The most entertaining Hollywood films of 2016

The American Bazaar’s film critic Vikrum Mathur takes a look at the past year’s Hollywood movies.

2016 was an interesting year for mainstream American cinema. It was a year when a popular fish made a billion dollar comeback (Finding Dory), two sets of legendary superheroes (finally) from two distinct comic book companies came head to head (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War), a terrifying witch scared audiences once again (Blair Witch), a gaggle of popular supervillains led a full-fledged film (Suicide Squad), an anti-hero made audiences laugh and fear him at the same time (Deadpool), and a legendary Disney animated film was converted into a dazzling live action project (The Jungle Book).

It was also a year of new cinematic benchmarks as a group of very talented women led a reboot of a comedy classic (Ghostbusters), a horror film pushed the boundaries of what we traditionally know as terrifying as a seemingly old man turned the tables on a bunch of thieves (Don’t Breathe), and a diverse leading cast guided a remake of a popular western (The Magnificent Seven) as well as a new entry in a much celebrated science fiction franchise (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).

2016 in film was a year of progress in American cinema, where boundaries were broken, new talents were discovered, and risks were taken in storytelling. Although not all of the films listed above made my most entertaining films list, they are still worth mentioning for what they contributed to the fabric of filmmaking today with their novel approaches. Here’s what I found to be the most entertaining mainstream Hollywood films of the year (in no particular order):

  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Undoubtedly, this is the mainstream film that made the most impact this year, as far as box office and content. People, myself included, were very excited for this spinoff movie from the main Star Wars franchise. I was skeptical, however, upon its announcement. I felt, is this really something that is necessary? Will I really care for an offshoot story with characters that I don’t know and love? On top of that, stories of the film being reshot also worried me. Was it so bad that the filmmakers needed to reshoot it? I awaited the release intently, hoping that the movie would not mar the Star Wars universe and that the experiment would pay off.

The film takes place right before the original Star Wars film, explaining the backstory of how the rebels stole the plans for the Death Star, which is where Episode 4 starts. As the film unfolded, my excitement increased with each frame for several reasons. First, the film retains the look of the franchise accurately, signifying that it does belong in the same universe of the main Star Wars film franchise. Second, it is a little grittier and darker than the main films, giving it its own flavor (full credit to director Gareth Edwards on this). Third, it has a leading ensemble cast which is completely diverse. Pretty much every ethnicity from Asian, to South Asian, to Latino, to African American comprises of the main heroes, not to mention the main character being Felicity Jones’ character, which is really a wonderful touch by the filmmakers. It reflects truly the world that we live in and the world that we appreciate and respect. For all of these reasons, plus the fun action sequences and the incredible creation of Peter Cushing digitally, Rogue One is one of the most entertaining films of the year.

  1. Don’t Breathe

Now this was one heck of a horror movie. I love horror movies, but particularly those that prey on emotion and suspense, rather than shock scares. Luckily, our cinema is going through a renaissance as far as horror movies are concerned, where new directors are testing out bizarre concepts that are low on violence and high on situational scares. This film fell into that very category and made a boatload of money to show for it.

The film is the story of three thieves who break into an old blind man’s home. However, the tables are turned on them when the blind man proves to be more than what they bargained for and terrorizes them.

Truly, the concept of this film must be lauded, where the supposedly helpless character is actually the person driving the horror. And yet, audiences root for him because he is the one being wronged by these thieves. At the same time, there is also a tinge of sympathy for at least one of the thieves, and it is inexplicable why. Perhaps because we get a glimpse into her background briefly, wrought by poverty, forcing her to commit these terrible acts. She has no choice but to steal, and I guess an audience also vies for the success of that character because she is only a victim of circumstance. It is really a brilliant character study, with an absolutely crazy twist (and very bold I might add), which has paid dividends. Rumor mills say a sequel is on the way, and I tell you, I will be there opening weekend for sure.

  1. The Jungle Book

Another project that could have gone horribly wrong, when I first heard about this, I wondered what the need really was to make yet another live action adaptation of this story. Alongside many straight to video entries, Stephen Sommers’ live action Jungle Book in the 90s was sufficient enough, albeit with a slightly different take on the story.

This film had tremendous hype surrounding it, and upon release, instantly became a behemoth of success, winning critical and audience approval. Combining live action with CGI animals, with perhaps the most realistic CGI I have ever seen, the film was a visual delight from start to finish. It is incredible how much special effects have evolved over the years and the massive intake of this film has spurred Disney to make more live-action adaptations of their cartoon classics, next working on The Lion King (to be directed by the director of this film Jon Favreau) and Aladdin (to be directed by Guy Ritchie).

The film had heart, adventure, and beauty, but most of all, it had a light approach to the story in a world where films these days are too dark. I have also heard a sequel is on the way, and if it lives up to the excellence of this film, it will be a benchmark film for decades to come.

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Everyone was devastated when the Harry Potter franchise came to an end a few years back. Although the story was complete, the thirst for all things “Potter” and the wizarding world remained intact.

Euphoria reached a new crescendo when J.K. Rowling announced that she would be writing a new film series taking place in the same world as Harry Potter, only in the past. We would see some familiar characters as well as learn some new things about the history of that world and how certain things came to be by the time the Harry Potter story starts.

The title of this film was taken from a textbook mentioned in the Potter books, and actually published a few years ago. The movie is the tale of Newt Scamander, a young wizard who carries with him a whole gaggle of mysterious creatures. When they are accidentally released all over London, Newt has to find them while also battling the looming threat of wizard Grindelwald.

This film was fast, fun, novel, and nostalgic all rolled into one. It certainly was the film that Potter fans were craving for a long time and exceeded expectations with its performances and special effects. It also helped that David Yates, director of the final 4 Potter films, was at the helm.

Due to its success, Rowling has stated that there will be at least 4 more sequels, clearly making this one of the most keenly awaited franchises of the next decade.

  1. Finding Dory

Who wasn’t waiting patiently for this? Finding Nemo, this film’s prequel, came out almost 14 years ago and became an instant classic. It took a while to crack the right story and script and finally, a few years back, Pixar announced that it would be moving forward with a sequel to Finding Nemo, but this time focusing on the character of Dory who suffers from short term memory loss.

In this adventure, the plot revolves around Dory’s search to find her parents, whom she lost as a result of her condition when she was a small fish. When Dory is captured and put into a SeaWorld like aquarium, it is up to Nemo and his dad Marlin to save her.

Once again, Pixar did not disappoint. This movie, naturally, had amazing animation and also featured a strong emotional core with brilliant performances by Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks. Andrew Stanton, director of the original, came back to direct and write this one and his understanding of what the audiences wanted to see and his characters is apparent right from the beginning.

As a result, Finding Dory became one of the most successful animated films of all time. It is unclear whether there will be more movies in this franchise, but this definitely ranks as one of the best films of the year.

  1. Deadpool

Now this is a superhero movie! I knew nothing about the Deadpool character but, being a fan of the X-Men films from where this character was first seen, I was curious to see what the hype around this movie was all about. Right from the opening I knew that this would be one heck of a ride – strewn with both crazy action sequences and comedy.

Telling the story of a young man who loses everything and proceeds to seek vengeance, Deadpool added some much needed lightness to a genre driven by characters bearing too much angst. The twist in Deadpool is that the lead does face a lot of pain, but is humorous in his outlook on life and vengeance.

I was supremely impressed by Ryan Reynolds’ performance as the title character, special effects, and script. This movie became one of the most successful superhero movies of all time, and is now spawning a franchise of its own. I hope the spirit of the first film will only grow in the subsequent films in the series.

  1. Suicide Squad

Bizarre in its concept involving supervillains as the leads, Suicide Squad is a mixed bag of a film on the whole, but has more strengths than weaknesses. In terms of strengths, the fast pace, action sequences, Margot Robbie, and Will Smith come to mind. As far as weaknesses go, one of the biggest draws was the performance of Jared Leto as the Joker, but sadly, his portrayal was one of the weirdest and shortest performances of the character I have ever seen. This severely harmed the quality of the film, but did not deter it from making millions at the box office worldwide.

Suicide Squad falls into the category of top films simply by virtue of two factors from me – the novelty of the main concept and Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn. It’s only these things that make it quite entertaining. Besides that, the film would be pretty mediocre, and needless to say, would have been hated by critics and audiences alike.

  1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Many will question my inclusion of this film on the list, but I found it to be very entertaining. Finally, we saw Batman and Superman fight each other, along with Wonder Woman in the mix.

Ben Affleck acted very well as Bruce Wayne/Batman but it was hard for me to shake off the fact that he was Ben Affleck in the scenes where he portrays Bruce Wayne. Henry Cavill looks like Superman, but lacks expression on his face. Jesse Eisenberg was perfectly creepy as the villainous Lex Luthor, while Gal Gadot stole the show as Wonder Woman.

The action sequences in the movie, once they come, are relentless and crazy, which is what I love. If any flaw, it is the motivation behind and resolution of the fight between Batman and Superman. It is too cliché and too silly, which is what made people question the integrity of this much hyped film. If the filmmakers had figured out a more compelling backstory for the central conflict, and an even more logical conclusion to it, this film would have had the potential to be one of the highest grossing of all time. Sadly, the writers lost all creativity and became lazy in their storytelling thus taking what could have been a legendary product and making it into something average.

Nevertheless, the action is superb and that is what makes this movie quite entertaining. However, you have to be in the right mood for silliness to appreciate that, only then will you agree with me. For its merits and flaws, this film also makes this list as one of the most entertaining of the year.

2016 was an interesting year for Hollywood movies where those that were expected to do well earned big bucks but were rejected on their merits by audiences. Films with less hype did exceedingly well since they were high on content. What this indicates is that the audiences will not accept anything that is simply thrown at them, looking appetizing. There has to be some flavor and taste as well, which is absolutely the right type of philosophy that needs to permeate to fix what types of movies come from Hollywood. 2017 has some very big films coming and a lot of money riding on them, making this year a crucial year for creativity. Will content finally match up to expectations? Only time will tell. Till then, these have been the most entertaining 2016 films in my personal opinion.

(Vikrum Mathur is a political professional, actor, and avid film buff who resides in Maryland)

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