The 2014 Summer Movie Season is now over, and it’s time for us to look back over the lineup of movies we either sat through, suffered through, or enjoyed in full. Being the year leading up to some much bigger years in summer cinema (see: the overcrowded 2015 lineup), 2014 wasn’t exactly packed with top-shelf material; but there were some important events of note.
There were big gambles on launching new franchises (Guardians of the Galaxy) or re-launching some older ones (Godzilla, TMNT); established franchises tried to course-correct themselves into a shared universe expansion a la Marvel (X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man); and in between the big dogs, a few smaller films tried to gain notoriety (Snowpierecer). And of course, there was no shortage of sequels to bring us back to some familiar places (22 Jump Street, Transformers 4, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
As always, our Screen Rant Summer Movie Awards will start off with some serious-minded categories, before we move into some of the more eccentric (and fun) parts of the summer movie season we wish to highlight. Enjoy!
2014 Summer Movie Awards (SPOILERS Follow)
Most Successful: Guardians of the Galaxy
There is no doubt who the big winner of summer 2014 is – and surprise, surprise, it’s once again Marvel Studios. However, unlike in previous years, Marvel’s success in 2014 comes on the back of a big gamble in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy.
No matter how the people may talk (read: front) now, even most hardcore comic fans hadn’t really explored the Guardians comic books – be they the old 1970s version or the more modernized “Marvel Cosmic” version. That meant Marvel Studios risking top-dollar on a relatively unknown property; led by a relatively unknown leading man (Chris Pratt); under the guidance of a relatively untested director (James Gunn, who had previously done indie films); with a release date (first week August) that is traditionally NOT a magnet for big tentpole films.
However, as is the way of things, big gambles resulted in big rewards. And after winning this big (half a billion and counting in just a month), it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything that stop the Marvel Juggernaut (pun). Bring on Ant-Man.
Most Disappointing: Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Amazing Spider-Man franchise has promised much, only to deliver little. The first installment promised us an “untold” version of the Spider-Man origin… then it basically told us the same story with a sillier CGI villain (The Lizard). Amazing Spider-Man 2 made the bold shared universe promise that our hero’s “greatest battle” would begin… but instead we got several half-assed villains and a jumbled mess of a movie.
What wins this sequel this particular award, however, is the fact that, visually, this was the best Spider-Man movie we’ve ever gotten. The wall-crawler, the super powered action – all of it was top-notch. It’s a crying shame that the story surrounding the visuals wasn’t as strong, and that the final film looked like a studio hack job, with key pieces (already shown in the overflow of marketing) missing from the puzzle.
Needless to say, the Spider-Man movie franchise is feeling a bit squashed in its hopes for the future.
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Best Franchise (Re)Launch: Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is now at $490 million worldwide and counting – in just one month of release! It earned more money domestically than Michael Bay’s Transformers 4 – which is a feat in and of itself – thereby cementing its status as the biggest movie of the summer.
With a sequel already in the works, a cartoon series on the way, and a whole shared Marvel universe of future possibilities, the Guardians brand is stronger in its infancy than most other franchises are in their old age (see: Expendables 3).
Honorable Mention: TMNT. No matter how old-school fans feel, Paramount turned a new generation onto Ninja Turtles movies – with more to come.
Worst Franchise (Re)Launch: Hercules
Paramount Pictures thought that they had a new potential action franchise on their hands – and on paper, it sounded pretty solid. Get a massive leading man (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and put him in a Greek swords-and-sandals tentpole piece starring a superhero-esque protagonist (Hercules).
Well, under the (mis)guidance of director Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand), Hercules failed to earn back its $100 million budget domestically – and only barely crossed that line with international sales included. Factor in the likely cost of marketing – and the fact that a different Hercules film also flopped in 2014 – and it’s clear this franchise is DOA for the immediate future.
Best Shared Universe Launch: X-Men Days of Future Past
The X-Men movie franchise is famously bad for keeping track of its own convoluted continuity. With different directors and creative teams working on different iterations of films, at different times, under conflicting visions, fans had seen things fracture so far apart that it was unclear whether Fox could ever get it together again.
Then along came original X-Men director Bryan Singer with a crazy little old idea called Days of Future Past.
Infusing the superhero movie formula with time travel and a dysfunctional family drama, Singer made Days of Future Past an all-around fun and immersive X-Men movie experience, while simultaneously wiping (much of) the old, messy, slate clean. We now have new and exciting possibilities for future X-Men sequels and spinoffs set within an expanded and revitalized universe.
In the race for shared universe franchise supremacy, Fox’s X-Men brand came back from near-death and pulled a major dark horse win. Now about that Deadpool movie, though…
Worst Shared Universe Launch: Amazing Spider-Man 2
Amazing Spider-Man 2 was such a disappointment (lowest domestic box office, critical drubbing) that the studio has had to rethink its plans for the franchise.
Right now it seems it’ll be a few years before we see anything; and when we do finally get more Spidey, it will be villain films like Venom and Sinister Six first. Kids moving into freshman college dorms today could be receiving their diplomas at graduation before Amazing Spider-Man 3 ever makes it into theaters. Thank ASM2 for that massive franchise cool down.
Right now, if the franchise’s star player can’t even muster excitement for himself, it’s hard to see how villains and supporting characters from his universe are going to win back waning fan interest. It’s going to take something very different, and very great, to turn this drifting ship around.
Best Fight: Godzilla vs. MUTOs – Godzilla
Godzilla admittedly split audiences, depending on whether or not you found the final destination worth the journey to get there. One thing that is not really debatable, however, is whether or not the film delivered an adequate climactic payoff.
It was a long chase between the MUTOs and Godzilla – but when the big showdown in the San Francisco bay finally came, Godzilla once again proved why he is – and forever will be – the undisputed King of Monsters.
Talk all you want about what other films had what other great fights; there was only one moment in our summer 2014 movie experience where the crowd went absolutely wild during a big brawl – and that moment involved an atomic mouth-to-mouth fatality.
Worst Fight: End Battle – Transformers Age of Extinction
If nothing else, you can always count on Michael Bay’s Transformers movies to deliver some unequaled blockbuster action. But with Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s like Bay’s heart is no longer in his many, many, pyrotechnics and explosions.
Fans waited four films to finally see Transformers favorites like Galvatron and the Dinobots – but when the aforementioned finally came together with Optimus Prime, the Autobots, a sadistic bounty hunter and a new breed of Decepticons for a big showdown in China, the result was pretty underwhelming.
More Transformers than ever, and yet we saw the least interesting battle ever. Just a mess of faceless robots doing this or that; a few recycled ideas from Transformers 1 (see: tow truck rescue); more than a few wasted characters (Galvatron, Grimlock) and a triceratops stuck in a tractor beam.
Yeah… it was pretty terrible.
Best Sequel: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an unlikely franchise-spawning reboot that impressed both critics and fans – so expectations were understandably high for the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of Apes. The return of motion-capture actor Andy Serkis and his Weta Digital effects teams was a good sign; but having Cloverfield director Matt Reeves step in was something of a question mark.
Well, the answer to that question turned out to be this: Matt Reeves was the perfect choice for DotPotA.
Crafting a story that boldly put the Apes and their fledgling society front and center, Reeves led the character of Caesar (Serkis) through a turn of events that both continued what we liked about Rise, while offering a decidedly new and different vision. DotPotA expanded both the scope and scale of the story on every level; we’d be lucky if every sequel was this good.
Honorable Mention: X-Men: Days of Future Past. As a sequel to X3, First Class AND The Wolverine, DoFP was a much-improved version of all aspects of the X-Men movie universe.
Worst Sequel: Amazing Spider-Man 2
Look, we don’t want to keep hitting Spidey when he’s down, but this was a sequel that promised to fix the many problems of its predecessor AND introduce us to an exciting new shared universe…. and it did neither. That’s pretty much a total failure of intent.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: The Expendables 3. While some on our staff enjoyed this action throwback, we can all agree that it was pretty pointless to wedge younger characters (and subsequently, an extra hour of screen time) into a franchise built entirely on showcasing old greats. And drop that PG-13 rating; Hard-R action is what the core fans are paying to see.
Rising Star: Chris Pratt
Nobody thought of Parks and Rec‘s funnyman/dunder-head Chris Pratt as a compelling choice for a blockbuster leading man – but hell if Pratt didn’t prove it with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Coming off a big score in early 2014 with The LEGO Movie, Pratt totally quarterbacked the Guardians movie, turning Marvel’s obscure oddball space heroes into mainstream rock stars – and making us laugh and cry and cheer all along the way. (He’s just like Kevin Bacon!)
With a leading role in next year’s Jurassic World, Parks and Rec more popular than ever, and Guardians 2 in the works, Pratt is a star who is quickly rising to conquer both the big and small screens.
Falling Star: Sly Stallone
Like Schwarzenegger, Stallone’s comeback in films like Bullet to the Head and Escape Plan have been flops at the domestic box office – and his Expendables franchise has shown diminishing domestic returns with each new installment.
You can blame piracy, or mediocrity, but whatever the culprit, Expendables 3 was a huge flop. With the novelty of that throwback franchise having seemingly worn off, there’s little left in the Sly Stallone wheelhouse for us to get excited about – which is almost certainly why talk about Rambo 5 has started up again…
Honorable Mention: Jeff Bridges. That Rooster Cogburn drawling mumble from True Grit has been a curse on the actor two years running, as R.I.P.D. flopped hard last summer, and The Giver barely cracked even at the domestic box office this summer.
Best Chemistry: The Guardians of the Galaxy
A thief. An assassin. A madman and two bounty-hunting thugs. Who knew they would be so lovable together?
Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige made the bold claim early on that James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy script was the best that the studio has ever seen to that point – and audiences seem to agree. Crackling with offbeat wit and fantastic ensemble humor, Guardians made its introduction to Marvel’s cosmic heroes the most enjoyable first impression yet.
If you need proof that this group of misfits lit up the screen (beyond Groot’s phosphorescent light show), simply recite your list of favorite Guardians team quotables with friends. Should keep you occupied.
Worst Chemistry: Jessica Alba and the Mirror – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was a relatively fun return to the dark Noir world of Frank Miller’s imagining – but man, did it end on a bad note.
In a story segment called “Nancy’s Last Dance” created for the film by Miller – which nobody in their right mind asked for – we witness an epilogue to the “That Yellow Bastard” storyline from the first film, as Nancy (Jessica Alba) seeks revenge on Senator Roarke (Powers Booth) for the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Along her path to bloody revenge, we watch Nancy descend into the depths of depression and madness, before finally finding the wild abandon necessary to take down Roarke.
Apparently, somebody thought it was a good idea to end a movie with a showcase of Jessica Alba in a dramatic role, alone onscreen for quite some time. Unfortunately, Alba couldn’t even manage to spark any chemistry between herself and a mirror and a phantom Bruce Wilis – making it that much more painful for the rest of us to watch.
Funniest Moment: The Literal Drax – Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians had a lot of great talent behind it, but one thing that had fans worried early on was the casting of former wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Bautista had been showcased in movies like Man with the Iron Fist and hadn’t exactly stolen the show with his acting, so expectations for his Guardians role were understandably tempered at first.
The film makes great humor out of the fact that Drax’s species of alien don’t have linguistic flourishes like metaphor or figurative meaning; with Drax, everything is painfully, hilariously literal. Somehow, Bautista’s lack of acting and comedic experience worked to his character’s favor: Drax’s awkward delivery and linguistic confusion made Guardians hilarious at several very memorable (and quotable) points.
Nobody who saw the film will ever again be able to hear the phrase, “That went over your head” and NOT smile. Your comedy reflexes are too fast. You would catch that joke.
HONORABLE MENTION: 22 Jump Street. Channing Tatum displayed comedic timing, energy, and athletic prowess in that hilarious scene where the horrible connection between Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) is finally revealed… with delayed reaction.
Most Frightening Moment: Between Rock and Bone – As Above, So Below
Summer 2014 was admittedly light on big horror movies – but as has become tradition, the season closed with the release of As Above, So Below, a found-footage horror flick about a group of explorers who literally go to the depths of hell in search of a mythical artifact (if you haven’t seen it, read our review of the film).
Like The Descent, As Above, So Below uses the setting of underground caverns to give audiences a claustrophobic sense of what subterranean exploration is all about. When cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge) gets trapped in a thin, collapsing crevice between hard rock and a pile of bones, his panic (and the agonizing length of the sequence) was enough to send any real claustrophobics in the audience into hyper-ventilation (audibly, in my theater).
We don’t always need ghouls and ghosts to freak us out; practical fears work just as well.
Most Disturbing Moment: Tail & Engine Politics – Snowpiercer
The phrase, “You know what I hate about myself?” is a loaded grenade anytime it lands on your ears, but the movie Snowpiercer found a way to make the answer to that question even more disturbing than usual.
For Chris Evans’ character, Curtis, the battle to the front of the Snowpiercer locomotive had been bloody hell marked by much tragedy and loss – but it was nothing compared to the life Curtis had left behind in the tail section. Recounting his past to cohort Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song), Curtis reveals a side of himself horrifically different form the hero we’ve come to know. It’s that dark will that the train’s conductor, Wilford, is interested in, as he tries to recruit Curtis into the terrible job necessary to keep Snowpiercer society both literally and figuratively in motion.
If you’ve seen the film’s climactic philosophical quandaries, you know why we shudder whenever our own Anthony Ocasio keeps stating that he ‘sides with the train.’ We only hope real human society is nowhere near how Snowpiercer paints it. We hope…
Most Emotional Moment: Fault in Our Stars Final Act
We won’t spoil the ending of The Fault In Our Stars – but come on, the film begins with two kids (who are both very sick) falling in love. You don’t need a crystal ball to see this ends in an empty box of tissues and bleary eyes for the audience.
Try to watch the final act of this film without crying. We dare you. Even if the sad parts don’t get to you, the beauty and grace the characters show in dealing with those hardships just might. Right in the heart, bro.
Most WTF Moment: Howard the Duck Cameo – Guardians of the Galaxy
By now fans are used to the game: if you go to see a Marvel movie, you sit through the entire credits to catch a bonus scene (or two). Sometimes the scenes tease major plot developments to come – other times, they’re just for fun and kicks. Guardians of the Galaxy, however, managed to throw fans a curve ball that added a whole new level of WTF to the Marvel post-credit scene experience.
Howard the Duck may not be that well-known anymore, so a lot of people were definitely left saying “WTF?” (audibly, in my theater) when the obscure character (who IS part of the Marvel universe, BTW) showed up in the remains of The Collector’s collection.
Director James Gunn has revealed it was all for fun (No Howard the Duck movie coming), but be sure to read our profile of Howard the Duck’s history in the Marvel U.
Best Frankenstein Job: TMNT
We reserve this award for films that manage to make a mint of cash out of the mess of footage and half-realized ideas they found themselves with during post-production (See also: World War Z, our 2013 winner).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went through a lot of versions – and left a lot of footage unfinished and/or on the cutting room floor – before the studio came away with a lean (shallow), 100-minute, kids movie that managed to open at the top of the box office and guarantee Ninja Turtles 2 coming in 2016. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, but they got there.
…Hopefully the sequel is more Adonis and less Frankenstein job.
Parasitic Twin Award: Hercules
Brett Ratner’s Hercules starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the second Hercules film to come out – and quickly flop – in 2014, following the prequel story Legend of Hercules (starring Kellan Lutz) earlier this year.
Lutz’ version took place before Hercules’ fabled twelve labors; Johnson’s film took place after them. The result of skipping over the most famous part of the mythos? Hercules was a two-time loser at the box office.
It’s little consolation, then, to say Johnson’s version was the better of these two conjoined freaks.
Most Meme’d: Guardians of the Galaxy
Sorry kids, Captain America 2‘s “Hail HYDRA” and “On your left” meme storm does. Not. Count. That was a spring movie; these are summer movie awards.
Now, those “Star-Lord (WHO?)”, Rocket/Groot and Literal Drax memes you’re starting to (or have been) seeing? Yeah, that’s only going get prolifically worse before it gets better. Just like Kevin Bacon!
Sub-Genre Killer: Into the Storm
We like to add a new award every year, and this year that award is for a movie that was so bad in its stylistic approach that it (nearly) burnt us out on a whole sub-genre of film. (After all, genre as a larger entity can never really be killed.)
In its inaugural year we give this award to the found-footage tornado disaster film Into the Storm for making us wish the whole found-footage trend would die back down into sporadic use, by purposed filmmakers, with well-developed ideas.
Alas, for now found-footage still remains a cheap way to make a movie which could potentially reap big bucks from audiences ultimately disappointed with their (semi-)cinematic experience.
Summer 2014 had its highlights (Guardians, Apes) – but who isn’t looking forward to the forthcoming years of summer movies? With over 40 superhero films and countless big tentpole genre films all competing for box office dollars, the competition for our summer movie awards is only going to get more vicious – and the categories we have to create only more outlandish and geeky. Should be a blast.
Do you agree with our picks? Did we leave anything out (cue Edge of Tomorrow mentions…)?
Either way, come discuss the summer in movies with us in the comments, or chat with us @screenrant.