It has been, overall, a strong year for genre filmmaking on all fronts. There were some remarkable superhero films that challenged and subverted the nature of the format, horror movies that had something more to offer than just another masked killer slicing and dicing teens, and science fiction cinema that brought ambition and even poetry to the stories being told. Across the board there were empathy, humanity, and love on display — the things needed to push back against the darkness both onscreen and in the real world around us.
With that in mind, here are the SYFY WIRE staff's picks — determined by in-house polling — for the 10 best genre movies of 2017. The list spans all the genres we cover, and the poll itself included most of the major and indie releases of the year (one omission: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which did not screen in time before the poll was circulated and compiled). Each of the films that made the final tally brought something special, new, and/or entertaining to its genre, and we hope you found something to savor and enjoy in each of them too. If not — and if you've got some choices of your own — feel free to share your opinions below.
So here they are, the 10 best movies of 2017:
Spidey came home to Marvel Studios, which was asked by a desperate Sony Pictures to right the Spider-Man ship. After causing an immediate sensation with his introduction — in the form of Tom Holland — in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel got to work crafting an adventure that didn't involve the fate of the world and finally had an age-appropriate actor (not 30-year-old Andrew Garfield, who did the best he could with his two entries) capturing the angst, fun and chaos of Peter Parker's high school years as a superhero.
Michael Keaton provided some solid villainy (also refreshing for a Marvel movie) as the Vulture, Robert Downey Jr. was on hand to remind us that Spidey belongs to the MCU now, and director Jon Watts kept the whole thing light on its feet. A nice reset for Marvel's crown jewel that bodes well for impending X-Men and Fantastic Four reboots.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn delivered again with his second foray into one of the weirdest corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this time bringing Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) head to, uh, continent with his father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell, who makes everything better). Guardians Vol. 2 may have lacked the complete surprise and freshness factor of its predecessor, but it did provide us with another slam-bang space opera as well as some terrific character development for Rocket (Bradley Cooper), new addition Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan, sensational) and especially Yondu (the awesome Michael Rooker), whose send-off was one of the most emotional moments we've seen in the MCU's 10 years.
A love letter to Mexico and a meditation on the importance of memory, family and tradition, Coco was one of Pixar's strongest and most heartfelt offerings in years. Although it shared the Dia de Muertos backdrop with 2014's Book of Life, the two films couldn't be more dissimilar in their themes and narratives. Co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, along with the formidable army of Pixar craftspeople, painted a glorious vision of the Land of the Dead that was both breathtaking in its beauty and haunting in its underlying melancholy tone. Coming after two years of the country to our south being cast as all but an enemy nation by certain political actors, Coco reminded us that all cultures deserve respect and honor.
At its best, the horror genre can hold a dark mirror right up to human nature and show us some unpleasant realities about ourselves through that distorted and cracked glass. Get Out is a nearly perfect example of horror as social commentary, with writer/director Jordan Peele using a framework similar to that of The Stepford Wives to tell a tale of racism, white privilege and mind control that is terrifically scary, incisively funny and painfully truthful — often all within the same scene. Peele's direction is on point — he clearly knows the genre — and he gets outstanding work out of stars Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener and Allison Williams.
The Shape of Water
Only Guillermo del Toro could make a movie about a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with an aquatic hybrid of humanoid and reptile into one of the most erotic love stories of the year. Del Toro's exquisitely shot and acted film is many things — a loving homage to cinema itself, a sly update of Creature from the Black Lagoon and a subversion of the standard Cold War sci-fi thriller — but above all it is a return to a classic GDT theme: that we must see past the surface to know who the true monsters are. With award-caliber performances from Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon and a costumed Doug Jones, The Shape of Water is the filmmaker's most tender film to date.
So many horror movies churned out by Hollywood studios feel like empty cash grabs aimed at bored teen audiences looking for something to scream at on a Friday night. But It, based on Stephen King's epic 1986 novel, felt different from the start. Yes, director Andy Muschietti delivered the requisite jump scares and shocking visuals, and yes there's a hell of a monster in Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise the Clown, but the movie let you care about its sweet, funny and irascible group of seven friends while making the end of their innocence that much more heartbreaking. Faithful to King's book in spirit and incident, It proved that thoughtfully crafted genre fare could also strike an extremely lucrative chord with audiences.
Even the staunchest fan of the MCU will admit that Thor's two standalone outings to date usually lurk near the bottom of their personal rankings of the studio's films. A rethink was in order, and Marvel made the smartest move it could by allowing director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) to make his kind of Thor movie.
The result — a bizarre confection of slapstick comedy, delirious space adventure and genuinely Kirby-esque surrealism — instantly became the God of Thunder's most successful solo outing both artistically and at the box office. There are tons of things to love about Thor: Ragnarok, from Cate Blanchett's fierce Hela to Tessa Thompson's righteous Valkyrie to the return of our old pal Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), while star Chris Hemsworth has never seemed more relaxed and the movie seems to leap right off the pages of a comic book.
It's both disheartening and exhilarating to realize that that stunning, showstopping scene midway through Wonder Woman — in which Diana rises out of the trench to take on the Germans singlehandedly in a blasted (and well-named) No Man's Land — was 75 years in the making. It took seven-plus decades for the world's first female superhero to get that glorious, transcendent moment onscreen, and while it's long overdue, it could not have come at a better time.
With both the world itself, not to mention the DC film universe, cloaked in a seemingly endless pall of darkness and despair, director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot (who positively blazes in this) showed us that hope, compassion and decency were the signposts we need for a better and — at last — more equal world.
The most radical superhero movie of 2017 also ended up as one of the genre's best offerings and easily at the front of the pack of the long and twisty X-Men franchise. Logan deconstructs the myth of the superhero from the get-go, showing the person underneath (in this case the wisecracking, foul-tempered James Howlett, aka Logan aka Wolverine) to be as flawed, dysfunctional and lonely as any of us, especially as the days ahead grow much more scarce than the ones behind.
Hugh Jackman says goodbye to the claws with a rich, complex and deeply emotional performance, while Patrick Stewart is brilliant as a dying and near-senile Professor X. Logan is mournful, visceral and humane — and a "comic book movie" that is decidedly for adults.
Blade Runner 2049
The best science fiction shows us new worlds — sometimes million of light-years away, sometimes just a few minutes into the future — that offer up both ideas that open our minds and concepts that reflect back on the way we're living now. The original Blade Runner was just such a movie (even with its considerable flaws) and so is its highly ambitious and often jaw-dropping sequel. Like its predecessor, it's not a perfect film (far from it, its critics might say), but it's unlike any movie released this year in terms of its esthetic, its visual palette and its willingness to challenge the audience. In that sense, it's the most purely science fictional movie released in 2017 — which may also make it the best.