The Most Entertaining Popcorn Movies of 2014

     December 29, 2014

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Let me just say from the get-go, the phrase “popcorn movie” is in no way an insult in my book.  Movies can be profound explorations of humanity and society.  They can enlighten, invent, and push boundaries.  They can also entertain the hell out of you in a way no other medium can.  They can transport you away from the drudgery of day-to-day minutiae, make you happy, and give you a break from the general fuckery of life.  That’s as big a gift as any.

It’s a testament to the strength of 2014’s cinematic offerings that I was able to put this list together in addition to my top 10 films of the year.  It’s been a great year for action, and if I were to put together a top 20, half these films would be on it.  Check out the ten most entertaining popcorn movies of 2014 after the jump.

10. The Purge: Anarchy

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On the surface The Purge: Anarchy is about what happens in a society in which everyone is allowed to indulge in their darkest fantasies for one day a year, but what it’s really about is Frank-motherfucking-Grillo and exactly how hard he will kick your ass.  Grillo is masculinity incarnate.  He is a double shot of testosterone; no chaser.  He is fantastic.  Grillo carries this movie on his sinewy shoulders and it’s a pleasure to watch.  The Purge: Anarchy is a good old-fashioned revenge thriller – a good guy with a bad agenda who plays the reluctant hero – but with a high-concept twist.  It’s clear that the folks behind the scenes listened to what the fans wanted after The Purge received luke-warm reviews last year.  They left the confines of privileged suburbia, turned to the action on the streets, and built upon the world introduced in the first film.  The result is one of the most entertaining horror-thrillers of the year and it provided Grillo, who I truly believe is a future action legend, with his first major blockbuster success.

9. Non-Stop

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Liam Neeson is a bonafide action star.  I know it’s been that way for a while, but I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.  Once upon a time, in a fabled land known as “The Nineties”, Neeson was an acclaimed dramatic actor.  I grew up during that period, so the fact that we get to have this ridiculously talented actor as an action star is crazy and completely amazing.  Non-Stop is his second best work as a professional ass-kicker (Taken holds the championship title, obviously).  The set up is simple – Neeson is an air marshal and someone is killing passengers on his flight, so he must kick ass until he stops the culprit.  It’s a meat and potatoes action thriller and it delivers on every promise it sets up.  Oh, and did I mention that the supporting cast is INSANE? Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, and Shea Whigham co-star.  This is a dream cast.  How did this even happen?  I have no idea, but I’m so glad it did.

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of the best surprises of 2011 – a film I watched grudgingly and ended up loving – so I was eager to see if they could match that success with a sequel.  They did.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is great, and it hits all the marks.  It continues making excellent work of allegory, focusing on guns and their effect on people (or apes) this time around – a particularly poignant issue this year.  Matt Reeves does a fantastic job taking over at the helm, and hiring Jason Clarke and Keri Russell as the envoys of humanity’s last hope was an excellent piece of casting, as I can think of no two lovelier or more instantly likeable actors.  And, of course, Andy Serkis continues to do remarkable things with the art of motion capture.

7. How to Train Your Dragon 2

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I adored How to Train Your Dragon 2 when I saw it back in June, and while I’ve cooled on the film a bit since then, I still think it’s an excellent sequel and a perfect middle chapter in a trilogy about growing up.  It was also the hardest I cried in a theater this year.  With How to Train Your Dragon 2Dean Deblois put Hiccup and Toothless through some of the most painful parts of maturity – the parts where you face inconceivable loss and the parts where you take responsibility for your actions – and he did so while keeping the film family friendly and fun.  John Powell composed another exhilarating and intimate score without relying on the themes of the first film, a truly laudable feat.  Not to mention the  stunning design and the equally impressive animation that brought it all to life.

6. X-Men: Days of Future Past

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This movie deserves a deep amount of respect just for all the scheduling and ego-wrangling that must have gone into combining the two powerhouse X-Men casts.  Seriously, hats off.  It’s also the finest act of retcon-ing I’ve ever seen.  I’m kind of kidding about those two, but I’m not at all kidding when I say Days of Future Past is successful and entertaining film, and I felt real joy watching it.  I grew up a huge X-Men fan, beginning with the cartoons, then the comics and Brian Singer‘s first two films, and watching Days of Future Past I felt all that love come rushing back as it delivered on the key elements I used to adore.  Stimulating action-set pieces, charming underdogs, and the X-Men‘s underlying current of social justice – Days of Future Past has it all.  And I don’t care what you think of the movie as a whole, that Quicksilver segment is fucking brilliant.

5. The Lego Movie

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The Lego Movie came at exactly the right time in my life.  For years I ignored animated films under the belief that they just weren’t for me.  I finally had to start watching them to do my work for Collider, and hey, they were actually pretty good.  But it wasn’t until I saw The Lego Movie that I really got it.  The medium of animation allows for unfettered storytelling and unapologetic, earnest emotionality.  That’s a beautiful thing in the right hands, and boy was The Lego Movie in the right hands.  It obviously had no right to be as good as it is, and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller continue to be the kings of making things that should suck not suck, but the best thing about The Lego Movie is how well it demonstrates that “popcorn movies” can be subversive and intelligent without compromising entertainment factor.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Marvel is the reigning sovereign of popcorn movie-making and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a perfect example why.  The Winter Soldier holds to the oft-bemoaned “Marvel structure” while thriving as a film firmly rooted in the spy thriller subgenre.  What Chris Evans has done with the character of Steve Rogers is unbelievable – as someone who never gave a hoot about him in the comics, Captain America has become my favorite on-screen Avenger – Black Widdow (Scarlett Johansson)  is cool as ever, and the charisma that Anthony Mackie brings to the table as Falcon cannot be over-stated.  The Winter Soldier is also the post-Avengers movie everyone was waiting to see, combining the superheroes who live in this shared universe in smaller doses.  After seeing what they pulled off in The Winter Soldier, it’s no surprise that Marvel has entrusted Joe and Anthony Russo with Civil War.  (Bonus points for casting Frank Grillo.)

3. The Raid 2

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The Raid 2 is one of the best martial arts movies in the last decade, right behind its predecessor The Raid: Redemption.  The way that Gareth Evans films fight scenes and the way that Iko Uwais executes them are mind-blowing.  Scorsese and DiCaprio, who?  Evans and Uwais are the filmmaking duo I want to see work together forever.  The set pieces these two come up with are like some kind of martial arts poetry.  It’s beautiful and brutal, a relentless experience of kinesthesia.  The film is packed with incredible sequences.  The prison yard!  The kitchen!  Hammer girl and baseball bat boy!  But for my money, it’s the combination car-chase/fight-sequence that is the stuff of legend.

2. Edge of Tomorrow

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Edge of Tomorrow is such a smart, well-made movie and it’s utterly heartbreaking that it didn’t find a bigger audience.  Doug Liman delivered exactly the kind of movie audiences have been asking for, but no one showed up.  It has high-concept appeal, narrative ingenuity, iconographic imagery, and Tom Cruise in top form as that smug, but likable action hero type he was born to play.  Of course, the biggest gift Edge of Tomorrow has to give is Emily Blunt‘s Rita, The Full Metal Bitch, my forever goal in life.  This movie should have been huge.  If you haven’t seen it, rent it.  Edge of Tomorrow deserves to be seen and you deserve to watch it. (Unless you pirate it.  Seriously, please don’t pirate this movie.  If you want smart movies, give the studios a reason to make them.)

1. John Wick

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Dammit, I love John Wick.  I love it so much.  John Wick is a perfect action movie, so there’s very little I can say about it.  It’s your basic revenge smackdown, but every single thing about it is just so right on.  The car, the suits, the lighting, the fight choreography, even Wick’s motivation for revenge, it’s all perfect.  Keanu Reeves has created yet another iconic action hero to sit on his mantle next to Neo and Johnny Utah, and John Wick is my favorite one yet.

What do you think?  What movie entertained you the most this year?

Oh, and if you feel like I left out something glaringly obvious, you should check back for my Top 10 list in the near future.

For more of our Best of 2014 coverage, browse the links below:

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