Even though 2016 wasn’t exactly a banner year overall, it was a pretty solid year for movies. Normally when we’re tasked with compiling a list of the year’s best sci-fi, horror, and fantasy films, it’s pretty clear cut which sci-fi, horror, or fantasy tales stand out among the rest and where they would rank in a “best of” scenario. But this time around, it has been much more difficult than usual. For example, though we had the pleasure of seeing solid movies like ‘Zootopia’ (which has an extremely important message), ‘Deadpool’ (which was well worth the wait), ’Green Room’ (which had solid performances all around), ‘Ghostbusters’ (which was just so fun), or ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ (which had too many cool things to talk about in one of these witty asides), they just weren’t good enough for one reason or another to break into our top five movies of 2016. So let’s get into the ones that did.
5. ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’
Despite it being slightly troublesome that this movie is as Asian as you can get without actually having any Asian actors or actresses starring in it, I have to give ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ some major credit. Laika Entertainment has managed to deliver yet another dark and dazzling film that managed to hook the audience from beginning to end. It’s hard for original properties to draw in an audience these days, but ‘Kubo’ does it effortlessly by balancing awesome visuals, relatable characters, and an interesting story. I mean, no one does stop-motion animation like Laika. And in a year that had some outstanding animated features, this one totally stands out as one of the best. (But not THE best. More on that one later.)
4. ‘Captain America: Civil War’
In a year that was filled to the brim with highly anticipated superhero movies, only one stands out as the best. And when I say that ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is the best superhero movie of 2016, it’s by a very large margin. Not only were we introduced to the best live-action Spider-Man that we’ve seen so far, but directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely delivered an epic blockbuster that pitted Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against each other while also sporting a complex and layered storyline that kept the audience in shock and awe as each new revelation emerged. ‘Civil War’ wasn’t just a good superhero movie. It was a good movie. Period. And it pretty much goes without saying at this point, but Marvel Studios has been seriously killing it and we cannot wait to see what they have in store for us next.
3. ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’
Can you believe that we’re talking about a new ‘Star Wars’ movie less than a year after the last new one? And even more importantly, it was just as awesome. ‘Rogue One’ is the prequel that fans truly deserve and then some. Sure, we all knew what was going to happen because basically the entire film is laid out in the scroll ahead of ‘A New Hope’. But getting to know Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Îmwe, K-2SO, Bodhi Rook, and Baze Malbus gives us a whole new appreciation for the mission that not only kicked off the rebellion, but one of the greatest trilogies in all of movie history. Additionally, Gareth Edwards re-establishes why Darth Vader is one of the best cinematic villains ever by making the Sith Lord scary again after he was softened up a little bit in the prequels. Though it might be a little too dark for the younger padawans, ‘Rogue One’ is certainly a treat for the long-time fans that have had to deal with all the ups and downs of this franchise.
In a time where most movies can be predictable, ‘Arrival’ stood out as genuinely surprising in the best possible ways. As much as I’d love to get into the specifics of why this film is so good, I can’t get into it without spoiling the plot for people who didn’t see it yet. But what I can say is that the storyline is masterfully crafted and anchored by standout performances from an amazing cast. And like all good sci-fi, it tackles some pretty big questions about humanity and the world around us. However, the ways in which it tries to answer these questions are so emotional and exciting that we’re reminded of how powerful visual storytelling can be. ‘Arrival’ is an absolute must-see.
Walt Disney Pictures is in the middle of an animation renaissance at the moment with films like ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, ‘Tangled’, ‘Big Hero 6’, ‘Zootopia’, and of course ‘Frozen’. But they’ve really outdone themselves with ‘Moana’. First, the animation was out of this world. In the same way that they raised the bar with Merida’s hair or Elsa’s snow magic, the studio really changed the CGI game with the way that they animated the ocean, the sand, and how characters interacted with them. Then, the songs courtesy of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and ‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is a worthy addition to the beloved pantheon of beloved Disney music. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent performances from an all-star cast including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, and Alan Tudyk.
But the real reason that ‘Moana’ is the best film of the year for me is the story. In addition to straying from the typical Disney Princess tropes that usually find the main character only searching for a prince or a happily ever after, the creative team took great care in staying true to Pacific Islander/Polynesian culture while sending Moana on this trip with the demigod Maui that saw our heroine save her world, honor her family, and discover who she really is. Basically, I’ve been waiting for my entire life to see a movie where little brown girls and boys can go to the theater and see themselves on the big screen as the stars. But beyond being a triumph for cinematic diversity and AAPI representation in Hollywood, ’Moana’ is a relatable story that evokes some of the best parts of Disney classics of the past and crafts them into an all-new fantasy/adventure for the present and the future. Everyone should go see it immediately. You’re welcome.
What did you think of Ben’s favorite ScienceFiction.com films of 2016? Do you think he missed any heavy hitters? Are there any questionable choices that you wouldn’t include on your list? Let us know in the comments.