Monday, August 10, 2015

Fantastic for fans?

This weekend, the new Fantastic Four film self-destructed in the most glorious way possible, pulling in half of what had been predicted before damaging reviews and a flood of negative social media turned audiences against it. The film, which cost $120 million to make and needed to gross at least $200 million to break even, will now most likely fall short of that goal, topping out at only about $60 million domestic and maybe twice that overseas,

I told you so.

OK, now that I have that out of the way, let me explain...

The sad truth was that this film was doomed from the beginning. Fantastic Four is a difficult property to translate into film, and Fox didn't know what to do with it. They hemmed and hawed until the deadline for the rights to revert, then they rushed into production half-cocked. If rumors are to be believed, the film had production troubles from the beginning, with the studio and director engaged in an epic clash of wills over changes to everything from script to budget to final editing. And the result was a film that no one wanted, no one liked, and ultimately very few people paid to see.

The best chance to successfully adapt these characters to the silver screen lies with Marvel Studios. Marvel has already done the heavy lifting of establishing a light-sci-fi shared universe that would ease a lot of the need for exposition as well as automatically setting the right tone. While Marvel movies made by other studios have been hit-or-miss, Marvel Studios have a 100% success rate, finding box office gold even with such obscure characters as the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. Audiences love the Marvel Studios brand, and the shared universe that they have established. What's more, it sets exactly the right tone for a property as goofy as the Fantastic Four: exciting action with just a touch of goofy comedy. One need look no further than the Guardians of the Galaxy to see why the Fantastic Four would thrive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

You could even skip the origin completely (something you'd have to do now, considering that we've already had two failed attempts at that) like Marvel Studios is doing with their Spider-Man and Doctor Strange films. The shared universe allows you to pepper those details as flashbacks across multiple films. Best of all, Marvel Studios could sensibly use Fantastic Four supporting characters like Galactus, Silver Surfer, Annihilus and Super Skrull without having to first introduce the Fantastic Four heroes themselves. They would have breathing room -- the one thing Fox needed more than anything and had none of.

It would make sense for Fox to return the rights to Marvel Studios now and try to get something in return. What can Fox get, though? It won't be enough for them to offer to share the franchise a la Marvel's deal with Sony over Spider-Man. The Fantastic Four just don't have the mass appeal of Spider-Man, so there's no incentive there. Marvel Studios does have something Fox wants: the rights to make a live-action X-Men TV series to extend the one Marvel franchise that Fox has made successful.

The main question is: after poisoning the well, does Fox have anything left that Marvel Studios wants? They're pretty much guaranteed to get the Fantastic Four rights back eventually, but maybe they'd be more eager to get them now than later if Fox is willing to play ball.

Hopefully, whatever deal comes out of this, it will bring the two studios a little closer in their vision regarding their Marvel properties. Disney (which owns Marvel Studios) and Twentieth Century Fox have been combative in their dealings over most things. But I'm never going to get my Hulk vs. Wolverine crossover until the healing begins. Let it start now.

P.S. -- For the record, I did not go see the new Fantastic Four film. I'll wait for the "Network Television Premier"! In the meantime, I watched the unreleased Fantastic Four movie that Roger Corman produced in 1994. You can watch it below for free on YouTube. It is cheesy as hell and was made on a shoestring budget just to retain the film rights. However, it remains the best Fantastic Four movie made to date. Sigh.

P.P.S. -- Here is another video that goes into more detail about what went wrong with this latest Fantastic Four movie...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A as in Alien

In spoken conversation, a "spelling alphabet" is a useful tool for making sure that the listener understands exactly which letter is which. Did he say m or n? Did she say b or p?

In military speak, for example, the word "cat" is spelled "Charlie Alfa Tango" - each word starting with the letter it stands for.

In everyday speech, you're more likely to hear spelling alphabets used in casual ways, such as: "That's b as in Bob."

But Bob is boring. If you're going to spell something for someone, at least inject some pizzazz into it. Here, then, is the official Alien Robot Zombie spelling alphabet:

A as in Alien

B as in Batman

C as in Cobra

D as in Diesel

E as in Epic

F as in Football

G as in Gorilla

H as in Hammer

I as in Ice-Age

J as in Jedi

K as in Kung-Fu

L as in Laser

M as in Magic

N as in Ninja

O as in Overlord

P as in Pirate

Q as in Quasar

R as in Robot

S as in Science!

T as in Tyrant

U as in Unicorn

V as in Venom

W as in Werewolf

X as in X-Ray Vision

Y as in Yoda

Z as in Zombie

Monday, February 16, 2015

Random top ten: superheroes who still don't have a franchise

Last year, Warner Bros. / DC and Disney / Marvel announced their slates of comic book superhero movies through 2020 and 2019, respectively, bringing joy to nerds and neo-nerds the world over as they announced films for fan favorites such as Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Aquaman and Doctor Strange. Add this to a bevy of new network (Green Arrow, S.H.I.E.L.D., Flash, Constantine, Supergirl, Teen Titans) and Netflix (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage) programing, and this is truly a golden age for comic book geekdom.

However, even with all of this, there are still quite a few major heroes that have graced the pages of both DC and Marvel Comics who still don't have their own franchises, whether on the big screen or the small. Here are the next ten that should make the leap:

1. Namor the Sub-Mariner
Namor is Marvel's oldest hero, and he's a fascinating and complex character. Because he is a hothead who puts his Atlantean kingdom first, he as often appears as a villain as he does as a hero. DC may have beaten Marvel into the undersea realm by announcing Aquaman already, but the two characters are different enough to warrant both having franchises. Apparently Universal Studios has a stake in the film rights, which could be tying up this project. But hopefully we'll see Namor appear in some role soon, because he's too good a character to leave in limbo.

2. Hawkman and/or Hawkwoman
Hawkman and Hawkwoman have proven difficult to do on screen, because their costumes can look somewhat ridiculous. The answer, of course, is to use mo-cap suits and add the harness and wings in post-production. That will add to the special effects budget, but if done right, this will make the Thanagarians finally look as impressive as they do in the comics. And make no mistake about it, if done right, these two could be DC's equivalent of Wolverine: savage warriors with badass "Nth metal" weapons - and wings! - that they can summon at will. Their back stories have been a mess, and there are at least a dozen different versions of them, but that just means that the films will be able to tell the best story possible without being bound to all of that muddled continuity. Do it.

Update: both characters have been cast in the WB "Arrowverse" and will debut in the fall of 2015 on both Arrow and The Flash. While they could eventually get their own spin-off series, for now they are being set up to feature prominently on the Legends of Tomorrow series, which will debut in early 2016.

3. Moon Knight
Moon Knight is another "street-level" Marvel hero begging for a Netflix show. There's a little gadgetry and special effects involved here, but not so much that it should let the budget get out of hand. Importantly, though, this is not just another Batman retread. Marc Spector is a disturbed man with a tenuous grasp of sanity. A former mercenary who was beaten almost to death, he believes he was visited by the spirit of the ancient Egyptian god of vengeance, who saved him. Whether or not that is true is anyone's guess, but Spector believes he is now the avatar of vengeance, leading to a whole host of interesting plots.

4. The Doom Patrol
Think reject superheroes crossed with The Outer Limits. This series developed a cult following for DC in the 1960s. It has had various incarnations since then, but a film or series should o back to that original line-up and sense of bizarre wonder that made it stand out in the first place. In the final issue of its original run, everybody died - unheard of for a comic book series at that time. Keep that kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat unpredictability, and this could be a very different kind of hero show.

5. Martian Manhunter
A shape-changing green Martian, the last of his kind, becomes trapped on Earth and uses his powers to blend in. His innate sense of justice leads him to become a police officer, allowing him to target criminals. Unknown to his partner, he's really the mysterious "Martian Manhunter." This well-loved DC character dates back to the 1950s and was an original founding member of the Justice League. In terms of power, J'onn J'onzz is often compared to Superman, but he has an even more glaring weakness than Kryptonite: fire. There's a lot to work with here.

6. The Runaways
A script for Marvel's Runaways has already been written and Marvel is apparently just waiting for the right time to put it into development. The premise is quite good: a group of teenagers discover that their parents are actually supervillains and decide to runaway and strike out on their own as heroes rather than continue the family business.

7. Static
Another teenager, Static originated on a creator-owned comic label and was then eventually folded into the DC universe. He is from Dakota City, where an experimental "crowd control" gas bomb accidentally mutated a bunch of people during a gang fight. Virgil Hawkins was a bystander, but was exposed and gained the power to control electricity. Afterward, he found himself in conflict with both with the numerous supervillains generated by the "Big Bang" event, and with government agents trying to track down all of the "Bang Babies" like himself.

8. Hourman
Hourman is one of DC's "Golden Age" heroes from the WWII era, and it's such a straightforward concept that it's begging to be added to CW's Arrowverse. Rex Tyler invented a drug that, when taken, gave him superhuman strength, stamina and invulnerability for a period of 60 minutes. In later years, there were darker undertones added to the story: the drug became addictive and negatively affected Tyler's health. The TV scripts practically write themselves.

9. Spider-Woman
Despite the similar names, Spider-Woman has an origin story and power set that has that has nothing to do with Spider-Man. I therefore believe that Marvel Studios owns her outright, although Sony may have a stake in her just because of the name. She is a genetically-enhanced superspy with electric "venom blasts" and over the years she has starred in her own, espionage-focused series as well as being a member of the Avengers. She was recently given a new, more reality-friendly, detective-type costume (pictured), as opposed to her traditional skin-tight bodysuit, which makes me think that Marvel is thinking ahead to bringing her to the screen.

10. She-Hulk
In Marvel Comics, Jennifer Walters is Bruce Banner's cousin and became She-Hulk after receiving a blood transfusion from him. However, unlike Banner she retained her full intelligence when she turned green. In addition to being an Avenger and a member of the Fantastic Four, she has maintained a law practice over the years. That's right, it's "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" done even better: "Sexy Green Monster Lady Lawyer." Defending superheroes and villains in court is a whole different kind of story, and so this would be a good premise for a Netflix show. After that, we could see Walters pop up elsewhere in the MCU - whether in the court room or in spandex.

Honorable Mentions: The Punisher and Ghost Rider
Technically, the Punisher has had three movies so far and Ghost Rider has had two. However, none of those has been with Marvel Studios and none has really captured the essence of the characters. Now that Marvel has the rights back to both characters, I would love to see what authentic versions of these characters could look like on the screen. While there are a lot of places they could pop up in the MCU, the brutal vigilante and the demon-possessed spirit of vengeance would both be perfect for more mature-audience series on Netflix or even a premium channel like HBO.

Update: the Punisher has been cast in the MCU and will feature prominently on the second season of Daredevil in the spring of 2016. Speculation is that he could get his own Netflix series if he is well received there.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Most anticipated splody movies of 2015

At the beginning of each year, I check to see what movies are coming out and try to informally rank which ones I think will be worth seeing. My formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions. Here is what I think about the movies scheduled for 2015:

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When: December 18. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because like just about everyone my age, the first time I saw the original Star Wars was the defining moment of my childhood. The original films still stand as the best trilogy ever made, and while George Lucas tried to kill the franchise with the prequels, all signs point to a glorious return to form with this seventh film.

2. Avengers: Age of Ultron
When: May 1. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because the first Avengers film was the most fun I have had at a movie theater since the original Star Wars trilogy. (See above.) Marvel Studios is firing on all cylinders right now, and I am all in. It was really hard to pick between this and Star Wars for my number one most anticipated splody film of 2015.

Note: at this point there is a huuuge drop-off in my level of anticipation...

3. Ant-Man
When: July 17. Why I’m looking forward to it: This film had some trouble at the beginning, as it was stuck in development hell, and then the original director Edgar Wright walked out over a disagreement with changes made to the script. Also, Ant-Man is not the most well-known or film-friendly superhero. But, you know what? I don't care. As I said before, I am all in for anything Marvel Studios does. This film has a great cast (Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly), and the more I see of it, the more intrigued I get.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road
When: May 15. Why I’m looking forward to it: I loved the low-budget original Mad Max. I loved the second film, The Road Warrior, even more – it's one of the best action movies ever made. And the third movie – well, two out of three ain't bad. Tom Hardy is a phenomenal choice to replace Mel Gibson as the lead in the series, and first trailer looks magical. I think they might just pull this off, and if they do – wow.

5. Spectre
When: November 6. Why I’m looking forward to it: Despite initial fan backlash, Daniel Craig has proven to be the best James Bond since Sean Connery. His last outing, 2012's Skyfall, was arguably the most cinematically gorgeous Bond film ever, thanks to director Sam Mendes, who returns with this year's Spectre. Most excitingly, the title of this film is a reference to the on-screen return of the secret criminal organization of the same name, which hasn't been seen officially since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever due to legal issues. After a copyright settlement in 2013, filmmakers are now free to use the evil organization again, and rumor has it that Bond's most iconic villain, SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld, will appear as well, played by Christopher Waltz. That would be wicked.

6. Kingsman: The Secret Service
When: February 13. Why I’m looking forward to it: Early reviews from film festivals at the end of 2013 said that this comic book adaptation was like a cross between James Bond and Kick-Ass. If director Matthew Vaughn's previous films (including X-Men: First ClassKick-Ass and Layer Cake) are anything to go by, this will be a fun ride.

7. Jurassic World
When: June 12. Why I’m looking forward to it: The first Jurassic Park is a classic, the second was mindless fun, and it's a shame that the sub-par third installment cut short a franchise that seemed to still have so much potential. When this fourth film was first announced, I was initially dubious, but I have warmed to it. The casting of the ever-charming Chris Pratt as the lead was a great move, and the first trailer was very reassuring. If the filmmakers can recapture the personality, excitement and fun of this series, there might just be some life left in this franchise after all.

8. Tomorrowland
When: May 22. Why I’m looking forward to it: In his first live-action directorial effort, Brad Bird took a mediocre action franchise (Mission: Impossible) and churned out one of the best splody films of 2011. Tomorrowland is an even more ambitious project, an off-kilter sci-fi mystery on a potentially epic scale. But as the director of such animated fare as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird is no stranger to ambitious projects or world-building. Rumor has it that Bird was so excited about this project that he turned down the opportunity to direct a Star Wars movie in order to do it. Hopefully, his enthusiasm pays off in the end. (This film also co-stars George Clooney, who has quietly been doing some absolutely incredible work in recent years.)

9. Chappie
When: March 6. Why I’m looking forward to it: Geek favorites Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver star in a movie about a robot by District 9 director Neill Bomkamp. Honestly, that's all I know about this film except that it's getting great buzz. But really – read that first sentence again. Do you need any more information to be excited about this one?

10. Terminator: Genisys
When: July 1. Why I’m looking forward to it: My first reaction: "Oh no, not another Terminator movie. Just let this franchise die already. The first two were good and everything after that is diminishing returns." My reaction after seeing the first trailer and realizing just how batshit insane they decided to get in order to fix this franchise: "Oh... uh... that might just work. Wait, is that Daenerys Targaryen?! OK, I'm all in."

11. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
When: November 20. Why I’m looking forward to it: This is the finale to a series I never wanted to like in the first place, but I just couldn't help myself, because Jennifer Lawrence. The first three installments were good, so basically all they have to do now is not screw it up.

12. The Hateful Eight
WhenNovember 13 December 25. Why I’m looking forward to it: I really wanted to believe westerns were a dead genre. Unforgiven was the exception that proved the rule, said I. Then Quentin Tarantino went and made Django Unchained, and now I have no choice but to admit that westerns are alive and well. Tarantino has said his latest western is unrelated to Django, and I have no other frame of reference for it, but I don't think we need one at this point. Tarantino has found his groove again making these period pieces, and we should all just be thankful and sit back and enjoy.

Finally, here is a full schedule of sci-fi-ish and splody-looking movies that just might prove worthwhile in 2015 (my initial selections in bold)...
  • Taken 3 (January 9)
  • Jupiter Ascending (February 6)
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service (February 13)
  • Chappie (March 6)
  • Furious 7 (April 3)
  • Ex Machina (April 10)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)
  • Tomorrowland (May 22)
  • Jurassic World (June 12)
  • Inside Out (June 19)
  • Ted 2 (June 26)
  • Terminator: Genisys (July 1)
  • Minions (July 10)
  • Ant-Man (July 17)
  • Pixels (July 24)
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (December 25 July 31)
  • The Fantastic Four (August 7)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14)
  • Hitman: Agent 47 (August 28)
  • The Martian (November 25 October 2)
  • Pan (July 24 October 9)
  • Bridge of Spies (October 16)
  • Crimson Peak (October 16)
  • Spectre (November 6)
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (November 20)
  • The Good Dinosaur (November 25)
  • Midnight Special (November 25)
  • Victor Frankenstein (October 2 November 25)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18)
  • The Hateful Eight (November 13 December 25)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The bowl is half empty - part 6

Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes, winner of last night's National Championship game and holder of this year's NCAA football crown. For the first time in history, an actual playoff determined the champion. (Thanks, Obama!)

Still, only four teams were involved and that's not enough. After all, if the 4th-seeded team did this well, imagine what the 8th, 12th or 16th-seeded team could have done!

So, as I have done for the past four years, I'd like to imagine a world in which we had been treated to a month of playoff-level excitement. A world where we had gotten to see 16 of the season's top-ranked college football teams battle for the ultimate, indisputable title.

Here is what it might have looked like. I have bracketed and seeded the teams according to their final regular-season rankings. I also used the rule of no more than one team per conference in any given bracket.

Fiesta Bowl Bracket

1st seed Oregon (12-1, Pac-12) vs. 4th seed Clemson (9-3, ACC) -- winner: Oregon. Clemson looked really good in their bowl game, but Oregon was a beast.

2nd seed Mississippi State (10-2, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Kansas State (9-3, Big 12) -- winner: Kansas State. Both of these teams lost their bowls, but Kansas State looked more impressive in their loss.

Fiesta Bowl: Oregon over Kansas State.

Cotton Bowl Bracket

1st seed Ohio State (12-1, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Georgia (9-3, SEC) -- winner: Ohio State. Again, both teams won their bowls, but you have to give this one to the impressive Buckeyes.

2nd seed Baylor (11-1, Big 12) vs. 3rd seed Arizona (10-3, Pac-12) -- winner: Baylor. Both teams lost their bowls, but Baylor looked impressive in its losing effort against Michigan State.

Cotton Bowl:  Ohio State over Baylor.

Peach Bowl Bracket

1st seed Alabama (12-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed Arizona State (9-3, Pac-12) -- winner: Alabama. Although Alabama lost its bowl and Arizona State won, you have to factor in the level of the competition. 'Bama played good enough to win this game.

2nd seed Michigan State (10-2, Big Ten) vs. 3rd seed Georgia Tech (10-3, ACC) -- winner: Michigan State. Here again, we have two teams that had excellent bowl game efforts, but I have to believe the victory would go to the Spartans, who showed real heart on New Year's Day.

Peach Bowl: Michigan State over Alabama. New Year's Day went to the Big Ten this year, and so does this game.

Orange Bowl Bracket

1st seed Florida State (13-0, ACC) vs. 4th seed UCLA (9-3, Pac-12) -- winner: UCLA. Florida State imploded, so they go home.

2nd seed TCU (11-1, Big 12) vs. 3rd seed Mississippi (9-3, SEC) -- winner: TCU. (Note that this was the actual match-up in this year's Peach Bowl.)

Orange Bowl: TCU over UCLA.

Sugar Bowl Semifinal

Ohio State over TCU

Rose Bowl Semifinal

Oregon over Michigan State

National Championship

Ohio State over Oregon


BONUS: The "N.I.T." of College Football

As I did the past two years, I have also set up a second-tier 16-team tournament. I've included all of the conferences champions without a spot in the main tournament (American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as well as the next-best available teams according to the polls.


1st seed Auburn (8-4, SEC) vs. 4th seed Memphis (9-3, AA) -- winner: Auburn

2nd seed Louisville (9-3, ACC) vs. 3rd seed Marshall (12-1, C-USA) -- winner: Marshall

Music City Bowl: Auburn over Marshall


1st seed Missouri (10-3, SEC) vs. 4th seed Georgia Southern (9-3, Sun Belt) -- winner: Missouri

2nd seed USC (8-4, Pac-12 vs. 3rd seed Minnesota (8-4, Big Ten) -- winner: USC

Gator Bowl: Missouri over USC


1st seed Wisconsin (10-3, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Northern Illinois (11-2, MAC) -- winner: Wisconsin

2nd seed LSU (8-4, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Oklahoma (8-4, Big 12) -- winner: LSU

Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin over LSU


1st seed Boise State (11-2, MW) vs. 4th seed Duke (9-3, ACC) -- winner: Boise State

2nd seed Utah (8-4, Pac-12) vs. 3rd seed Nebraska (9-3, Big Ten) -- winner: Utah

Holiday Bowl: Boise State over Utah


Wisconsin over Auburn


Boise State over Missouri


Boise State over Wisconsin

Monday, January 5, 2015

Most anticipated splody movies of 2014: recap

At the beginning of each year, I make a list of what I think will be that year’s best movies. My formula for success: equal parts good character development and explosions. Now that 2014 is over, here is my analysis of how my predictions for 2014 went.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). This was the best splody film of the year, and maybe Marvel Studios’ best to date. A perfect blend of 1970s spy-thriller, 1980s action-hero romp, and over-the-top summer blockbuster, this movie had it all. Chris Evans remains perfectly cast as Steve Rogers, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo brought a visceral edge to the action that kept audiences on the edge of their seats. The supporting cast was also top-notch. (One of the best scenes belonged solely to Sam Jackson as Nick Fury.) Every moment of this movie was crammed full of wonderful moments and Easter eggs for Marvel fans, and it is a testament to the skill of the storytelling that the more ridiculous plot elements feel organic. This is where the strength of Marvel’s shared universe begins to shine—small elements that were set up in Cap’s previous film and those of his fellow Avengers pay off here. You don’t have to have seen those films to appreciate this movie, but having seen them enriches the experience. Everyone knows about the famous elevator scene, but two other scenes in particular stood out to me. First, his one-man stealth assault in his first mission in the film is fast-paced and unforgiving, finally showing us what Captain America is capable of when firing on all cylinders. Second, his chase scene with the Winter Soldier is so kinetic I think it knocked the wind out of me as I watched it. Cap is so intense as he pursues his mark that he runs right through walls or leaves huge dents in them as he careens around them. The payoff of that scene is shocking and amazing—just like this film overall.

2. Godzilla
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 73%). This was the first American adaptation of Godzilla, so I was not sure what to expect. (OK, I realize there was a 1998 American film called Godzilla, but let’s be realistic, shall we? That was a Matthew Broderick comedy about a giant iguana, not a Godzilla movie. In Japan, they claimed the iguana creature was a different monster—and then Godzilla killed it. I rest my case.) I need not have worried. Director Gareth Edwards didn’t do the best job with the so-so human drama in this film, but human drama is always filler in a kaiju film. The monster drama, on the other hand, built up steadily to a glorious payoff in the film’s final act. I and the rest of the theater cheered loudly.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 90%). A lot of people predicted this would be Marvel Studios’ first cinematic failure. Instead, it became a runaway success and the highest-grossing comic book movie of the year. (Suck it, a lot of people.) It would be wrong to call this a superhero film, as it was more of a Star Wars type space adventure story. And it was Marvel’s most comedic effort to date. Those elements certainly scored points with mass audiences, and I’m sure that the pure on-screen charm of leading man Chris Pratt (“Star-Lord”) and his talking tree (“Groot”) and raccoon (“Rocket”) sidekicks didn’t hurt. Marvel struck gold with this franchise, and the consensus now is that they could turn Howard the Duck into a billion-dollar franchise if they wanted to.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 53%). I almost feel bad for kicking Sony when they’re down, but the simple fact of the matter is that Sony needs some tough love when it comes to Spider-Man. They have the world’s most popular superhero in their film stable, and they consistently lose money on him. And deservedly so. TASM2 was a mess. Thanks to the Sony Hack, we now know that the entire point of the movie was to kill off Gwen Stacey, something Marvel Studios recommended against doing so soon, since she was a popular character, and a move which turned out to alienate a lot of viewers. The rest of the plot was shoehorned in, in random pieces, to fit a variety of conflicting studio directives, the most ridiculous of which was to sow seeds for an entire cinematic universe—that has now been scrapped because of how disjointed and awful this film was. The sad thing is that there were elements of a good story here, but Sony didn’t know what they had and refused to listen to any of Marvel Studios’ notes to improve the product. Sony and Marvel are supposedly in talks now on a deal that would allow Marvel to reclaim creative control while splitting the costs and profits of these films with Sony. Whatever Marvel asks for, Sony, take the deal. The first step is admitting you have a problem! What should have been on my list: Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. (Tomatometer 90%). Who would have thought that Tom Cruise had another sci-fi hit left in him? Apparently no one thought that, but he did, and this sleeper got great reviews, although it barely made a dent at the box office due to poor marketing.

5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 92%). Fox remains a step behind Marvel Studios in crafting a compelling and audience-friendly superhero world. But only a step. This film successfully performed a soft reboot on the franchise by using time travel to hit the reset button on the less popular films in the franchise (X-Men: The Last Stand and at least part of X-Men Origins: Wolverine), thereby erasing past sins and opening the X-Men universe to tons of new storytelling possibilities. Plus, it was a great film in and of itself, ranking alongside X-Men: First Class, X2: X-Men United and The Wolverine as one of the best in the series.

6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 60%). I haven’t seen this yet (although I plan to this week), but I have it on authority that it is a fitting end to the trilogy and perhaps the best of the three. And while it should be noted that The Hobbit was bloated, overly reliant on digital effects, and nowhere near as good as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was nevertheless pure delight to return to Middle Earth.

7. Big Hero 6
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). Disney made good on their promise to translate this Marvel Comics property into an animated feature, giving us the best family-oriented superhero film since The Incredibles. (Given that Disney own both properties, I wonder if we could see a cross-over in the future…?)

8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 66%). With the Hunger Games, the books get weaker as the series progresses, but the films have gotten better in relation to the books. I think the film makers have a better handle on this world they have created than the author did. Still, it is strange that they turned the final—and shortest—book into a two-parter. I haven’t seen this one either, and probably won’t until Part 2 comes out. But from what I hear, it’s fine. Just the captivating presence of Jennifer Lawrence is enough to keep me going on this series.

9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 91%). The original Planet of the Apes in 1968 was cheesy—but delicious. All attempts to expand the franchise, however, were miserable failures until Rise of the Planet of the Apes completely redefined it in 2011. So I wondered if Dawn would follow in its predecessor’s success or sink back into miserable failure. With a new director and almost a completely new cast, I suspected the latter, but this film delivered in spades. The POTA franchise is alive and well, and I cannot wait for the next installment. Long live Caesar! Long live the Apes!

10. Interstellar
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 73%). Can Christopher Nolan do any wrong? That has yet to be proven. His first outing in pure sci-fi gives us yet another gorgeous example of his skill with cinematography, and the acting and storytelling are also compelling. It’s not his best work, but it is delightful, as always. One thing to note: Nolan was intent on using practical effects and avoiding green screens wherever possible—so much so that rather than adding the stars of space in post-production, he projected them onto the background of the actual soundstage, so the actors would feel that they were in space as they did their scenes.

11. Jupiter Ascending
Result: INCOMPLETE (Tomatometer n/a). This movie was delayed to February 6, 2015. Out of pure coincidence, the planet Jupiter is at opposition (its closest approach to Earth) on that date. What should have been on my list: Snowpiercer (Tomatometer 95%). This film was actually released in 2013—everywhere but in the United States. Here, distribution rights disputes caused its delay and it opened in extremely limited release. A major success elsewhere, you should see it if you like dystopian sci-fi. Starring Chris Evans (Captain America) as a passenger aboard a post-apocalyptic train, it tells a riveting, intense and highly original story.

12. RoboCop
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 48%). This film actually received a lot of hate from both critics and fans alike, but I loved it. I think the important thing to remember as you’re watching it is that it is not a remake of the 1987 classic by the same name. Actually, that would have been a disaster, because the 1987 RoboCop is one of the universe’s most perfect films and does not need to be remade. Instead, renowned Brazilian director José Padilha, in his first English-language film, takes the underlying RoboCop concept and crafts an entirely new story around it. And it is a great story. Instead of being rooted in 1980s paranoia, the new tale expands upon modern-day concerns and does it well. It’s not a perfect film, but there is a lot to love here. A lot of detail was put into every scene. For example, there is a fight in the dark where the two different sides are using two different kinds of night vision, and the effect is amazing. What’s more, unlike the original, this one exists in a more realistic and fully-realized world, perfect to explore in more detail in future installments. And I hope we do get sequels to this.


Bonus Wins: I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the kid-oriented The Lego Movie (Tomatometer 96%) was, and I look forward to future installments for this franchise. Meanwhile, Gone Girl (Tomatometer 88%) was a magnificent thriller from director David Fincher and removed all doubt that Ben Affleck has the acting chops to be the new Batman.

Finally, lest I forget, Sharknado 2: The Second One was, if anything, even more glorious than the first installment.

Coming soon: my choices for splody movies most likely to please in 2015...