If we could describe 2018 in one word, it would be complicated. There have been some amazing shows and films, and fandom has faced a lot of growth and change. But we’ve also seen a lot of pain. We here at io9 have come together to celebrate the greatest pop culture moments of the year, as well as the things that could and should have been better. Grab a chair and dive into the best and worst of 2018.
Despite the fact that sci-fi and fantasy genre films have long been mainstream box office juggernauts, there’s still a degree to which they aren’t taken seriously as “prestige” works of art, worthy of proper recognition from institutions like the Academy. That’s what made The Shape of Water snagging a Best Picture Oscar this year so incredible. Not only was the win earned (though, one can argue that the award should have gone to Get Out), it also made it clear that the Academy really can’t get away with snubbing the inarguably fantastic genre pictures that studios are now beginning to churn out with increasing regularity.
We were all happy when del Toro won the Best Director Oscar for The Shape of Water—a long overdue victory for the acclaimed filmmaker. However, a few weeks prior to his Oscar win, the Golden Globes highlighted a big problem in Hollywood—one that presenter Natalie Portman rightfully pointed out, live on national television, shining a light on how often women are underrepresented for the work that they do. (You can see the moment, which includes eventual winner del Toro, above; it’s worth noting that Globes-snubbed Greta Gerwig did end up being Oscar-nominated for directing Lady Bird.) Portman’s remark was just one of the ways that creators, actors, fans, and many others have been pointing out ongoing issues of sexism in the entertainment industry, through movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up. It’s been a long time coming, but we still have a long way to go.
It took over five decades, but the first in-canon casting of a woman to play Doctor Who finally hit TV screens this year. Pretty instantly, fans realized it was worth the long wait. While season 11 itself was a bit of a mixed bag, with episodes that paid homage to Doctor Who’s past as the show simultaneously sought to forge a new path under freshman showrunner Chris Chibnall, we’ve got nothing but good things to say about Jodie Whittaker’s take on the iconic character.
From her (literally) ceiling-bursting entrance, to the delightful scenes where she thrift-shopped a new outfit and whipped up a new sonic screwdriver, to heavier moments where the Thirteenth Doctor faced challenges she’d never faced before, simply because she’s never been a “she” before, Whittaker consistently delivered, with energy and irresistible charm. (The sky-high ratings proved we’re not the only viewers who thought so.) We can’t wait to see what adventures she’ll face in season 12.
When Sony first announced an animated Spider-Man movie, people were... unconvinced. Oh, sure, those funny guys behind The Lego Movie were attached to produce, but did we really need another addition to the studio’s sprawling attempts to make it’s own Spider-universe of movies? Then, when it was announced that the film would star Ultimate Spider-Man’s Miles Morales instead, there was a bit more buzz, but still, doubt lingered.
All that changed when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse dropped its first trailer, and dazzled the world with its wild style, the entrancing beats of Vince Staples, and a look unlike any superhero movie we’d ever seen. The doubt turned to a seemingly impossible hype, which it surpassed. Spider-Verse is a technical marvel that is astonishing to behold. Beyond that, its tells a timely, stirring story about not just what it means to be Spider-Man, but to be a hero.
In this house, we do not speak of M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which featured a predominantly whitewashed cast and atrocious elemental building. Netflix has given us hope that we’re finally going to get a chance to see Team Avatar realized in all their culturally complex, nuanced glory with the promise of a new live-action series coming soon to the streaming platform.
As much as some of the Avatar fandom was hoping for a continuation of Korra’s story or even something about an entirely new Avatar, Aang’s story is where the franchise began, and it never really received the big-screen treatment that it deserved—something that would have introduced the series to many more people. Hopefully, now, that’s all going to change.
Since the second Nathan Drake Uncharted video game hit Playstation consoles, fans have wanted Nathan Fillion to play the hero. And for good reason. The dudes look exactly alike, and they even have the same name. Once Sony started moving ahead with a real Uncharted film, that fervor only got bigger. Unfortunately, that movie still hasn’t happened, so the chances of Fillion as Drake seemed slim to none. Then, in July of this year, we woke up one morning and...there it was. Nathan Fillion playing Nathan Drake in a movie. All our dreams came true. And it was just totally awesome. A perfect example of fan casting gone right.
The news was almost too bizarre to believe—The Expanse, the best sci-fi show on TV, would not be getting a fourth season on Syfy, due to business reasons involving the show’s broadcast rights. Incredibly, the decision was made even as The Expanse was firing on all cylinders with its outstanding third season. Fortunately, fans didn’t have to worry in limbo for too long before Amazon stepped in to carry the torch, adding the show to its Amazon Prime slate. Thankfully, the Roci crew will be back in 2019, with a more generous format that allows for more freedom with content (no more muffling the swear words!) and length, since episodes don’t have to conform to strict broadcast time slots.
Although Star Trek: Discovery’s first season was wildly uneven, its promise meant that Trek fans had a lot to be excited about when CBS decided it was about time it committed to multiple new Star Trek series for its All Access streaming service. And yet, nothing could top the official confirmation of something we thought would never happen: Patrick Stewart took to the stage at Star Trek Las Vegas to confirm that he would be reprising his legendary role as The Next Generation’s Jean-Luc Picard in a new solo series set after the events of TNG and its movie sequels. We’ve not seen an ounce of anything about the show yet, but still, we can’t wait to engage once more with a Star Trek legend.
Disney having its own streaming service seems like a no-brainer. The company’s back catalog of movies alone would warrant a subscription. But this year, we got details on how it was planning on raising the bar. Disney is making not one, but two live action Star Wars TV shows for the service. The Mandalorian starring Pablo Pascal, and a Rogue One prequel about Cassian Andor.
But that’s not it. We also found out there will be live-action Marvel shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—shows starring Tom Hiddleston for sure, and maybe even Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, and Sebastian Stan. The service, called Disney+, is going to be a must have for all geeks once it launches in late 2019.
Star Wars didn’t have a major presence at San Diego Comic-Con this year compared to the recent past, and yet Lucasfilm managed to drop a huge bombshell at the convention’s 10th anniversary celebration of the Clone Wars animated series. Fans were thrilled by the news of a brand new season that would finally tell stories that had been left in the pages of producer Dave Filoni’s notebooks since the show was cancelled after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. We’re getting one last set of adventures with Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan, and it’s about damn time.
Licensed video games have a reputation for being bad—and outside of rarities like Injustice or the Batman Arkham series, licensed games based on superhero comics have an even worse one. So there was a lot of pressure on Sony and Insomniac’s slick looking Marvel’s Spider-Man to deliver this year—and not only did it deliver, it gave us both one of the greatest games of the year, not to mention one of the most compelling takes on the Spider-Man mythos we’ve seen in a while. In a year that’s been very good for Spider-fans, Marvel’s Spider-Man stood out as a jewel in the crown.
Game of Thrones is nearing its eighth and final season. While many of us are eager to just find out how the damn story ends—since George R.R. Martin can’t seem to finish the books—we’re also eager to see more of the World of Ice and Fire. After teasing a whopping five potential Game of Thrones spinoffs, HBO announced that the first one would be a prequel series helmed by Jane Goldman and Martin himself. The series, which is currently in the pilot stage, would be a prequel set during the Age of Heroes, meaning we wouldn’t see the return of any iconic characters. But it is a fascinating period of Westerosi history, with a lot of room for exploration.
We already included this segment as a Best TV Moment, but it’s so beautiful it transcends categories. The season three finale of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was a feast of wonder, bringing characters and figures from across the entire season together in a giant internal crossover of heart-stopping action and self-referential humor. Then, it ended with one of the most epic battles ever shown on television: a fight between a demon and a giant talking stuffed animal. If that doesn’t confirm that Legends if the one of the greatest shows on television, we don’t know what else will convince you.
It wasn’t a total surprise—after all, going into the 2018 Hugos, N.K. Jemisin had already picked up the Best Novel award in 2016 for the first book in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, and did it again in 2017 with the second book, The Obelisk Gate. (Her win for The Fifth Season was the first for an African American writer in that category.) In 2018, the third book, The Stone Sky, made it a record-breaking hat trick.
In her wonderful acceptance speech, she addressed not just her chosen literary genre becoming more inclusive, but also offered a hopeful message about the world at large: “I look to science fiction and fantasy as the aspirational drive of the zeitgeist. We creators are the engineers of possibility. And as this genre finally, however grudgingly, acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalized matter and that all of us have a future, so will go the world. Soon. Very soon.”
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, during a panel for David Gordon Green’s new Halloween, one attendee surprised the audience during the Q&A portion by telling a story about how he believes Jaime Lee Curtis’ performance in John Carpenter’s original Halloween played a role in saving his own life.
While the man didn’t go into exact details about how the slasher influenced his survival instincts during a time of panic, Curtis expressed a kind of solidarity with the fan, saying that like Laurie Strode, the man understood that his traumatic past did not define him as a whole. It’s the sort of message one doesn’t always expect to hear from a movie about a monster trudging around while murdering teens, but it’s an important, timely one all the same, and it demonstrates just how powerful these sorts of narratives can become for people.
In a perfect world, James Gunn would right now be making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, aimed at a May 2020 release. But, after several admittedly terrible tweets from his past surfaced, Disney fired the director—leaving not just the movie, but much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in flux. Was what Gunn said disgusting? Absolutely. Did he deserve to lose his job over it—especially since the tweets were revealed to the company through a targeted attack against Gunn’s political views? Debatable. The cast didn’t think so, and Gunn ended up heading to DC to tackle Suicide Squad 2. But no matter your feelings on his Guardians dismissal, it was not a good day for anyone involved, inside or out.
One of the dark marks on 2018 was all the vitriol surrounding Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which hit its peak with a group of fans saying they were going to remake the film. The idea was so preposterous, even Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson jokingly endorsed it. To date, the group has been pledged $414 million totally real, not-at-all joking dollars. Seriously though, to see someone hate a movie so much that they go through the motions of something like this was truly a sad day in fandom.
Few upcoming shows have attracted buzz quite like Netflix’s planned adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels (mainly due to the diehard fanbase of the Witcher video game adaptations, despite the fact the projects are mostly separate beyond the same source material). The announcement that Henry Cavill—himself a diehard fan of the Witcher games and books—would play Geralt of Rivia made already high expectations start punching right through the stratosphere.
And then... we got our first look at Cavill in costume, and there was something off. The dodgy wig; the younger, beardless look for Geralt from the books (which makes sense for the show, even if fans expected a Witcher 3-esque Geralt); and the unfortunately-lit test footage lead to fans being baffled rather than wholly amazed by what they’d been shown. Fingers crossed it can live up to the hype when we actually see it in the context of the show!
Gillian Anderson’s performance as American Gods’ celebrity-impersonating god of Media was hands-down one of the most fascinating characters on the show (not to mention a major figure in the books)—which is what made her departure so shocking and disappointing. It’s easy to understand why Anderson left, considering all of the drama surrounding the show’s production staff and the initial uncertainty of when American Gods might return to Starz. At the same time, though, you can’t help but feel that with Anderson leaving, American Gods lost a major part of what made the show’s first season so magical. Hopefully, though, the god of New Media will expertly step up to the plate to keep things running smoothly.
It was the worst of times, it was the weirdest of times. In August, the Academy announced it was adding a new category called Best Popular Film. The Academy claimed it was a way to give acknowledgement to movies that are more beloved commercially, but perhaps not so much critically.
However, the Academy didn’t give any information on how the category would work, how films would be judged, or what even constituted a “popular” film. Plus, there was the fear that it would lessen some film’s chances at getting higher Oscars accolade—like Black Panther, which is making a big push at this year’s Academy Awards. Less than a month later, the Academy withdrew its new category, partially because—like many fans—Academy members Steven Spielberg and Laura Dern thought it was a really stupid idea too.
A new movie in the Predator franchise, directed and co-written by one of the stars of the 1987 original film? What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot of things, actually. The movie turned out to be, to quote io9’s headline on the review, “a manic, muddled mess” that some quippy dialogue and a cast full of actors we usually enjoy couldn’t save.
But even if The Predator had been a monster-movie masterpiece, it still would’ve been tainted by the news (which broke shortly before its premiere) that director Shane Black had hired a friend who also happened to be a registered sex offender to play a small role. Making matters worse, the man shared a scene with Olivia Munn, one of the film’s few female cast members, who was totally unaware of his status. The scene was cut, but the damage was done, and Black’s fumbled apology attempts felt too little, too late.
Once a crucial part of every kid’s quest to track down the newest and hottest toys (not to mention an important destination for toy collectors of any age), iconic retail chain Toys “R” Us began shuttering all of its U.S. locations this year. While online retailers shared some of the blame for the toy giant’s demise, and ordering off Amazon from the comfort of one’s couch is a tempting way to shop, it’s sad to think the experience of actually visiting a huge store filled only with toys is swiftly being relegated to the nostalgia bin.
Justice League was released to mixed response in 2017 after a year of behind-the-scenes turmoil in the wake of personal tragedy for its original director, Zack Snyder. And yet neither that tragedy, nor the fact that the DCEU has tried to distance itself from the disappointment of Justice League, has stopped a certain section of DC fans from ceaselessly trying to rehash the idea of a mythical, non-existent incredible cut of the film that Snyder allegedly made before his untimely departure from the project. At this point, why can’t we all just move on and let the man be?
In June 2018, Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran left Instagram as a result of bullying and racist remarks. It’s something we’ve seen time and time against this year—celebrities quitting social media because of harassment. Tran later came out with a powerful and inspiring op-ed in The New York Times, speaking out against those who use fandom as an excuse to abuse actors, creators, and other fans. It was inspiring, but it still doesn’t change the fact that we lost that voice on social media because of racism and hate. And we’re not seeing things getting any better—if anything they’re getting worse. It still fucking sucks.
After making all that fuss about how Voltron: Legendary Defender was going to tackle queer representation by introducing Shiro’s boyfriend and exploring their relationship, the show gave the character a scant few minutes of screen time before unceremoniously killing him off. Because Voltron is fundamentally a show about war, it makes sense that a number of characters would die in order to convey to audiences that there are heartbreaking consequences to that sort of conflict.
At the same time, however it felt very much as if the show’s creators were attempting to capitalize on Voltron’s notoriously large, vocal LGBTQ+ fandom that had been dreaming of seeing queer Paladin. Given how unabashedly queer and inclusive as some of Netflix’s other shows like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina managed to be, it really made Voltron seem like it wasn’t exactly trying to get its representation right.
Netflix kicked 2018 off with a bang when it revealed, during a Super Bowl commercial, that the new Cloverfield movie was going to be released immediately after the Super Bowl. It was a landmark, ballsy marketing move for a service to release such a massive franchise movie with almost no fanfare whatsoever. However, it was immediately evident why Netflix was willing to take such a gamble: because the movie was soooooo bad.
The final months of Stan Lee’s life were plagued with accusations of elder abuse and financial mishandling at the hands of those close to the 95-year-old. As Lee’s health was allegedly failing, he was sequestered away from the public eye by his handlers save for a handful of odd, cryptic videos that were periodically shared to his social media accounts—videos that all felt as if they were staged and without Lee’s desire to participate.
In time, Lee was able to receive a restraining order against at least one of his alleged abusers and finally be able to begin to regain a modicum over control of his life, which was a blessing given that he passed on just a few months later.
Marvel icon Stan Lee’s passing last month provided an unfortunate end-cap to a year of turmoil. The outpouring of grief from fans, comics luminaries, and Marvel stars spoke to the impact Lee had—not just with the litany of characters he co-created as they evolve and grow into mediums beyond comics, but the man himself, from his movie cameos to his earnest, seemingly endless love of comics and their ability to inspire us all to be something greater. He will be forever remembered as a man who always championed the idea to look ever upward—Excelsior.
This one gets its own category, because you can’t really call it good or bad. The White House’s new tradition of terrifying the world during the holidays exists in a world all its own. It’s an alternate dimension of pain, and we’re all forced to watch it from the outside.
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