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It is often said that life is short, so why is it that every year seems to get longer and longer? Nothing seems to punctuate this strange phenomenon better than looking back at the films that were released over the course of 2022. Judging by what was in theaters, this year is truly poised to go down in history as the longest year on record. Reviewing my year in film, I’ve noted a handful of flicks that I barely recall watching—now more akin to a half-remembered dream—and even more films I didn’t watch at all, but which now feel as if they were released five years ago instead of five months ago.
Fear not: I am currently working with a group of our top scientists to figure out why this Mandela Effect-like singularity happens each year. For example, if you told me that I watched Sonic the Hedgehog 2 back in February and also wrote an entire essay on it, I would tell you that you’re fucking insane and gaslighting me. If you told me that the weird viral Robin Williams impersonator guy happened this year, however, I would believe you. Because it did. Just kidding—it happened last year. But for a second you probably thought it happened this year too, right?
The fact of the matter is that, in our failing, blockbuster-dominated culture, so many big-budget films are shoved into the spotlight pre-release, cultivating buzzy discourse, stimulating conversation and exhausting memes. Then, they hit theaters, disappoint, and disappear as if they never existed. Then it’s on to the next thing. Again and again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Forgettable blockbuster films can’t leave a cultural footprint if they are fighting for a spot alongside the next forgettable blockbuster film. They just cancel each other out.
Here’s a list of films that I was genuinely shocked to remember came out this year:
The lead-up to Disney’s Toy Story origin story, not of the toy Buzz Lightyear, but as Chris Evans famously put it, “the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on,” catalyzed over a year of conflicting arguments as to just how this film fit into the world of Toy Story at all. Is it a movie that only we in the real world are watching about Buzz Lightyear? Is it a movie that in-universe Andy would have watched, that then would have gotten him interested in the Buzz Lightyear toy? Also, was this Lightyear guy supposed to have been a real person in Andy’s world? Or was he a fictional character? No one, not even the film’s director, was able to give a straight answer on any of this. It all came off like incredibly lazy and poorly-conceived world-building, and the proof is in the pudding: Lightyear failed, and now it’s gone.
The flop “girls can be pretty and use guns, too” movie of 2021 Gunpowder Milkshake was a harbinger of what was to come for The 355 in 2022. I have not seen the film, nor will I ever, but I can assume that both of these films are exactly the same. What doesn’t work about these “girls can be pretty and use guns, too” movies is that they are so overtly condescending to their core audience in a way that typical male-lead action films just aren’t. Sure, we could use more women-led action movies—the genre doesn’t have to be male-dominated. But it doesn’t have to be so obviously desperate about it either. It didn’t help that, despite a cast of great actors, The 355 was dumped in theaters in January, the month where films go to die. I guess the filmmakers didn’t want to see a girlboss winning.
Can you believe there was a third Fantastic Beasts movie that came out this year? With a title like Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore? Can you also believe that this film started out as a movie about, like, funny-looking magical creatures and is now about wizard Nazis or some shit? Has this franchise really still been going on??? Well, not anymore, as of a few months ago. A combination of dwindling box office returns and controversy—including series author J.K. Rowling’s right-wing rantings, Johnny Depp’s replacement as Grindelwald and co-star Ezra Miller’s recent, uh, antics—plus critic and audience pans have led to the dissolution of a franchise that, by all accounts, had fourth and even fifth films gearing up. Hopefully everything surrounding the creation of more Harry Potter stories can just die once and for all, and Potter adults can learn to enjoy media for people their own age.
If you asked me how many Marvel films came out this year, I would not know what to tell you. I experienced quite a jolt when I remembered there was a Doctor Strange movie directed by Sam Raimi that I did see (and wrote about) but that nobody talks about anymore. Marvel’s new thing seems to be releasing films that may not have existed. Granted, they’re still dominating the box office, the theaters (so that no other films can even play there) and taking up all the air in conversations. But things are different now. Endgame has come and gone, and no new Marvel film has been able to fill the void that Phase 3 left. People are still showing up in theaters, but reviews are becoming less friendly, and conversations always seem to revolve around Marvel v. Film Industry rather than the films themselves. Do Marvel fans themselves even remember Multiverse of Madness? There has indeed been a vibe shift.
Perhaps the most not-real movie of the year, as noted by Cory Atad for Gawker, was The Gray Man, the newest “film” from proud movie theater-killers the Russo brothers. The two biggest draws, I guess, came from the film being directed by cinema’s greatest Marvel movie auteurs (oxymoron), as well as serving as Ryan Gosling’s big comeback vehicle since playing Neil Armstrong in First Man four years ago. But as noted by Atad (this is another film I did not punish myself by actually watching), The Gray Man is less a film than a “business venture,” and the Russos are not filmmakers. They are hucksters selling customers shoddy products, which makes them a perfect fit for The Gray Man’s home, Netflix. They don’t make art, they make content, and they want that artless content spoon-fed to customers in the most efficient means possible. It bodes well for the future of a creative industry when two of the biggest-name and highest-paid blockbuster directors talk about their craft like a couple of shareholders.
In its desperate bid for relevance and better box office take-in, many may recall that Morbius returned to theaters for an extra weekend after its initial run earlier this year due to the mistaken belief that the film’s skyrocketing prevalence on Twitter was out of earnest love and not irony. Thus, maybe one of the funniest things that happened this year was Morbius coming back to the big screen under the assumption that fans wanted to see more of their favorite character Michael Morbius, only to further cement itself as a bomb. This incident is far more memorable than anything that happened in Morbius, a film that has seen attempts to get it to the big screen since the late ‘90s. It’s not that the Morbius Incident of 2022 isn’t somewhat memorable, it’s that it feels like it happened eons ago. Pop culture loses its relevance so quickly now that there’s no room for the legacy of “It’s Morbin’ time.”
Kenneth Branagh might be the king of directing movies that may or may not have existed (blink twice if you remember Belfast). Case in point: Death on the Nile, a movie that I did see back in February but that my mind seemed to begin the process of repressing as soon as I left the theater. Remember how it was a whole thing how Branagh gave Hercule Poirot’s famous mustache a backstory? Remember “Enough champagne to fill the Nile”? Remember (laughing nervously) ARMIE HAMMER? Also, I’m not going to lie, but as I’ve been writing this blurb, I began confusing Death on the Nile for Murder on the Orient Express, the latter of which came out a full four years ago, both adaptations of Agatha Christie murder-mysteries. And as I clarified this confusion for myself just now, I learned that Nile was actually a sequel to Orient Express? And Branagh played Poirot in both films??? Haha! Hahahaha!!!!
Development of a film adaptation of the Uncharted videogame dates all the way back to 2008, one that was plagued by a constant reshuffling of writers, directors and actors over more than a decade. Finally, Uncharted arrived this year and immediately got poor reviews—though according to Rotten Tomatoes, audiences seemed to have loved it. Made on a $190 million budget, Uncharted ended up grossing over $400 million worldwide. Still, a blockbuster can do well and be enjoyed by audiences, and yet by all accounts fade from the public mind. Maybe I’m just not tapped into the side of culture that’s stanning Uncharted, but it’s interesting which blockbusters end up having any cultural staying power. Uncharted made money and satisfied general audiences, but it’s no Top Gun: Maverick. A decade’s worth of work to get it made and you’re schooled by Tom Cruise. Mark Wahlberg just doesn’t have Scientology on his side.
Not a blockbuster, granted, but I can’t believe the movie that only exists because of dated Nicolas Cage memes was this year, when it already felt dated by the time it was released. “Isn’t it so epic how Nic Cage is such a wacky guy who plays wacky guys in movies?” was the idea behind over a decade’s worth of internet jokes. And, as these jokes have begun to wane in recent years as the unrelenting meme cycle toils onward, it seems that the 2020s was the decade deemed to be fit for a movie inspired by them. Perhaps it could have been the premise of a better film (Cage truly is one of our very best), but reviews seem to suggest that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent didn’t live up to the potential of that premise. If you’re going to make a movie about epic-sauce Nic Cage, would you not make your movie equally epic-sauce?
What I assume is Netflix’s spiritual sequel to Don’t Look Up and its questionable method of “satirizing” “big issues” through “comedy,” The Bubble was (similar to Don’t Look Up) directed by a comedy filmmaker who is not particularly funny anymore. Judd Apatow’s The Bubble was the Knocked Up director’s attempt at tackling the pandemic and celebrity culture, with a plot focusing on a group of actors filming a blockbuster sequel while quarantining at a fancy hotel. Judging by the reviews, The Bubble managed to fumble the bag completely, opposed to Don’t Look Up, which fooled a generation of liberal boomers into believing that toothless satire will save us from climate change. I remember that The Bubble came out of nowhere back in March—in similar The Cloverfield Paradox fashion—seemingly hedging its bets on its stacked ensemble cast and big-name director. But at this point, I don’t think anybody wants “pandemic satire” any more than they want to be still living through a pandemic.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.