Some surprises are good; some not so much. 2018 was filled with both the good and bad kind, often throwing fans for a loop or being cause for celebration. A lot happened this year: Movies premiered, movies once thought dead reappeared, a franchise (maybe) died while others came back to life — plus, y'know, a lot more.
So to wrap up the biggest, baddest, and best geek surprises of the year, SYFY WIRE scoured its editors' collective memory to dredge up the stories and announcements that caught us all off guard.
Here are the eight biggest surprises of 2018.
Black Panther making over $1 billion
For anyone who was paying attention in the months leading up to Black Panther’s February release, its success and cultural dominance probably weren’t a surprise. Its making $1.3 billion worldwide, however, was a different story. The MCU’s first black director, first black lead character, and first majority black cast garnered all the attention expected and more, breaking records left and right and bringing communities together to celebrate what is a truly magnificent, groundbreaking movie.
With that, Black Panther is one of the Top 10 box office earners of all time. Theaters sold out in the blink of an eye and people bought out entire theaters so kids could see a superhero who looked like them. Months later, Black Panther is sweeping award nominations and there’s even talk of a Best Picture Oscar nom and a Best Director spot for Ryan Coogler. Oh, and let’s not forget Black Panther 2, which is already underway.
Ron Howard's Solo flopping
Maybe it was because the previous Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, had premiered only five months before. Maybe it was because The Last Jedi cleaved Star Wars fandom into so many dissenting factions that the next Star Wars was bound to fail. Maybe it was because fans couldn’t possibly imagine a Han Solo not played by Harrison Ford. Or maybe it was because of the film’s incredibly public, contentious director switch-up. Whatever the reason, Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second standalone Star Wars feature film outside the Skywalker Saga, bombed.
At least, it bombed for a Star Wars movie at $213 million (just over $300 million worldwide), which is nothing to shake a blaster at. But seeing as the franchise’s previous three films, The Last Jedi, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, garnered $620 million, $532 million, and $937 million, respectively, Solo falls short. And it fell short with the moniker of “most expensive Star Wars movie ever made” hanging over its head. Ouch.
Solo’s drastic underperformance is, reportedly, what led Lucasfilm to cancel future spin-offs, including much-anticipated Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett films. Instead, the House of Mouse has shifted its focus to finishing out the Skywalker Saga with Star Wars: Episode IX, as well as Rian Johnson’s mysterious trilogy and Disney+ fare such as John Favreau's The Mandalorian and a new season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
James Gunn firing
As San Diego Comic Con 2018 raged on, the geek world’s collective attention was suddenly, drastically drawn away by the news that Disney (and, thus, Marvel Studios) had parted ways with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. On July 19, the conservative website The Daily Caller had published several of Gunn’s public tweets (some going back as far as 2008), which were deemed offensive and inconsistent with what was expected of him by Disney.
The resulting fallout was explosive and immediate; Disney severed all public ties with Gunn and fired him from the third Guardians of the Galaxy film within about 24 hours of the story’s publication.
"The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him," Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn told SYFY WIRE at the time.
Fans flocked to defend and shame Gunn in equal measure online. Arguments over whether or not a person could change over the course of 10 years abounded. Gunn took to Twitter to apologize and defend himself but Disney has since doubled down on its decision, reiterating that the company has no plans to bring the director back into the fold. Production for the planned third Guardians of the Galaxy film has since been pushed to 2021.
A new Star Trek series starring Picard
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon put it best when he said Captain Jean-Luc Picard is “the hero we need right now.” So it’s fitting that Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, is getting a new Star Trek TV series on CBS All Access. (And before you panic, know that this is a continuation of Stewart’s role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, not an out-and-out reboot.)
Chabon, one of the upcoming series’ writers and executive producers, has emphasized he feels a “responsibility to continue to articulate a hopeful, positive vision of the future,” which is something we sorely need at the moment. Details on the series are slim, but we can expect to see it sometime in 2019.
Venom was… good? Not good-good, but good. There’s a reason why it’s listed as one of SYFY WIRE’s favorite movies of 2018 (more on that to come).
The alien symbiote’s first time out as a leading man (creature? parasitic alien? genderless entity?) didn’t do so hot in the states, garnering about $212 million at the box office. But Venom killed internationally. When it was all said and done, Venom raked in a sweet $853 million worldwide, earning “two tongues up” and, best of all, status as a romantic comedy.
And that’s because Venom is weird. A Venom film without Spider-Man had to be weird. Until the film premiered, plenty of fans were worried and even angry, going so far as to write the movie off from day one. Now, there’s talk of a sequel. It just goes to show that if you believe, you can achieve (or something else equally cheesy).
Rick dying (but not) and the Walking Dead movie-verse
In May, news that Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes would be leaving The Walking Dead behind prompted tears and outrage from long-time fans. Lincoln didn’t explain the choice 'til July, when he revealed his departure was due to wanting to spend more time with his two young children. He’d reportedly been considering leaving the show for years, but figured Season 9 was as good an exit point as any.
Rick was, supposedly, going to die — following in the footsteps of his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) — after sacrificing himself to save his family. However, Rick miraculously survived a massive explosion and was picked up by Jadis’ (Pollyanna McIntosh) helicopter. His not-death will be followed by a movie trilogy starring Rick and set in the Walking Dead universe. Stranger things have happened, right?
Avatar sequels are actually happening
The world was simpler when James Cameron’s Avatar hit theaters in 2009. Almost 10 years later, the Extended and Cinematic Universes are a mainstay in popular culture. And while Avatar existed in a sort of bubble for a decade, it will become part of a much larger world when its four — yes, four — sequels premiere over the course of the next seven or so years (as Avatar 5 is expected to premiere in December 2025). Prepare yourselves for the Avatar Extended Universe.
All of this is to say that the world was shocked to learn that the second and third Avatar films — Avatar: The Way of Water and Avatar: The Seed Bearer, respectively — wrapped up principle filming in November. Stunt work and all that behind-the-scenes magic are still very much in the works, but the film’s stars (Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, etc.) have finished their part.
And now we wait until The Way of Water premieres in 2020.
All the Marvel Netflix cancellations
Netflix's Marvel shows started out strong in 2018, with second seasons of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, as well as the third season of Daredevil. Things seemed to be going well; Colleen Wing was given the Iron Fist, Luke Cage looked to be heading down a dark path, and Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, and Karen Page were ready to restart their law practice. But as of the end of November, all three shows had been canceled.
The cancellations came as a bit of a shock for many fans. Not too long ago, the Daredevil-verse was the hottest thing in television. Marvel’s The Defenders was hyped like none other (which is why it was such a weird disaster when it failed to deliver) and John Bernthal’s iteration of Frank Castle on Daredevil was so popular that it spawned a spinoff, The Punisher.
Now, The Punisher and Jessica Jones — the only female-led show of the bunch — are all that remain, and, despite having already filmed their second seasons, we’re kinda-sorta expecting cancellation notices at any time. The Punisher Season 2 is expected sometime in January, and while JJ Season 3 doesn’t yet have a release window, it seems safe to assume we’ll see Season 3 before it, too, gets the ax.
Questions of whether or not the Daredevil-verse will find new life on Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+, have arisen.