2016 will probably be looked back on as a year most people would rather forget. A seemingly never-ending list of high-profile celebrity deaths and a bitter presidential campaign mean that few people will regard the year as a high-point for popular culture.
However, despite some ups and downs in the box office, it’s been a pretty good year for movies overall. Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Zootopia A.K.A Zootropolis, and Doctor Strange all lived up to their expectations, with the latter set to exceed them when it finishes its run. And more importantly, there were plenty that were much better than expected. While some movies on this list didn’t perform well enough to be considered a box-office success, they did exceed overall expectations in term of quality.
While we all make assumptions about movies before they come out, some pleasantly surprise us. That being said, here’s 15 Amazing 2016 Movies Everyone Thought Would Suck.
16 Angry Birds
Why it should have sucked: Video game to movie adaptations have had a rough time with critics and audiences. While some, like Tomb Raider, make plenty of money, there’s plenty that have been outright failures along the lines of Super Mario Brothers. So, when it came to the release of Angry Birds, many assumed that it wouldn’t be so great - especially as the games have now passed their peak in terms of popularity.
Why it was better than expected: Angry Birds isn’t great, but it’s not bad either. In fact, it’s much better than a movie based on an app has any right to be. Some off-colour jokes and shifts in tone aside, it’s an entertaining enough movie that does well to expand the source material into a coherent story. While it lacks the sophistication of a Pixar movie, it does attempt to entertain parents as much as kids. Possibly the biggest complaint is the waste of the voice cast talents, both Josh Gadd and Jason Sudeikis could do far more if given a slightly more polished script.
15 Pete’s Dragon
Why it should have sucked: Despite two Academy Award nominations, the original isn’t exactly a beloved classic. And while it may look dated to today’s kids, it isn’t a movie that people were begging to see remade.
Despite an impressive cast including Robert Redford, Karl Urban, and Bryce Dallas Howard, early hype for the new movie was muted at best, with many feeling that the movie was going to be overlooked in an overly saturated summer season.
Why it was better than expected: While Pete’s Dragon turned a small profit, it’s fair to say it wasn’t a box-office hit. However, it did exceed most critical expectations and an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes shows that the movie was something of a hit with critics, even if families chose to wait for the DVD. Pete’s Dragon aimed for the same kind of emotional connection to its audience as E.T or The Iron Giant, the relatable boy connecting with the other-worldly being, but it didn’t quite manage the same kind of recognition. However, unlike the original - which was seen as a poor attempt to re-create the magic of Mary Poppins - the 2016 Pete’s Dragon was a fresh re-imagining which was loved by audiences. Had it come out at any other time than during a deeply over-stuffed summer, it might have been a far bigger hit.
14 Florence Foster Jenkins
Why it should have sucked: On paper, Florence Foster Jenkins is just another Meryl Streep movie where she makes a play for yet another Oscar helmed by inconsistent director Stephen Frears. It also stars Hugh Grant, who is easily past his peak in terms of performances and popularity, The Re-Write notwithstanding.
Why it didn’t: It could have easily been a comedy that took many cheap shots at a rich woman who wanted to be a star, despite having no talent whatsoever. Essentially, it's a movie version of American Idol with the guy who plays Howard on The Big Bang Theory. As it turns out, it’s anything but mean-spirited. It’s a touching movie that, while unlikely to generate much in the way of Oscar glory, does capture Hugh Grant’s best performance in years and shows that with the right material, he’s as good as ever.
While Meryl Streep’s performance is solid, her on-screen relationship with Hugh Grant as her husband is the core of the movie. Director Stephen Frears manages to guide each scene with a delicate hand, almost matching his better work on movies such as The Queen.
Why it should have sucked: Ghostbusters is a movie that few fans wanted to see be made. The beloved original remains one of the funniest films ever made and is generally considered to be Bill Murry’s finest moment. Both Murry, Dan Aykroyd, and the late Harold Ramis were all at the peak of their careers and the resulting movie was a flawless classic. The weaker sequel notwithstanding, Ghostbusters had a legacy that people didn’t want to see tainted.
Why it didn’t: While far from a massive hit with critics or fans, the 2016 version of Ghostbusters wasn’t nearly as terrible as people had feared. The much-maligned all-female cast worked better than anyone expected and managed to avoid too many comparisons to the original cast.
While the special effects looked like they’d come from a Scooby Doo movie, and a few jokes died more horrible deaths that the ghosts themselves, Ghostbusters did manage to deliver a movie that wasn’t terrible. Which, considering how much people criticized it before production even started, was an achievement in itself.
12 Swiss Army Man
Why it should have sucked: Swiss Army Man was the most walked-out of movie at Sundance and featured Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse. Seemingly, it was a movie that was going to try to make it simply by being overly weird, with little to hold the story together besides a series of toilet-humour jokes and Radcliffe’s enduring, if puzzling, popularity.
Why it didn’t: Despite the hipster-bait premise, Swiss Army Man is a surprisingly sweet take on the absurdity of the human condition. While Paul Dano is good as the marooned man who finds an animated corpse, it’s Daniel Radcliffe (wisely choosing parts to distance himself from Harry Potter) who shines in a role that paints him in as unflattering a light as possible.
While probably too much for mainstream audiences looking for a Harry Potter-style performance from Radcliffe, it’s a far better movie than the premise suggests despite, or even because of, the numerous fart-jokes.
11 Star Trek Beyond
Why it should have sucked: Director of the two-previous instalments JJ Abrams pulled out of directing the third outing since the 2009 re-boot of the series and was replaced by Fast and Furious director Justin Lin. Most of the trailers focused on the action and everything pointed to Star Trek Beyond being less-character driven than previous instalments. With much of Star Trek’s legacy being built on cerebral sci-fi over space battles, hopes weren’t high.
Why it didn’t: What we ended up with was a movie that understood Star Trek far better than the previous instalment Into Darkness did. Written by Simon “Scotty” Pegg, the movie felt more like a feature length episode of the original series, which is a very good thing as it took time to give each member of the crew something to do as well as allowing previously underused characters like Chekov more to do.
While Star Trek Beyond failed to make as bigger splash at the box-office as expected, it didn’t exactly flop either. But, it was the finished movie that defied the odds. Far better than anyone expected given the rushed production and an untested sci-fi director, Star Trek Beyond is easily one of the high-points of the series and proved that sci-fi can be both smart and fun.
10 Lights Out
Why it should have sucked: Beyond the bland basic premise that people are afraid of the dark, Lights Out had a tiny budget and was helmed by a director who had only made short-films previously. Nobody expected it to be a movie that would even generate a spark of interest despite the decent cast.
Why it didn’t: Yes, the basic premise of fear of the dark has been done to death, but Lights Out manages to make it seem fresh as well as dragging every ounce of suspense from the idea. The cast, Maria Bello and Theresa Palmer in particular, pull out some of the performances of their careers and the direction is so good you’d be forgiven for thinking it was helmed by a seasoned veteran of the genre.
The movie is an unashamed genre-flick, but also manages to subvert some expectations of the genre in some surprisingly clever ways. While only 81 minutes long, nothing feels especially rushed, but it isn’t drawn-out either. The movie is as long as it needs to be and not a second too long or two short.
Fine direction, great performances, and a surprise at the box-office makes Lights Out a movie that exceeded all expectations.
9 Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising
Why it should have sucked: Comedy sequels rarely live up to their predecessor. Relatively low-concept ones generally bomb. And one that aims to re-hash the original with minimal changes, usually to diminishing effects, well that’s doomed to failure…
Why it didn’t: Surprisingly, Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising is, in many ways, much funnier than its predecessor. Like 22 Jump Street before it, Neighbours 2 admits that it has a weak concept right from the start and makes no apology for itself. It’s the clever feminist angle of girls gone bad that makes the film feel fresh, even if it’s essentially the same story as the first time around.
Zac Effron is more relaxed than he’s been on camera for quite some time and seems to be more at ease with himself, making his performance much more engaging than the first time around. But it’s Chloe Grace Moretz that utterly steals the movie with her unique ability to subvert all expectations. Her hard-partying performance is a subtle jab at fraternity culture without making the movie ever seem preachy.
While there’s an element of seen it all before here, there are some of the best one-liners of the year, so it’s a movie that’s worth catching if you haven’t already.
8 Ouija 2
Why it should have sucked: The previous instalment, 2014’s Ouija has a pretty terrible 7% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite this, it took an impressive $100 million against a $5 million budget making a sequel a certainty, despite nobody exactly begging for one.
Why it didn’t: The success of Ouija 2 is all down to writer/director Mike Flanagan who crafts one of the best horror movies in recent memory. Ouija 2 manages to separate itself from the original, which is a fantastic achievement, and delivers the most-improved sequel of all time.
Between the performances, which are all on-point, clever visuals, and heaps of suspense, Ouija 2 actually leaves audiences wanting more. Something the original failed to do. It may not be a flawless film, or even one of 2016’s best, but it is intelligent and fun, two things the first Ouija movie wasn’t.
With Ouija 3 now on the horizon, it actually has some pretty big boots to fill.
7 Bridget Jones's Baby
Why it should have sucked: Despite the charm of the first movie, the second one was pretty flat. Also, Renee Zellweger’s career took a very long walk off a very short cliff a long time ago. Between those factors and the fact that the Bridget Jones franchise has been dead for over a decade, it’s a sequel nobody had high expectations for.
Why it didn’t: Bridget Jones’s Baby was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Genuinely hilarious, it was also a treat for fans of the series delivering heaps of nostalgia and charm. While it doesn’t stray too far from its roots as a rom-com, the movie does deliver more wit and one-liners than either of the previous entries and manages to move the central character’s life on more than either previous entry. Like Bridget herself, it’s a franchise that seems to finally be moving forward.
Truthfully, most of the credit belongs to Emma Thompson. As the co-writer of the movie, she adds a fresh voice to the series, even if she does steal every scene she’s in as Bridget’s doctor.
6 The Magnificent Seven
Why it should have sucked: Following the theme of 2016, The Magnificent Seven was a re-make nobody seemed especially desperate for. And a re-make of a re-make.. really? Surely, we didn’t need this movie?
Why it didn’t: Sure, nobody needed this movie, but director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus has Fallen) still delivered one of the most relentless, action-packed westerns of modern times. The gorgeous cinematography notwithstanding, The Magnificent Seven should have been a generic western shoot-em-up. Instead we had a slew of great performances from a cast at the top of their game. Denzel Washington once again proved that he’s great in just about anything, as if he needed to. Chris Pratt delivers wise-cracking lines and action in his usual way, firmly showing that he’s the man to go to for such roles these days. But it’s Peter Sarsgaard that genuinely steals much of the movie, showing that he can do so much more than most people realise if given the chance.
While it won’t surpass the original in terms of legacy, The Magnificent Seven is a smart, fast-paced, and glorious western that delivers some of the most impressive action of the year.
5 Deepwater Horizon
Why it should have sucked: Avoiding too many obvious puns, Deepwater Horizon was expected to be a very shallow affair. Mark Wahlberg is a charming guy, and has some great movies on his resume, but he’s rarely known for giving a nuanced performance. Likewise, director Peter Berg’s previous efforts such as Battleship and Lone Survivor favoured noise over subtlety. Surely this movie was going to be an action flick based on an actual series of tragic events?
Why it didn’t: It mostly comes down to the script, which director Peter Berg sticks to as if he’s holding a sacred text. Instead of an Armageddon style effort in noise and patriotism, Deepwater Horizon deftly balances the politics of the events as well as the human story of the events as they unfolded.
Wahlberg is great, totally nailing his everyman persona, but it’s Kurt Russel that shows he’s as good as he’s ever been as the boss of the doomed rig. It’s small wonder that despite decades in the industry Russel is in demand by directors as diverse as Quinten Tarrantino and James Gunn. Possibly the best performance comes from John Malkovich, who as the man responsible for the disaster manages to be more than a simple villain.
While everything pointed to a movie that was going to exploit the still-recent tragedy, Deepwater Horizon delivered an intelligent and measured movie. Sadly, it still flopped at the box office.
4 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Why it should have sucked: Director Michael Bay is great if you want epic scenes of destruction or massive car chases with, well, more destruction. But when it comes to exercising restraint and letting the characters lead the movie over the explosions, he’s not usually the man for that.
Why it didn’t: 13 Hours is possibly the finest movie Michael Bay will ever make. While yes, it does have elements of the gung-ho balls to the wall action he’s famous for, it’s also an example of a director who can craft a well thought-out, intelligent, and impressive movie if he’s given a decent script. It makes you wish he made these types of movies far more often. He wisely keeps the politics to one-side, and delivers both visual appeal and focuses on the men involved.
John Krasinski has waited his whole career for a script like this and shows that people were wrong to laugh when he was once linked with the role of Captain America. Along with Pablo Schriber and James Badge Dale he delivers some of the best acting in any Michael Bay movie.
Despite coming in at 144 minutes, 13 Hours doesn’t feel like it has outstayed its welcome as it takes you on a journey of what it really looks like to be outnumbered, fighting for the men beside you, with little hope for backup arriving in time.
Despite being surprisingly emotional, and easily Michael Bay’s best work, it bombed at the box office.
3 The Shallows
Why it should have sucked: Between the fact that shark movies essentially peaked with Jaws and have been lame ever since, with very few exceptions, and the advertising that implied that The Shallows was going to be 90 minutes of Blake Lively in a bikini, hopes for a great movie weren’t high.
Why it didn’t: Yes, it’s a shark movie. Yes, every time there’s danger you can hum the classic John Williams score to make each scene better. But The Shallows isn’t just a Jaws rip-off. It manages to pull a lot of suspense out of a simple premise: Blake Lively is hot, wounded, and needs to get to shore and past the Great White Shark that’s in her way.
While the marketing implied that there would be lots of gratuitous shots of Blake Lively’s body, director Jaume Collet-Serra actually focusses on her acting talents instead, finally settling the argument of whether she can carry a movie on talent alone. She can.
Despite a few absurd moments where the shark seems far smarter than it really should be, The Shallows firmly establishes itself as a solid genre movie, if not a classic.
Why it should have sucked: Despite Fox’s X-Men ushering in the modern era of comic-book adaptations, their recent efforts have been a little lukewarm, with Marvel’s own offerings being considered far better by the majority of critics and audiences.
A low-budget flick based on a background character from the god-awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn’t expected to be a massive hit. Even Fox had little faith in the project, cutting the budget at the last possible moment.
Why it didn’t: Two words: Ryan Reynolds. While many people made Deadpool a great movie, and a massive hit at the box-office, it’s down to the 11 years Ryan Reynolds spent begging to get the movie made that is the true reason the movie even existed.
Deadpool earns its R-rating with hilariously over-the-top action and some of the most graphic sexual scenes you will ever see in a comic book movie. But it’s also surprisingly touching, and audiences were left wanting a relationship like Wade and Vanessa’s over that of classic comic book pairings Lois and Clark. It is, at its heart, a love story.
Wacky, crude, and filled with meta-humour, Deadpool defied expectations in every possible way.
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