2018 was a big year at the box office – perhaps the biggest ever – and a big year on the Tomatometer, with the likes of Cobra Kai, Paddington 2, and more scoring 100%, and hundreds of movies and TV seasons going Certified Fresh. It was also a big year for movie and TV news – the Academy threatened to add a new category and Stan Lee passed, while scandal threw the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise into disarray and kicked Roseanne out of her own show. And it was a big year for movie and TV news-makers: Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, and more all made history. With an eye on the Tomatometer, as well as the headlines, the box office, the streaming wars, and the titles that captured people’s imaginations and hearts, we’vee rounded up the biggest and best moments in the year for film and TV. Check them out below, and let us know the big moments you think we’ve missed in the comments.
It was a strong year for first-time directors, with Bo Burnham kicking things off at Sundance with the premiere of Eighth Grade. The at-times hilarious, at-all-times excruciatingly awkward story of eighth-grade outcast Kayla sits at 99% on the Tomatometer and star Elsie Fisher recently earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Boots Riley’s bizarre, Kaufman-esque comedy Sorry To Bother You also premiered at Sundance, along with Blindspotting, directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and co-written by Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal; both films went on to win continued acclaim and accolades for their casts and filmmakers. Actors Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) and Paul Dano (Wildlife) made impressive debuts, while Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon showed she’s as strong behind the camera as she is behind the laptop with the comedy Blockers. Meanwhile, two of the year’s most skillful suspense-drivers – horror hit Hereditary and missing-girl techno-thriller Searching – came to us via first-timers Ari Aster and Aneesh Chaganty, respectively, while Night Comes On (100% on the Tomatometer) marked the arrival of Jordan Spiro.
In mid-to-late January, box office watchers began to notice that Black Panther was tracking well. Really, really well. They began to predict an $80 million opening. And then a $100 million opening. By the week of its release, with online pre-sales soaring beyond expectations, some prognosticators were predicting a bigger opening than Thor: Ragnarok. And indeed, they were right. But BP opened even bigger than that, launching with a $202 million weekend – and $241.9 million across the full four-day President’s Day weekend – and going on to earn $700 million domestically, $1.347 billion globally, and become the ninth highest-grossing movie ever. It was huge. The film was also good: Black Panther sat at 100% on the Tomatometer for a solid stretch in the days before its release, leaving some to hope it might be the first “perfect” superhero movie. Alas, it would go on to land a handful of Rotten write-ups, but its eventual 97% Certified Fresh score still makes it the best reviewed superhero movie of all time. Eight months later, with the catchphrase “Wakanda Forever” firmly a part of pop culture and director Ryan Coogler signed on for a sequel, the film is generating serious Oscar buzz. “First superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture”? We wouldn’t bet against this record-breaker.
South By Southwest audiences have a reputation for being a little extra: they whoop and holler at screenings and occasionally bring a little too much inflated hype home with them from Austin. So you could have been forgiven for dismissing the “OMFG” reactions to A Quiet Place coming out of the festival. But the hype was real. John Krasinski’s horror film, hinging on that ingenious “don’t make a sound” conceit, was a game-changer: a terrifying no-holds-barred action-horror ride; the fourth highest grossing horror movie ever at the U.S. box office; and, at 95% and Certified Fresh, the best-reviewed horror film of the year. Naturally, Krasinski is busy writing the sequel, which early reports suggest could focus on a different group of survivors.
Eight months later and we’re not over it Thanos’s universe-halving snap. Bring on Endgame.
YouTube began producing its own original scripted content in 2016, but it didn’t reach mainstream status until the launch of Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai — and its universal praise from critics — in May 2018. (That it was called “YouTube Red” until that same month, when it became the less-porny “YouTube Premium,” probably didn’t help.) Cobra Kai’s first season is Certified Fresh at an impressive 100% on the Tomatometer, putting the platform’s other series, including the cheeky comedy Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television, director Doug Liman‘s Impulse (based on the Jumper book series), and the Tom Felton–starring sci-fi drama Origin on the critical map.
The resurgence of romantic comedies in 2018 is indisputable (see: Crazy Rich Asians), and while there are plenty of outside reasons why the genre is beginning to thrive again (a turbulent worldwide political atmosphere, an alternative to tentpole releases with sky-high budgets, etc.), the surge has also been helped in large part thanks to Netflix’s investment in it. The streaming service, in an attempt to beef up its own original film offerings, leaned in to the rom-com this year — to varying degrees of success. Its first breakout hit of 2018, The Kissing Booth, is Rotten at 13%, while summer sensation To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is Certified Fresh at 96%. Similarly, Kristen Bell’s Like Father is Rotten at 48% (though it’s less a rom-com than a daughter-dad–com), at while the hit Set It Up (starring Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Zoey Deutsch, and Glen Powell) is Certified Fresh at 90%. Other Fresh 2018 rom-coms from Netflix to add to your queue: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Alex Strangelove, Happy Anniversary, Ibiza, and Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.
It didn’t take a mass-mailing of hot sauce or nuts to TV executives (see: early ’00s canceled-too-soon series Roswell and Jericho) to save series in 2018 — just deeply passionate fan bases with Twitter accounts (and some advantageous behind-the-scenes business dealings). During TV’s annual May culling, Fox canceled fan-favorite comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine after five seasons — and massive social media outcry followed. Mere hours later, NBC — whose studio, Universal Television, produces the series — announced it had picked up the show for season 6. Similarly, a month after Fox axed its comic book dramedy Lucifer, Netflix announced it had picked up the series for a fourth season. And Syfy’s cancellation of space drama The Expanse lasted only a few weeks, with Amazon founder, chairman, and CEO Jeff Bezos announcing at May’s International Space Development Conference that the series will return on Amazon Prime for season 4.
ABC’s decision to revive one of its biggest-ever sitcoms sounded, on the surface, like a no-brainer. Roseanne’s massive season 10 ratings seemingly reinforced that decision (it ended the 2017-2018 TV season as the No. 3 show in overall viewers and No. 3 in the advertisers’ most coveted 18-49 demographic). But the titular star’s history of racist statements raised a gigantic red flag for many in discussing the revival, though did not prevent the series from moving forward. It was a May tweet about former senior White House staffer Valerie Jarrett that proved to be the line for the Disney-owned company, which immediately canceled the series. Weeks later, it greenlit a Roseanne Barr–less spin-off, The Conners (Barr does not have any involvement in the new series, financial or otherwise) that debuted to solid, though not Roseanne-level, ratings.
This was the biggest year for documentaries at the box office since 2004. Back then, the big driver was a single film, Michael Moore’s incendiary anti-Bush documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11; in 2018, the was shared among a large crop of critically-acclaimed biographical documentaries, the highest-earning of which was the Fred Rogers bio-doc, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, released in June. (That film was also one of the best-reviewed features of the year, currently sitting Certified Fresh on 99%.) Other big earners were RBG, the Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary (94% on the Tomatometer); CNN Films’ Three Identical Strangers (96%); rock-climbing thriller Free Solo (98%); and Kevin Macdonald’ Whitney (88%), which dives into the life of late pop singer Whitney Houston and which made headlines for its shocking revelations of child abuse.
One minute, writer-director James Gunn was Instagramming the cover of his just-finished Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 script; the next Disney was booting him from the project and throwing the future of the mega franchise into doubt. You will likely recall the reasons: A series of Gunn’s years-old inappropriate tweets resurfaced in July and, under pressure from various groups and in an effort to maintain that squeaky-clean Mouse House image, Disney and Marvel decided to cut ties. Guardians cast members came to Gunn’s defense, but it was not enough; fans are still none-the-wiser as to whether the project is moving forward, and if it is, whether Gunn’s script will be used. Marvel’s loss would ultimately be DC’s gain, with Gunn jumping on board Suicide Squad 2 as writer just a few months later, a move many fans applauded. If anyone can work magic on the story of a rag-tag bunch of shouldn’t-be-heroes, it’s Gunn.
Writer Kevin Kwan and director Jon M. Chu turned down offers from Netflix to adapt Kwan’s books for the streaming service, saying they felt the movie had to be shown in theaters – they wanted Asian audiences to see themselves reflected on the big screen. The gamble paid off. Not only was Crazy Rich Asians — the first wide-release mainstream film with a largely Asian and Asian-American lead cast in 25 years – a landmark event for representation, it was a huge financial success for Warner Bros. In the lead-up to the movie’s release, the filmmakers and cast had been encouraging audiences to turn out and create a “gold open,” and the film topped the box office with $35.3 million over its first five days in early August. And then the fans kept coming; CRA was one of the leggiest movies of the year, making $174 million domestically. The movie also made instant stars of Awkwafina – who would go on to be just the second Asian-American woman to host SNL – as well as Henry Golding, whom audiences got a second helping of in Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor, and who has now been cast in Feig’s forthcoming Last Christmas and Guy Ritchie’s Toff Guys. Meanwhile, the movie’s star, Constance Wu, is up for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, and Michelle Yeoh is considered an outside chance for a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars.
In August, the Academy announced a number of big changes, including a shortened ceremony, the removal of a number of categories from the live broadcast, and, most controversially, the introduction of a new category that would honor excellence in “popular film.” The outcry was immediate and loud, with many shellacking the Academy for further ghettoizing popular filmmaking just as it seemed we were starting to see worthy blockbusters and genre movies, like last year’s Get Out, getting traction in top-of-the-line categories. It felt like a particularly poor move for this year, given that Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians are being seen as serious contenders for Best Film nominations. Eventually, the Academy saw the light, and quietly announced they would not be moving forward with the new category. Since then, the Academy had a super-smooth year, not having to deal with any more controversies whatsoever.
For whatever reason, the world was in the mood for a giant shark movie in 2018. The Meg, riding a wave of clever tongue-in-cheek marketing – the “Pleased to eat you” poster was our favorite – made $530 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing Chinese-American co-production ever. Producers behind the film have hinted that a sequel is in the works, and there are plans for a Meg-inspired theme park in China.
The Cage-aissance continued apace in 2018, with everyone’s favorite wild man kicking off the year as one half of a child-killing couple in Mom and Dad and following that up in September with his best performance since Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in horror-flick–slash-fever-dream, Mandy. The movie, which co-stars Andrea Riseborough, came out of Sundance with some well-deserved buzz and would go on to be Certified Fresh at 92%. It was Cage’s highest Tomatometer score since 1997’s Face/Off, until another film came along this December…
DC Comics launched its own streaming service with a big FU to Batman and the debut of its dark, violent action series Titans. The first season is Certified Fresh at 82%, and the series was renewed for a second season ahead of its debut. On the slate for 2019: live-action dramas Doom Patrol (introduced in an episode of Titans), Stargirl, and Swamp Thing, animated comedy Harley Quinn, and the return of animated hit Young Justice (Outsiders premieres January 4, 2019).
Those who sniggered at the Venom trailers – and yes, that includes a couple of us here at RT – might have to eat wind-swept turds come New Year’s Eve. That’s because the film, which many critics have called a total mess when it opened in early October, is now one of the biggest movies of the year, making $854.5 million worldwide (so far). It is also one of the most divisive movies of the year, with a Tomatometer of just 28% but an Audience Score of 85%. As we said in one recent article, we’re not picking sides – Venom was kind of a blast, thanks in no small part to the efforts and charm star Tom Hardy, and we’re as excited for any potential sequels as you are. Another film that split critics was Bohemian Rhapsody, which hovered in Rotten territory until around the time of its release in November, and remains just barely Fresh at 62%. Audiences however, have dubbed it a triumph, giving it an Audience Score of 90% (!) and helping the film make $667.1 million at the global box office so far.
In a TV landscape with nearly 500 scripted series airing in 2018, a seemingly low-profile horror drama series based on a 1959 novel isn’t necessarily the first natural candidate for one of the biggest breakout series of the year. But Netflix’s tense, spooky take on Shirley Jackson’s Gothic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House from genre vet Mike Flanagan combined a top-notch ensemble cast and groundbreaking filmmaking techniques for a genuinely scary haunted-house tale.
With Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, set to launch in 2019, the company has begun to streamline the platforms where its content is offered. That means the Marvel-Netflix partnership, which included Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and team-up miniseries The Defenders, is on its way out. While not initially announced as a limited event, The Defenders turned into a “miniseries,” and on successive Fridays in October, the streaming service canceled Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Daredevil followed about two months later. (By the way, while critics panned Iron Fist upon its debut, earning the first season a Rotten 19%, the second season saw a vast improvement, breaking a Tomatometer record for the biggest season-over-season bump ever at a nearly Fresh 57%. And both seasons of Luke Cage were Certified Fresh at 94% and 83% respectively.) The only two series that remain are the already-filmed third season of Jessica Jones and season 2 of Daredevil spin-off The Punisher, set to be released in 2019.
Anyone skeptical that Bradley Cooper was hiding serious directing chops or that Lady Gaga was a movie star in the making was likely converted into true believer when A Star Is Born opened in theaters in early October. After debuting at Venice and playing Toronto, the movie immediately jumped to the front of many awards pundits’ “most likely” lists, and is still heavily favored in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress categories. Star had box office legs, too, opening with a huge $40 million, despite being up against Venom that first weekend, and eventually crossing the $200 million mark. But perhaps the biggest measure of the movie’s success is its level of meme-ification. We watched on here at Rotten Tomatoes HQ as Gaga stans @-ed us on Twitter with bizarre and hilarious GIFs showing Gaga with dancing Fresh tomatoes, while the internet did its work with the “Just wanna take another look at you” line, and that Gaga smile. It only takes one GIF-maker to believe in you, we guess.
When Jamie Lee Curtis took the stage following the world premiere of Halloween at the Toronto Film Festival in September, she got a rousing standing ovation. It wasn’t just her typically awesome greeting – “Happy Halloween, motherf—kers!” she said, strutting onto the stage – nor was it the late-night delirium that follows a scary midnight screening (the audience was still amped). It was that the movie had delivered. Director David Gordon Green had created a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original that was scary, funny (some would say too funny), and which ultimately drove a stupidly large kitchen knife through the heart of toxic masculinity, as wielded by three generations of tough-as-f–k Strode scream queens. The movie would eventually be Certified Fresh, and open to nearly $80 million. That was, Curtis pointed out in a viral tweet, the biggest ever opening for a horror movie with a female lead, the second biggest October opening ever, and the biggest opening ever for a movie with a lead over 55. No doubt, Universal and Blumhouse are now trying to figure out how to make a sequel work, while other studios and production companies are pushing slashers into development, including LeBron James’s Springhill Entertainment, which is reportedly moving forward with a Friday the 13th remake.
The comic-book legend died in November, at age 95, and rather than mourn, fans and those who worked with Lee were quick to celebrate the incredible career of the man who created or co-created the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and more. Lee’s death made his short appearance in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, one of his final cameos, incredibly moving. Speaking of…
Phil Lord and Chris Miller might have left Sony’s animated Spider-Man movie to make (and then not make) Solo: A Star Wars Story, but their fingerprints are all over this thing. Jam-packed with psychedelic visuals, left-field pop-culture references, inventive action set-pieces, and infused with just as much heart as Raimi’s Spidey flicks, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse has been hailed by many as the best cinematic take on the character ever, and a game-changer for comic-book movies. It’s definitely done enough to have the folks at Pixar worried about their chances of winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar (though the Incredibles 2 was a blast, as well). After a strong box office opening, and a Certified Fresh Tomatometer score of 97%, Sony has already greenlit a sequel and a spinoff, which will focus on Gwen Stacy and other female Spider-Folk.
The British bear sequel is still at 100% on the Tomatometer, almost a year since it was released – but it’s not the only one. Debra Granik’s incredible Leave No Trace, starring Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie as a father-daughter duo attempting to live off the map, also maintains a perfect score, along with Carla Simón’s Summer 1993, skate documentary Minding the Gap, Oh Lucy!, Shirkers, and Night Comes On.
Think we missed some of the biggest stories? Let us know in the comments below.