2017 was a weird, wild year at theaters, and regardless of genre there were plenty of great movies for everyone (and quite a few stinkers, too). Naturally, there were a disporportionate number of big-budget blockbusters, but several smaller and indie films managed to break through.
Like any movie fan, I have my preferred genres, and I always bring a bunch of personal baggage and bias into the theater with me. Full disclosure, I didn’t see every movie this year — who can afford that? — but I tried to hit my local cineplex at least 2-3 times each month. So, this is my personal list of favorite 2017 movies, but it probably doesn’t match with your favorites. That’s cool. (It would freak me out if we all suddenly agreed on something.)
Please share your list of favorite films from the past year, and then let’s accuse each other of being complete idiots — it’s the holiday season!
Related – Top 5 Superhero Films of 2017
Here are my top 10 favorite movies of 2017:
Few war films are interested in depicting no-win-scenarios. The Battle of Dunkirk was the ultimate WWII tragedy in slow motion, a massed retreat of British and allied troops, whose demise surely would have changed the course of the war. Hundreds of thousands of troops found themselves trapped on the beaches of France, wedged between the advancing Nazi machine and the unrelenting sea — with few ships and minimal air cover to supportw21a them. Amazingly, 338,226 escaped, thanks to the intervention of civilian transports — many of them simple fishing vessels.
Christopher Nolan’s film version captures the dire situation brilliantly. We seldom see the enemy, but their presence is felt due to constant assaults from the air and ground. Dunkirk follows about a dozen of these British troops as they fall back from the towns and villages and onto the beaches, very much expecting to die but refusing to capitulate. Dialog in the film is at a minimum, this is essentially an old school, art house picture with a blockbuster budget — and earned an astounding $525 million worldwide (#3 war movie all-time, behind Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor).
Logan was a bold, risky experiment for Fox. The end-of-the-line for Hugh Jackman’s long-running Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s beloved Professor X, amped-up to a stark, R-rated, character study masterpiece. Logan is a visceral, gut-wrenching tale of mortality and redemption, set in an alternate or “What if” X-Men universe of the near future. The film also introduced X-23, as a pre-teen girl who shares a bit of Wolverine’s DNA (and a whole lot of his berserker attitude).
Logan is also a surprisingly funny and introspective road movie, taking audiences through a near apocalyptic landscape from the Nevada desert to downtown Vegas to Louisiana farmlands and ultimately to parts unknown in Mexico. Throughout this journey we see the decline of our heroes — to age and injury — and it’s in these scenes that the characters are most human and relatable. The performances in this film are as powerful and emotional as anything in film this year, across any genre. Fans turned up in droves to see Logan, which earned over $616 million worldwide (#9 domestically).
The 1967 Detroit Riots devastated one of America’s great cities. It represents a key moment in our social and economic history that many have forgotten, but all of us should learn and understand. Racial tensions were incredibly high, as white residents moved to the suburbs amidst the decline of the inner city — the remaining, mostly black residents fought with police, who employed terror and violence to maintain order, which eventually spun out of control at a cost of many lives.
The directing/writing team of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) constructed a narrative from these real-world events, focusing on the Algiers residential motel. The primary storyline depicted Detroit cops violenting interrogating a handful of motel guests, suspected of firing on a squad of National Guardsmen patrolling the streets.
Detroit is a dark and intense film, which was released in July for some reason. Unfortunately, the film struggled and only returned $16 million at the box office (on a $34 million budget), despite a tremendous cast and an amazingly authentic representation of the city and the riots — I grew up there; they got it right!
4. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor has been the red-headed-stepchild of the MCU — it’s not easy relating to an entitled god with a Shakespearian accent. Both Thor and Thor: The Dark World were financially successful films, but lacked the pop-culture zing of the Iron Man or Captain America films. Few fans were begging for a third Thor film, but someone at Marvel had an epiphany: what if we rebooted Thor as a buddy-cop, road picture with the Hulk as a sidekick? That sounds insane, right? And it was pure genius.
Director Taika Waititi — who’s only made a few quirky, New Zealand-based comedies — was a bold choice, and his comic sensibilities worked brilliantly here. Thor: Ragnarok is possibly the funniest Marvel film to-date, and it’s also get a ton of personality and some great action set pieces. Who knew that Chris Hemsworth could be so loose and fun? Add unwilling teammates like Loki and Valkyrie — played as a drunken Han Solo — and a gaggle of truly inspired minor characters, such as Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, and you end up with one of the nuttiest, weirdest MCU films yet (the film has earned more than $844 million to-date).
Thor: Ragnarok was my #1 favorite superhero movie, but it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as a film (Logan was my #2 superhero film, but it’s actually the better movie). Though Thor: Ragnarok isn’t the smartest or deepest film this year, its use of humor, color, action, pace, and general sense of fun isn’t up for debate. Also, by the film’s conclusion some major changes had transpired that will be hard to walk back: Mjolnir destroyed, Thor loses an eye, Odin’s dead, Asgard obliterated, and Loki is finally redeemed (maybe). Where Thor goes from here is anyone’s guess, and that’s great news for the franchise!
5. Stephen King’s It
Legendary horror writer Stephen King has been an incredible source of material for Hollywood for decades, but his adaptations have been all over the board. The long-awaited The Dark Tower film finally hit theaters in 2017, but it was a clumsy and uninspired movie that flopped mightily. King’s It is one of his most cherished and terrifying works, which few fans believed could ever be faithfully translated to screen — boy were they wrong.
King’s novel is a massive work, covering two generations in its core, coming-of-age-serial-killer tale. In a daring move, director Andres Muschietti split the story over two films, with the first focused on a group of pre-teen kids called “The Losers” (the sequel will focus on these characters as adults). Arguably more of a thriller than a straight-up horror film, many fans were overjoyed with the results, which will be compared to King’s best adaptations to-date (Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption). Also notable, in a year of bigger and bigger budgets, IT was made on a micro-budget of $35 million, and returned a whopping $700 million worldwide.
6. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is DC Comics’ first female-led superhero film and also the first superhero film directed by a woman. The combination of Gal Gadot’s performance and Patty Jenkins vision resulted in one of the biggest hits of the year (#2 domestically, and over $820 million global box office). This movie might have single-handedly saved the DC film universe, and it is for sure the foundation upon which all subsequent DC films should be anchored.
This movie is remarkable in so many ways, but perhaps its most notable achievement is its inherent message of female empowerment. Certainly just a coincidence, but this movie arrived in a year of extraordinary change for women in America, which this movie symbolizes in all the best ways. Wonder Woman definitively established that female protagonists are not only viable, but are also crucial for the growth of the overall genre — Wonder Woman sets a high bar for all future female-centric superhero films.
It’s not a perfect film, however. Wonder Woman is an origin story set in WWI that leans a little too heavily on formula (and arguably borrows a bit too much from Captain America: The First Avenger), and the villains are also disappointingly cliched and cookie-cutter. These are really just minor knocks in an otherwise fantastic film.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Give Sony credit, after five Spider-Man films since 2002 — of varying quality and success — they finally realized that they were spinning their wheels and losing ground. Partnering with Marvel Studios, Spider-Man was introduced to the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, which many fans felt was a definitive take on the character, even in a cameo role.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, newcomer Tom Holland was cast as teen-aged Peter Parker, alongside veteran actors Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Marisa Tomei as a sexy Aunt May, and it proved a revelation. Michael Keaton was brought on to play the Vulture, a high-tech, working-class villain. On paper, at least, this looked brilliant, but in execution it was far better than anyone could have possibly hoped. Spider-Man was back, and now he’s also a major force in the MCU (hopefully for years to come).
8. Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) is an ascending filmmaker with a strong visual style and an ability to get strong performances from second-tier actors within tight, restrictive budgets. The original Blade Runner is a low-budget, cult classic, sci-fi film by Ridley Scott, which was kind of a flop at the 1982 box office despite starring a young Harrison Ford. Warner Brothers brought all of these folks together to make a quasi-sequel, semi-reboot that aimed for the stars and cost more than a moonshot, but unfortunately flopped big-time at theaters.
Here’s the thing, this is a really smart and interesting film that should age well, much like its predecessor. Unfortunately, Blade Runner 2049 is shot like an art house film — slow-paced, low-action — with a nearly 3-hour runtime. WB also set a massive $150 million budget, five times greater than Villeneuve’s Arrival, which was ultimately its downfall. Cerebral sci-fi simply doesn’t have a large-enough audience to warrant such a budget; had Blade Runner 2049 been assigned a much smaller budget, we’d be having a different conversation. That said, appreciate this film while you can, because Hollywood won’t be making many like it in the future.
9. The LEGO Batman Movie
The LEGO Movie blew our minds in 2014! Who expected that an animated film about colorful construction blocks would become the #5 movie of the year? Not I. The breakout star was undoubtedly Will Arnett’s Batman, which was both an homage and a parody of the Dark Knight. So, a stand-alone Batman LEGO film must have seemed like a no-brainer; usually, such can’t-miss-concepts seldom meet expectations, but in this case the execution was greater than the sum of its parts in all the best ways. This is also a suprisingly deep and emotional film about loneliness and isolation, and the need for family and community.
The LEGO Batman Movie is incredibly colorful, funny, and smart. It’s not quite as amusing as its predecessor, but in some ways its actually more satisfying. The cast is exceptional too (Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes). Additionally, if you’re a comics nerd (you are), you’ll love all of the Easter eggs, cameos, and side characters from Gotham City and also the Justice League. Man, I love this movie.
10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I love small and indie films, which generally focus on the human condition, particularly our faults and frailties (these movies make me feel better about myself, but sometimes worse). Unfortunately, we’re seeing fewer and fewer of these in theaters (and the Coens, Soderberghs, and Andersons produce new films at a glacial pace). Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film in the vein of the Coens: a dark and angry comedy about loss, survival, and redemption.
Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson, the film explores a working-class woman’s bitter and unrelenting mission to find her daughter’s killer. McDormand gives a performance that rivals her career-defining work in Fargo, but everyone’s performance in this movie is spot-on. The film can be shockingly violent and mean-spirited at times, but it truly earns its ending, which will stick with you for a long time. In a year of epic blockbusters, one of its best films is about a tiny, Midwestern town and its collection of damaged, oddball residents.
Welp, that’s it for 2017. So many great films, too many to watch. The list of big-budget blockbusters in 2018 could blow the lid off the all-time box office record, but there will undoubtedly be a few surprises too. Here’s my prediction for my favorite 2018 movies:
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Black Panther
- Deadpool 2
- The Incredibles 2
- Isle of Dogs
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- The Predator
- Ocean’s 8