The fascination with superhero movies grows: half of the top ten grossing (U.S.) films of 2016 involved crusaders of one kind or another. Overall, last year’s SF/F/H film output brought some disappointments (e.g., Independence Day: Resurgence, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Suicide Squad (excepting the Joker and Harley Quinn)) and some silly yet fun fantasies (e.g. Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War), as well as some pleasant surprises (e.g. Ouija: Origin of Evil). Though advertisements championed The Witch as the next super-scary horror offering (and critics seemed to agree), the film doesn’t hold a candle next to the last two decades’ masterpieces (i.e. The Blair Witch Project, The Ring, Paranormal Activity). So we horror fans patiently await the next attempt.
With the exception of Arrival, SF/F/H films are absent among major categories in this year’s Oscar nominations. Typical. But… Suicide Squad was nominated, for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. That’s the Joker and Harley Quinn again.
So here you go: my picks for the best SF/F/H films of 2016:
#5: Don’t Breathe – Suspenseful and fast-moving. The victim, a muscular blind veteran, becomes the aggressor when three unwitting thieves break into his home for what they think will be an easy job. There’s something quite unsettling about the thieves’ would-be killer standing feet away and using his enhanced non-visual senses like a predatory animal. Full review.
#4: Dr. Strange – This superhero origin tale details neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange’s transformation from self-absorption to pursuit of a greater purpose. Great acting, strong visual effects (nominated for an Oscar in this category), and quite a bit of humour. Full review.
#3: Deadpool – Entertainment personified. You probably don’t want this superhero on your child’s lunchbox. The wise-cracking Deadpool breaks the fourth wall (i.e. he talks to the viewer), carries a Hello Kitty backpack, gets to his destinations via taxi, and never shuts up . . . and you don’t want him to. Fun (and funny) from start to finish. Like Ferris Bueller, with explosions. Full review.
#2: Arrival – This sci-fi drama does away with the explosions and the ridiculous dialogue of the typical alien invasion film. Instead, it’s a sophisticated exploration of language, perception of time, and human response to the unknown. Full review.
#1: 10 Cloverfield Lane – A play, a horror film, and a sci-fi mystery all rolled into one captivating package. So many great elements, the best of which is John Goodman’s portrayal of Howard. Are his intents in imprisoning the protagonist in his bunker malicious or altruistic? Even the kitchen table scene will have you completely absorbed. Full review.
There you have it: a blind killer, a jerk, a bigmouth, cryptic aliens, and an ineffable antagonist. Let’s see what 2017 brings. – Douglas J. Ogurek
See Douglas’s top five picks from 2015.