It’s Fourth of July weekend, and as such we have made it halfway through 2016 in what seems like the blink of an eye. Hopefully, your weekend plans include the requisite cookouts, pool parties, parades, fireworks, and off-time that define these few days each year. You deserve it. We also hope that you can find the time to watch any of the great films that have been released in 2016, if you haven’t yet seen them.
The first half of the year featured bona fide blockbusters, with two films passing the billion-dollar mark and at least one more coming extremely close. A certain R-Rated superhero shattered records in February. A slate of thoughtful animated films captured audience imaginations, and we also learned that live-action remakes of yesterday’s cartoons can be much more than just a gimmick.
Alongside the tentpole releases that have been characteristically lucrative, audiences were treated to a number of smaller films that each made a definitive mark on the year’s first six months. Low budget horror films had us sleeping with the lights on. Off-beat action comedies had us rolling in the aisles. One Coen Brothers keep delivering, and Colin Farrell makes a comeback. Out of fifteen films on the list, only three are true sequels. Only two others are recycled intellectual property.
2016 has been a good year for film-goers with tastes both broad and niche. Quality has come in many different shapes and sizes, and from sources both expected and not. Now is the time to revisit those films you may have missed before the year throws another six months full of must-see offerings your way. To help guide your way, here are Screen Rant’s 15 Favorite Movies of 2016 (So Far).
Some notes about the construction of this list. The rankings are based on Screen Rant’s reviews of films throughout the year. What you are about to read is essentially a cliff’s notes of which films we loved most, and how we rated them. In the event of ties (which of course were unavoidable), we appealed to review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes to decide which film would have a higher ranking based on critical reception. As we couldn’t review every film that came out this year, the list has three entries that never did get rated by our site; they are included instead based on overwhelming critical and audience responses, as well as an editorial consensus on our end. Got it? Then let’s get into it!
15. The Lobster
The Lobster is difficult to categorize, and maybe even more difficult to describe without spoiling the plot outright. Yorgos Lanthimos, who you may know as the director of Dogtooth, directed, co-wrote, and co-produced this film starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. The elevator pitch version of The Lobster goes something like this: Colin Farrell plays a man who is left by his wife. On top of that, Farrell’s character lives in a world where singles are given forty-five days to find a romantic partner. Those who fail to do so are turned into animals.
Obviously, more happens in the film, which is equal parts funny and thought-provoking. Critics have overwhelmingly praised The Lobster (90% on Rotten Tomatoes), and the film won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival. The satire at play is singularly sharp, the acting more than capable, and the direction is visionary. As a film that is somewhat difficult to crack, it stands in stark contrast to the bright and splashy franchise fare that defines so much of this season. Still, it is more than rewarding enough to merit inclusion on this list.
14. Eddie The Eagle
2016 is an Olympic year, which makes now as good a time as any to buy wholeheartedly into a feel-good sports story. Between the two obvious choices that meet that need – Race and Eddie the Eagle – we preferred the latter (despite it being a Winter Olympics film in a Summer Olympics year). Eddie The Eagle is the true tale of Eddie Edwards, who in 1988 became the first British ski jumper to compete in the winter games since 1929.
Like many underdogs in similar films, Eddie (played by Taron Egerton) is a walking embodiment of all the reasons he should not succeed. Because of his unusual outward appearance and lack of apparent talent, Eddie’s own country didn’t consider him “Olympic material” and dashed his dreams of competing in the games. So (as these things go), Eddie out-worked, outperformed, overcame. Formulaic? Sure. Cloyingly sweet? At times. But tonally, the film acknowledges those facts. It’s earnestness and lightness of heart beckoned audiences to ditch their cynicism and enjoy the ride; to allow themselves to be inspired.
Read our full review of Eddie The Eagle here.
13. Everybody Wants Some!!
Fans of another Richard Linklater film, Dazed and Confused, will know what to expect from Everybody Wants Some!! in many ways. Both are period comedies featuring immediately relatable characters and themes, despite many of us never actually experiencing the eras on screen. Both bring those time periods to life, through attention to detail and well-curated soundtracks. And both are perfect films for the summer.
Everybody Wants Some!! follows a college baseball team in 1980, as they navigate their new setting, new friends, new schedule, and new season. Like Dazed, it takes place over a few day period, weaving through parties and practices, quiet beats and raucous moments. Though the films aren’t directly related in any way, they share a heaping amount of emotional DNA with one another, and with other films in Linklater’s oeuvre – specifically, nostalgia for the anxiety inflicted by the threshold of adulthood. Everybody Wants Some!! didn’t find the same level exposure of Linklater’s last film, Boyhood. But we hope that over time, it will work its way toward cult-status, much like it’s spiritual predecessor.
The Screen Rant review of Keanu (3.5 stars) referred to the comedy as “a glorified feature-length Key and Peele skit”. While that might not have been chosen as a featured quote on the film’s Blu-Ray sleeve, trust that we didn’t mean it negatively. The comedic duo cracked up audiences with their eponymous Comedy Central sketch show for three years, before ending it last fall. Keanu, a farcical action comedy, was their first real offering after concluding their television run.
On its face, the film is about a pair of friends who try and track down their stolen cat by posing as drug dealers and infiltrating a gang. Really, it’s a parody of the “one-man-army” style of action movie that has found favor recently, starring actors like Liam Neeson, Jason Statham, Keanu Reeves, etc. Like their show, Keanu offers poignant explorations of race and culture to accompany the film’s parody elements. And like their show, the strength of the product comes from the natural chemistry between the two principles, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
Keanu was swept away at the box office, a result of its release coming between juggernaut bookends in The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War. Which is why we encourage you to revisit this hysterical film you most likely missed the first time around.
Keanu will be released on Blu-Ray August 12th. Read the Screen Rant review of the film here.
11. Green Room
Green Room is the latest film from Jeremy Saulnier, who directed the small but overwhelmingly well received 2013 thriller Blue Ruin. Green Room – as thrilling as its predecessor – follows a punk band that must escape a rock club after witnessing a murder perpetrated by neo-nazis. The film is claustrophobic, white-knuckle thrilling, and deserving of the praise that it has received thus far. It is also notable – unfortunately – as one of the last film performances of Anton Yelchin’s.
It’s sad that the film is getting some extra exposure from a sort of morbid rubbernecking. Still, whatever your reason for finally finding Green Room, you will be rewarded with a tight thriller that delivers all the shock and horror of the genre’s standard bearers alongside an uncommonly high quality of directing and acting. Yelchin delivers a good performance, and he is bolstered by co-stars Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, and a particularly villainous Patrick Stewart. We recommend circling back around to this thrilling film if you missed it the first time.
10. Hail, Caesar!
When Hail, Caesar! was released, Screen Rant called it “a funny and madcap, if unfocused, farcical salute to Golden Age Hollywood.” This is a pretty concise distillation of what to expect. Still – as with many of The Coen Brothers films – Hail, Caesar! is tough to summarize, in twelve words or twelve hundred. The film follows a studio fixer (Josh Brolin) in the golden age of Hollywood, who tries to solve the mysterious disappearance (kidnapping) of a major star (George Clooney).
The Coen Brothers often use tonal inconsistency to create intrigue; or, conversely, humor. Hail, Caesar! takes that concept to the next level, gleefully incorporating elements from classic Hollywood genres – grand musicals, film noir, slapstick comedy, costume dramas, and more. By combining those film elements with other historical Easter-eggs, the film does seem a little over stuffed at times. But like the best of the Coens’ filmography, unpacking the movie is always fun, never a chore.
We should also mention just how star-packed the film is, with turns from Ralph Fiennes, Jonah hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum, in addition to the previously mentioned Clooney and Brolin.
Read the full Screen Rant review of Hail, Caesar! here.
9. The Witch
The Witch follows the horrifying troubles of a 1630’s New England family that is beset on all sides by dark forces. The film – the directorial debut for Robert Eggers – is crafted very much in the tradition of psychological thrillers like The Shining, forgoing the cheap screams and jump scares that define less cerebral (but still plenty scary) entries in the genre. With a mere one-million-dollar budget, Eggers was able to use atmospherics and slow burning dread to sufficiently terrify audiences, to the tune of a $39-million-dollar haul at the box office.
As our review noted, the film painstakingly followed historical detail to create a world as realistic and lived in as it is surreal and eerie. The Witch’s characters speak in antiquated English, and the films production design brings the bleak, puritan setting to life. It is grimly beautiful filmmaking that is equally unsettling, and the lack of big budget scares allows the film to use the audience’s imagination against them. The film is one of the year’s best horror films, full stop. For fans of the genre, it is must see.
Read our full review of The Witch here.
8. The Nice Guys
Fans of Shane Black know that the writer/director enjoys playing with genre conventions, many of which he helped cement in the first place. The Nice Guys, much like Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, appears on the surface to be a by-the-numbers buddy-cop action comedy. Like Kiss Kiss, The Nice Guys wasted no time disabusing audiences of that notion.
The film stars Ryan Gosling as a broken down private eye who receives more parenting from his daughter than she receives from him. Russel Crow is the meaty tough-guy for hire, who despite 15 seconds of local news fame has amounted to very little in life. The two meet in the serendipitous fashion that is a signature of these films, and enter a forced alliance that eventually transforms into something more substantial.
The Nice Guys once again proved that Gosling is a true comedic talent, and that Shane Black’s writing abilities haven’t waned after three decades of film making. It is breezy and witty, but doesn’t skimp on heart and substance. As an added bonus, as of this writing The Nice Guys is still showing in theaters. See it now, if you haven’t yet.
Read our full review of The Nice Guys here.
8. The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring 2 rejoins Ed and Lorraine Warren, the protagonists of the first film in the franchise. This time, the year is 1977 and the two ghost hunters are pulled back into their dangerous field to investigate a high-profile haunting in London. It’s unclear whether the supernatural occurrences are a hoax, or the real deal – which the Warrens are in London to decide.
James Wan, the director of the original, also helmed the sequel. As our review stated, there was hardly any drop off in quality between the two films. In fact, the screenplay was in many ways tighter, while still expanding some of the plot points and themes left behind from the first Conjuring.
As scares go, The Conjuring 2 peppers its tense, dreary atmosphere with effectively shocking jump-scares, keeping viewers considerably disturbed throughout the bulk of the film. Some of the imagery of the film was even terrifying enough to warrant a sequel of its own – New Line is giving The Nun in The Conjuring 2 its own film.
If The Witch was a thoughtful, unsettling atmospheric horror film, The Conjuring 2 is its watch-through-your-fingers, jump-in-your-seat counterpart. But aside from delivering scares, the filmmaking and storytelling in the film was so good that The Conjuring 2 was one of only a handful films this year to garner a four-star review from Screen Rant.
Read our full review of The Conjuring 2 here.
Fans have been clamoring for a quality big screen Deadpool since… whatever this was. While the character is well loved – if not as mainstream as his Marvel cohorts – the handling of Deadpool on film presented unique challenges. Even if Ryan Reynolds was the perfect choice for Deadpool’s hilariously psychotic persona (he was), the film still had to perfectly balance a superhero tone with R-rated subject matter and true comedy with a truly dark origin story, all while servicing legions of dedicated fans without alienating newcomers to the brand. It worked.
Here are the film’s achievements: biggest opening weekend for an R-Rated film, biggest opening weekend for 20th century fox, biggest February opening, biggest X-Men opening, highest grossing R-Rated film of all time, and fifteen or so more box-office records. Despite its rating, despite not being released in China, and despite Deadpool’s place as largely an unknown quantity to casual comic fans, the film grossed $780 Million against a budget of $58 million, which is good news for the studio but even better news for us: more Deadpool films are coming.
Read our full review of Deadpool here.
5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Cloverfield might not have rated on a hypothetical list of films that deserved an expanded universe, but 10 Cloverfield Lane did not disappoint. The 2016 film isn’t much of a sequel to the first film, more of parallel story; an entry into a Cloverfield anthology, rather than trilogy. Whatever the film was – and that took a while to figure out – it was very good.
10 Cloverfield Lane is not a monster story, or an alien story despite taking place in that universe. Instead, it is the story of a girl who crashes her car, only to wake up in the bomb shelter of a bizarre caretaker who will not under any circumstances let her leave, because of an alleged chemical outbreak.
We really don’t want to go in to greater detail, because the core mystery is the film’s crowning achievement. The ground is constantly shifting. What the audience knows to be true is all the sudden false, and vice versa. The whole thing is driven by fantastic acting performance, most notably John Goodman who made our skin crawl as the owner (ruler) of the bomb shelter.
Read our full review of 10 Cloverfield Lane here.
4. Captain America: Civil War
It’s hard to imagine there are many Screen Rant readers who haven’t seen Civil War, so we will keep the recap brief. The Avengers are fighting amongst themselves, a result of their destructive actions in earlier films. Battle lines are drawn, conflict ensues. That’s very much the whole movie, leaving out the thrilling and creative action sequences, typically hilarious character beats, and a few plot-twisty revelations which we won’t spoil here.
Civil War exemplified what is great about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, drawing viewers into a very real and dramatic conflict without sacrificing the bright and funny elements that make us want to spend nearly three hours with those characters in the first place. As we saw with at least one other disappointing superhero film this year, that tonal balance is difficult to maintain. The film showed us that superhero stories can be just as compelling without the world hanging in the balance, and it featured a number of entries in to the pantheon of MCU action sequences. Oh, and Spiderman was there – and for the first time in a long time, he was awesome!
Read our full review of Captain America: Civil War here.
3. Finding Dory
Alongside anticipation for Finding Dory, there was a nagging apprehension toward another sequel from a studio that hadn’t handled such things perfectly in the past. Pixar, which has entered so many standalone films into the animated pantheon, also swung and missed on Cars 2 and swung and found only modest success with Monsters University. So you could be forgiven for feeling uneasy about revisiting the beloved Finding Nemo 13 years after its release.
Finding Dory easily put any doubts to rest in it its opening weekend, as it stormed through the box office and received nearly universal praise from critics. Screen Rant gave the film four stars out of five, focusing our review on the film’s success as an individual story in addition to its worthiness as a sequel.
Finding Dory allowed for more exploration and development of characters that we already loved, and were happy to be revisiting. The film didn’t stop there; we also met wonderful new characters like Ed O’Neill’s Hank the Octopus, or a pair of Sea Lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West (a Wire reunion in Finding Dory, of all places?). Circling back to our review of the film, Finding Dory transcends the territory of quality sequels, instead standing alongside classic Pixar films on its own merit entirely.
Read our full review of Finding Dory here.
Walt Disney Animation Studios continued its recent run of huge success (Frozen, Big Hero 6) with Zootopia, a film that passed the billion-dollar mark at the box office and enjoyed almost universal acclaim. Starring Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin, the film takes place in a universe where animals have evolved beyond predator and prey dynamics, becoming fully civilized anthropomorphists. That is to say, they live together and do people stuff.
Like the best animated films, Zootopia succeeds on many levels. The animation itself is gorgeous; the color palate of the film is vibrant, and the universe Zootopia presents is clever and fully realized. The film’s engaging characters and brisk pacing kept kids enthralled while adults could enjoy a truly intriguing plotline and thematic substance.
Some “kid’s movies” keep the parents in the audience happy by weaving in pop-culture references, double entendre, or winking parody elements. Zootopia goes another direction, creating a rich world that mirrors ours in important and relatable ways. Much like last year’s Inside Out, Zootopia is a film that – despite being animated – is truly for everyone.
Read our full review of Zootopia here.
Honorable Mention: Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition
While the theatrical run of Batman V Superman didn’t quite make the cut for this list, the Ultimate Edition earns it an honorable mention. The version of the film now available to buy is clearly the definitive version of the film, fleshing out subplots and including vital scenes we couldn’t quite believe were missing from the original. Lex Luthor gets a little more delightfully crazy, Lois Lane shows off more of her investigative journalism skills, and we get to spend a little bit more time with both Batman and Superman before their showdown. Crucially, it also features the “communion” scene, setting up the upcoming Justice League movie’s primary antagonist. It may be a big investment of time (about three hours), but Ultimate Edition improves the source material just enough to give it a second look.
1. The Jungle Book
Only one film this year received 4.5 stars from Screen Rant. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Civil War, or Finding Dory, despite our anticipation for those films and their quality. Instead, it was The Jungle Book – Disney’s live action rendering of its fifty-year-old animated film.
The Jungle Book is the most recent live action remake for Disney; they previously remade Cinderella and are currently working on Beauty and The Beast. Without a doubt, The Jungle Book is the biggest success the studio has had with this model so far. Breathtaking visuals, fantastic voice casting, heartwarming moments and one very capable performance by a young actor had critics and audiences universally praising the film.
A note about those visuals – the rendering of characters like Shere Kahn, Baloo, and Bagheera is lifelike enough to create a sense of a complete reality but animated just enough for the characters to still be characters. You never feel like you are watching Homeward Bound, but the animals you see on screen are lifelike enough to illicit real wonder. The Jungle Book was something of a surprise hit for Disney (at least in terms of just how huge it was), but we can see why. The film was an achievement in every way.
Read our full review of The Jungle Book here.