As usual, science fiction and fantasy on the big screen was populated by superheroes this year. But there was also room in 2018 for some talking bears, talking dogs, witches and Wookies, and a lot of weird visuals. This list is also well-populated by Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and multiples of Tilda Swinton and Spider-Man. Plus a number of successful alien invaders and other stories without the happiest of endings. The movies range in size from indies costing under a million dollars to the most expensive sorts of summer blockbusters, and they come from as far as Korea, Japan, and Wakanda. Behold, 19 titles ranked and reviewed plus six more honorable mentions below.
18. (TIE) Aquaman and Avengers: Infinity War
Two superhero movies. One DC, one Marvel. One dives deep into the expanses of the ocean, the other broadens a franchise further into the far reaches of outer space. One feels like a new beginning for its cinematic universe, while the other appears to be the beginning of the end. Aquaman and Avengers: Infinity War are nothing alike, and that’s part of the reason I can’t decide which one deserves higher placement. Hence, a tie. Aquaman is a goofy, fast-moving fantasy epic in the spirit of Charles H. Schneer and only somewhat resembles a superhero movie, let alone the other DC Extended Universe installments. Infinity War is a heavy, devastating but also spectacular sci-fi epic that culminates everything we’ve seen of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Aquaman is a whole lot of movie. Infinity War is a whole lot of movie. You could just end the list right now, I guess.
Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho follows up his breakout 2016 film Train to Busan and its animated prequel, Seoul Station, with a lighter and slighter effort that’s still thoroughly enjoyable. This time Yeon tackles the superhero genre with a rather small-stakes story. Psychokinesis stars Ryu Seung-ryong (Miracle in Cell No. 7) as a man who gains powers in a way that’s unimportant. It’s what he does with them that matters. He doesn’t try to save the world or fight crime. He tries to patch things up with his estranged daughter (Shim Eun-kyung), who is having trouble battling real estate developers. The combo of disbelief and cynicism that superpowers are met with here is uniquely amusing, while the movie ends with quite the kicker.
16. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I really don’t get the negative reception of Fallen Kingdom, especially in relation to the other Jurassic movies. Director J.A. Bayona and D.P. Oscar Faura deliver the most stylish installment of the franchise, and their execution of what’s admittedly a silly story (frankly, the original isn’t scripted that well either) contains the best thrills and peril and adventure since Jurassic Park 1. And when it gets kinda dumb, even for a Jurassic movie, whether or not it’s intentional, Fallen Kingdom plays almost like one of Joe Dante’s horror comedies. It’s more entertaining and affecting and thematically rich in its ethical quagmire than critics are giving it credit for.
15. The Endless
While so many big studios keep throwing away money trying and failing to develop new MCU-like mega-franchises, indie filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have created one for less than half a million bucks over a couple of movies. The Endless isn’t quite a sequel to their 2012 indie Resolution, but it does take place in the same world and overlaps a bit. They also star as brothers who escaped a cult 10 years earlier but have now been mysteriously drawn back to the camp, with sort of Lost-like results. Why haven’t the people there aged? Why are there multiple moons in the sky? What does any of the movie mean? You’ll fittingly want to watch this one over and over to appreciate its Lovecraftian charms.
14. Deadpool 2
More of a comedy than a real superhero movie (it’s also on my list of the best comedies of the year), the Deadpool sequel goes a little too far with the amount of plot it wants to throw at the wall here. But when it’s not trying too hard to give us the convoluted introduction of Cable, Deadpool 2 is another very funny spoof of the superhero genre. And of time-travel movies. It’s also got some terrifically directed action sequences, care of former stuntman David Leitch. And Zazie Beetz is sensational as Domino in those sequences that illustrate her power of luck.
13. Fahrenheit 451
There’s an irony to any movie adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but the story remains essential in any format, just as the content of the contraband books of its plot still function and matter the same when uploaded to the internet or memorized by the rebelliously erudite. HBO’s new version manages to keep the gist of the work it’s based on while seeming like it’s been significantly updated. It’s maybe more relevant than ever given how the Tower of Babel that is today’s increasingly divisive media makes the variety of content actually seem bad due to the decrease in media literacy. The actors and story around the theme are a little flat, but they’re a functioning vehicle for the more considerable aspects of the adaptation.
12. Christopher Robin
Before Mary Poppins returned in an okay but familiar sequel, another Disney icon made his way back to the big screen with a very similar story. Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Woods come more alive than ever as they reunite with a grown-up Christopher Robin who has lost his way. Pooh wasn’t the greatest cuddly bear in film this year (see my #1), but he was probably still the most precious thing at the movies at a time when we need his wonderfully yet unwittingly witty insights on life. Christopher Robin can be a little dark, but A.A. Milne’s creations have always been a little bleak.
11. Before We Vanish
Kiyoshi Kurosawa mixes a bit of Body Snatchers and Starman with this alien invasion film about a trio of extraterrestrials preparing for the main attack to come. Not only does this advance guard take on the skin of randomly chosen victims but they also harm additional humans by stealing their conceptions of such things as “family” and “work.” While there’s a good amount of action, Before We Vanish is mainly a character-centered sci-fi effort that also itself seems to be collecting conceptions, particularly exploring those of love, identity, and humanity. Once you hear the John Williams-esque score with its prominent English horn, you’ll be hooked.
10. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Certainly not the best Star Wars movie, but Solo is a good ride. The space Western prequel spinoff looks into the origins of an iconic character but should be appreciated as a more isolated adventure of its own, with Alden Ehrenreich making the role his own. Still, he is the least interesting part of his own tale, which is populated by wonderful new characters plus the freshly inhabited Lando, smooth and suspect as can be as played by Donald Glover. Not everything works, but it leaves you wanting to spend more time in its worlds and with those worlds’ inhabitants. Is it necessary? Of course not, and neither has been any other Star Wars movie after the first one.