The Biggest Movie News Of 2018
By Ben Travis Posted 10 Dec 2018
What a year. In 2018, cinemas were packed out with seismic superhero blockbusters, musical mainstays, and a swathe of thrillingly diverse movies hitting the mainstream. Meanwhile Hollywood said goodbye to some of the greats, moved further into a new era of streaming, and ran into yet more high-profile creative differences. Here are all the biggest talking points of 2018 in film.
Warning: Contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War and The Walking Dead
Stan Lee dies aged 95
Without him, the cinematic landscape would be unrecognisably different – and we’re not just talking about those countless cameos. Stan Lee, as one of the key creatives at Marvel Comics and co-creator of a universe-worth of iconic characters – from Spider-Man to Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk to Doctor Strange – changed comics, cinema, and the parameters of storytelling with his life’s work. He died at the age of 95 on 12 November – but with the popularity of comic characters and narratives at an all-time high, his legacy is set to continue for decades to come, not least in 2019 when Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home will all hit the big screen. Read an extract from Kenneth Branagh’s tribute to Stan Lee here, and read Empire’s 22-page tribute to the man himself in the January 2019 issue, available online here.
The Greatest Showman becomes a runaway success
In December 2017, The Greatest Showman was greeted with lukewarm reviews and entered cinemas with stiff competition from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. But against all the odds, Hugh Jackman’s original PT Barnum musical became an ongoing box office smash through the first half of 2018, sticking around in cinemas for months on end, drawing huge crowds for sing-along screenings, and eventually sparking Jackman to announce his own travelling show for 2019. The Greatest Showman clearly found its audience, which grew steadily through word-of-mouth, and it’s undeniable that the film’s acclaimed music was another key to its success – the soundtrack became its own juggernaut and spent the entirety of 2018 in the top 5 of the UK albums chart. They weren’t kidding with that whole “look out, ‘cause here I come” business.
The Cloverfield Paradox drops instantly on Netflix
The Super Bowl has always been significant for movie trailers dropping – but Netflix stepped things up, not only announcing The Cloverfield Paradox with a trailer mid-game, but instantly setting the film live on its streaming service. While the anthology sequel was originally produced by Paramount, the film was bought and released by Netflix – and the whole thing suddenly crystallised the idea that high-profile franchise films could eventually be sprung out of nowhere under total secrecy. It’s a strategy that worked for Paradox too, which was greeted with disappointing reviews but created a massive talking point around its unconventional launch. A monster milestone for streaming.
Black Panther rules the US box office
It took 10 years for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to give a POC-superhero headline billing in a comic book blockbuster. But when it finally did, audiences showed up. In its four-day opening weekend Stateside, Black Panther grossed a staggering $242.1 million, smashing all kinds of records. It rumbled on at the US box office for weeks on end, eventually pulling in a domestic haul of over $700 million across the pond alone. That figure made it America’s third highest-grossing film of all time, outperforming every other MCU movie (Infinity War included) and settling behind only Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was huge around the rest of the world too, earning over $646 million in non-US territories. Minority superheroes are no longer in the margins.
Guillermo del Toro strikes Oscar gold
Over a decade since Pan’s Labyrinth put him in touching distance of the Oscars, del Toro won the Academy over with The Shape of Water – his gorgeous, tender fantasy-romance about the doomed relationship between Sally Hawkins’ mute cleaner and Doug Jones’ surprisingly dishy fish-man. The film bagged Best Picture, while del Toro himself picked up Best Director – after double-checking the envelope to make sure another La La Land / Moonlight snafu hadn’t occurred. del Toro kept a low profile in the year since his win, but recently announced that his long-mooted Pinocchio animation is set to go ahead at Netflix in 2019.
Steven Spielberg is named Empire’s Legend Of Our Lifetime
From the ultra-high tension of Duel, through to the dizzying virtual reality blast of Ready Player One, via the likes of Jaws, Raiders, Jurassic Park and more, Steven Spielberg has been a constant source of cinematic thrills, spills, invention and re-invention over the last four-plus decades. So when it came to bestowing the prize of Legend Of Our Lifetime at the Rakuten TV Empire Awards 2018, it had to be the ‘Berg. The man himself came to the Camden Roundhouse in March to pick up the prize from Simon Pegg, giving a speech about Time’s Up, the McDonald’s Chicken Legend (really), and why he loves making movies in Britain. The Beard: still the best.
Star Wars Episode IX begins shooting
It was an interesting year for the galaxy far far away – The Last Jedi hit big at the box office while the internet tore itself to shreds, and Solo: A Star Wars Story underperformed despite winning over a swathe fans. But there’s a new hope for the saga’s future – in August, JJ Abrams started shooting Episode IX, the film set to close out the sequel trilogy. It’s all totally under wraps, of course, but there are interesting cast additions in Dominic Monaghan, Keri Russell and Matt Smith, while Billy Dee Williams is set to return as the OG Lando. And then there’s The Mandalorian – Jon Favreau’s live-action Star Wars TV series for the upcoming Disney+ streaming app, which has gone into production with Pedro Pascal in the lead and the likes of Taika Waititi, Bryce Dallas Howard and Dave Filoni directing episodes. The Force will return, more powerful than you could possibly imagine, in 2019.
Andrew Lincoln swaps The Walking Dead TV series for movies
Give it up for Rick Grimes – the man fought valiantly through the zombie apocalypse for years, leading a group of gore-soaked survivors to some semblance of new normality. But after nine seasons Andrew Lincoln decided to leave the AMC series behind – and (SPOILER ALERT if you’re not caught up) instead kick off a trilogy of made-for-TV Rick Grimes movies. Yes, instead of perishing at the clawing hands of the undead, Rick was airlifted to safety – with the news that his fate will be explored in three future feature-length outings. Meanwhile the show’s timeline has flashed forwards several years now, so it’s safe to say Rick won’t be making a comeback to the small screen anytime soon.
Ava DuVernay breaks the $100 million budget barrier
After the one-two punch of MLK biopic Selma and prison-industrial complex Netflix doc 13th, Ava DuVernay swapped historical and fact-based storytelling for vibrant flights of emotional fantasy in a contemporary Disney sci-fi fairytale. With A Wrinkle In Time, released in March, DuVernay became the first African-American woman to direct a live-action film with a $100 million-plus budget, and brought a new perspective to Madeleine L’Engle’s acclaimed novel – protagonist Meg Murry here is a young black teenager forced to battle dark, hostile forces with science, love, and an omnipotent Oprah Winfrey as her guiding lights. With its diverse cast – Mindy Kaling, David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and young Deric McCabe among them – and otherworldly visuals, DuVernay reframed a familiar story through her own auteurial lens. It may have underperformed at the box office, but in years to come A Wrinkle In Time will serve as a major stride towards equal representation in big-budget blockbusters.
Thanos wipes out half of the Marvel Universe
We should have seen it coming. We should have been prepared. But we were so preoccupied with whether Iron Man or Captain America would be the one to cark it at the hands of Thanos that we didn’t stop to consider Avengers: Infinity War’s near-inevitable conclusion: that the big purple guy successfully collects all six infinity stones, and uses them to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Heroes crumbled to dust, and the ones that remain will be left to deal with the consequences in Avengers: Endgame. ‘The Snap’ was the biggest blockbuster talking point of the year, a shock-ending to rank alongside The Empire Strikes Back, adding an extra jolt of must-see urgency to Infinity War on release and surely contributing considerably to its $2 billion-plus worldwide box office haul. Marvelites were left in the dark contemplating the aftermath of that climax until the Endgame trailer dropped on 7 December, and… well, sparked even more feverish anticipation. Thanos, do us a solid and use the time stone to send us all to next April now, please?
Crazy Rich Asians delivers crazy good box office
Marking the first time a majority-Asian cast has led a Hollywood studio film since 1993 – yes, really – Crazy Rich Asians delivered a massive $173 million in the US alone from a modest $30 million budget. Set largely in Singapore, centred on an Asian-American lead character and studded with Asian-centric imagery, Jon M. Chu’s lavish rom-com revels in its cultural specificity, while dealing in the most universal of themes. In fact, Crazy Rich Asians might even have awoken the entire genre from its long slumber – it’s swooningly romantic and gut-bustlingly funny, especially when Awkwafina graces the screen – leaning joyously into all the tropes that have made rom-coms so beloved, despite their near-disappearance from cinemas in recent years. The film’s success continues with Golden Globes nominations in Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Best Actress for Constance Wu, while back-to-back sequels are now in the pipeline. Top results for a crazy-good film.
Bond 25 adds – then loses – director Danny Boyle
After the huge success of Skyfall, the cooler box office and critical reception to Spectre was somewhat of a disappointment. With Daniel Craig sticking around in the tux for another round, the long-running spy saga looked set to amp up fresh excitement with the appointment of Danny Boyle. In May, the Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire director was on board to bring his visionary filmmaking to a British cinema icon, even cooking up a script and story with his regular collaborator John Hodge. But two months later, things fell apart – Boyle was booted from the project over ‘creative differences’, sparking a hunt for another director and pushing the proposed November 2019 release date back to February 2020. Eventually Cary Joji Fukunaga got the gig – the first American director to helm a Bond film – though he’s had his own creative differences in the past, dropping out on It shortly before production. Here’s hoping it’s a marriage that lasts longer than the one in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Venom bonds with the worldwide box office
There were alarm bells sounding around Venom in the run-up to its release – a Spider-Man-free origin story, a toned-down PG-13 rating with Tom Hardy claiming his favourite scenes didn’t make the final cut, and a frankly terrible Eminem song to name but a few. And while the critics largely weren’t impressed, Sony’s comic book anti-hero made a staggering amount of money. In the US it broke an October opening weekend record with an $80 million haul, eventually grossing $212 million there overall, and in the rest of the world it bagged a total of $633 million. Most importantly, it hit big in China with a $111 million opening weekend, proving the character and franchise has legs (or at least gooey tendrils) across the world. Approaching a $1 billion release in cinemas alone, more Venom is a dead-cert. Just, get someone else to do the song next time, please?
Robert Redford announces (and semi-retracts) his retirement
Centreing on an ageing crook recapturing his youth by pulling off a string of fresh heists, David Lowery’s The Old Man & The Gun feels like a swansong for its central star Robert Redford – because that’s very much what it is. A few weeks before its premiere at Telluride, Redford said in an interview that it would mark his retirement from acting, as a ‘very positive and upbeat’ tale to go out on. But after the 82-year-old’s remarks caused an outpouring of well-wishes, he somewhat took his statement back – though more in the sense that he wishes he hadn’t announced the end of his on-screen career and had rather just stopped taking on projects. “If I’m gonna retire, I should just slip quietly away from acting,” he told Variety in September. “But I shouldn’t be talking about it because I think it draws too much attention in the wrong way.” While he’s hinted that he may continue to be a filmmaker, 2018 drew a line under Robert Redford: Iconic Movie Star.
Netflix backs down on cinema releases
In the ongoing stand-off between Netflix and traditional cinema releases, Netflix blinked. The streaming service has historically been reluctant to screen its original films in cinemas, instead opting to release them solely on the app with the odd festival screening here and there. But with the likes of Roma, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs and 22 July all attracting awards buzz, Netflix has started to relent slightly. All of the above have received public cinema releases, albeit limited ones, as have the likes of Outlaw King and Mowgli: Welcome To The Jungle. It all points towards a possible future where Netflix films become more accessible on the big screen as an additional option to beaming them straight into your eyeballs at home.
As well as Stan Lee (see above), the film industry bid a sad farewell to a host of brilliant filmmakers, creatives and screen icons, including: Burt Reynolds, Bernardo Bertolucci, Johann Johannsson, Emma Chambers, Isao Takahata, Verne Troyer, Steve Ditko, Aretha Franklin, Gary Kurtz, William Goldman, Nicolas Roeg, and Stephen Hillenburg.
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