2018's box office has, unsurprisingly, been dominated by sequels, reboots, remakes, spinoffs, and superhero megacrossovers. But if you want to take a step off the typical Hollywood conveyor belt, there were plenty of great original movies released this year too that you can add to your collection now.
For our purposes, we’re defining an “original” movie as something that’s not based on a previous movie, TV show, or comic book, as well as movie that aren’t sequels, reboots, or a part of an expansive cinematic universe, but we will allow movies based on books in cases where you probably didn’t read the book anyway.
Never let it be said that Hollywood is out of ideas while director Boots Riley is on the scene. In his directorial debut film Sorry to Bother You, Riley follows Cassius Green as he navigates the cutthroat world of call center sales by utilizing what Danny Glover refers to as his “white voice.” The film is a surrealist dark satire that packs a surprisingly critical punch. It might not be for everyone, but if you ever wanted to see what Idiocracy would look like if it was written by your union rep, then give it a whirl.
Wes Anderson is the kind of director that the word “auteur” was invented for. Every couple of years, he drops by with a meticulously gorgeous film, and Isle of Dogs got its turn this year. This stop-motion animated film—Anderson’s second, after The Fantastic Mr. Fox—centers on an island off the coast of Japan where dogs have been quarantined due to an outbreak of canine flu. A young boy ventures to the island to get his dog back, and uncovers an insidious government conspiracy. With a powerhouse cast featuring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and Tilda Swinton, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears, if nothing else.
Based on a novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians is the first film in a modern setting made by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority Asian-American cast since 1993. It follows Rachel Chu, a young economics professor who gets swept up into the opulent world of Singapore’s ultra-rich families when she starts dating the son of a powerful real estate mogul. The film dives deep into the modern cultural differences that Chinese and American families experience, all under the trappings of a charming, if somewhat boilerplate romantic comedy. Still, it’s worth it to see the gorgeous settings on your fancy 4K TV alone.
Game Night bucks the all-too-popular trend of hiring a few talented comedians and letting them improvise on camera for 90 minutes. Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie’s (Rachel McAdams) ultra-competitive game nights get overshadowed when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hosts an over-the-top murder mystery game, with a dark twist. It’s a smart, elegantly choreographed comedy that occasionally cosplays as a decent typical mid-budget action flick. It’s at least worth for a couple hours of your time, but it’s entertaining enough that you might end up showing it to your friends more than once.
Any horror movie can startle you with jump scares. But Hereditary makes you second guess your sanity. In director Ari Aster’s directorial debut, the film explores themes of family and parenthood, dissecting the traumatic and even violent legacies passed down from parent to child. It’s not for the faint of heart, but horror aficionados will at the very least find it a perplexing and fascinating outing from a fresh director.
You might best remember Bo Burnham as an early YouTuber who had some funny musical comedy skits and, more recently, the multitalented comedian behind what. comedy special on Netflix and YouTube. But in Eighth Grade, Burnham moves behind the camera, and branches out into both writing and directing. The film examines the life of eighth-grade student Kayla and her experiences in the modern world, and was praised for authentically capturing what life is like as a teenager in the hyperconnected Generation Z world.
Remember Jim from The Office? Well, he’s directing movies now and A Quiet Place, his second film, is a unique hit. Taking place in a semi-apocalypse where blind, deadly monsters are drawn to even the quietest sounds, the film follows a family with a deaf child and a baby on the way as they try to protect each other without making a peep. It impressively uses silence and clever sound design to immerse you in a tense world where making even the smallest noise can result in death. So, you know, don’t talk during the movie.
It’s hard to do gimmick films well, but every once in a while, one comes along that’s worth your time. And what The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield did for “found footage,” Searching does for the nascent laptop-screen genre.. The film centers on a father who’s searching for his missing daughter. After the police find no leads, he decides to check his daughter’s laptop. The film sticks to the screens, telling almost the entire story through chat windows, emails, and video chats on phones, laptops, and surveillance cameras. The gimmick has been tried before with horror film Unfriended, but Searching tells a more elegant story with the format, earning the movie near universal praise.
Describing the plot of A Simple Favor would not do it justice, but we’ll try anyway. When mommy vlogger Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) makes friends with high-power advertising executive (Blake Lively), she finds herself wrapped up in a world of mystery and intrigue after the latter goes missing. However, amidst the unnerving plot twists and complex drama, it’s the actors’ performances and indulgent cinematic style that elevate the film beyond a simple thriller.
Given his resumé, Spike Lee was perhaps the perfect director to adapt the true story of Ron Stallworth, the African-American Colorado Springs police officer who infiltrated the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan. Blackkklansman skirts the edges of comedy while chronicling the weirder-than-fiction story with a poigant and timely message.