I’m just going to level with you guys. I feel like we’ve built up some trust over the last three years of podcasting and I like almost all of you. So here’s the thing: 2015 was one of the best years in film history…2016 is not. Yeah, there are always surprises every year and yeah, the back half of 2016 is much better than the first six months. But still. I’ve been making this list for the last five years or so (I always break it into two parts, with the second set coming in late June) and never have I struggled so mightily to find films to fill out the rankings.
2015 was a year full of fresh ideas, highly anticipated blockbusters, and strong independent films. 2016 is a dumping ground for needless sequels, bad franchise films, and underwhelming biopics. You guys pumped for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the World of Warcraft movie (I’m not joking), or Oliver Stone ranting like a mad man with Snowden? What about Zoolander 2 (BE HONEST!!!), The Huntsman 2, or a movie about a Brit who competed as an Olympic ice jumper? Me either. 2015 was that incredible trip to Disney World your family took when you were just the right age to love Disney World and money was no object. 2016 is that weekend trip to the lake where it becomes clear that your family is still paying for the aforementioned trip to Disney World and you just feign excitement because your know your parents are trying hard. So that’s what we’re dealing with here, friends. I worked hard to find 10 movies and I stand by at least four of them.
Before we move on, a word about Batman v Superman. I know there are plenty of people who are stoked about this movie. I am not one of them. I am the exact opposite of one of them. I fully expect Batman v Superman to be horrible. I hate Zach Snyder, I think the casting is atrocious, and the general tone/look of the film (which is really all you can gather from a trailer) makes me cringe. I’d love to be wrong. I love Batman and I’d like for Superman to be interesting. But until proven otherwise, I’m anticipating a dreadful movie that will disappoint all but the most fervent Snyder Truthers. Therefore, you will not see that film on this list.
(Final note: If I’m being totally honest, I think I’m most looking forward to Now You See Me 2 because that first film has been a driving force behind the podcast since the early days and I so look forward to tearing it apart with my cohorts. But that goes against the spirit of this list so I left it out. Please be just as bad as I think you will be, NYSM2.)
Zootopia (March 4) – Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
The concept of a Disney animated murder mystery isn’t bad at all and I like the voice talent assembled here. The problem comes up in the most recent trailer where I feel like you can see the struggle to make the concept relatable (read: “not scarring”) to kids and interesting to adults. I’m much more excited about Disney’s other animated film, Moana, which debuts in November.
10. Midnight Special (March 18) – Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst
Every year, there’s a film that makes my list due to my affinity for a given director or actor that turns out horribly. Midnight Special has been voted “Most Likely to Disappoint” from this class but I can’t help myself because I love director Jeff Nichols. Taking Shelter is a unique, excellent film and Mud was my number one film of 2013. This one looks…weird, let’s say. I would very much like for this to be good. Please be good.
9. Free State of Jones (May 13) – Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell
I had this higher on my list until the trailer dropped last week. Now it just seems like The Patriot for the Civil War. Which is fine, I guess, but the excitement of McConaughey (yay!) plus the Civil War (yay?) has been lessened. Also, can I just say that even though he’s been on an amazing run and I’ve become a huge fan, it’s still a little weird to be excited about a McConaughey movie? I assume I’ll get adjusted eventually.
8. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (March 4) – Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman
This entry basically just boils down to, “I like Tina Fey.” The trailer is humorous if not “funny” and it’s definitely a different kind of role for Fey, which is good. Of greater, interest, though is the career path of the directorial team, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. They made one of my favorite films of 2011 (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and one of the most ho-hum movies of 2015 (Focus). So with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, we might get a good feeling for what to expect from them moving forward.
7. Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24) – Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Joey King
The fact that this movie made it this far up the list really shows the weakness of 2016. I’ve been fairly anti-Independence Day sequel since Roland Emmerich started talking about it a few years back and I still don’t see how you make this movie without Will Smith. But darnit if this stupid trailer hasn’t grown on me. Someone help me.
6. Finding Dory (June 17) – Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Idris Elba
Pixar just came off of perhaps their best year ever so I’m okay with them going back to the familiar well a bit over their next few films. Finding Nemo isn’t my favorite of their films but it is quite popular and I do think there’s a decent story to explore here. I don’t expect Inside Out but I also don’t expect Cars 2.
5. Deadpool (February 12) – Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, TJ Miller
I quite honestly have no idea what to expect from Deadpool. He’s a great character, I think he COULD be part of a great anti-superhero movie, and I actually think Reynolds is the right guy to play him. But make no mistake, this is a risky production and it’s probably Reynolds’ last chance at leading a big budget movie. I feel like there’s a slight hint of desperation in these trailers and that makes me nervous. But if it’s done right, fanboys will have a blast.
4. The Jungle Book (April 15) – Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
The animated Jungle Book is one of my all-time favorites and while it’s received the live action treatment in the past (1993) and will again in the future (2017), I feel like this one is the most likely to get it right. Jon Favreau knows how to make a blockbuster (Cowboys and Aliens aside) and the effects look INCREDIBLE. Oh, and also, Bill Murray singing “The Bear Necessities.” I didn’t know I needed that in my life but now I need it desperately. (This honestly might be the first movie on this list that I’m actually, truly excited about. This makes me sad.)
3. X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27) – Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence
I feel like Apocalypse is getting lost in the superhero shuffle which is a real shame because the last two X-Men movies were outstanding and the franchise is in extremely capable hands. Apocalypse is a great adversary, too, and adding Oscar Isaac to anything makes it instantly better (see: Star Wars). There’s a world in which this movie turns out better than Civil War (see below).
2. Hail, Caesar! (February 5) – George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson
I’ve never been more confused by a movie than I am by Hail, Caesar! and I know I’m not alone in that. We’ve talked about it plenty on the podcast. It has an impeccable pedigree: Between the Coen Brothers writing and directing, a superb cast, and a fantastic setting, this movie should be the front runner for Best Picture. And yet…it comes out February 5th. I can’t remember the last time a good movie came out before the previous year’s Academy Awards, let alone a GREAT movie. So either the trailer is a lie and this is the occasional Coen Flop or the studio is hanging everyone involved out to dry in a major way.
1. Captain America: Civil War (May 6) – Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
At the outset of Marvel’s Phase One, if you would’ve told me Captain America would be the most interesting character of the core Avengers, I would’ve actually physically fought you. How in the world could plain old Cap become a better character than Tony Stark or Thor or The Hulk or Hawkeye (just kidding about that last one)? But it’s totally true. The Russo Brothers took the strong foundation laid out in The First Avenger and added in a timely, exciting storyline and some fantastic action sequences in The Winter Soldier to create maybe the best standalone in the MCU. Now they get to jump into Civil War, widely regarded as one of the better comic book series, and I think we’ve been every reason to expect a great film. This is basically the exact opposite of what I see in Batman v Superman.