2017 was another big year for franchises, sequels, and reboots. As every year from now until the end of time will be. If you’d rather see original stories outside massive franchises, though, there are plenty of hidden gems that are easy to overlook. Here are some of our favorite original movies from last year.
A quick note: There is nothing new under the sun. Naturally, our definition of “original” is going to have to be a little bit flexible. We’ll include some movies that are adaptations of real events, novels, or independent graphic novels, but we won’t include anything that’s already been adapted into a movie before—like 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express which was a great adaptation even if it wasn’t terribly new—or movies that are a continuation of an existing franchise like Marvel movies. Some of these films obviously received a lot of attention, but many flew far under the radar.
Colossal teased itself as a comedic monster movie. While it has elements of this, the movie focus much more on the relationship between Anne Hathaway’s character Gloria and her childhood friend Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. It’s a cathartic story examining abusive relationships, power dynamics, and even a dash of substance abuse and recovery. The monster bits serve as a useful allegory and some light-hearted action, but the elements you would expect to provide the most comedic relief turn into the most heartbreaking emotional turns.
Christopher Nolan is the kind of legendary director that you recognize even if you’ve never heard his name. The director of the Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar, and Inception came back to theaters this year with Dunkirk, a war film set in 1940 depicting the evacuation of the Dunkirk harbor in the North of France. Nolan takes the viewer to the ground, the sea, and the air to witness the evacuation of Allied soldiers from their perspective. It’s a tense work from a director that’s a master of his craft. If you have a love for cinema, Nolan shares that love and consistently works to combine the spectacle that only a movie can deliver with unique stories that we all crave. Of anything on this list, you might have heard about Dunkirk, but it’s still worth checking out.
Jordan Peele was best known as one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele, but he made his directorial debut in 2017 with Get Out. This horror movie skirts the edges of sci-fi while also putting the issue of systemic racism under a microscope. While the scenarios depicted in the movie aren’t literally real, Get Out provides a practical lens for discussing serious real-life problems that continue to exist today. It doesn’t hurt that the film is one of the most genuinely terrifying movies in the genre to be released in recent years.
Edgar Wright doesn’t just make movies. He choreographs them. If you’ve seen films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, or The World’s End, then you know the level of detail Wright puts into his films. While Baby Driver eschews Wright’s usual British flair, it still carries with it the same musical, meticulously planned tone that the director always brings to the table. The story follows a driver, Baby, through a series of heists carried out on the streets of Atlanta with a soundtrack that’s so tightly interwoven into the film the two are almost inseparable.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
To say that The Hitman’s Bodyguard isn’t a sequel almost feels disingenuous, since it so closely adheres to the films its satirizing. Most obviously, The Hitman and The Bodyguard, to the point of prominently featuring the latter’s hit cover of “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston in its trailer. The movie relies heavily on the chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds. It’s unclear if the world was really asking for a send up of a couple of early 90s action movies, but if you want some action and laughs without a superhero for once, this one’s got you covered. Notably, this film was on 2011’s Black List survey which, despite its ominous name, is an informal collection of well-liked scripts circulating Hollywood that haven’t been produced. If you’ve ever bemoaned the fact that original ideas don’t get made, this couldn’t be a better support of a new direction.
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is a highly stylized spy thriller set on the evening of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Directed by David Leitch, who was also the uncredited co-director of the first John Wick, the film features some of the most intense and well-choreographed action scenes of the year. The plot moves a little slowly and it can get a bit convoluted at times, but the film more than makes up for these weaknesses with a distinct visual personality.
The Disaster Artist
Even if you’ve never heard of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 disasterpiece The Room, this biographical film about its writer, director, and star is an entertaining retrospective. The Disaster Artist, starring James and Dave Franco, chronicles the ascension of Wiseau, an enigmatic figure who came out of nowhere with millions of dollars to produce one of the worst movies ever made. Even if The Room is a terrible movie, the story of how it was made is one of the most inspiring and bizarre stories real life ever told. Blu-ray release date estimated for March 2018.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is responsible for some of the most unique and creative films in recent memory, including Crimson Peaks, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim. His latest original hit, The Shape of Water, is a fantasy drama about a mute custodian working at a secret American spy agency where an otherwordly amphibious creature is being kept. Blu-ray release date estimated for March 2018.
The Greatest Showman
The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum as he creates his world-famous Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. The movie is “based on a true story” in the loosest sense of the word, so don’t take it as a historically accurate account of the events. However, with Jackman’s talent for song, dance, and stage flair on full display you might be able to temporarily set aside the fact that this story has been sanitized to enjoy a robust musical number.
While Your Name (or Kimi No Na Wa outside the US) falls into the anime category and might not be appealing to everyone, it’s a beautifully animated and heart wrenching story about a boy and a girl living in Japan who repeatedly switch bodies each night when they go to sleep. Through living each other’s lives and by leaving notes for each other, they develop a unique relationship that helps them both when a natural disaster threatens one of their towns.
It can be disheartening when crappy remakes and endless sequels dominate the box office, especially when they get the lion’s share of the attention and money. However, there are still independent studios making fantastic films, and even the bigger studios often use their tent pole movies to finance smaller, riskier projects. If you’d rather skip the summer popcorn flicks, you can almost certainly find something on this list (and many more) to fill your time.