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The 10 Most Surprisingly Good Movies of 2016

03 November 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Justin Gunterman

The Shallows

This year has featured plenty of disappointing movies. In fact, Taste of Cinema has a list outlining some of the most disappointing movies of the year. It’s a bummer that Suicide Squad and The Girl on the Train stumbled, but there were actually a surprising amount of movies that turned out much better than expected.

In this list, we’ll focus on those particular movies. This list isn’t exclusively looking at movies that looked flat-out bad. Basically, it’s looking at movies that were significantly better than they appeared. So if a movie looked decent but turned out amazing, you’ll likely find it on this list. Similarly, if a movie looked flat-out horrible and turned out “pretty good,” that would also be perfectly acceptable for this list.

You’ll probably notice that the movies featured all tend to fall in similar genres. The list will be heavy on horror movies, comedies, and blockbusters as opposed to dramas or documentaries. That’s because in general, genre movies tend to be much riskier than the big Oscar bait movies.

People will sooner be wary about a horror sequel than a movie like Manchester by the Sea. With that out of the way, be sure to check out the movies on the list, especially if you were deterred by the factors working against them. You may be pleasantly surprised.

 

1. The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

The question mark regarding the potential quality of this Jungle Book remake wasn’t the result of a bad director or cast. It was because Disney’s history with reboots had been scattershot up until this year. For every Cinderella, there was an Alice in Wonderland. With the one-two punch of The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon, it seems as if Disney may be on the right track, barring the abysmal Through the Looking Glass.

The trailers showed that the movie was going to be, at the very least, a technical triumph. Not since Life of Pi had viewers seen such lifelike CGI animals. There were worries beyond the lovely visuals though. Could they bring humanity to these talking animals without the movie seeming like The Shaggy Dog? Could the plot keep up with the visual effects? Was the movie capable of living up to not only the original Disney movie, but also Kipling’s classic novel? The answer to all three questions above is a resounding yes.

Neel Sethi’s Mowgli is delightful, but the computer generated animals are the stars of the show. Visuals aside, cast members like Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, and Scarlett Johansson breathe life into these beautiful little critters. In particular, Elba’s take on Shere Khan makes for one of the most menacing villains of 2016.

Talking animals in live action movies are risky, especially when there are movies like Garfield and Racing Stripes littering the cinemas (admittedly, those may be outdated examples). Luckily, the animals onscreen feel just as human as the only human actor to appear.

The movie definitely sticks closer to the 1967 film than it does to Kipling’s novel. For example, classic songs from the animated movie have been recreated, which appears to be a rarity for Disney remakes since they tend to avoid putting musical numbers in the remakes. In addition, the animals retain mostly the same personality traits as their film counterparts.

There are numerous similarities between the two Disney movies, but Favreau does enough with the plot to prevent things from feeling redundant. This is a Disney movie after all, so it’s not a huge shock that they chose to stick close to the old Disney film. 2016’s The Jungle Book still borrows some important aspects from both Kipling’s novel and Favreau’s own brain. This all results in a plot that offers the perfect mix of new and familiar.

Beautiful visuals, a high-stakes plot, and lovable characters all add up to the best live-action Disney remake to date. It rivals the original in terms of overall quality thanks to some necessary tweaks. Favreau has once again proven his capabilities as great director, and his future take on The Lion King is something that ought to be highly anticipated.

 

2. 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane came out of nowhere when the trailer debuted less than two months before the movie’s release. With such short notice, there were so many questions regarding the film. How would it relate to the 2008 original, why did they ditch the found footage format, and what in the world is going on with the plot? The stealthy release of 10 Cloverfield Lane is enough for the film to be considered a surprise hit because nobody even knew the film existed.

Actually though, there were other causes for concern. Directorial debuts are hard to hype up because these first-time directors have no films to compare. Viewers are dying to see Martin Scorsese’s film Silence even though a trailer has yet to be released. Viewers are looking forward to the film because Scorsese has earned legions of loyal fans throughout his career because he makes consistently excellent movies. Dan Trachtenberg’s filmography previously consisted of two short films and nothing else, so viewers had no basis of comparison.

Second, the film seemed so loosely related to the original Cloverfield that it had potential to leave audiences scratching their heads in confusing. For the people that actually did their research, perhaps the biggest issue was the fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t actually supposed to be a Cloverfield movie at all. It’s based on a script for a movie tentatively titled The Cellar. Eventually, Bad Robot got ahold of it and decided to turn it into a Cloverfield movie.

10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the tensest, most satisfying thrillers of the year. The cast is terrific, especially John Goodman, whose menacing performance remains memorable many months later.

The script is smart and surprising due to the well-written and complex characters. Surprisingly, the movie is a significant step up from the original Cloverfield. Admittedly, the Cloverfield stuff did feel a bit tacked on (so some of the worries were warranted) but when everything before that was so satisfying, it’s hard to complain.

 

3. Pete’s Dragon

petes-dragon

Ignoring all nostalgia, the original 1977 Pete’s Dragon was sort of a middling Disney release. It was certainly charming and cute, but it also unsuccessfully tried to cash in on what made Mary Poppins a success. Like Mary Poppins, it was an overly upbeat live-action animated hybrid. Unlike Mary Poppins, it was devoid of an engaging plot as well as memorable characters.

The announcement of a live action Pete’s Dragon resulted in a collective assortment of shrugs. Out of all of Disney’s films, what made Pete’s Dragon such an alluring choice? After watching the far superior remake, viewers may be able to tell why this version of Pete’s Dragon was given the greenlight. It takes risks, and the result is a far superior product than the outdated original.

Unlike other recent Disney remakes, this one makes an attempt to deviate from its predecessor. Last year’s Cinderella, for example played things safe and stuck relatively close to the source material. On the other hand, this version of Pete’s Dragon keeps the two main characters and scraps just about everything else.

Though diehard Pete’s Dragon fans may find this upsetting, the choice to offer a fresh story with these characters was probably the most beneficial thing anyone could have done. The plot is less sluggish and the supporting characters are engaging additions that help move things along.

Despite an overabundance of dark reboots, Pete’s Dragon’s change in tone is something that completely works in its favor. It’s still a mostly cheerful movie, but it doesn’t come across as hammy as its predecessor. The forgettable musical numbers that contributed to the hokey feeling of the original are also scrapped.

If Disney had chosen to replicate the original film, Pete’s Dragon would have come across as completely pointless. This is especially true because the 1977 original is far from a classic story like Cinderella and The Jungle Book. Tweaking the story and trusting the viewers with a change in tone was everything this remake needed and more. Though its box office numbers don’t prove it, this is one of Disney’s most impressive live action remakes to date.

 

4. Blood Father

blood-father

Remember Mel Gibson, the action star? Surely you remember Mel Gibson, the rambling alcoholic. Heck, you may also remember Mel Gibson, the director. It’s been so long ago that some people may forget, but there was a period where Gibson was one of the biggest stars in the word. He starred in action mega hits such as Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, and Braveheart.

It’s unfortunate his personal life tarnished an otherwise great career. Amid controversies over anti-semitism, alcoholism, and abuse allegations, Gibson was essentially shunned from all things Hollywood. After the controversy, he managed to star in duds like The Expendables 3 and Edge of Darkness.

After about a decade of critical flops, especially in the action genre, Gibson recovered with one of the most thrilling movies in his career – Blood Father. This may not be a box office smash like some of his more notable action roles, but Blood Father is still certainly Gibson’s strongest action film to come around this century. It’s the kind of comeback that Keanu Reeves benefited from with the release of John Wick. It’s not necessarily a thinking man’s action movie, but it’s still an adrenaline rush from start to finish.

Gibson’s performance is one of the most sincerely satisfying aspects of Blood Father. This may be a small budget French, but Gibson nevertheless exudes all of the energy in his body. He’s having fun, and more importantly, he wants the audience to have fun with him. It’s a shame that Blood Father didn’t get a wide release, because it could have benefited greatly from some more exposure.

If Blood Father flew under the radar for you, make it a point to give it a watch. It’s not just a return to form for Gibson, but it’s also one of the most purely entertaining movies of the year. If you’re still one of the people protesting his radical behavior about a decade ago, it is encouraged that you try to separate Mel Gibson’s work from his personal affairs. With Gibson’s newest directorial feature getting plenty of award-hype, it’s looking like a comeback is finally on its way.

 

5. Ouija: Origin of Evil

ouija-origin-of-evil

This has been a phenomenal year for mainstream horror movies. Considering the general quality of the genre, this list could seriously be made up of almost all horror movies. Lights Out, The Purge: Election Year, and Don’t Breathe all turned out to be better-than-expected horror flicks.

However, no horror movie has managed to surprise audiences like Ouija: Origin of Evil. With a certified fresh rating of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie has a score roughly eleven times higher than its predecessor, which scored an abysmal rating of 7%.

This may be the most improved sequel of all time. It’s not like there aren’t sequels that have significantly improved upon their predecessor. The Purge sequels are both far better than the original, for example. Even so, the extent to which the movie has improved over its predecessor is practically unheard-of. Going by numbers alone, one can check out Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes to see the enormous difference.

The original Ouija got reviews similar to the likes of Saw 3D, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, and Darkness Falls. On the flipside, the sequel received scores proportionate to The Conjuring 2, The Mist, and You’re Next. In other words, not too shabby.

While not without its fair share of horror tropes, the movie’s period setting and J-Horror inspired visuals help set it apart from a subgenre that has been done to death. What really sets it apart though is the surprisingly complex characters played by a supremely dedicated cast.

Elizabeth Reaser, who starred in the first season of the underrated Lifetime series UnREAL, is superb as usual. The children are arguably the biggest attraction though, particularly Lulu Wilson, who gives a spine tingling performance as the youngest daughter.

Few people could imagine Ouija: Origin of Evil being worse than its predecessor, especially with talented horror director Mike Flanagan helming the project. What people were not anticipating was just how much of an improvement there would be. Ouija was one of the worst movies of 2014. The fact that the sequel manages to be one of the best is a monumental achievement.

 

 

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  • Brandon Thompson

    I wonder if the author of this article has ever been outside of a multiplex cinema?

    People knew about Toni Erdmann, Moonlight, Elle, Manchester by the Sea and The Handmaiden but all have surpassed expectations. All of those movies are doing well with critics and audiences.

    • Justin Gunterman

      “You’ll probably notice that the movies featured all tend to fall in similar genres. The list will be heavy on horror movies, comedies, and blockbusters as opposed to dramas or documentaries. That’s because in general, genre movies tend to be much riskier than the big Oscar bait movies.

      People will sooner be wary about a horror sequel than a movie like Manchester by the Sea. With that out of the way, be sure to check out the movies on the list, especially if you were deterred by the factors working against them. You may be pleasantly surprised.”

    • louis

      Piggybacking on Justin Gunterman’s great quoting of himself, you are missing entirely the point of this article. You listed movies that are doing the festival circuits. This list is bringing attention to some great movies that the more pretentious cinephiles who worship arthouse and demonizes everything else (i.e., 95% of this site’s readership) would easily dismiss. I believe this is a good thing, since the amount of snobbery on this site is absurd. Why can’t someone enjoy both, say, Barbershop and Hard to Be a God?

      • Gaétan

        Barbershop was one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year. What the heck is wrong with you people? Have you become totally cinematically illiterate? You just sound like Justin Bieber saying “haters gonna hate”. I do love a piece of blockbuster as well a piece of auteur films and as well a piece of indie films. I won’t judge a film by kind or target group. This list has a couple of really bad dumb films.

        • louis

          Wait, you won’t judge, but will say “what the heck is wrong with you people? Have you become totally cinematically illiterate?” As art is very subjective, what gives you the right to malign someone for liking a film that you didn’t? Like you, I enjoy watching blockbusters, auteur, and indie. I’m willing to bet that you hate some other films that I enjoyed, and that I abhor some films that you loved. But does that make you “cinematically illiterate” (as you claim that I am) because you probably like some films I don’t? “What the heck is wrong with you people” that you are so conceited and narrow-minded as to attack people based solely on their likes and interests and nothing else. How dare people have opinions that differs from your own!?

  • I love 10 Cloverfield Lane

    PS: I know it was on the most dissapointing films list of the year, but I think that The Neon Demon should be one this list, I mean I loved Only God Forgives, but due to the terrible reviews the film got I had low expectations to TND, and it was awesome

  • marco tisa

    So… Deadpool is a good movie? Oh really

    • Marjan

      Ok, your opinion is a fact! 🙂 Now everybody will change their opinion!
      Of course that Deadpool is a good movie? Do you think that all those fans are wrong?

      • Gaétan

        yes

        • Marjan

          🙂 Now it`s clear

  • Alice Olivia

    The shallows was a great movie!

  • colonelkurtz

    You mean bad movies that you expected to be terrible, but were only bad, that they were surprisingly good, but not actually good?

  • ttt

    Shallows was so terribly hip i couldn’t stand it for more than 20 minutes

    • Le Blanc

      Even the shark looked bored

  • Carlyn

    Deadpool was surprisingly funny, probably IMHO the best film of the year (at least of all the superhero/fantasy/sci-fi films).
    “Guy came in here looking for you. Real Grim Reaper-type. I don’t know. Might further the plot.”

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/562d1141dc2de4993d68964f331b2113519ae7105272b5d164660c093f5bc448.jpg

  • Ohce

    HAHAHA The Shallows making this list was enough to make me quite certain I cannot take reviews written on this site seriously ever. A horrible movie coupled with Blake Lively’s painfully bad acting made for one of the biggest wastes of two hours in my entire life lol.

  • Quelqu’un

    Batman V Superman !

  • Kourtney Shaw

    yeah i can’t BELIEVE Quija was even on here!!! That movie SUCKED TERRIBLY!!!