We can’t wait to see the back of 2016—for our money, the worst year in recent memory. Trump. Police shootings. Zika. Brexit. Trump. Record heatwaves. Syria. Terrorist attacks. Trump. White Nationalism. Hate crimes soaring. Climate change raging, unchecked. And, of course, way too many major celebrity deaths—Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Anton Yelchin, Florence Henderson, John Glenn, more. It’s been weird, gnarly, ugly. So while we can still hold the hope that 2017 might suck a little less, let’s review what exactly what we learned from some things that went down in the cinematic universe. Clink any of the linked titles to read the corresponding Playboy review.
1. TURNS OUT YOU CAN RESUSCITATE DEAD GENRES
Know what it takes to breathe new life into a supposedly defunct movie genre? Look, nobody’s saying it’s easy but it’s mostly this: Give us a fresh-feeling genre movie that burns with creative passion, that tells its tale from left field. Case in point? Just when the superhero genre looked all predictably corporate, dead-eyed and played-out, along came the crude, rude, and socially irresponsible Deadpool and, later, the trippy, mystical psychedelia and deadpan sarcasm of Doctor Strange. We drank those milkshakes and we’re clamoring for refills.
OK, so maybe The Magnificent Seven redo didn’t reignite the Western as some of us hoped it would, but if it helped pave the way for the even better, edgier neo-Western Hell or High Water, then so much the better. And look how it took Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle over six years to get someone to bankroll his heartfelt, gloriously retro-hued, non-ironic musical romance La La Land. Chazelle even had to ax Miles Teller when he decided that his breakout Whiplash star was no longer “creatively right” for the project, prompting Teller to fire off the now famous text: “What the fuck, bro?” For tone-deaf haters who still think musicals are ridiculous, corny, and old-timey, the love affair with La La Land is the perfect flip-off. It’s making bank at the box office and its praises are being sung to the sky as one of the big Oscar frontrunners.
That brings us to biomovies. And if recent biopics like Eddie the Eagle, Genius, Free State of Jones, and Florence Foster Jenkins somehow didn’t float your boat, try the mournful, interior Jackie. It’s almost an anti-biomovie: smart, strange, elliptical and arty AF.
2. BIG STARS? BIG NOTHING
Sure, we love the living hell out of Hollywood’s basket of adorables that includes Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Tina Fey and more. But the past year delivered a brutal referendum on high-ticket movie stars: Unless the right star turns up in the right flick, lots of us will just stay home and binge-watch Stranger Things. Brad Pitt couldn’t draw flies to the WWII spy thriller Allied and although Tom Hanks helped make a big hit out of Sully, his A Hologram for the King died on the vine; likewise Inferno (although it blew up overseas). Johnny Depp’s star luster took another ding with Alice Through the Looking Glass, a box-office embarrassment on the heels of Transcendence, Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger. Mark Wahlberg got in over his head in Deepwater Horizon, audiences just weren’t feeling Bryan Cranston as The Infiltrator and Joseph Gordon Levitt with Snowden suffered his second high-profile biomovie underperformer in a row after The Walk. Real-life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, an Oscar winner, got shunned in The Light Between Oceans. Ticket-buyers blew off Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones in both Ghostbusters and Masterminds. Fellow brilliant funny girl Tina Fey bombed with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. And Ryan Gosling was a fireball in The Nice Guys but the hip retro buddy movie never ignited with moviegoers.
3. BIG SEQUELS? ALSO BIG NOTHING
Even after hemorrhaging oceans of red ink, Hollywood should have gotten the message that when it came to sequels, 2016 audiences, like many voters, were in the market for change. Familiarity definitely bred contempt in the case of expensively promoted duds including Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Independence Day: Resurgence, Allegiant, Now You See Me 2, Bad Santa 2, London Has Fallen, Zoolander 2, Ride Along 2, Alice Through the Looking Glass and The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Still, listen to those drums beating louder and louder for upcoming sequels to Blade Runner, Sherlock Holmes, San Andreas, Kingsman, Rush Hour, Riddick, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Passion of the Christ, Pacific Rim and The Equalizer, just to name a few.
4. DON’T JUST BREAK THE RULES; NUKE ‘EM
Rules. Hollywood’s lousy with them. Never do this. Always do that. Hogwash, I say. Dogmatic do’s and dont’s are usually excuses for playing it safe. They mean nothing, like “Dramas featuring African-American characters don’t make money.” Really? How’s the modestly budgeted Moonlight doing at the box-office? Ditto: Loving. Ditto: Fences. “Mainstream audiences shun movies showing men exploring their sexuality.” Again: Moonlight. “Movies about older people are box-office losers.” Tell that to the makers of the Swedish import about an ornery gent, A Man Called Ove, a low-budget comedy-drama that could top the box-office success of the hit arthouse classic, Ida. “Millenials hate musicals.” Oh, brother. You don’t even need to cite La La Land. Let’s talk about the Pitch Perfect movies, let alone stealth musicals like Magic Mike. Plus, who else do you think makes up a big part of the audience watching TV musicals like Grease and The Wiz?
5. THE GENDER GAP? SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN
Any time the rare female-driven movie like Ghostbusters gets made but goes down for the count, Hollywood pundits like to cluck their tongues about how testosterone fuels the movie business and always will. Every time a female-driven movie in recent decades makes a mint, from Thelma and Louise, A League of Their Own and First Wives Club, right up to Bridesmaids, Spy and Pitch Perfect, it’s usually dismissed as a one-off. But though the times may be a-changing ever so slowly, changing they definitely are. Jennifer Lawrence ranks as 2016’s highest paid woman on the planet, followed by Melissa McCarthy, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston, Chinese star Fan Bingbing and Charlize Theron–even though their earnings are dwarfed by their male counterparts epitomized by the $64.5 million nailed down by Dwayne Johnson. Even though women constitute only roughly 12 percent of the main protagonists in films today, things may shift when more female stars step into science fiction and action roles a la Amy Adams in Arrival and Felicity Jones in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with Anne Hathaway doing the same next year in Colossal, Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, Alicia Vikander in a new Tomb Raider, Margot Robbie in a Harley Quinn epic and Brie Larson starring in her own Captain Marvel film.
We live in hope.