Best of 2022: A great cinematic year comes to a conclusion
It always kills me a little inside when someone has the gall to say a given year “wasn’t a good one for film.” I hate being an absolutist about anything, but I can state with total certainty that this is never true. Maybe you were disappointed in what you happened to watch from January to December, but that doesn’t for one second mean the entire 365-day period was a bad one for film.
The reality is that it is impossible to watch every film that comes out each year. There is just way too much material to sort through, and no one person could ever hope to get their eyes on the majority of it. If you felt the year was bad, it’s only because you didn’t step outside your comfort zone to experience stories of every genre and in a variety of languages.
To put it simply: There is great stuff released every year, and 2022 was no exception.
I watched 308 films for the first time in 2022, and 145 of those were released this past year. That’s honestly a little lower than my normal average, as I’m typically right around 200 or so new releases. But it’s still a solid number, and I found more than enough to fall in love with, and quite a few I firmly believe will grow to become treasured classics over the coming decades.
While the theatrical experience did bounce back, it’s still safe to say that the combination of COVID-19 and the explosion in streaming options still put a significant dent in the types of pictures audiences were willing to head out of the house to see. The biggest story of 2022 was undeniably the colossal success of Top Gun: Maverick, while the saddest one continued to be the relatively disappointing grosses for high-profile, adult-skewing titles like The Fabelmans, Babylon, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Bones and All, and Tár.
There were exceptions, including the word-of-mouth success of the enjoyably inventive multiverse comedy-drama-action-science fiction-martial arts-romance hybrid Everything Everywhere All at Once. The female-driven historical action epic The Woman King also did well at the box office, and both films are considered to be relative shoo-ins for several Academy Award nominations when they’re announced on January 24, 2023.
Comic book adventures like The Batman, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Thor: Love & Thunder all met with predictable success, while others like Black Adam and Morbius notably underperformed. Sequels like Jurassic World Dominion and Minions: The Rise of Gru prospered, star-studded actioners like Bullet Train did just well enough to justify their production budgets, and a trio of romantic comedies (Marry Me, Ticket to Paradise, and the $100-million domestic hit The Lost City) reminded everyone that seasoned movie stars like Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Jennifer Lopez can still sell their fair share of tickets when appearing in the right property.
Horror continued to be the easiest path to theatrical success. From legacy sequels (Scream) to new ideas (Smile) to self-financed, self-distributed viral sensations (Terrifier 2), almost every month saw a “scary movie” play to an enthusiastic audience. Ti West and star Mia Goth managed an inventive one-two punch with X and Pearl, the wickedly perceptive foodie satire The Menu left viewers hungry for more, and the killer Airbnb abduction saga Barbarian took people down a gruesome rabbit hole chock full of surprises. The list goes on and on.
LGBTQ+ representation in major studio fare took center stage in Fire Island, Bros, Spoiler Alert, and a pair of animated Disney titles, Lightyear and Strange World. Sadly, even though reviews and overall audience reaction were relatively positive, none did especially well during their theatrical runs: Fire Island sadly went straight to Hulu, and even Lightyear, with its $118-million domestic gross, was seen as disappointing. Worse, it is likely Hollywood will learn the wrong lessons, blaming each title’s ticket-selling shortcomings on that aforementioned representation and not on any storytelling, marketing, or release strategy missteps that may have occurred.
Other movies from this past year that stood out: James Cameron showed he’s still got the Midas Touch behind the camera, Avatar: The Way of Water printing money as it sailed past $1 billion in worldwide grosses in less than two weeks. Netflix scored its first box office hit with Glass Onion even though it inexplicably kept detective Benoit Blanc’s second mystery in theaters for only seven days when it could have dominated ticket sales for an entire month. Hulu and Disney rejuvenated both the Predator series and Clive Barker’s demonic tale of cenobites and sins with Prey and Hellraiser to much acclaim, but that neither title got even a moderate theatrical release doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Back to Netflix for a moment: Other than the success of Glass Onion, the streaming giant went big on its continued bid to jump-start new franchises, and whether things worked out as anticipated is anyone’s guess. Why? No one knows what does and does not do well on the service. But the idea that Netflix can keep spending hundreds of millions on splashy — and instantly forgettable — star-studded programmers like The Gray Man, The School for Good and Evil, and Slumberland cannot be profitable, and makes the streamer’s announcement it’s going to try to “end” password sharing in 2023 understandable, if still not any less stupid.
There’s so much more we could talk about including Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, Disney+ mining its parent studio’s vaults to ruinous results (Hocus Pocus 2, Pinocchio, and Disenchanted), and Shudder and IFC Films joining forces to release some of the year’s most critically successful thrillers (Watcher, See for Me, The Innocents). Heck, we haven’t even dug into Warner Bros. erasing an entire, nearly completed DC comic book title (Batgirl) out of existence, all for a tax write-off. But those items and so many other tales will have to be left for another day.
It all goes to show that 2022 was as terrific a year in cinema as any in recent memory, and I won’t hear any word otherwise.
– Portions of this feature reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle