Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Decade in Review, a series of articles that will look to catalog the best, worst, and weirdest cultural and entertainment moments of the 2010s as we look toward the future. Today, we celebrate the movies that deserved more.
We all have those films we call our guilty pleasure, the ones that we will secretly watch over and over again, yet never speak their name aloud. These aren't those films. These are the films that should be shouted from the rooftops and the tallest mountains about how great they actually are, despite what critics or angry mobs across the internet may say. We know their true greatness. These misaligned films didn't deserve the backlash they got, the memes that poked fun at them, or the judging sneers of co-workers when you mention liking the film.
No, these movies deserved so much better. They just did, okay?
Hating things is very in vogue at the moment. Whether it's dog-piling on a film or television series just for the fun of it (peer pressure is still a thing in 2019, y'all) or the more serious "cancel culture" (really just comeuppance for those who deserve it), people on the internet are not shy about sharing their opinions.
Now, sometimes it's more than warranted, no denying that. However, a lot of the time it's also a touch ... disingenuous. Do you really hate that thing? Is it because a capable woman is the main character? Are you just jumping in because everyone else is? Are you actually just embarrassed that you disagree, but don't want everyone to know? Now, we're getting a little deep here, but there are shades of pile-on internet culture, and trashing genre movies fits into there somewhere.
Critics hated Venom at first, and a lot of people initially piled on to mock it, but the buddy Symbiote rom-com is practically a cult classic now, so joke's on them. Victor Frankenstein needed more air to breathe and more publicity for people to go and see it and enjoy the delightful psuedo-gothic adventure that it was. Disaster movies like 2012 and sci-fi flicks such as Edge of Tomorrow really do deserve more love for their action sequences, SFX, and pull-at-your-heartstrings moments.
There are many films that have been misaligned over the past decade, but here's a dozen that really deserve another watch, as well as maybe a thesis or two on why they're actually amazing.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
No film deserved better in the 2010s than Jupiter Ascending. Unfairly panned, the cosmic otherworldly adventure has everything a great movie needs: a compelling heroine, transport to another world, competitive age-defying siblings/children, really gorgeous costumes, and a space dog man. And bees. So many bees. Space bees.
It’s the story of someone down on her luck and suffering from poverty who suddenly finds herself the apparent reincarnation of a Queen, with the solar system at her fingertips. How’s that for a celestial glow-up? It’s a fun, yet familiar story of rags-to-riches with a bit of space ridiculousness thrown in. Many people will go to war with you over space dog man and his bees. And rightly so. There is nothing quite like space dog man and his bees, nor the comically soft-spoken villain played by Eddie Redmayne.
Everything about Jupiter Ascending borders and teeters on the absurd, but that’s what makes it so great — because the film knows that. It’s a ridiculous romp with a story that will tug at your heartstrings as well as make you wonder what you’d do in Jupiter’s shoes. Also, who doesn’t want to fly around with Channing Tatum as a space dog-man?
Everyone wants that.
John Carter (2012)
Hotly anticipated for over 100 years, John Carter was pre-ordained to flop at the box office because fans and the media gobbled up tales about its difficult and costly production like haterade-slurping winos. And that is a shame, as John Carter wound up as one of the more enjoyable action flicks of the 2010s, as well as one of the best science fiction films.
Critics called it a rip-off of Star Wars, but the books John Carter is based on pre-date the Skywalkers brooding around the galaxy by over 50 some-odd years. Besides, Carter was a cowboy who gets transported to Mars and becomes a gladiator and hero. There is literally nothing boring in that sentence.
John Carter is also a visual treat. The special effects matched with the action sequences and score are sort of why you should still see films in the cinema. It’s an experience and a half. This film also goes against the outdated thought that fantasy and science fiction films need to be all serious. No. Sometimes you just need to cut a space grasshopper in half, okay? It’s a western and swashbuckler film wrapped up in a romantic space odyssey, and if you think of it that way, chances are you’ll love John Carter as much as we do.
Look, Battleship was never going to win an Oscar. It wasn’t going to be a strategic mind game of a film. It’s based off a board game whose tagline is “You sunk my battleship!” But what makes this film great is that it is simple and fun. Sometimes, that’s all films need to be. And sometimes, all a character really needs to drive their story is a chicken burrito. Relatable, right?
The heroes of Battleship aren’t the ones you expect. They’re a bunch of misfits and typically sidelined tertiary characters who suddenly find themselves thrown onto the front lines to battle aliens (it’s always aliens, isn’t it?). It’s also subversive with its tropes. The women aren’t damsels in distress, they’re skilled and active in the story, and the Japanese aren’t painted as villains, but rather partners in ending the threat.
Battleship has awkward scientists, mediocre white men who turn into well-shaped leaders who listen, big explosions, Rihanna saying “Mahalo, motherf*cker,” even more explosions, aliens, and burritos. It’s eye candy with a side of delight at things going boom!
Power Rangers (2017)
Go, go Power Rangers! Born out of banking on nostalgia, Power Rangers takes the story we all grew up with and adapts it to a modern teen sitcom with robots thrown in. It’s a wacky, fun romp that allows its core cast to unironically inhabit the stereotypes they’re given, but make them feel like real, multifaceted teens dealing with the fact they suddenly have superpowers.
Typically the Red Ranger holds the spotlight when it comes to Power Rangers mythos, but what makes the 2017 film great is that it instead lets Billy, the black kid on the spectrum and Blue Ranger, become the heart of the story and the leader this gang of misfits needs. Also it’s just hard not to be enamoured with Elizabeth Banks, who has way too much fun as Rita Repulsa. When an actor is really just having a sugar-spiked fever dream of a time playing an eccentric character, it’s just fun to watch.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
Based off the childhood defining book by Madeline L'Engle of the same name, this film was more than anticipated. When it more or less bombed at the theater, it was hard to understand. This was a film about hope and overcoming adversity and freaking Oprah was in it, and Chris Pine had a beard! It was about a young girl who loved science. It had Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling in ridiculous neon costumes. Everything was a recipe for success, and really, despite its failure to rake in billions, it still was one in our eyes.
If nothing else, A Wrinkle in Time is stunning to look at. The VFX make the wrinkle seem like it could actually legit be a part of our world, and the colorful beauty of the fields and more gives it a fairy tale color palette worthy of the best little heroine.
What’s really important about Wrinkle, and why it deserved to do better, was its diversity. Storm Reid was cast as the lead, Meg Murry, giving a black girl a title role that most people would expect to go a white girl. Meg’s family is mixed and it’s normal (because hey, it is). Meg’s blackness is touched upon as well, with a conversation about her hair that helps her love herself.
Meg’s journey of growth involves appreciating herself and knowing that she has the strength to complete the journey to find her father. It’s an important story for girls of color to see, as well as boys of color, especially given Filipino American actor Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace, and frankly, everyone.
Man of Steel (2013)
Bleak in color scheme and somber in tone, Man of Steel wasn’t what people expected DC’s first foray into the modern Superman universe. However, it’s still a film about hope and doing the right thing against all odds, something that tends to get overlooked when people slam it for not being uplifting enough. Life is hard, especially for an alienated alien.
This is all about Superman, from origins to his rise as a hero, and one of the best parts of Man of Steel is the devotion to Krypton. Carefully crafted with a clear love for the Superman mythos, it’s really the only film in the long cinematic history of Superman that pays this much time developing and exploring his homeland (SYFY later put out two seasons of Krypton). It’s also beautifully designed and gives the villain a bit of motivation instead of just being evil for the sake of it.
The chaos that envelopes the last part of the film is a highlight because it’s not actually really about Superman. It’s about normal people, people who have been inspired by his heroism and acts of kindness, finding the “super” in themselves. Despite the fact that he’s an alien, his story is one of humanity, and that’s on full demonstration amidst the fighting and the rubble.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Gojira has always been a metaphor. In the beginning, it was a metaphor for the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a warning of the dangers of nuclear power; in the latest installment, it's the climate crisis that Godzilla inhabits. Godzilla: King of the Monsters makes the kaiju ancient monsters, some that are fixed on destroying the world, and others determined to save it.
This not only makes the film compelling, but also apropos of what is actually happening in the world. Movies are at their best when they reflect the age they’re created, inviting the audience to really think through the lens of whatever is happening on screen and reflect on it. The military launches a weapon of mass destruction against Godzilla, not caring for its purpose. Dr. Serizawa goes on a suicide mission to make sure Godzilla survives, knowing it’s for the greater good.
See, Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn’t really about kaiju fighting (even though those sequences are really cool), it’s about the evolving nature of man and nature and how they’ve come to a head. It’s deep, man. Also the human storyline is actually compelling and helps drive the narrative; that’s not something that can be said for more monster movies.
Also seeing Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla together is just a delightful nerdfest if there ever was one
Disney’s decision to make movies based off its theme park and rides saw some successes and some not-so-successful movies. Some ideas spawned franchises, others were one-offs. The concept of Tomorrowland is an amazing one, honoring the science fiction nature of that area of its famous parks, and the film really does do something different with that as its base. It’s reminiscent of the Disney films of old, like Escape to Witch Mountain. It’s got that old school whimsy and magic, but just with better graphics.
It’s also a celebration of creativity, engineering, and art. The cinema landscape for the past decade has been littered with stories of post-apocalyptic and dystopian nightmares, but Tomorrowland is about a future that's possible when the next step isn't destruction of society as we know it, but positive enhancement. It’s a story about what imagination, smarts, and a bit of faith in the impossible can actually do. A bit of hope can be quite refreshing.
It’s also great representation for young girls interested in science, inventing, and being tired of being told they can’t do something. Plus, George Clooney is well, dreamy, even when he’s grumpy.
Sucker Punch (2011)
Sucker Punch is theatrical in every sense. It’s filled with metaphor, allegory, escapism, fantasy, and action sequences worthy of a video game. It’s also all about Babydoll and her dealing with trauma. It’s about how the mind and heart can battle about the best way to do it. Like, how would you deal with your step father paying someone to lobotomize you? The pain and fear of everything that leads up to that decision? Yes, okay, she killed her sister and that’s horrible, but Sucker Punch also doesn’t try to convince the audience otherwise. It just invites everyone along for the ride.
The cinematography of Sucker Punch is astounding, with the framing of shots, tracking shots, and overall attention to detail a true nod to Zack Snyder’s mastery of his craft. The visuals and CGI are on-point and the slow motion shots are a work of art. And that’s what Sucker Punch is really — it’s art. It’s also meta as hell. Is Babydoll really Babydoll? Is she a Guardian Angel? Is she the personification of the objectification of women fighting against the patriarchy? It’s all up to the audience.
It’s also filled with women being seriously badass, and they’re all women from a brothel, so yay for sex positive action heroines, right?
Coming out the same year as How To Train Your Dragon and the franchise spawning Despicable Me, which coincidentally was another animated film about a supervillain who gets reformed, Megamind was immediately fighting an uphill battle. However, it’s crested that to become a late blooming subversive masterpiece of nature versus nurture.
Megamind, the character, is inherently good, going so far as to try to create inventions to help people as a child, despite his up-bringing amongst burglars and murderers in the prison he accidentally space-rocketed into. However, society’s rejection of him catapults him back to acting on how he was nurtured, and as such he turns to villainy. His hatred of himself is internalized and is reinforced by those he tries to assimilate with. This is in direct juxtaposition to Metro Man’s hubris and feeling of obligation rather than genuine interest in his superhero duties. Really, he just wants to play guitar.
So here we have the “hero” and the “villain” rebelling against the roles the world has labelled them with. Throw in Hal with his self-entitlement to a woman who has no interest in him and you have a complex story with multi-faceted characters that deserved a lot more praise. Pretty deep for a kid’s movie, right? Not really, it just refuses to dumb down its message, believeing children, just as adults, will be able to understand the core message. We need more movies like that.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
To pull off a concept like Cloud Atlas is a feat in itself. All these storylines interconnecting through reincarnated souls is difficult enough to express on paper, never mind the big screen. However, this movie did the seemingly impossible, and it did it beautifully. This film should have raked in award after award and gone down in history, especially with the roster of talent it had. None of the performances are stale; they’re all compelling, and part of the fun was seeing them in different universes, still being them. Magical storytelling.
A lot of people complained that it was too confusing to follow, but really, they just weren’t paying attention. More films need to command our attention, especially in an age of 140 characters and 30 second YouTube videos. Ben Whishaw is, of course, a stand-out here. He’s also the one that will make sure you end the story sobbing uproariously. But it’s the small moments amongst the grand waves that are the most astounding. It’s just a really good movie, guys.
And yes, the Wachowskis may have thought themselves enlightening, but really, let’s not glaze over the “color blind” casting that is really just a lame excuse for Yellow Face. They were trying to do something different, as much of the film does, but that decision was unacceptable
The Hobbit (2012-2014)
More people would probably be singing the praises of The Hobbit trilogy as a whole if it hadn’t been a trilogy at all. Bloating the short novel into three films was a mistake, we can all agree on that, but the first installment deserves more of your love.
The Hobbit isn’t the grand action epic that Lord of the Rings was, and as such it never had to be, despite what most people’s expectations probably were. Also, The Hobbit was intended as a children’s story, so to compare it to Peter Jackson’s previous epic isn’t exactly fair. The story holds up on its own, even if the stakes are much lower. Not all fantasy stories have to be about the end of the world. Sometimes it’s just a find and fetch quest. And that’s okay.
Martin Freeman is pitch-perfect as Bilbo Baggins and the collection of dwarves are not only interesting characters, but also distinct and wonderfully acted themselves. The relationship between Bilbo and Thorin, in particular, launched a thousand ships, and it’s no small reason that they drive the heart of the film. Also, it’s funny. Bilbo is such an ill-equipped traveler and played so wonderfully by Freeman that it’s relatable and you actually fear for Bilbo, whereas you may not have feared quite so much for Frodo, who seemed to deal with his sudden adventure a lot better. It’s a fantasy story in all the best ways.