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From streaming wars to Star Wars to Joker: The stories that ruled the geekverse in 2019
What can we say about 2019? It was a whirlwind of a year when it came to news from the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
Box-office records were utterly shattered; Oscar-winning directors picked fights over superheroes; Baby Yoda was born into pop culture; the MCU was changed forever in Avengers: Endgame; two major new streaming services went live; and the public finally decided to try and see what the government is hiding in Area 51.
At times, it felt like every news story was trying to top the last one in terms of craziness. In an effort to make sense of the last 365 days, here are our picks for the biggest news stories about the geekverse to break the internet (and our psyches) in 2019.
The Streaming Wars intensify
2019 will officially be known as the year we started keeping Google spreadsheets of all the streaming services we subscribe to. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are no longer the only big guns on the battlefield. Within a few weeks of each other, Apple TV+ and Disney+ went live, unleashing original genre programming like See, Servant, For All Mankind, and The Mandalorian. With HBO Max slated to debut this coming spring with offerings like Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, DMZ, and the entire Studio Ghibli library, the Streaming Wars will only get bloodier.
The Star Wars universe expands ... and contracts
The Rise of Skywalker (which debuted to a massive $176 million amid unfavorable reviews) wasn't the only major news from the galaxy far, far away in 2019. For instance, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — showrunners of Game of Thrones — parted ways with Lucasfilm after they had signed on to create a post-Skywalker trilogy. Then there was the premiere of The Mandalorian on Disney+, which thrust the adorable "Baby Yoda" into our midst. And let's not forget about that spine-chilling laugh in the first Rise of Skywalker trailer that heralded the return of Ian McDiarmid's Emperor Palpatine.
The MCU gears up for Phase 4
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same after Avengers: Endgame, but that's for the best, as it allows Kevin Feige & Co. to explore paths we haven't seen yet. At this year's San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios dumped a ton of news on us about the next phase of Marvel films and TV shows. Black Widow will lead the pack in early May, kicking off a string of big-screen releases like Eternals, Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder. Then there's all of the Disney+ shows that tie into the films, like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, Hawkeye, What If...?, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk.
James Gunn returns to Marvel Studios
In the summer of 2018, Disney shocked the world of pop culture by firing James Gunn as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. over offensive tweets he had once written. For months, fans hoped that the Mouse House would reconsider its decision or, at the very least, recruit a filmmaker who would do right by the cinematic franchise that turned obscure comic book characters into household names. In March of this year, MCU viewers rejoiced and breathed a sigh of relief as Marvel Studios decided to bring Gunn back for Vol. 3, which is expected to begin shooting next year. Before that happens, though, Gunn has to finish The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros., becoming a rare director to helm films at both Marvel and DC.
Game of Thrones sips coffee, bids farewell, and breathes fire
On May 19, 2019, HBO's Game of Thrones aired its final episode ever. For eight epic seasons, the high-fantasy series (based on the novels by George R.R. Martin) captivated millions of people, who would tune in without fail to follow the ever-shifting geopolitics in Westeros and beyond. Who would take the Iron Throne? Who would be the next to die unexpectedly? Would the Night King and his undead army ever be defeated? All of these questions — and many more — swirled in our minds across 73 episodes of sex, violence, betrayal, ice zombies, and dragons.
And while many audience members were ultimately let down by Season 8 (going so far as to petition to have it remade), no one can deny the immense impact Game of Thrones has had on the way television is produced and enjoyed.
Even as it had one foot out the door, the show managed to snag headlines for weeks after a stray coffee cup was spotted during "The Last of the Starks." To this day, we still have no idea who was responsible for the caffeine-related gaffe, but Conleth Hill is a serious person of interest in the ongoing investigation.
What's next for Westeros on television? A prequel series starring Naomi Watts was shockingly axed before airing its pilot episode, but HBO has decided to go in a different direction with a spinoff project about House Targaryen.
Comic book movies (and Disney) make box-office history
The global box office was pretty much ruled by genre films this year. For instance, Avengers: Endgame unseated James Cameron's Avatar for the honor of history's highest-grossing movie. Endgame was just one of six Disney releases to cross $1 billion this year. Captain Marvel, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, and Frozen II achieved the same feat, helping the Mouse House to become the first studio ever to surpass $10 billion worldwide in one year.
Over in DC-land, Todd Phillips' Joker became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever, wrenching the title out of Deadpool's baby hands. It also became the first R-rated film to cross the coveted $1 billion mark. Aquaman, which became the highest-grossing DC movie back in January, is still the biggest DC movie ever, with $1.14 billion.
Joker stirs up debate that's no laughing matter
Does a movie have a social responsibility? Can a piece of cinema inspire violence in others? These were the questions many folks were asking prior to the release of Todd Phillips' Joker in early October.
Telling the story of a neglected loner who unintentionally sparks a revolution in Gotham City, the film follows the origin of the man who would become Batman's greatest nemesis. But since Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is the project's protagonist, many were concerned that some individuals would want to lionize his violent agenda.
"We were certainly aware of the responsibility and the fact that you’re humanizing a character that does bad things," the movie's director of photography, Lawrence Sher, told SYFY WIRE. "But there are lots of movies that do that, and I think partly one of the reasons why this movie is impactful for people is because we try to keep it real. It’s a challenging movie because you’re conflicted. You feel great empathy for Arthur, and when he does bad things, that’s conflicting."
Now, the movie is a serious awards-season contender, having recently been nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Drama Film. It also scored nods for Best Director (Phillips), Best Actor in a Drama Role (Phoenix), and Best Original Score (Hildur Guðnadóttir).
Crisis on Infinite Earths reunites old DC faces
While DC has had trouble keeping up with Marvel on the big screen, it's been able to gain the upper hand on the small one, particularly with all of the comic book company's live-action series on The CW. For the last few years, the Arrowverse has come to be defined by its yearly crossover events, in which all (or most) of the shows bleed together for one big, overarching adventure.
This year, the ambition of the network's crossover concept went through the roof when The CW decided to go with Crisis on Infinite Earths — an event that draws its name and inspiration from the iconic storyline by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, which simplified decades of confusing DC comics continuity.
Fans knew they were in for a real treat when the massive Crisis undertaking slowly announced its slew of guest stars, several of whom hadn't appeared in the DC Universe for years. For instance, Brandon Routh and Tom Welling were brought back to play their versions of Clark Kent in Superman Returns and Smallville, respectively.
Burt Ward, who played young Robin alongside Adam West's Batman in the '60s-era TV show, was asked to reprise his iconic Boy Wonder role for the Batwoman episode. And speaking of the Caped Crusader, Kevin Conroy — longtime voice of Batman in the animated space — was brought in to play a live-action Bruce Wayne for the first time ever.
Even Black Lightning, a show that is not technically set in the Arrowverse, is finally crossing over with the other programs.
This was a huge year for The CW's DC projects, especially since Arrow is ending soon.
Martin Scorsese takes on Marvel
For about a month straight, you couldn't open your web browser without bumping into a story about Martin Scorsese's thoughts on big-budget comic book movies. It all began with a simple interview with Empire magazine in which the Oscar-winning director said that superhero flicks are "not cinema." From there, the floodgates opened and the internet became inundated with follow-up stories about Scorsese doubling down on his comments or Francis Ford Coppola echoing his disdain for the genre.
It got so heated that Joss Whedon, James Gunn, and other directors and actors working within the superhero genre had to weigh in on the debate. Disney CEO Bob Iger didn't hold back on his disappointment with the criticism, and plans to meet with Scorsese in an effort to bury the hatchet.
The public storms Area 51 ... sort of
The concept of Area 51 has captivated pop culture (and conspiracy theorists) ever since a mysterious object crashed in the desert just outside Roswell, New Mexico, in the summer of 1947. For over seven decades, the mere mention of the phrase "Area 51" has conjured up fantastical images of aliens, futuristic technology, and Brent Spiner's Dr. Brackish Okun.
That's why the internet went absolutely crazy when one Facebook event decided that it was finally time to "see them aliens." A raid on Area 51 did indeed take place in late September, although no E.T.s were spotted. In fact, Edward Snowden can attest to the fact that our government is probably not covering up proof of alien life on Earth.