The 15 Biggest Blockbusters of 2015 – Ranked
It’s long been an unfortunate truth that the highest grossing movies of any given year are rarely also the best movies of that year. As my own self-invented adage goes, quality and popularity are mutually exclusive. When you take into account the sheer volume that devoted themselves to a certain movie, regardless of its reviews or actual artistic merit, it calls into question the very notion of “cultural impact” as a cinematic virtue. Of the fifteen highest grossing films of the year, I would only argue for three of them belong amongst the best, and even those three wouldn’t crack the top spot of 2015.
The biggest earners of any year tend to be an eclectic mix of genres, but they are all typically ultra-slick, super-advertised Hollywood product; it’s rare that a soulful indie drama will sneak its way into the Top 10. Although it’s been known to happen. But looking over any Top 10 list of high grossers is often a litany of ad campaigns and vague pop memory, rather than any sort of gauge of cutting-edge aesthetic derring-do. Such lists may serve, instead, as an objective dissection of contemporary popular culture. As of this writing, Jurassic World is still the highest grossing film of the year, and we may glean – perhaps obviously – that its popularity points to a dominance of cultural nostalgia. And also that dinosaurs never go out of style.
[N.B. As of this writing, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has not yet been released, and that film will most certainly earn a spot in the top 15. Whether or not it can outstrip Jurassic World or Avengers: Age of Ultron remains to be seen.]
Related: The 15 Most Underrated Films of 2015
As a sort of intellectual exercise, we here at Crave have decided to rank the top 15 biggest movies of the year in terms of quality, listed from worst to best. The numbers only reflect domestic earnings, and all the grosses were culled from the invaluable BoxOfficeMojo.
15. Home (Box Office: #13, $177 million)
Home starts with a promising and subversive premise: friendly looking purple aliens have taken over Earth and assigned humans to ghettos. I have a feeling this was supposed to be something twisted like, say, Invader Zim, but the result was the usual colorful pap we’ve sadly come to expect from mainstream children’s entertainment. Why did it do so well? Kiddie flicks tend to do well in theaters as they are typically in 3-D (inflating ticket prices) and it helps that the juniors must come with an adult guardian, assuring two tickets for every child. I’m guessing that Home will be forgotten within the next few months, if it isn’t already forgotten.
14. Fifty Shades of Grey (Box Office: #15, $166 million)
This film caused something of a stir upon its release, as it was based on a rather notoriously popular piece of pop pornography. Many were curious to see if the studio that released Fifty Shades of Grey, Universal, would have the courage to depict actual S&M or anything approaching hardcore sex. As it turns out, the film was a bland, uninteresting version of S&M punctuated by dumb dialogue and hammy performances. Curiosity got people in the door, but that’s where their arousal stopped.
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Box Office: #2, $459 million)
The 11th film in the unending Avengers series was intended to be the climax of what is often referred to as Marvel Phase Two (Phase one climaxed with the first Avengers back in 2012). What we got instead, however, was a confused mishmash of too many characters, bad plotting, and the worst example yet of this series weaknesses: i.e. their tendency to focus on mythmaking and setup for future chapters rather than immediate storytelling and characters working in the present. At its best moments, Age of Ultron was merely kinds fun. At its worst – and this was the bulk of the 141-minute running time – it was tedious wheel-spinning and confusing sexism.
12. SPECTRE (Box Office:#10, $185 million)
In the epilogue of the previous James Bond installment, 007 was essentially reset. Bond was given a new M, a Moneypenny, a Q. It looked like we were going to see a more traditional James Bond movie, only starring the new brutish version of the character introduced in Casino Royale. SPECTRE, however, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, quickly became far too concerned with its own complex mythologies (everyone is personally related to James Bond somehow!) that it quickly vanished up its own orifices. SPECTRE is confusing and dull and dumb. And not fun dumb like the Roger Moore movies. It’s bad-writing dumb.
11. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Box Office: #6, $230 million)
I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Because the fourth and final film in the successful Hunger Games series is yet another film that is perhaps too concerned with its own myth. The biggest problem with a lot of these pop kid lit adaptations – and Harry Potter set the precedent – is that they transpose the events of the book to film without bothering to alter the storytelling into something cinematic. As such, every moment is a climax, details are glossed over (the filmmakers apparently assume the audience already read the books), and myth is put up front rather than story or character. Again.
10. Jurassic World (Box Office: #1, $652 million)
Fan service is big business, and bad filmmaking. We live in the age of pandering to fanbases, so making a third sequel to Jurassic Park over 20 years after the fact was a guaranteed hit, provided the film had a big enough budget and slick enough production design. Jurassic World is the very definition of “clunky” when it comes to its paltry dramatic involvement. It’s got a bad story, charm-free leads, and obnoxious dialogue. At the very least, it’s not as concerned with myth as the previous few entries, but it sure feels like it’s prodding at a Millennial fan tribe who hold the first film in that dangerous “beyond criticism” area.
9. Ant-Man (Box Office: #12, $180 million)
There’s nothing grievously wrong with Ant-Man, the 12th film in the Avengers series. It’s just that it’s kind of inert. Ant-Man is, everyone openly admits, a silly character with a silly superpower (shrinking) that doesn’t seem all that useful or threatening on paper. The Ant-Man movie, despite a few protracted fake winks at the camera, doesn’t possess the convictions of its own silliness. It’s light, bland entertainment. It’s fine, I suppose. But there’s little to say about it. It slips out of the memory.
8. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Box Office: #14, $167 million)
Both of the Hotel Transylvania movies, directed by animation master Genndy Tartakovsky, are hyperkinetic and sugary and fun. They don’t amount to much, but when a film offers that many slapstick gags and that much cute wordplay at such a furious pace, it’s easy to be worn down to a state of enjoyment. Why Hotel Transylvania 2 did so much better than the other kid-horror flick this year, Goosebumps, is a little beyond me. It looks like the top earners of the year – at least so far – all have one central problem: They’re not about much. When they are about something, they’re about their own importance.
7. Minions (Box Office: #5, $335 million)
The Minions film is enjoyable because the Minions themselves are a pretty fun creation. Although they have been marketed to within an inch of their lives, there is still something subversive in their makeup: The Minions live to serve an evil master. They are, at heart, complicit in world destruction. They are playful kiddie anarchists who want to watch the world burn. Only a little of that punk streak comes across in Minions, but the characters are easily understood, and their adventures are pretty funny.
6. Pitch Perfect 2 (Box Office: #11, $183 million)
Call me a sucker, but I had more genuine fun, and had more genuine laughs during Pitch Perfect 2 than I did during most of the year’s other comedy films. The music was good, the characters were fun, and the snappy dialogue was plain funny. But, like all the films on this list (up to now, anyway), Pitch Perfect 2 has little on its mind. It is the very definition of light, frothy entertainment. It’s the whipped cream on the cocoa, but without the cocoa. At least Pitch Perfect 2 had no illusions beyond its basest values. Also, it’s nice to see a film directed by a woman, starring mostly women, be so successful.
5. Cinderella (Box Office: #8, $201 million)
Although the recent trend of rebooting animated Disney films as live-action “re-imaginings” is a bit distressing, we at least got this pretty darn good rendition of the Cinderella fable from Kenneth Branagh, making his first good film in many years (no, Thor doesn’t count). Cinderella is a problematic character within the annals of feminism, but Branagh manages to capture her virtues and agency without turning her into a sword-wielding badass. It’s a sumptuous, classical, bright film that retells an old story with a lot of panache. It’s still not a capital-G “Great” movie, but it’s quite good.
4. Furious 7 (Box Office: #4, $352 million)
I know. I know. I’ve criticized other films on this list for being too myth-heavy, and that’s a problem with Furious 7 as well. But there’s something about Furious 7‘s bold, balls-to-the-wall, go-for-broke supra-action approach that has me swept up in the grandiose stupidity of it all. This is a film that feels like four films mashed together, featuring awesome fights, endless chases, and a boldly forthright Saturday matinee tone that makes you feel like a kid. Too many characters? Sure. But it’s more for the cameos than the character work.
3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Box Office: #9, $195 million)
This is the first film on the list that might also be one of the best films of the year. This is action unadulterated. A spy movie that remembers what a spy movie ought to feel like. In a year bogged down with myth, here’s a sequel that wraps its drama around a new character – as opposed to the headlining star – and bothers to take us on a journey, modulating its tone and action as we go. It is expertly made.
2. The Martian (Box Office: #7, $221 million)
Ridley Scott’s latest is not just a great story about resourcefulness in the face of certain doom – it’s about a man who must learn to survive on the surface of Mars for an extended period of time – but it is an essay on the power of good humor. Matt Damon’s character is a fathomlessly chipper fellow who uses his sense of humor to stave off panic, and very successfully I might add. It’s also heartening to see a feature film that is so meticulously scientifically accurate getting so much attention from audiences.
1. Inside Out (Box Office #3, $356 million)
Pixar’s latest is their cleverest, and their most emotionally salient to date. Telling the story of an 11-year-old girl from the perspective of her personified inner emotional beings is a fun concept to begin with, but Pixar is interested in much more than clever psychology gags. They’re also telling a story of emotional health during a chaotic time, and eventually, how one’s emotions eventually mature into adulthood. And it’s a big-budget movie for kids that made $356 million. What a triumph.
Top Photo: Disney
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia, The Robot’s Voice, and Blumhouse. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.