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It’s the end of another year, and despite the world still struggling with a pandemic, 2021 hopefully offered you a few more comforts than 2020. As we all try to move forward in this new world, it has been nice to see some sense of familiarity return to Hollywood with film and television providing us all a means to consider, escape and heal. For me, genre films and television have been an excellent means to do all of that. Horror, science-fiction, fantasy, and of course, superheroes have dominated our pop-culture landscape. And judging by social media trends, box office numbers and watercooler-style conversations, many of you are just as invested as ever, ongoing rumors of fatigue be damned. Before we head into 2022, I thought I’d take this opportunity to look at the major moments and milestones of the year under Heat Vision’s purview, and what it suggests for next year’s trends.
Surprising few, Marvel dominated the year with the release of 10 projects: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, What If…?, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Eternals, Hawkeye and Spider-Man: No Way Home, spread out across reopened theaters and Disney+. The year began with WandaVision, which gave audiences a weekly dose of conversation starters and theories to dive into, bringing back excitement for traditional TV release schedules in the age of binge-watching, while also giving Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) their long-deserved spotlight.
And the year concluded with Spider-Man: No Way Home, a celebration of the three film franchises starring the world’s most relatable superhero and winning over the hearts of those who thought such a film could never be pulled off. This balancing act between delivering what audiences didn’t expect and what they clamored for proved fruitful in defining the first year of Phase 4.
Not only did Marvel Studios take more creative risks this year with Loki and Eternals, there was also a greater devotion to inclusivity within all corners. From Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) taking up the mantle of Captain America and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) breaking barriers and dispelling long-held Hollywood beliefs, to Lauren Ridloff and Alaqua Cox bringing disabled representation to the studio as Eternals‘ Makkari and Hawkeye‘s Echo, respectively.
Next year is an even bigger year for Marvel properties with the Sony releases Morbius and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, She-Hulk, Thor: Love and Thunder, Ms. Marvel, Secret Invasion, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, I Am Groot, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and maybe a few more Disney+ projects. Everyone has a hero they can see themselves in, and that element will likely continue to pay off in the new year. We’ve come a long way from a man in an iron suit, and any concerns that audiences would be less invested with him out of the picture have proven unwarranted. While I do have some misgivings about the amount of characters announced for Marvel Studios’ three theatrical films next year, it’d be foolish to bet against them.
DC Turns the Page
As for the distinguished competition at Warner Bros, it was a small year for DC properties, yet a significant step forward as the studio turns the page to its next chapter. While The Suicide Squad didn’t light up the box office with its simultaneous release in theaters and on HBO Max, it did prove to be a hit with critics and will surely develop a cult following. What it did do is get the DCEU back on track for director-driven visions, without massive studio interference, introduce a bunch of new characters into the universe and hand James Gunn the reigns to develop more DC projects, starting with Peacemaker on HBO Max in January.
As for next year, DC looks to give Marvel a run for its money with The Batman, DC League of Super-Pets, Black Adam, The Flash, Batgirl and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. If anything, it looks the future of the DCEU will be less about narrative cohesiveness and more about the multiverse as audiences are introduced to a greater number of DC’s stable of characters, two of which, Black Adam and Krypto, portrayed by Dwayne Johnson. And like the MCU, the DCEU is also furthering its commitment to representation, both onscreen and behind the camera with, Batgirl, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Supergirl and Blue Beetle. In theory, the DCEU should be able to get some new franchises going, maintain excitement for those already started, and rely on the always dependable allure of Batman.
While superhero films show no sign of slowing down and were responsible for most of this year’s ticket sales, Hollywood did end up with a few other hits that may be viable for franchises over the next few years. Godzilla vs. Kong lit up the box office in March and was the first sign that life was returning to theaters. Strangely, Warners has yet to capitalize on the hit and officially announce a continuation of the Monsterverse.
A Quiet Place Part II was another early success story of the year, with John Krasinski’s long-delayed sequel getting audiences back in theaters. While Jeff Nichols exited the spin-off project, Paramount, lacking in major franchises, will certainly continue to enjoy the silence as it finds new ways to develop that world. Free Guy, developed and produced at 20th Century Fox before the studios’ acquisition by Disney, and Jungle Cruise also made waves as one of the few “original” blockbusters (I’m using that as loosely as possible) to break out this year, adding yet another couple gems to Disney’s gauntlet as it becomes increasingly clear that the studio’s investment in IP and the Fox library only extends to blockbusters.
The biggest non-superhero film of the year domestically was Justin Lin’s F9, which proved there’s still gas in the tank of the Fast & Furious franchise as it gears up for its two-part conclusion. In terms of more prestigious blockbusters, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune defied expectations and proved a success even amidst all of the discourse surrounding theatrical versus streaming. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die, which concluded Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond in explosive fashion, and proved, after 59 that James Bond is one franchise that will never die. With next year being the 60th anniversary of Dr. No, I expect we’ll get the announcement of our new James Bond late in the year.
A Dying Breed and a Shift in Format
Blockbuster hopefuls, Mortal Kombat, Snake Eyes and The Matrix Resurrections fizzled upon release, suggesting that audiences are most likely to rely on superheroes for their big-budget thrills. But it also suggests that some properties are simply more viable for streaming services. For example, Mortal Kombat and Snake Eyes could’ve become dependable streaming franchises. Take Army of the Dead, The Tomorrow War and Red Notice, films that would’ve once been dependable box office hits, are now streaming service highlights. But this isn’t a bad thing. It simply allows for more stories to be told in different mediums.
In 2022 it will be interesting to see what films make the jump to streaming as very few films outside of the superhero market seem to be safe bets anymore. A couple safe bets next year are Jurassic World: Dominion and Mission: Impossible 7, while Uncharted, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar 2 remain some of the year’s big question marks. Though, like Marvel, I’d never bet against Tom Cruise or James Cameron.
Even amidst the horrors of the real world, horror remains the most exciting genre, and one of the most bankable. From indie gems (Bloodthirsty, Jakob’s Wife, Titane and Werewolves Within) to major studio offerings (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Old, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Candyman, Don’t Breathe 2, Halloween Kills) and streaming premieres (Fear Street trilogy, VHS94, Nightbooks and Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin), horror covered every base and proved to be the most stable theatrical offering outside of superhero films. While Malignant, Last Night in Soho, and Nightmare Alley, from genre favorites James Wan, Edgar Wright, and Guillermo del Toro, respectively, disappointed at the box office, they scored with horror fans and will continue to find their audience. In Wan’s case, Malignant has already emerged as a modern cult classic, and a film horror aficionados can’t stop talking about. A Quiet Place Part II and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It were the only horror films to break $200 million globally, and Halloween Kills was the only one to break $100 million, proving that even when it comes to horror, franchises rule. But original horror films with modest budgets can still manage to be a theatrical success story.
If anything proved to be most effective in getting audiences back in theaters before the release of Black Widow, it was horror movies. 2022 looks to test that theory again, right out the gate with Paramount Pictures’ Scream, the fifth entry in the genre-defining franchise. Other big horror highlights hitting next year include Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Black Phone, Nope, Salem’s Lot and Hellraiser and Halloween Ends. But as fans have come to realize in recent years, a lot of the best horror are surprises that emerge from Sundance and other festivals throughout the year.
All in all, it’s been a good year for genre fare, both theatrical and streaming, and next year looks like it could top this one in terms of exciting projects to talk about.
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