The summer movie season (which, for several years, has encompassed May through August) of 2016 has reached its conclusion with the arrival of the Labor Day weekend holiday frame. Many filmgoers who were disappointed with this summer’s batch of films have already turned their attention to the fall and its own (rather promising-looking) collection of awards season contenders and crowd-pleasing tentpoles. However, before we leave this summer fully behind and only visible in our rearview mirror, it’s time to take stock of not only the best of the best this season – but also the best of the worst.
Moviegoers by now no doubt know whether their favorite superhero movie this summer was of the Marvel or DC variety; whether they were a bigger fan of the season’s mainstream animated films (Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets) or more independent offerings (Sausage Party, Kubo and the Two Strings); what their favorite movie in every genre was (sci-fi, horror, comedy) and so forth. Hence, instead of running through our selections for the “Best/Worst Superhero Movie,” “Best/Worst Animated Feature,” and other categories along those lines, we’re going to try and mix things up a bit with how we recognize both the high-points and low-points of this year’s summer movie season.
Fair warning to those who are behind on their summer movie viewing: although we avoid dropping any major spoilers for the films listed here, there are MILD SPOILERS that simply had to be included, for the sake of the discussion. So, with that in mind, let’s dive into our 2016 Summer Movie Awards rundown.
Best Fight Sequence – Airport Battle, Captain America: Civil War
The summer 2016 movie season started off with a bang thanks to the release of Captain America: Civil War, a critical/commercial smash success – and the Marvel Studios movie that got Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe started on the right foot. By now, the buzz around the film has settled down enough for everyone to be able and have a more level-headed discussion of Civil War‘s strengths and flaws, too.
Nevertheless, there’s one aspect of the movie that remains all-but universally beloved: the “splash page” set piece that is the Leipzig airport-based showdown between members of #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan (rosters that include well-established Avengers and exciting MCU newcomers to boot). The Leipzig fight continues to impress simply because 1) It does a great job showcasing the different powers and capabilities of each individual superhero in the fight and 2) It allows the various superhero’s personalities to shine through, thus peppering the fisticuffs and explosions with some solid moments of character development.
Most people know what their favorites moments from this fight are (Spider-Man’s enthusiastic contributions, Giant-Man’s appearance, Sam and Bucky’s odd couple banter and so on), but it’s a great sequence all the same. One must also appreciate the lack of a world-ending portal anywhere in sight, after so many of this summer’s films relied on such a concept during their respective “big showdown” sequences.
Best Future Cult Hit – The Nice Guys
Sometimes movies just struggle to find a sizable audience in theaters, regardless of how good a general reception they earn from the film-loving masses (feel free to ask Dredd fans about that). The Lonely Island’s mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is one such 2016 release that struggled to attract anything beyond a niche audience at the box office, despite earning the favor of most critics and Edgar Wright, at that. However, since we are talking about the best future cult movie that failed to make significant waves this year, commercially-speaking, that prize is going to The Nice Guys.
Shane Black’s 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is practically the poster child for what qualifies as a cult hit film. As such, it should come as less of a surprise that The Nice Guys – a Black movie that contains many of the same elements as KKBB (crime-solving buddy duo, neo-Noir themes, pitch-dark comedy and so on) – is not only cut from the same cloth, but also didn’t do so hot at the box office either, despite earning acclaim aplenty. If Popstar ends up being remembered as 2016’s own This is Spinal Tap, then maybe film buffs will look back on Nice Guys as the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang of the year.
Best ‘Bad’ Movie That Deserves a Franchise – Warcraft
Warcraft the movie was derided by many critics and Warcraft/World of Warcraft players alike, even as other Warcraft fans defended it and many U.S. filmgoers… well, didn’t see it, as evidenced by the movie’s $47 million domestic box office gross. Even Warcraft co-writer/director Duncan Jones has confessed to feeling both “equally proud and furious” with how the theatrical cut of the high fantasy adventure game series-turned live-action/CGI tentpole turned out.
Despite all that, the film’s international box office take (particularly, that in China) has kept hopes alive that it will receive a sequel (or more) – something that the conclusion to the movie (heck, the entire movie) very much lays a foundation for. There are several reasons why Warcraft is deserving of a sequel too, despite being another “bad” video game movie in the eyes of many.
Longtime Warcraft fans would be more than happy to tell you that some of the best storylines and characters in the original games are those that come after the events depicted in the first movie. Moreover, after so much of the first installment was spent purely on world-building, a second Warcraft film would have more freedom to prioritize narrative development instead. As mentioned, the fate of the Warcraft cinematic property is up in the air for the time being, but if a sequel is ultimately green-lit then it won’t be taken as unwelcome news on our end.
Best Sidekick – Steven Seagull, The Shallows
Jaume Collet-Serra’s Blake Lively vs. Great White Shark flick The Shallows is a lean, mean, entertaining B-movie thriller and made for a nice alternative to the various big-budget extravaganzas that were released in theaters this summer. However, the surprise standout of the film is no doubt Lively’s “sidekick” (pictured above, center): a seagull that is stranded along with Lively’s character after both of them are injured by said hungry shark – and whom is affectionately dubbed “Steven Seagull” by Lively in the movie. The character is played for about “99 percent of the film” (according to Collet-Serra) by Sully, a real-life seagull with a permenant wing injury that prevents it from being able to fly.
While Wilson from Cast Away is the obvious point for comparison to Steven Seagull’s function in The Shallows‘ narrative, the latter (being an actual living being and all that) forms a proper dynamic with Lively’s character in the film and serves as more than just something for her to talk to while stranded away from shore. One might go so far as to argue that Steven Seagull even forms something of a personality through his interactions with Lively, which is all the more noteworthy when you remember that he is, after all, quite literally just an injured bird.
Honorable Mention: Holly March (Angourie Rice) from The Nice Guys deserves a shot-out here, for doing her part to crack the case in the film – and for making sure the movie’s “heroes” (including her dad, played by Ryan Gosling) do the right thing without killing one another, along the way.
Best Couple – Bebop & Rocksteady, TMNT: Out of the Shadows
Everyone has their preferred #RelationshipGoals and the movie/TV show characters who embody them. However, arguably no two characters in a Summer 2016 movie did that as well as human “errand boys”-turned mutant henchman Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly) in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
To be clear, Bebop and Rocksteady go beyond being BFFs. These two bros-for-life have their own shared catchphrase (“My Man!”) and are seemingly just happy to be in each other’s company no matter what they’re doing – be it battling giant ninja mutant turtles while tracking down extraterrestrial artifacts in remote jungles or chasing down a hockey stick-wielding vigilante at the command of their intimidating boss, The Shredder. Besides, how many couples are comfortable enough with one another to actively cheer each other for being as fat and slobbish as possible?
Bebop and Rocksteady are much like Out of the Shadows itself: your own nostalgic love (or lack thereof) for the big, goofy, 1980s TMNT cartoon TV series that inspired them will color your perception of how enjoyable (or not) the characters and the movie they’re in actually is. However, for us, there were no couple with a healthier relationship featured in a movie this summer.
Best Movie-Stealer – Jillian Holtzmann, Ghostbusters
There was many a great character introduced to the big screen in this year’s batch of summer movies, be they live-action (ex. Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War) or animated (ex. Hank the Octopus from Finding Dory) in nature. However, there was one character in particular who was good enough to all-but steal the entire movie they were in; namely, Jillian Holtzmann from Ghostbusters. The delightfully off-beat scientist, as brought to life by frequent Saturday Night Live standout Kate McKinnon, could perhaps be summarized as a cross between a silent film comedy character like Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp and Groucho Marx – but at the same time, 100% McKinnon.
However one felt about this year’s Ghostbusters reboot (and the majority of those who actually saw the film did enjoy it), everyone seems to agree that Holtzmann is one of the highlights and a standout in director Paul Feig’s paranormal comedy. Whether Holtzmann was cooking up shiny ghost-busting technology, kicking lots of supernatural butt during the action-packed finale or flirting with Kristen Wiig as Erin Gilbert (and yes, Feig has confirmed that she was flirting), there was nary a moment that she didn’t shine during the film. One only hopes that we get to see Holtzmann again, in some form or another.
Honorable Mention: The unhinged rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) easily stands out as the highlight among the many animal characters of The Secret Life of Pets. One can only imagine what sort of shenanigans Holtzmann and Snowball would get up to, were the pair of them to join forces. (There’s still the animated Ghostbusters movie – just saying.)
Best Post-Credits Scene – Everybody Wants Some!!
Mid-credits and/or end-credits sequences are common practice for superhero movies these days, be they of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Extended Universe and/or X-Men Cinematic Universe variety. These shared universe comic book movies credits scenes set up important characters and/or tease key developments from upcoming installments.
Outside of the superhero genre though, credit sequences typically take on the form of blooper reels or, on rare occasions, an epilogue or “bonus scene”. This year’s Ghostbusters, for instance, played a deftly-choreographed “cut scene” in the backdrop of its end credits for the viewing pleasure of those moviegoers who were still hanging around in the theater. And then you have Everybody Wants Some!!, writer/director Richard Linklater’s followup to the Oscar-winning Boyhood and the “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s 1990s cult hit, Dazed and Confused.
The film chronicles the antics of a Texas college baseball team over the course of the final few days of the summer before the fall semester begins… until the credits start rolling and the main characters all spend three minutes performing their own individual raps. It’s an unexpected end credits scene for certain, but given that Everybody Wants Some!! is something of an unorthodox creature (a funny and insightful character study disguised as a raunchy college comedy), perhaps it’s fitting that it wraps up on an equally unorthodox and memorable note. (For those who missed it in theaters, you can watch the Everybody Wants Some!! end credits scene HERE.)
Best Box Office Flop – The BFG
Nobody really bats an eye when a big-budget movie that earns a weak reception is also a bust at the box office – see this summer’s Ben-Hur remake, for example. However, it’s always disappointing when a generally well-regarded big-budget film struggles to attract the moviegoing masses, as happened this past July with Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl novel, The BFG.
Critics applauded The BFG for Mark Rylance’s stunning motion-capture performance (as the film’s namesake) and how it reshapes Dahl’s source material into a self-reflective work for Spielberg the aging storyteller. Filmgoers who did see The BFG generally enjoyed it (see the movie’s A- Cinemascore) and the worldwide turnout for the film was decent. However, between The BFG facing stronger-than-anticipated opening weekend competition (more on that later) and being sandwiched between Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets while vying for the same family demographic, in hindsight it’s really not a shock that Spielberg’s latest couldn’t even make back half of its $140 million budget at the U.S. box office.
There’s certainly a possibility that The BFG will be “rediscovered” in the future and live a long prosperous life on the home viewing market. If not, well, don’t worry, that Spielberg guy is probably going to be okay as far as his career and directing legacy is concerned.
Best Expected Flop That Wasn’t a Flop – The Legend of Tarzan
Expectations surrounding The Legend of Tarzan headed into the film’s theatrical release weren’t especially high – and with fair reason. Craig Brewer had spent some time developing the project with the intention of directing it (he’s credited as the film’s co-writer), before David Yates took over as director instead, some years later. The Tarzan reboot then went through additional production delays before it began filming, only for additional reports of behind the scenes concerns to emerge during post-production.
All things considered, Warner Bros. Pictures seemed to be setting itself up for another Pan-level failure with this particular attempt to re-imagine and revitalize a long-standing property on the big screen. However, while The Legend of Tarzan didn’t become a huge hit, it wasn’t at all a bomb, either. Audiences who saw it seemed to mostly enjoy it (see the film’s A- Cinemascore), while many critics gave it props for ambition – at the same time, taking it to task for being too big for its britches, in that same respect.
Legend of Tarzan also performed much better at the box office than expected, far eclipsing its opening weekend competitor The BFG and having nearly doubled its $180 million budget worldwide in theaters to date. It probably won’t be getting a sequel, but Legend of Tarzan is further proof that there’s no such thing as a sure thing (even in a bad sense), when it comes to the box office.
Best New Boogieman – The Blind Man, Don’t Breathe
There have been some great new boogiemen (or, in some cases, boogiwomen) featured in horror movies that debuted this summer. The Conjuring 2 introduced a demonic nun (whose true name we won’t spoil here) who left enough of an impression on studio heads to convince them to give the go-ahead to a spinoff film featuring the supernatural creature. Similarly, Diana of Lights Out was creepy enough to make everyone who watched the film extra wary of turning off the lights in their house (even in the middle of the day). It appears as though Diana will be returning too, now that a Lights Out sequel is reported to be in the works.
Even so, the title of Best New Boogieman this summer is instead being awarded to Stephen Lang’s nameless old veteran, a.k.a. The Blind Man, from Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe. The reasoning is straight-forward: 1) The Blind Man doesn’t need supernatural capabilities to terrorize his victims (unlike his competition) and 2) Also unlike other horror movie baddies this summer, The Blind Man is convinced that his actions are in the right – even after his logic takes him to some sick, twisted places (see those third act revelations in Don’t Breathe that have proven to be a divisive point for many people).
As for whether or not The Blind Man will also be returning in the future: without spoiling the ending to Don’t Breathe, horror fans should know by now that no matter what happens, you can never keep a good boogie-person down.
Best WTF Indie Film – The Lobster
Summer 2016 may have been a rougher one for big franchise movies, but it was a very good one for lower-budgeted and/or indie cinema (see: Everybody Wants Some!!, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Midnight Special, Hell or High Water and so on).
With that in mind: it would be easy – and not altogether uncalled for – to declare Swiss-Army Man as being the best off-kilter (or, to use our lingo, WTF) indie film offering of the summer. Not many films could manage to put together a funny and emotionally-resonant story about a suicidal man and his (literal) farting corpse of a companion, after all. However, for this category, we’re giving the prize to The Lobster instead.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ film takes place in a dystopian future where single people must either find a romantic partner in 45 days or be transformed into a non-human creature of their choice. Something of a cross between a Charlie Kaufman exercise in surrealism and a darkly comical parable that has a Wes Anderson-style quirky touch (complete with literary voiceover narration), The Lobster certainly isn’t a movie for everyone. However, there’s not been such a witty and well-crafted film in recent memory that found such a unique way to go about asking questions about the nature of monogamous relationships and what people are willing to do for love (or something that passes in the eyes of society for love).
Best Under-Appreciated Sequel – Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek Beyond certainly wasn’t ignored at the box office – it’s grossed $244 million worldwide to date – and it was well-received by both critics and general moviegoers, on the whole. At the same time, Beyond generated far less fanfare than one would expect for the Star Trek movie arriving in time to commemorate the franchise’s 50th anniversary.
Timing wasn’t exactly on the film’s side in some respects, as Beyond hit U.S. theaters on the same weekend as San Diego Comic-Con 2016 was taking place (and when it seemed like most people who were not following Comic-Con were at home watching Stranger Things instead). However, when all is said and done, Beyond director Justin Lin and his writers (Doug Jung and costar Simon Pegg) delivered what some would argue is the best installment yet in the Star Trek movie Kelvin timeline (read: rebooted continuity).
Beyond likewise strikes a nice balance between harkening back to the franchise’s history (recalling the feel of an Original Series episode) and delivering the sort of high-octane action and set pieces that the other rebooted Star Trek movies have become known for. The Star Trek franchise will continue to live with on with both the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV series and the announced Star Trek 4, so perhaps Trekkies at large will revisit Beyond sometime down the line and come to appreciate it as one of the better Star Trek films in general.
Best Ill-Conceived Sequel – Alice Through the Looking Glass
The 2016 movie season brought with it sequels of the smash-hit (Finding Dory), mixed success (X-Men: Apocalypse) and disappointing variety (Independence Day: Resurgence). However, out of the followups released over the past few months, Alice Through the Looking Glass is arguably the biggest head-scratcher.
Disney and director Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a huge hit at the box office in 2010, but the Mouse House failed to capitalize on that film’s success and get out a sequel in a timely fashion. Whereas Finding Dory‘s belated arrival allowed it to tap into the nostalgia for its predecessor (something Resurgence at least aspired to do), Through the Looking Glass was in the awkward position of arriving too early for fan nostalgia to kick in, but too late for it to capitalize on whatever momentum Alice in Wonderland had. Couple that with other factors (Johnny Depp’s diminishing box office appeal, changes in the blockbuster landscape over the past six years) and Disney’s decision to move forward with Through the Looking Glass comes off as all the more ill-conceived.
The sequel wasn’t a complete bust from an investment perspective thanks to its international box office turnout, but that’s not much of a silver lining. Through the Looking Glass‘ performances also raises doubts about next year’s Johnny Depp-led Disney sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, not least of all due to the parallels between the two (six years between installments, diminishing interest in the franchise, etc.). Will history repeat itself for the worse here?
Best Character Who Needs a Spinoff – Harley Quinn
Suicide Squad didn’t exactly win the DC Extended Universe many new hardcore fans, but it did leave pretty much everyone agreeing on one thing: Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is a great character who deserves her own movie. Dr. Quinn might not be a character who sets a good example, but she is one of the more multi-faceted and complicated women (people in general, for that matter) featured in a comic book film adaptation this summer. Whatever problems you might have with Harley and Joker’s (Jared Leto) relationship in the Suicide Squad film could (and should?) easily be addressed in a spinoff, too.
Although Suicide Squad has been successful enough at the box office to ensure that this isn’t the last time we’ll see the property included in the DCEU, its future remains somewhat up in the air. A Harley Quinn-focused DCEU movie that might also feature additional big-name female DC characters (namely, the Birds of Prey) is in some stage of development, but it’s possible Warner Bros. Pictures/DC will instead move forward next with Suicide Squad 2 – Harley Quinn once again being among the main characters. At the least, we should be getting more Harley Quinn, one way or another.
Honorable Mention: Captain America: Civil War‘s Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are great characters deserving of their own movies too… but of course, their “spinoffs” were announced before Civil War even hit theaters.
Best Month for Movies – August
August is typically the weakest month in the summer movie season (especially the latter half), due to studios “dumping” their less-buzzworthy films and/or those that have “bomb” written all over them in the transitionary period between the prime blockbuster season and the awards contender-loaded fall/wintertime. However, whereas years past have featured maybe one August “gem” at best (think Guardians of the Galaxy), arguably August 2016 was the best overall summer month for movies, as far as their artistic qualities and creative merits are concerned (the box office be damned).
Side-stepping Suicide Squad (readers no doubt know if they love, hate or have middling feelings about that movie by now), August brought with it quite the variety of critical darlings for cinephiles to choose from. Whether you were in the mood for an atmospheric Disney re-telling (Pete’s Dragon), a beautifully-animated Japanese cinema love letter (Kubo and the Two Strings), a uniquely philosophical R-Rated animated comedy (Sausage Party), a thoughtful neo-western drama (Hell or High Water), or a slick and inventive horror/thriller (Don’t Breathe), August offered some great options to choose from. Even the clear-cut genre film releases in August were some of the year’s better titles (see Blood Father, Florence Foster Jenkins), allowing Summer 2016 to go out on an unexpectedly strong note.
In fact, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if more than one this year’s August releases winds up gaining traction during the impending awards season too. Kubo and the Two Strings (and possibly also Sausage Party) is definitely a shoo-in for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar nod at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Not to mention, Pete’s Dragon should be recognized for something at the Oscars, if there’s any justice.
That’s it for us. If you have any special 2016 summer movie shout-outs or “awards” of your own, let us hear them in the comments section!