It's been a heck of a year for movie lovers. Specifically, moviegoers who enjoy movies as a form of escapism and entertainment, have had a tremendous amount to take in. Those who have read my work before may have seen me talk before about my view on movies being some combination of two different axes; art and entertainment. While the two ideas don't have to be mutually exclusive, I have, personally, always valued the entertainment axis just a bit more. With that, I decided to take a look at the ten best popcorn movies of 2018.
Popcorn movies aren't relegated to just big-budget blockbusters. These are movies from all walks of cinema, spanning many genres and with varying scope, from the smallest indies to the biggest of big major studio offerings. But the commonality here is that they are intended to entertain above all else. It's important to make that distinguishment before digging into the list.
In recent years, studios have been doing everything they can to find the next great franchise. Much of this has been in the realm of comic book movies, but it goes far beyond that. Animated offerings from studios like Pixar, Illuminations and DreamWorks also dominate the landscape, in addition to big studio horror movies, which are having quite the resurgence. 2018 saw no shortage in any of these departments.
So much happened this year on the popcorn movie front in seemingly so little time. The Jurassic Park franchise soldiered on with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the long-awaited return of Pixar's superhero family arrived in the form of Incredibles 2, and the not-so-long-awaited return of Wade Wilson came our way in Deadpool 2. Steven Spielberg returned to the world of blockbusters with Ready Player One and, against all odds, Venom became one of the most successful movies of the year. Period.
That hardly scratches the surface. This year also saw Solo: A Star Wars Story come and go, and Jason Statham fought the biggest shark ever in The Meg. But what popcorn movies came out on top to truly deliver the goods and satisfy the needs and wants of the moviegoing public? Full disclosure; as of this writing I have not seen Bumblebee. Its omission here simply has to do with the fact that I haven't had the chance to see it for myself just yet. That said, without further adieu, here are the top ten popcorn movies of 2018.
This is where I may lose some people right off the bat, but frankly, I'm quite fine with that. What more could one want from a pure entertainment standpoint, than seeing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson square off against three gigantic animals-turned--mutant-monsters? Rampage is not a movie that was ever designed to be anything more than pure pound-for-pound thrills and it delivers ever so heavily on its promise. This isn't going to win any awards, but not everything has to be about that. Can't we just enjoy a flying mutant wolf fighting a huge albino ape whilst they recklessly destroy a city and The Rock tries to help with big guns (both literal and those of the arm variety)? While the bar isn't terribly high, in many ways, this might be the best video game movie ever made (so far).
We're living in the Nicolas Cage renaissance and this is the piece de resistance. Mandy, from director Panos Cosmatos, is easily the "smallest" movie on this list, a low-budget indie horror/revenge drama that, despite being a relatively small movie, managed to gain a lot of attention. Not only is this because Cage has found himself in a movie that is just as off-the-rails crazy as he is, but because Mandy is, without question, one of the most wild experiences one can have as a moviegoer in 2018, if not any year in the history of cinema. There's a deranged cult, super-heroin addicted leather-bound mutant people, an entire sequence where Cage crafts the coolest ax one is ever likely to witness and, perhaps most importantly, an almost indulgently bombastic and lengthy chainsaw fight. And that isn't even half of the half of it. Mandy is one of those things that truly needs to be seen in order to be believed. This is pure, bloody entertainment in its most avant-garde form. This is what Cage's future should look like. Also, praise be the Cheddar Goblin!
Following T'Challa's solid debut in Captain America: Civil War, there was more than a little suspicion that his first solo movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was going to deliver the goods. We just didn't know how right we were about that. Director Ryan Coogler managed to do something unique, thrilling and wholly imaginative within the world of comic book movies with Black Panther. It's truly unlike anything that's come before it and Coogler sacrificed precisely nothing when it comes to spectacle and enjoyability in also layering in a great deal of poignant social commentary. The cast is also killer from top to bottom, led by Chadwick Boseman as the titular hero. This is a grand slam and game changer. Wakanda forever, indeed.
What if I told you that J.J. Abrams produced a World War II movie with zombies in it that works just as well as a war movie as it does a sci-fi horror flick? Well, that movie exists and it's called Overlord. Tragically, despite very solid buzz for director Julius Avery's R-rated, inspired and downright fun as hell genre flick, the movie failed to do much at the box office. But that takes away nothing from this movie's place as one of the best popcorn movies of the year. This is wall-to-wall big-budget horror goodness, wrapped inside a thoroughly thrilling WWII movie. Do yourself a favor; pop the corn and watch this movie.
Bad Times at the El Royale
Here we have another "what a shame" entry. Director Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) hasn't made a movie in years and his return, Bad Times at the El Royale, is everything we could have hoped for. It features a stacked cast led by Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth in a single-location, Tarantino-esque whodunit that is the stuff many cinephiles who value style and amusement in equal measure dream of. It's the kind of original moviemaking that many lament the loss of in a world filled with franchise blockbusters. Yet, sadly, this failed at the box office. I can't help but feel as this movie makes its way to a streaming service near you that many will say, "Why didn't I see this sooner?"
Nothing quite says popcorn movie, in the really classic sense, like a good old-fashioned slasher flick. In that way, it would feel oh so wrong not to include director David Gordon Green's Halloween on this particular list. Michael Myers has been away from the silver screen ever since Rob Zombie's Halloween II. But Green brought the icon back in a big way in what ultimately serves as a direct sequel to John Carpenter's original classic. This is the brutal, back to basics, yet inventive and refreshing revival of one of the all time great horror franchises we have been waiting for. Jamie Lee Curtis is back as Laurie Strode to take on a Michael Myers pent up with 40 years worth of rage in a movie that deals with trauma and family on a deep level, while also unabashedly delivering the slasher goods? Yes please and thank you.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Against all odds, six movies and more than two decades later, the Mission: Impossible franchise is still going strong and is, arguably, better than ever. Mission: Impossible - Fallout somehow manages to ratchet up the action and Tom Cruise, a man now closer to 60 than 50, is doing stunts on a level that would make even the bravest of young men blush. But really, for me, this movie makes the list on the basis of one, purely perfect and unreal action sequence. For those who have seen it, the bathroom fight, in which Henry Cavill, glorious mustache and all, was famously seen "reloading" his arms, is without a doubt my favorite single scene put to screen in 2018. It's raw, savage, expertly crafted and just about as good as it gets within the framework of the action movie genre. It's why people still pay to go to the movies. It's everything. Even if the rest of this movie were boring nonsense (which it is anything but) it would still make the list because of what director Christopher McQuarrie accomplished in these several minutes of perfection. This combination of McQuarrie and Cruise continues to yield unreal levels of entertainment. Keep 'em coming, fellas.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
In no universe would I have thought at the beginning of the year, even being the huge Spider-Man fan that I am, that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would rank this high on any list that I wrote, or even thought about just for fun. And yet, here we are. At this point, much has been made about the greatness that is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which finally delivers the Miles Morales version of the character to the big screen. All of that ink that has been spilled thus far is sorely warranted. This is, animated or otherwise, one of the finest comic book movies to come our way in a very long time, if not ever. It's visually stunning, full of reinvention, heart, drama, humor and just about anything one would want from any movie. Not just limited to the realm of comic book adaptations. It's pure popcorn art at its peak. This is beyond what anyone could have possibly hoped for. Long live the Spider-Mans.
A Quiet Place
Within the confines of this list, I couldn't rightfully put A Quiet Place above my number one pick. However, A Quiet Place remains my personal favorite movie of 2018. What could have been a sort of cute gimmick intended to provide moviegoers with some cheap scares, instead, became one of the most ingenious movies of the entire year, horror or otherwise. This is a movie that brilliantly plays with its premise in increasingly tense ways throughout its brisk runtime. A whole terrifying world is crafted through the eyes of this broken yet resilient family that is doing their best to survive under the most challenging of circumstances. John Krasinski, a man most of us knew as Jim from The Office prior to this, asserts himself as a force to be reckoned with as a director. Emily Blunt is a powerhouse and the fact that they're actually husband and wife in real life only adds to the drama. This is a fine example of horror transcending the genre to become something far greater. Entertaining as it may be, this is a damn fine, memorable, frightening and stellar piece of cinema.
How could the number one choice on this list be anything but Avengers: Infinity War? Marvel has been building an unprecedented cinematic universe for an entire decade and it has all led to this; a showdown with the Mad Titan himself, Thanos. A character who first teased way back at the end of the first Avengers movie. But how could this possibly live up? How could directors Joe and Anthony Russo manage to squeeze all of these characters in while also crafting a satisfying story? Somehow, against overwhelming odds, they pulled it off. Infinity War really is The Empire Strikes Back of the MCU. In the modern age of moviegoing where comic book movies are a very regular occurrence and, more often than not, they're quite good, this felt special. This felt like a big moment, not just for Marvel fans, but for pop culture in general. The inspiration for countless fanboy and fangirl tears (and not to mention quite a few great memes). But most importantly, it was a tremendous theatrical experience and emotional journey. In many ways, this is the movie of 2018. Perhaps there are objectively better movies that came our way this year, but this will be the one we're still talking about in 2028.
The fact that there are so many quality blockbusters, such as Incredibles 2, Deadpool 2 and Aquaman, just to name a few, that didn't make this list speaks to the year we've had. But this is just one man's view and part of what makes movies great is that we can all view and enjoy different things in different ways. What can be said for sure is that the onslaught of popcorn movies coming our way won't be slowing down any in 2019.