Movie critics love to talk about big disappointments, and it makes perfect sense. If you’re waiting months for a movie to come out only to be let down, you’re gonna wanna hop on the keyboard and talk about it. Pleasant surprises aren’t talked about nearly as much. More often than not, these movies get a brief comment about how they’re better than they looked and that’s the end of it. This time around, we’re going to recognize the year’s most surprisingly good movies.
2017 hasn’t been free of disappointments, but it has had a surprising amount of movie that turned out better than expected. With Rotten Tomatoes consistently on the rise, journalists are racing to get in their tomatometer predictions. The movies listed below are ones that wound up earning a much better critical response than expected. We’ve gotten the disappointments out of the way. Now it’s time to recognize the movies that defied expectations.
10. Before I Fall
Another weekend, another YA adaptation. Before I Fall appeared to be a sappy Groundhog Day for young adults, and most people weren’t really buying into it. It didn’t help that it looked like a heavy handed after school special instead of a heartfelt young adult romance movie with a twist. Young adult movies are more than capable of being excellent movies. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Spectacular now were both excellent movies. Sadly, Before I Fall didn’t look like it could be that type of movie.
Truthfully, Before I Fall isn’t nearly as good as either of those movies. In its defense, the two films listed above were phenomenal. Before I Fall instead will have to settle for being surprisingly good. The time loop story feels surprisingly fresh with the more childlike tone, Zoey Deutch is excellent as usual, and there’s a surprising amount of mystery packed into the brief runtime. The writing never measures up to comparable movies, but pretty much everything else deserves a thumbs up.
It’s a relief that Before I Fall was a success because The Space Between Us was an unmitigated disaster. It would be a huge bummer to sit through two young adult misfires. Sure, it’s going to be hard to remember by the end of the year, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. After all, there have been a lot of great movies coming along in 2017. Before I Fall isn’t necessarily great, but it’s very watchable from start to finish.
9. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Dreamworks Animation has been pretty hit-or-miss lately. Kung Fu Panda 3 was delightful, but Boss Baby and Home were mediocre at best. When Dreamworks decided to take on the gleefully childish Captain Underpants series, responses were mixed. The studio has never been known for cranking out mature motion pictures, but this adaptation seemed bound to be more of a babysitter than a watchable movie for adults. People weren’t expecting much from a movie with a giant robot toilet.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is childish. There’s no way the movie could have avoided that. The whole point of the book series to get into the minds of two silly kids. However, the humor is just smart enough to appeal to adults as well. There’s obviously potty humor throughout, but there’s also just the right amount of clever humor to balance things out. It helps that the terrific voice cast brings life to the cast of wild characters.
The latest effort from Dreamworks is still a far cry from Pixar or Studio Ghibli in terms of emotional maturity and depth, but Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is still a ton of fun. It’s stupid, it’s inessential, and it’s obnoxious. Somehow though, it’s a great way to spend an hour and a half. It’s not top tier Dreamworks, but it’s an improvement over their more mediocre outings.
8. Megan Leavey
Kate Mara just hasn’t had the best luck lately. While her sister keeps popping up in critically acclaimed dramas, Kate has had the unfortunate privilege of starring in Fantastic Four, Captive, Man Down, and Transcendence. She’s popped up in a few solid movies, but her ability to lead a movie has been questionable. Megan Leavey, her latest flick, looked like it had potential. A war movie about a woman and her dog appeared to be a concept that’s equal parts adorable and heartbreaking. However, movies like Megan Leavey also risk being manipulative melodrama, so it was hard to get your hopes up too much.
Megan Leavey never feels manipulative or overly melodramatic. It’s simply a well-told drama about a very special relationship between a soldier and her dog. More importantly, it gives us Kate Mara’s greatest performance to date. Mara never seemed like a bad actress, but her ability to pick good roles has brought her down in the past. It’s no wonder that people weren’t instantly willing to give Megan Leavey a pass. Kate Mara is the strongest aspect of the movie, but it’s not the only highlight. The film has a tight script, likable supporting characters, and plenty of jaw dropping moments.
It’s not quite Oscar calibre, but it’s a great military drama nonetheless. If Mara can keep dishing out movies like this, we may finally get to see what she’s truly capable of as an actress. It’s easy to see that she’s an immensely talented performer, but her movies have been holding her back. Let’s see what the future holds.
The Visit was a minor improvement over the usual Shyamalan dreck, but it didn’t necessarily redeem him as a filmmaker. After all, the dude put us through movies like The Happening and The Last Airbender. It would take a lot more than a minor success to gain the approval of the millions of people he disappointed during the past decade. Luckily, audiences got their wish when Split was released. The latest Shyamalan creation, about a man with split personalities, is one of the best reviewed movies in his filmography. After sitting through it, you’ll be able to see why.
Most of the success is tied to McAvoy’s revelatory performance. If you want to see an actor show off his range, give Split a look. McAvoy embodies each of the split personalities in a way that few actors could do. He’ll creep you out, he’ll make you laugh, and he’ll leave you excited for more. Meanwhile, Shyamalan’s script is a bit messy, but it’s still more cohesive than any of his recent projects. It stumbles into familiar territory toward the final third, but it’s easily forgivable thanks to all the other positive qualities.
The final “twist” leaves the door open for future movies, so the characters from Split will definitely be making a return in the future. It’s weird to be excited about a Shyamalan sequel, but it’s starting to look like anything is possible at this point. By now, the movie has unfortunately been overshadowed by more noteworthy horror movies, but it’s still a blast from start to finish. This is a movie that’s easy to recommend regardless of how you may feel about the director.
WWE Studios isn’t exactly known for its critical or commercial slam dunks. It’s hard to trust the studio that gave us The Marine 5: Battleground and Jingle All the Way 2. Sleight, their latest production, didn’t appear to be a winner either at first glance. It’s coming from an unknown director, the premise is silly, and the tone appeared to be all over the place. Somehow, despite everything working against the movie, Sleight is actually a solid drama with an enormously talented cast and a hell of a lot of heart.
The movie has two unfortunate downfalls. The slow pacing is sure to drive people away, especially if they’re expecting what was shown in the trailers. The trailers painted the movie as an action packed crime movie. In reality, it’s much closer to a family drama. Second, the story about an underdog trying to support his or her family has been done to death. Despite the street magician twist, Sleight can’t help feeling cliché in spots. Those two issues prevent Sleight from being a future cult classic.
However, it’s still a much better movie than it has any right to be. Jacob Latimore and Seychelle Gabriel put their hearts and souls into their performances. When the plot falls behind, there’s always the two leads to keep things interesting. It also helps that the movie really does have a big heart. Its tendency to rely on hamfisted clichés is unfortunate, but the film always manages to feel genuine. When so many movies feel like after school specials, it’s great to come across a movie that feels positively real.
The low budget and lack of advertising unfortunately dooms Sleight’s chance of mainstream success, but that doesn’t mean it’s undeserving of attention. It’s definitely a frustrating movie to sit through because it’s so close to being extraordinary. Luckily, it has enough going for it to deserve ninety minutes of your time. This is clearly the work of an amateur filmmaker, but it’s also the work of a very passionate filmmaker. That should be enough to satisfy most viewers.