What a year! The world’s a changing place and no less so than with the welcome onslaught of new movies, television shows, books, comics, and everything else that entertained us in 2016. All year long we tried to keep up with the best of what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining. We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list. We watched all of nearly two dozen TV series, and enough of others to know we’d seen enough. We watched dozens of new movies, reviewed more than three dozen books (and read even more), and kept up with dozens of comic book titles. We witnessed the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Archie, and Captain America, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Charles Schulz’s Great Pumpkin, Rocky turned 40, and it was the 30th anniversary of Aliens and Labyrinth. And the Cubs finally won the World Series.
Today we reveal the best genre content of 2016–with our top categories from movies and television Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero Fix, Best Animated Fix, and Best Borg, followed by our Best in Movies picks. The big winner was Rogue One, taking 13 spots, followed by Doctor Strange with three. Come back later this week for our TV and print media picks, our special look at Kick-ass Heroines of 2016, followed by our annual borg.com Hall of Fame inductees.
Best Sci-Fi Fix – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm). Although the franchise is more space fantasy than science fiction, all the elements of the best sci-fi were crammed into Rogue One. Epic space battles, aliens, and loads of sci-fi technology. A compelling story. We’re wagering this film will be a classic we go back to for years to come, upsetting Star Wars: The Force Awakens as the third best of the eight films in the series. It’s everything a sci-fi fan could want.
Best Fantasy Fix – The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal Pictures). Like Rogue One it was a prequel that was also a sequel. Better than the original Snow White and the Huntsman, this early 2016 release provided a high-fantasy story rooted in the classic fairy tale, rewarding viewers midway with a surprise change-up. Three tough female leads, four brave (and funny) dwarves, two epic quests, a fairy tale romance, and elaborate costumes and sets made for a perfect fantasy film.
Best Superhero Fix – The Magnificent Seven (MGM/Columbia Pictures). When we first reviewed The Magnificent Seven we were surprised it had adapted the Yul Brynner version and Akira Kurosawa’s earlier Seven Samurai so well. We were even more surprised at how well the cast, and cast of characters, worked together to create a true ensemble piece. It rivaled every attempt by the studios to make a great superhero team-up, and, but for the Western garb and setting, it rates as the year’s best of the superhero genre. Runner-up, a close contender for the win was the second appearance of Evan Peters as Quicksilver doing his speedster business slow-motion style again in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Best Retro Fix – Stranger Things (Netflix). It’s a TV series that would have made a solid movie hit in 1982. So many series appear unexpectedly these days with a full season ready to stream immediately. Most demonstrate why they couldn’t cut it with the networks or a major cable channel. Not so with some of Netflix’s series, especially the surprise hit Stranger Things. With a nicely eerie soundtrack, title font, a Twin Peaks-meets Steven Spielberg coming of age film cul-de-sac for the setting, and John Carpenter meets Stephen King vibe, it’s no wonder Stranger Things was the #1 talked about series this year. Our favorite part, besides the young heroine of the show, was the attention to throwback clothes, toys, posters, and 1980s pop culture references. It’s a series we’ll revisit in the future, and look forward to in its second season.
Best Borg/Best Movie Villain – Darth Vader (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). Darth Vader returned in his best scene of the franchise outside of The Empire Strikes Back in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It wasn’t James Earl Jones’s return to voice one of the best villains in the history of cinema that grabbed us, but the full-on rampage Vader takes to pursue the stolen Rebel plans in the film’s finale. Director (and lifelong Star Wars fan) Gareth Edwards gave fans exactly what they wanted, utilizing an impressive UK creature actor Spencer Wilding to do his bidding as the imposing Lord of the Sith. We also got a peek at what little of the man remained years after his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi. We saw inside his cybernetic suit of armor via a scene featuring him floating in a bacta tank. Darth Vader remains one of the greatest borgs of all time.
Want to know who we picked for best in effects, soundtrack, and best sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, and horror movies of the year? Take a look after the cut…
Best Borg Movie – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm). We saw what future visionaries think borg technology could do for the worse with two opposing characters in Rogue One: Partisan warrior Saw Garrera (Forest Whitaker) and Imperial leader Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding/James Earl Jones). Both battle-hardened, one fighting for what is right, the other consumed by evil. Both kept alive through technology. Garrera fighting to breathe with a mask and tank, Vader needing a full-body immersion to maintain his biology. The lesson: It ain’t easy being borg.
Best Team-Up Scene – Superheroes collide in Captain America: Civil War. (Marvel Studios). Of all the crossovers, team-ups, and solo projects that superheroes took on this year, whether on television in the great four-series CW Network Invasion! crossover or meeting Doctor Strange and Deadpool in their own big screen stories, it was Spider-man, Ant-Man, and a circus of Marvel superheroes (minus Thor and Hulk) who gave us our greatest hour of superhero action in the middle of Captain America: Civil War, beginning with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) recruiting young Spider-man (Tom Holland) from his apartment, through the airport battle between two factions of good guys. The rest of the film may have left us wanting, but this scene was what comic books fans are always looking for.
Best Movie, Best Action Movie, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Easter Eggs, Best Cameos – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm). We wouldn’t be surprised if the handling of war and politics alone merit a nod from Oscar for this film. Director Gareth Edwards accomplished something Star Wars fans have hoped for 36 years–a sequel that could hold its own with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. It finally arrived with Rogue One.
Best Sci-Fi Movie – Midnight Special (Warner Bros.). Despite its winning sci-fi trappings, Rogue One maintains the Star Wars franchise as a pure space fantasy. So this leaves a clear opening for one of the best films of the year to take the Best Sci-fi Movie spot. Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon, the Star Wars prequels’ Joel Edgerton, Spider-man’s Kirsten Dunst, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Adam Driver starred in this Spring release sleeper that left audiences on the edge of their seats searching out the very nature of the heart-pounding dilemma the story’s little boy faced until the film’s finale. Director Jeff Nichols channeled Spielberg and Serling to create a gripping, personal, riveting science fiction throwback mystery. Runner-up: Star Trek Beyond. So many Star Trek films have been made that when a great one comes along it often gets overlooked in the pool of summer blockbusters. Star Trek Beyond was as true to the original series as any in the franchise, with strange new worlds and a great new alien lead in the character Jaylah.
Best Fantasy Movie – Alice Through the Looking Glass (Disney). So many sequels surpassed their predecessors this year: Star Trek Beyond, Rogue One, The Huntsman: Winter’s War. The original Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland made this editor’s own all-time top 10 fantasy list. Seeing all the wondrous places and effects that make Alice Through the Looking Glass even better was a real joy. Mia Wasikowska’s Alice grew up a bit, Johnny Depp expanded the role of the Mad Hatter to someone intriguing and accessible, and the black hat villain of the past became a sympathetic character, all with beautiful effects, time travel, and Sasha Baron Cohen’s nifty new borg creation “Time.”
Best Superhero Movie – Doctor Strange (Marvel Studios). In a year with Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, only one really knocked our socks off beginning to end with no caveats. Just like The Magnificent Seven may seem like an unconventional choice for Best Superhero Fix, Doctor Strange is an equally unique superhero. Doctor Strange began with a hotshot medical whiz played as smartly as ever by Benedict Cumberbatch, who embarked on an intriguing story arc with the help of a mystic brilliantly played by Tilda Swinton. Along the way Cumberbatch introduced us to the next great character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a dead ringer for the classic comic book character who sports the coolest cloak ever, and wields otherworldly special effect powers that really look great in 3D. Plus, we had a great villain in Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, humor, and a solid supporting cast.
Best Animated Movie – Zootopia (Disney). Normally a film with three directors and seven story writers wouldn’t result in a praiseworthy film. But Zootopia was packed with witty humor and important messages of decency, fairness, and justice, while not coming off as preachy. The world building for these animal characters was cemented in the opening scene featuring lead character Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit who wants to be the first of her species to be a cop in the big city of Zootopia, as she reveals her dreams in a school play. From there we see the struggle she faces to achieve her goals. Zootopia is a morality tale that’s fun for all ages. Jason Bateman and Idris Elba also provide great voice work here.
Best Comedy Movie – Deadpool (20th Century Fox). A comedic X-Men movie on the heels of Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy that also became the highest-grossing R-rated movie in box office history, Deadpool was probably the biggest surprise of the year. It was equally surprising that it was dialed back for an R-rated movie, especially considering the volley of crude trailers that preceded it. Truly a laugh-out-loud movie, Deadpool featured the perfect lead in Ryan Reynolds, with two C-level superhero sidekicks, a very Marvel origin story, and good action.
Best Horror Movie, Best Mash-up, Best Reimaging on Film – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Cross Creek Pictures). You just have to think that author Jane Austen, who created so many strong-willed women in the Regency period of old England, would have loved the bizarre update her Pride and Prejudice received this year. Great zombie make-up, lavish sets, historical costumes, and characters completely loyal to mild-mannered figures in the source material, yet convincingly portrayed as dystopian samurai-learned warriors in an all-out battle for survival. Whether you’re more a fan of Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy, you got to see your favorite stronger and cooler than ever in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Best Costume Design – Sanja Milkovich Hays, Star Trek Beyond. When you look at the hundreds of alien costumes Star Trek veteran costume designer Sanja Hays was tasked to design, and the resulting beautiful myriad costumes, it can make your head spin. Add to that updates of the standard Starfleet uniform and variants, a unique outfit for the villain Krall, and a stylish look for lead heroine Jaylah, she really created new worlds of clothing for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek– a brilliant feat.
Best Movie Soundtrack – Doctor Strange, Michael Giacchino. Giacchino really hedged his bets this year, producing soundtracks to 2016 releases Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia, Doctor Strange, and then reportedly he prepared in only one month Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The consensus seems to be that the short prep time came through as the excuse for one of the only low points in Rogue One, his latest Star Trek was really just another Star Trek score, and although Zootopia had a rousing score, Giacchino really justified his place as an Oscar-winning composer with his brilliant score for Doctor Strange, a score we think was on par with his superb work on The Incredibles.
Best Action Sequence – Rebel Fleet Battles Star Destroyers, and Ground Battle at Scarif, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm). It’s a movie that makes you want to be in George Lucas’s mind as he watched it. Isn’t this exactly what he was shooting for with all those battle scenes in the prequels? Does it help having a better story to tell? Story aside, the rollercoaster ride that was the X-Wing and TIE-Fighter aerial dogfights coupled with the ground assault of the predecessor AT-ATs, colliding Star Destroyers, and infantry combat that made up the climax of the film was picture perfect. And the bonus? Director Gareth Edwards splicing in unused footage from the first Star Wars of X-Wing pilots shouting out their call signs.
Best Special Effects/CGI – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm). Last year Michael Douglas was transformed into his younger self in Ant-Man. This year, director Gareth Edwards took motion capture a step further, resurrecting the noted, deceased, character actor Peter Cushing Hollywood-style for not merely a cameo, but a full supporting role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm). The future of filmmaking took another step further, and although the technology has improvements to be made, Edwards had the guts to push the envelope and the result was a compelling villain from the past.
Best Movie Actress – Emily Blunt (Queen Freya, The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Emily Blunt’s Queen Freya could have lived a perfect existence in her kingdom were it not for her jealous, evil sister Ravenna–a sister so wicked she had Freya’s lover kill Freya’s child, who was foretold to be more beautiful than Ravenna. This gave Freya a kind of psychosis that set her off on a long path where she created a legion of loyal Huntsman. She became an ice queen, and her stone cold rules meant certain death to anyone who might bring love into her realm. Blunt showed a different form of leader here, ruthless, overbearing, and certainly scary.
Best Movie Supporting Actress – Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One, Doctor Strange). We’ve seen characters similar to Tilda Swinton’s wizard The Ancient One before, like Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul and Qui-Gon Jinn. But Swinton conjures a very reality-based mystic voice, a presence like Gandhi, calm and decisive, like you’d expect from an immortal. She can fight with the best of them, think Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Trinity in The Matrix. And she also has a sense of humor, figuring just the right way to convince Doctor Strange he can wield his own powers.
Best Movie Actor – Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). No performance in 2016 came close to Donnie Yen’s completely engaging performance as the blind monk defender of the Jedi temple on Jakhu. Chirrut’s spiritual presence grounded the film in something much deeper than a typical action movie, and he became a mage, a wizard, equal to that of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Gandalf the Grey, and Yen delivered a performance equal to that of Alec Guinness and Ian McKellen.
Best Movie Supporting Actor – Ethan Hawke (Goodnight Robicheaux, The Magnificent Seven). Four-time Oscar-nominated Ethan Hawke played a crusty gunfighter in this year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven, an ex-Confederate who is unparalleled with a rifle. Hawke’s performance is as nuanced as any of the other brilliant performances of his career. Is it time for Hawke (Dead Poet’s Society, White Fang, Alive, Gattaca, Training Day, Assault on Precinct 13) to take the Oscar home?The selective actor proved once again why he’s one of today’s best actors.
Best Home Release, Best Home Release 3D Edition – Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D Collector’s Edition (Lucasfilm). As much as we hate buying multiple copies of the same movie, Lucasfilm got us again. The later release featured the 3D Blu-ray plus bonus materials that justified buying the Blu-ray all over again. The bonus materials included a feature length commentary by J.J. Abrams, bonus featurettes about sound design, props, and costuming, new interviews with the lead cast members, and three additional deleted scenes. Add this to all that came with the earlier version and, for this groundbreaking film, you have features like no other release in this, or probably any other, year. Note: This set nudged out the almost as chock-full of features Star Trek Beyond Target exclusive Blu-ray edition.
Come back tomorrow as we reveal more of the borg.com Best of 2016!