2012, like pretty much every year since, was a big year for comic book films. The Avengers assembled, the Dark Knight returned and rose, and Spider-Man rebooted. The year was highlighted by the first two: the long-awaited team-up of Marvel’s heroes…and then the finale of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing Dark Knight trilogy.
On top of that, one of DC’s best animated movies hit the small screen and the Spider-Man reboot was a success, even if it was downright foolish to do an origin story just a decade after, well, doing an origin story.
Outside of my nerd bubble, 2012 still registered a strong 15 “A+” scores. Quentin Tarantino followed up the ingenious Inglourious Basterds with Django Unchained, James Bond returned to form after an uninspiring sequel to the fantastic Casino Royale, I graduated high school, and last but certainly not least, the Men in Black came back!
39. Ghost Rider: Spirt of Vengeance; F
The lowly-anticipated sequel to the first Ghost Rider five years prior, I have to say that the first one is not a complete skull-dumpster fire. And Nicolas Cage, at moments, is a relatable dude who doesn’t want these hellish powers. Makes sense. Well, the second one goes absolutely off the deep end, with some of the most bizarre, head-spinning cinematography I will probably ever see.
38. Premium Rush; D-
Starts off promising with a creative premise, but quickly falls apart into a very cliched plot, uninspiring love story, ridiculous, over-the-top bad guy and unlikable protagonist.
37. This Is 40; D
If not for the soaring acting wings of Paul Rudd, comedy overlord Judd Apatow’s follow-up to the impressive Funny People flirts with an ‘F.’ I get and appreciate self-deprecating comedy, but Rudd and co-star Leslie Mann just come across as total life-haters.
36. Lincoln; D
I’m fascinated by history but Lincoln, even for me, moves way too slow. I actually prefer people films to action films, but when you’re completely one or the other, it gets difficult to keep both eyes open.
35. Paranormal Activity 4: D+
The OG in the found footage horror department — or really found footage film at all. It certainly overextended its welcome, but hey, people kept showing up and the ending is kinda scurry.
34. That’s My Boy; C-
Adam Sandler’s run from way back in 1995 with Billy Madison all the way to Funny People in 2009 was one of the most enduring, hilarious stretches we’ll ever get in cinematic laughter. That’s My Boy is after 2009.
33. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Dog Days; C
Love the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books but the movie just didn’t capture the same childhood magic.
32. Looper; C+
Looper will go down in history as the film that earned Rian Johnson the director’s chair to The Last Jedi. It’s a creative endeavor but with a bold narrative you run the risk of getting a little messy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ridiculously accurate Bruce Willis makeup is to be commended, but it’s also extremely distracting.
31. Trouble with the Curve; C+
Cheesy, corny but still mostly succeeds because of the cast, especially Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood. Justin Timberlake is also in it because remember he did movies for a bit, and I can’t deny the appeal of baseball and a pretty cool glimpse into the unheralded world of scouting.
30. Taken 2; C+
The second Taken movie actually has good intentions. After Liam Neeson ravaged his way through an entire criminal organization in the first one (sorry, spoiler), a lot of families were torn apart. Families of murderous sex traffickers but, you know, families. The bones are there but the execution, except literally, is sadly weak.
29. Dredd; B-
A remake of the 1995 film Judge Dredd starring Sly Stallone (which I never saw), Dredd is an independent comic book property (see: Hellboy) and exists in a very very very very very violent, dystopian world. The action is pretty sweet and Karl Urban gives it his all.
28. The Woman in Black; B
After Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe’s post-wizarding career began with a good performance in a movie that isn’t quite as impressive. The woman in black herself, though, is scary.
27. Moonrise Kingdom; B
Wes Anderson movies are certainly a thing of their own. I haven’t loved all of them aside from The Grand Budapest Hotel, but the quirkiness and creative juices flowing through everything he produces is undeniable. Edward Norton delivers a hilarious performance.
26. Ted; B
I absolutely love Seth MacFarlane. Family Guy and American Dad are two of the greatest shows ever. I just didn’t feel that 30-minute television block magic translate to the big screen.
25. The Campaign; B+
Has plenty of absurd moments that stink of the past decade’s low expectation from comedy, but rides the unwavering momentum of Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis at the leads. Also a clutch supporting role from Dylan McDermott, who will appear again in similar fashion on this list.
24. The Hunger Games; B+
FRANCHISE ALERT! FRANCHISE ALERT! FRANCHISE ALERT!
After the aforementioned Harry Potter films officially ended in 2011, there was a huge hole in the young adult novel movie genre. Several tried but The Hunger Games prevailed, spawning a franchise and four total movies through 2015. If not for the personally distasteful Jennifer Lawrence, the movie based on one of my favorite books would certainly be higher.
23. The Bourne Legacy; A-
Wait a minute! The crappy Jason Bourne movie…without Jason Bourne…is an “A-” movie?!?! Oh yes. Aside from the first Bourne movie, I think the franchise is kind of overrated and the second, third and fifth movie’s story are pretty vanilla. The Bourne Legacy strays from the main arc and gets more into the world that the movies have built. I turned out to be a big fan of that.
22. End of Watch; A-
Found footage movies can be really annoying. They can also be extremely rewarding if they work. End of Watch follows Los Angeles cops through the streets and, from what I’ve read, it is incredibly faithful to the actual boys in blue. Doesn’t hurt that it stars two of my favorite actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.
21. Life of Pi; A-
What I love about Life of Pi is that on the surface it seems like this very realistic, (literally) by-the-book tale. Just with a tiger. It’s actually very sci-fi influenced and the visuals really are awesome. Suraj Sharma as young Pi and Irfan Khan as older Pi are a dynamic acting duo. I love animals.
20. Flight; A-
Denzel Washington is up there among actors that just dominate the screen. Throw in a hilarious role from John Goodman and you have yourself a movie. It’s a little too long, though and I’m very picky about movies that flirt with the two and a half hour mark.
19. The Cabin in the Woods; A-
A clever, creative spin on the horror genre that unfortunately has gone stale due to its largely unopposed domination of the 70s and 80s.
18. Chronicle; A-
Like Rian Johnson and Looper to Star Wars, Chronicle rewarded Josh Trank with the Fantastic Four reboot. Before that tanked (tranked?) he was also going to get his shot in the Galaxy Far, Far Away as well. We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Chronicle is about what kids —two of them played by Michael B. Jordan and Dane Dehaan— would do if they got superpowers. I mean, not even Batman and Spider-Man originally had good intentions.
17. Chimpanzee; A
Benefit of being a documentary but they make bad documentaries too. The timeline of Chimpanzee is pretty remarkable and how they knew all these incredible lifetime events would happen to our little friend Oscar is crazy. Was it luck? No such thing. Although kinda.
16. Prometheus; A
Unpopular opinion: The Alien movies are overrated. They’re painfully slow, very little happens and pretty much every character outside of Sigourney Weaver is annoying. However! Prometheus is a welcome fresh start to the franchise and the prequel (I love those!) adds a lot of valuable lore to the universe. Momentum was sadly lost with Alien: Covenant in 2017 and I wonder what could have been with Neil Blomkamp (District 9) at the helm.
15. The Grey; A+
Since Taken, Liam Neeson has been in revenge thriller after revenge thriller after thrilling revenge story. The Grey sounds very much, on paper, like it could be another in a long line. It’s not at all and has some of the best man-on-wolf combat I’ve ever seen. The Revenant got all the love and that was just a bear hug!
14. 21 Jump Street; A+
I absolutely love self-aware comedies and 21 Jump Street, a “reboot” of the late 80s TV show with the “Deppster” (Johnny Depp) is certainly that. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a great laugh combo and the sequel in 2014 is a rare comedy sequel that works.
13. The Dictator; A+
Not exactly self-aware comedy, but there’s definitely something both admirable and appealing to me about Sacha Baron Cohen’s style. You either love it or hate it and I love it. After several other hits like Ali G and Borat (sorry Bruno), SBC once agains utilizes prosthesis in grand style as he becomes the ruthless but caring leader of fictional Wadiya. Love me some Ben Kingsley, too.
12. Argo; A+
Ben Affleck is a talented director. Prior to Argo, he spun an awesome tale in a crime genre that has dried out with The Town. About the true events in 1979 at the U.S. embassy in Iran, Argo is awesome because the attention to detail about a movie in a movie all works so well. You never once question the movie in a movie because the movie in the movie is so great!
11. Zero Dark Thirty; A+
Kathryn Bigelow got some flack for playing with the truth in 2008’s The Hurt Locker. There is no way around the facts in Zero Dark Thirty. A true story can make for a slow movie or an extremely interesting and inherently relatable movie. This film is INTENSE and the cast —Jason Clarke Duncan, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and the intro to hunky Chris Pratt!— are just as impressive.
10. Men in Black 3; A+
The first Men in Black was awesome. The second one was terrible. These two opinions are pretty much shared. However the third, which came 15 years after MiB1 and another decade after MiB2, has people split. For me it is unquestionably my favorite of the series. The creativity of the first is back. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones look fully engaged, Danny Elfman’s score as well, and Josh Brolin is a spot-on Agent K. The twist was a risk but it worked completely for me. Boris the Animal is also super cool and shoutout Bill Hader and the underrated Michael Stuhlbarg.
9. Sinister; A+
Scary movies and comedies are often pretty transparent, simply there for the scare or the laugh. Rarely does a story go deeper than the surface in these genres. With Sinister, Scott Derrickson provides one of my favorite stories in a SM (scary movie) I’ve ever seen. Ethan Hawke is great, famed horror composer Christopher Young’s score is HAUNTING and the movie is pretty darn scurry.
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower; A+
What seems like your run-of-the-mill teenage movie based on a teenage novel turns out to be a substantial look at life, friendship and abuse. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller are absolutely fantastic and are the heart and soul of Wallflower to bright success. Paul Rudd and Dylan McDermott as teacher and dad respectively play small roles but contribute equal compassion to the script in their minimal screen time. It admittedly has a fairytale finish, but hey, it’s just a movie.
7. Skyfall; A+
Are the modern James Bond movies my favorite Bond movies because I’m living through them? Or because I prefer drama to camp every day of the week and twice on Sundays? With that said, the Daniel Craig Bond films are a solid 2.5 out of 4. No points for Quantum of Solace and a half-point for Spectre. Like Casino Royale, Skyfall is slick, sexy, has a dazzling opening credits sequence, also delivering a thrilling spy movie with a kick-ass Bond villain played by Javier Bardem. Also introduces the beautiful Naomie Harris as the new Moneypenny and likable Ben Winshaw as a younger Q.
6. The Impossible; A+
Originally I watched this because I love disaster movies almost as much as I love Ewan McGregor. To my pleasant surprise, there’s rookie Tom Holland! From an early age that kid was destined to be a star. He’s the main character in a movie with McGregor and Naomi Watts on board — and he’s fantastic, keeping pace with two incredible performances from Hollywood veterans. Based on the real-life story of a vacationing family in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami, it aims to be extremely moving and succeeds in bringing multiple forms of waterworks.
5. Django Unchained; A+
The reason Quentin Tarantino is so great is because, well, that dude is CRAZY. But it takes a bold creative mind to give audiences movies like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. It’s written with razor sharp precision, inappropriate as holy hell and cast so perfectly. All the ingredients of a signature Tarantino film.
Saying it has career performances from Jamie Fox and Leonardo DiCaprio is nothing to scoff at. Christoph Waltz and his many, many, many handbill’s arguably steal the film and Samuel L. Jackson flips the script as the most racist character in the movie. (Maybe. There’s a lot of racism.)) The way Tarantino tackles extremely sensitive stuff without hesitation and with great haste —in this case, slavery— is admirable from a film-making standpoint and clears creative boundaries few directors can or will.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1; A+
The first of a two-parter in consecutive years, it’s my favorite DC animated film (put together as one) of all time outside of Batman: Under the Red Hood. But I said that in my 2013 review. This going backwards thing is confusing for us all. Animated Batman films have often rode the angelic voice talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker. However, Peter Weller (OG Robocop!) voiced the much older Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Joker is played by Michael Emerson. Not a lot was lost there and the dystopian, futuristic story needed a new feel across the board to distinguish itself as something so very different.
Part 1 lays the groundwork for the explosive finale that features Superman and Green Arrow and even Ronald Reagan. Part 1 has some really exciting world-building featuring Two-Face and the newscast viewpoint from Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel is employed with giddy precision.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man; A+
Just five years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 3, Sony execs somehow came to the decision for a reboot. And not a soft reboot. And all this after chasing away Raimi, Maguire and that creative team with venomous off-camera demands. A whole origin story just a short decade after the 2002 edition doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There were some justifiable character changes buttTime spent on the big change of the web shooters is instead devoted to poor Uncle Ben having to die again.
Despite the inexplicable decision, the film still wins for this Spidey fan. So we didn’t get any of the promised “untold story” of Peter’s espionage parents heavily advertised in the trailers. At all. But Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Parker and Gwendolyne Stacy keep the repetition from feeling familiar and give the movie a fresh breath in a crowded superhero landscape. Another epic Stan Lee cameo adds to a film that rides visual waves and makes up for being a reboot by being damn good.
2. The Dark Knight Rises; A+
As Spider-Man rebooted and the Marvel Cinematic Universe reached their team-up extravaganza, the other comic power player reached the end of its traditional trilogy. (Back in the cinematic days when trilogies were the extent of franchises.) After Christopher Nolan and his Syncopy team upped their game as well as the stakes in The Dark Knight following Batman Begins, it was a tall task to make the finale the best of them. Not to say it wasn’t a hell of a finish.
But it’s definitely the weakest of three epic films in my opinion. Narratively it has a lot of holes, but overcomes a lot of plot contrivances by remaining a beautifully shot, triumphant Batman film. Christian Bale is even gruffer, Michael Caine is even sadder, Anne Hathaway is even sexier, and Tom Hardy’s Bane is productively way different from the comics. He ditches the venom drug (foreshadowing!) for a more natural approach that fits the real world Nolan has built. The pieces are in places —and once again Hans Zimmer’s score is utterly phenomenal— but the execution isn’t as sharp as the first two of the now-completed, historical trilogy that cemented gritty superhero movies as commonplace. (That movement also aided by Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films.)
1. The Avengers; A+
Five films and four origin stories in five years patiently led up to the main event: The Avengers. It was worth the wait. Kevin Feige, Joss Whedon and the rest of the expanding Marvel Studios team soared way above lofty expectations. They played the long game (endgame?) and not only did it pay off, it allowed them the room to create the shared universe that is now about to be 22 movies and dozens and dozens of worlds and characters deep. I have literally one complaint about this monumental movie: Cap’s onesie suit. Ugh. Come on Coulson!
Seeing it all come together was a nerd’s comic book fan’s dream. There are so many nods to the countless Avengers issues that have appeared since 1963. Iron Man’s joke about LMD’s (Life Model Decoy) is a personal favorite and I hope to see that explored in the MCU one day. Maybe movie 45 in 2028.
Casting has been the crux of the MCU’s incredible success and the floor being shared by so many stars from their own solo vehicles was something that had never been done before. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, newly minted Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, introducing Maria Hill and obviously the man himself Samuel L. Jackson all share the screen, but it never feels like anyone is left out. The power of previous character development and patience (!) resulted in something truly special and changed the movie-making world forever.