The Best Movie of 2015 Set in 2015

By  · Published on December 15th, 2015

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

This year, the world paid a lot of attention to the representation of 2015 in a movie. A 26-year-old movie that foresaw a time of flying cars, hoverboards and self-lacing sneakers. Some of these things actually came to be, if only because of the movie, but for the most part 2015 doesn’t look anything like it does in Back to the Future Part II.

Ironically, now that we’re in 2015, there aren’t many great movies that depict the real 2015. There are a lot of mainstream releases set in the nondescript present day, including some like Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron that are of an alternate present where dinosaurs or superheroes exist. Few, however, label themselves specifically as taking place this year.

It makes sense for two reasons. One is that prestige films are often period pieces, even if the period is recent history. They’re either based on classic literature or true stories, both things of the past. Another is that it can be tricky to postdate your movie, which is always going to be filmed ahead of its release. It’s not a big gamble, but it’s always possible the world of next year will be different than the world you’re setting your story in.

The best movies of 2015 include romantic dramas set in the 1950s, Westerns set in the 19th century, sci-fi stories set both a long time ago and half a century away, biopics of the ’80s and ’90s, ripped-from-the-headlines films set in the 2000s and a comical urban odyssey set on (close but no cigar) Christmas Eve in 2014.

I can only recall seeing a “2015” timestamp on one major movie this year: Creed. The sports drama does begin in the past, specifically 1998, but then it quickly jumps to this year. However, most of the action seems to take place in the future, because it’s November (Paulie’s birthday) by the time Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) decides to work with Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), and then January is the young boxer’s bout against Leo “The Lion” Sporino (Gabe Rosado). Confusing things is the date on banners for the climactic fight against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), April 18, 2015.

Creed is a perfect movie to be set in 2015, especially if it’s on a loop where everything is taking place in 2015 no matter the progression of time. It doesn’t play blatantly as such, but it’s a very meta movie, with the character Adonis representing his own film. Rocky, of course, represents the original Rocky and its previous five sequels, though mostly I through IV. Like the series, he’s aging and his health is declining.

Both Adonis and Creed contain DNA that gives them an advantage but each is sort of trying to get by without being upfront about their genes – ironically, Adonis is doing so by not going by the name Creed while Creed is doing so by not going by the name Rocky VII. And yet both Adonis and Creed are underdogs because he’s unproven on his own and the movie is looking to make a comeback from the dwindling box office and reputation of the franchise.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Adonis’s life had some greater alignment with the movies, with him being born around 1984/Rocky IV and becoming an orphan when his mom dies around 1990/Rocky V (we’re only told she died when he was young). His adoption by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) is in 1998, which has no significance but it is smack in the center of the years between Rocky V and 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

There’s more to Creed than just being the best possible legacy sequel in the year of the legacy sequel, complete with its pseudo remake plot that’s turned on its head since Adonis is a very different, more confident and seemingly more indestructible character. Also like its hero, the movie comes out of Hollywood yet feels like it’s of the streets. It’s got money but it’s tough, as well. (Read Rob Hunter’s review of Creed.)

Creed is structured conventionally while featuring stronger writing in the details than we’ve come to expect from a movie like this lately. Writer/director Ryan Coogler put a lot of care into the production, proving everyone wrong about the criticism against filmmakers with a single Sundance success being immediately handed the keys to the biggest blockbuster franchises. This is no Jurassic World, in more ways than one.

And his leading man has the chops and the charm to keep us focused on him rather than Stallone – who in a supporting performance may be a bit overrated with all the awards recognition and buzz but is perfectly balanced on the side, along with rising star Tessa Thompson. (For more on Jordan’s worth, I defer to FSR’s Tomris Laffly.) Her love interest character, by the way, offers an interesting parallel to Adonis in being another type of artist with a terminal career. She’s a musician going deaf, while he’s a boxer who’ll eventually get too old for the sport.

There’s nothing cheesy to be found in Creed (except the Philly steaks), nothing that I believe we’ll look back on with snickers the way we do with the very popular, very glitzy and similarly very much of its year sequel Rocky IV. Outside of its apparent timeline goof, I can’t think of anything Creed does wrong. It’s smart, endearingly earnest and both engaging and entertaining all the way.

And I therefore can’t think of any better movie that is or might be set in 2015 or even any that can be said is not set in 2015. There’s Sicario, which is pretty good but lacks enough clarity, even if that might be intentional. And Room, which deflates a bit in the end. I love Me and Earl and the Dying Girl more than Creed, but due to its narration I think it technically takes place in the past of whatever its present (2015?) would be. Anything else qualifying, I must have not seen but would love cases to be made for others – Creed should probably tie with something anyway.

No, Creed is not the best movie of the year. That honor probably goes to one of the titles below, all of which have been in the end-of-year best-of and awards consideration conversation and all of which are set in any number of years besides 2015.

2015 Movie Timeline

A long time ago: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Prehistoric times: The Good Dinosaur

8th century: The Assassin

11th century: Macbeth

1820: In the Heart of the Sea

1823: The Revenant

1870: Far From the Madding Crowd

1871 or 1873 or 1877: The Hateful Eight

1890s: Bone Tomahawk

1912–1913: Suffragette

1920s-1931: The Danish Girl

1944: Son of Saul

1945: Phoenix

1947: Mr. Holmes

1947–1960: Trumbo

1951–1952: Brooklyn

1952–1953: Carol

1957–1962: Bridge of Spies

1960s: Legend

1960s-1980s: Love & Mercy

1960s-1990s: Joy

1971: ‘71

1973–1974: The Walk

1975–2011: Black Mass

1976: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

1984–1998: Steve Jobs

1986–1996: Straight Outta Compton

1996: The End of the Tour

2001–2002: Spotlight

2002–2011: Concussion

2004–2005: Truth

2007: The Big Short

2014: Tangerine

— – 2015 – —

Unspecified near future: Ex Machina

2035–2037: The Martian

2060–2065*: Mad Max: Fury Road (*if the apocalypse were to happen “next wednesday,” as George Miller puts it)

A long time from now: World of Tomorrow

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.