And like the final grooves of an Awesome Mix (Vol. 1), 2014 is coming to a sudden end. It seems like only a week ago that we were anticipating at just what locale Gwen Stacy would snap out of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or whether or not Rogue would actually be back in X-Men: Days of Future Past. But now, as the holidays start kicking into full swing, we thought it time to look back at the best geeky 2014 movies.
While this is not our Top 10 Movies of 2014 list, which will be coming within the next week (and there will be some overlap), we’re still Den of Geek, dammit. And to ignore the cornucopia, Panem or otherwise, of genre films released in 2014 would be a disservice to fan communities everywhere. Be it hobbits or robocops, transformers or Ninja Turtles, even Legos or Bible tales, 2014 was overstuffed like a nuclear-fed Kaiju with geek entertainment at the multiplexes. So without further adieu, here are the Top 11 Geeky Movies of 2014.
11. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
It’s official: Jennifer Lawrence is the most popular girl in the world, be it a fictional one or otherwise. While not the box office juggernaut (or storytelling rollercoaster) of 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Part 1 is still the only uncontested film to earn over $100 million domestic in its opening weekend, and with the film also on track to earn $300 million in the U.S. (a feat only so far mastered in 2014 by Guardians of the Galaxy), Katniss has once again inspired a nation—albeit as kicking and screaming as always.
But that’s not why this movie jumpstarts our list. In spite of being a victim of the studio mandate to cut the source material in half (much like the disparate and butchered Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), the Girl on Fire succeeds where the Boy Who Lived stumbled. By staying focused on the white-hot intensity of Lawrence’s eyes, the tension burns as bright as the drum beat for revolution, allowing this long deep breath before the climactic finale to still sing. Add in a nuanced view of war (and propaganda) where the rebel alliance is only shades better at times than their imperialist counterparts, and you have the best kind of self-aware blockbuster. Katniss may still be a political tool three movies in, but she’s also the best heroine in blockbuster cinema.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first of many superhero movies to come out in 2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was also one of the best. When Marvel Studios announced that Community directors Joe and Anthony Russo were tackling the Captain America sequel, few anticipated it would soon become a Marvel best. But shaking off the mediocrity of Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3, this film somehow made a literal icon of American propaganda the coolest guy in the room when he stands up against nefarious government malfeasance in the name of “security” by going rogue and bringing a corrupt SHIELD to its knees.
Aspiring to be Marvel’s The Dark Knight, or more acutely the superhero equivalent of the espionage thrillers of the 1970s like Three Days of the Condor (which also starred Robert Redford), Winter Soldier falls a little short with its third act CGI bombast and easy shortcuts for hawkish corruption (“Evil Nazis are responsible!”). Nonetheless for two-thirds of the film Winter Soldier soars like an untouchable vibranium Frisbee, shrewdly relying on paranoia, suspense, and some truly kick-ass action scenes involving top-notch fight choreography. Also, be sure to pause on a certain SHIELD leader’s biblical epitaph.
9. The Babadook
When Stephen King once discussed his inspiration for writing The Shining, he recalled the time he discovered his young son had destroyed story notes in his office. “I could kill him,” King mused of his mindset in that moment. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook likewise finds the darker side of parenting with the scariest film of 2014.
A horror movie that is ostensibly about what happens when a single, low-income mother discovers that her child’s nightmare boogeyman is real, there is genuinely real terror here that comes beating from the darker side of her “Babadook” heart. While a loving son, there is no denying that the film’s young Samuel is a “problem child,” and through supernatural possession his mama has found a grim solution of sorts. When William Friedkin calls it the most terrifying horror movie he’s seen, you’re doing something right.
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may be the first film where the CGI-animated character is the true protagonist of the story, and all the fleshy humans are as stuffed and stilted as Chuck Heston’s poached companions in the original Apes adventure….and we’re happy about it. The best part of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis’ performance through motion capture and its marriage to Weta’s visual wizardry, is now allowed create a jaw-dropping portrait of a tortured leader at his most besieged moment.
When centered on Caesar’s aggrieved rule of his Red Wood Rome, complete with its own Brutus in the form of Toby Kebbell’s Koba, Matt Reeves’ follow-up to Let Me In is a fascinating and introspective blockbuster that labors on the quiet of the isolated wilderness. This magnificence is actually sullied by the far less intriguing human characters stomping around Northern California and San Francisco like they still own the damn place, but Koba will soon see that this changes when he also becomes the Robert McNamara of Apes. This is the smartest summer blockbuster of 2014.
7. Jodorowsky’s Dune
It’s not often that a documentary can be considered one of the geekiest movies of the year, but when it’s about the failed production of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune adaptation from the mid-1970s, it’s hard to get much nerdier. Or, for that matter, much better in terms of “what if” filmmaker navel-gazing, as is the case with Frank Pavich’s marvelous 2014 behind-the-scenes peek at brilliance and madness’ intersection.
Jodorowsky attempted to make Dune during that gray period between Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction fantasia 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas’ later 1977 populist (and blockbuster progenitor) Star Wars. Somehow, Jodorowsky’s film might have been more ambitious than either. With a script that originally was the length of a phonebook, and psychedelic images that would go on to influence the likes of Ridley Scott’s Alien (who made great use of failed Dune’s H. R. Giger), Jordorowsky’s Dune was the rare project that was so bizarre that it deserved to exist. After all, this is a production where a director agreed to hire a sought-after London chef as a deal-closer for Orson Welles’ involvement, and where he handpicked Pink Floyd to do the score. Whether it would have flown or crashed, Jordorowsky’s Dune is still not to be missed.
6. Edge of Tomorrow
The best cinematic representation of a video game experience ever made, Edge of Tomorrow deserved better at the box office. Whatever reason this film flopped in theaters, it should still have a long shelf life on Blu-ray and video. By revisiting the existential loop first circumvented in Hollywood by Groundhog Day, and again with Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow still engineers a refreshingly original action movie that is not based on a superhero comic book, nor sets up for an endless infinity loop of sequels.
This is the self-contained story of an unapologetic coward that winds up on the frontlines of an alien invasion fight where he promptly dies. Again and again. Through trial and error, and a thousand different deaths, Tom Cruise will become an unlikely warrior in the mold of his badass partner and commanding officer (Emily Blunt). A taut and witty thriller that reinvents a familiar concept, Edge of Tomorrow offers strong acting (watch out for a hilarious cameo by Bill Paxton) and a twisty plot that satisfyingly has a beginning, middle, and end. In fact, it’s got dozens of them.
And Chris Evans pops up again on this list thanks to the far smaller but unforgettably bleak Snowpiercer. As directed by The Host’s Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer jumps on the modern dystopia bandwagon, but then promptly derails it for a far more hellacious final destination. Unafraid to paint in broad, allegorical strokes, or find the misanthropy of a subgenre that gets increasingly sugarcoated in the 21st century, Snowpiercer is an unforgiving ride with the action scenes to back up its entertainment value.
Set in a frozen tundra future where the only remaining life on Earth exists in a luxury train still circling the world 18 years later, the steerage and “free loaders” sit in the back, eating less than the droppings of the frivolous fat cats at the front of the train. A revolution ensues, one train car and cameo at a time (with both Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill turning in scene stealing work). But when one rolls past all the hyperactive editing and axe-wielding ballet between rich and poor, the actual outcome for this cinematic locomotive is direr than even Stardust Memories’ Sandy Bates could imagine.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Studios more or less rules Hollywood, doesn’t it? Every executive seems to be desperately scrambling to copy their model while every other actor appears to be signing a six-picture deal. But you really can’t blame them. Marvel just made a movie about talking tree and a raccoon with a machine gun. And it was a really good movie at that And it might be the biggest hit of the year in the U.S. A talking tree and raccoon with a machine gun.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a feverishly bizarre flick that both follows Marvel’s now well-worn formula while simultaneously subverting it thanks to James Gunn’s cheeky screenplay and his inspirationally nutty direction. Chris Pratt might be the studio’s next Robert Downey Jr., but Rocket Raccoon is its next Iron Man. A potent mix of foul-mouthed comic book humor and action with the merchandisable cuteness of Disney in full force, this is the best superhero character of the year. Plus, I haven’t even gotten to the soundtrack. Whether it says anything about the state of modern pop music or not, Guardians of the Galaxy did make Blue Swede’s 1974 cover of “Hooked on a Feeling” the song of the summer. And again, did I mention the talking raccoon with a machine gun?
3. The Lego Movie
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we needed a “Lego Movie,” but I’m happy we have one from comedy’s most recent mad scientists, Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Simply not contented with resurrecting mediocre ‘80s television into movies that made Channing Tatum cool, Lord and Miller switch to animation to address the entire girth of fanboy culture in this massive love letter/backhanded compliment to Lego enthusiasts.
Stuffing this animated film with more cameos than all of the Muppet films combined, there is an unbridled glee to this sugar rush that’s akin to a child is playing on his bedroom floor with his Batman, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles, and even Shaquille O’Neal toys all at once. Throw in some winsome voice work by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and Will Arnett, and then one shockingly sincere turn from Will Ferrell, and you had the surprise hit of early 2014. Everything really is awesome about this sly consumerist deconstruction/toy ad, making it still the year’s best animated flick 10 months later.
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past
And like that, the bad dream that was X-Men: The Last Stand can be erased from our collective conscious. That alone would have earned X-Men: Days of Future Past a spot on this list, however Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the world of mutants far exceeded that.
Easily the most thoughtful superhero movie of the year, X-Men: Days of Future Past is also the best, taking risks that Marvel and Sony continue to steer away from. By setting the film in 1973, Days of Future Past slyly, and with great elegance, uses U.S. and even comic book history to inform its story that is just as potent as a narrative as it is an action set-piece connector. In the shadow of the Vietnam War, a drug-addled and stringy haired Charles Xavier spends a genuinely intense climax just talking Mystique out of the dangers of disillusionment and political assassination. There are also giant robots and Magneto lifting a baseball stadium into the sky too, but such reliance on characterization and acting over total CGI opulence displays a maturity and deftness not exhibited by many of its competitors. Plus, it has the original X-Men cast (mostly) back so that they can get skewered by the Sentinels in gruesomely gnarly ways. This is the slickest reboot since Casino Royale, and it did it without actually rebooting a damn thing.
Love it or hate it, Interstellar is one of those movies that you just can’t get out of your head. Between the staggering gravitational vistas that Nolan realized in 70mm IMAX and that still controversial ending, Interstellar is the kind of grand epic that they don’t make anymore. It may fall short of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, but it has the same sense of majesty and a healthy reliance on practical effects, creating an unapologetically panoramic story that’s also in line with the sensibilities of David Lean.
But beyond all of that, Nolan made a film that resonates on almost every level, rocketing past some notable narrative flaws. It’s a family drama that acts like a fable for fathers whose work (or, ahem, filmmaking) takes them away from their children, and it’s practically overflowing with Spielbergian sentiment. But it’s also an intergalactic parable so audacious in scale that it transcends into an End Times Myth for our modern secular world. This is hard science fiction that has the glowing stamp of approval from the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and major story threads that explain time dilation and the theory of fifth dimensional manipulation in visceral and cinematic ways.
At the end of the day, of all the genre films released in 2014, Interstellar stands more than the best chance of being remembered for its breathtaking scope, as well as its big ideas that tackle science fiction in the most sincere and adult manner Hollywood has seen since Contact. The spot-on performances of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Mackenzie Foy ground its epic proceedings, but the imagination and ambition present is truly out of this world. Interstellar is the best geeky movie of 2014, and one that we wager will continue to barely age as many more years pass.
So there are our favorite 11 genre movies from 2014! Agree with our list? Disagree? Did we leave a geek-appealing masterpiece suspiciously off the countdown? Please let us know in the comment section below!