is expected to be.

You know what else was more thoughtful, more poignant, and more thrilling than it was expected to be? Cinderella. And Ant-Man. And Kingsman: The Secret Service.

If a Best Picture of the Year is supposed to reward the film that was the most enjoyable to watch, then sew up the race for Spy. I briefly had abs from laughing so hard at Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne.

And good on you, America, for spending some dough on culturally essential films like Trainwreck and Straight Outta Compton. Hey, Hollywood: Yes, women can be funny and audiences will go see a black film. We even spent our money to prove it!

Especially at this time of year, when commercials, entertainment publications, and cinephile co-workers assault us with endorsements for award-season hopefuls, the dated narrative tends to be that small, arthouse films are the only truly good movies. Those blockbusters that the country actually saw? Drivel.

I hate that.

For all the damn commercials you saw for Carol in the week leading up to its release and the glut of glowing coverage splattered across every news outlet, it opened in four theaters. Most of America couldnt have seen Cate Blanchett make sweet lesbian love to Rooney Mara if they bought a plane ticket and tried.

Im all for supporting smaller films. Im all for supporting good indie films. But, mostly, Im all for supporting good films, in general.

Why should the fact that a lot of money was spent on a movie, or that a lot of people are going to see it, be a liability? Shouldnt the standard be universal, whether a movie has a $200 million budget and a 3,500-screen release or if it was shot on an iPhone starring two unknown trans actresses (Tangerine is really good, folks)?

Shouldnt the criteria be the same: Did this move me? Did it transport me? Was it good?

And, most importantly, shouldnt we be cheering the fact that finally the movies that are available for all of us to seethat we are seeingare just that? Theyre good. The blockbuster force awakens.


entertainment, Entertainment-Movies, Film, Google, Inside Out, Mad Max, Mad Max Fury Road, Star Wars, Star Wars The Force Awakens

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