2015 was a banner year for blockbusters. Hollywood set new records at the box office by topping $11 billion domestically, and although that hasn’t stopped some executives from crying about piracy, it’s safe to say the film industry is alive and well thanks to a glut of engaging, enjoyable big-budget entertainment to go along with all the other crap that gets churned out every year.
Here are 10 of the year’s best films that grossed at least $100 million domestically:
10 – Furious 7
The Fast and/or Furious franchise may be guilty of cynically hopping on the superhero franchise money train by turning its motley crew of underground street racers into globetrotting secret agents who save the world from behind their steering wheels, but it was ahead of the curve on the globetrotting part. The latest – and most ridiculous – installment owns one of the highest worldwide box office returns of all time because of that foresight, with an assist from Paul Walker’s CGI ghost.
9 – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
In the latest installment of Ethan Hunt’s Crazy Stunts, Tom Cruise: a) rides the side of a plane as it takes off; b) dives inside a water-cooled supercomputer, drowns, is shocked back to life and immediately engages in a high-speed motorcycle chase; c) impersonates the British prime minister; and… d) memorizes a bunch of banking information? Has he finally run out of cool things to do? That’s like disarming a nuclear bomb by smothering it in paperwork.
8 – Jurassic World
I could go on about Chris Pratt’s expertise in the field of Velociraptor whispering or Bryce Dallas Howard’s high-heel marathon training, but I’d rather brainstorm new names for super-dinosaur Indominus Rex:
-Modified Death Lizard 4.0
-Not Quite Godzilla
7 – Straight Outta Compton
It is a testament to how far western society has come that the remaining members of N.W.A. – a group of gangster rappers from Compton who were once on an FBI watchlist because of their music – are able to become movie stars and media moguls and return to their story two decades later to Hollywood-ize it into a hit film where women are mistreated and marginalized in service of noble male protagonists. And goddamn did they have a good time doing it!
6 – Ant-Man
Turns out a cutesy high-tech caper flick about a guy who shrinks and controls ants was just what Marvel needed to wash the antiseptic taste of Age of Ultron out of their cinematic universe ahead of the next tier or phase or whatever they’re calling it. There are hints of Edgar Wright’s visual style all over this origin story, making it difficult not to wonder how great things could have been, but settling for Michael Pena’s non-sequitur flashbacks and Paul Rudd’s “aw shucks I’m a superhero” routine is enough of a refresher in Marvel’s never-ending narrative clusterfuck.
5 – Inside Out
Pixar didn’t release a film in 2014, ending an eight-year streak, and three of its last four releases before Inside Out were sequels. Under these circumstances, basing your next tentpole kid’s film around the idea of accepting sadness as part of who we are seems like committing box office seppuku. Except it wasn’t. Family audiences were ready to feel all the feels in 2015, and now a generation will grow up believing there’s a tiny, raging Lewis Black inside all of us.
4 – Creed
The 21st century wasn’t asking for a Rocky reboot – or boxing films in general, for that matter – but nothing about Creed feels dated. Michael B Jordan’s titular son-of-Creed dates Philadelphia’s answer to FKA Twigs and Sylvester Stallone’s meal-mouthed pugilist seems charmingly confused by things like smartphones and “the cloud,” letting us know that yes, it is 2015 and hey, there are dirt bikes for some reason.
3 – The Martian
Calling The Martian “The Revenant in space” isn’t accurate, but I’m going to do it anyway because Matt Damon kind of resembles Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass after he’s been stranded on Mars for a couple years and ketchup is but a distant memory. The mood is surprisingly upbeat for a film about someone left for dead millions of miles from Earth, with plenty of jokes both intentional (Damon’s snarky commentary about the red planet and disco music) and unintentional (the depiction of NASA as a functional bureaucracy that has the public’s attention, trust, and money).
2 – Star Wars:
The Force Awakens
Look, Episode VII is basically “A New New Hope” overflowing with nostalgic nods to the magic of the original trilogy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite all the narrative shortcuts, J.J. Abrams’ fanservice realigned the franchise with the traits that made it great, which was necessary following decades of missteps by George Lucas. Some people criticize the film for not exploring the galaxy’s post-Empire political situation in more detail, I suppose because all the trade-embargo-based drama had them on the edge of their seats during the prequels.
1 – Mad Max: Fury Road
The most amazing part about Fury Road isn’t that a 70-year-old director crafted 2 hours of post-apocalyptic vehicular insanity fresher than most action films made by people half his age. It isn’t the car stunt choreography that makes Furious 7 look like security footage from a parking lot. It isn’t even the dude playing a double-neck fire-spewing guitar while bungee-strapped to a massive speaker array. It’s how all of this insanity is part of a film about smashing the patriarchy, which is about as subversive as a blockbuster filled with explosions and testosterone can be.