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Best of 2016

The 20 Best Movies of 2016

From zany blockbuster smashes to touching indie flicks, this year gave us an exciting variety of things to watch

1 / 20

'American Honey'

List is not ranked.

I knew American Honey was going to be a special gem when I first saw the trailer in June. In the midst of this year's blockbusters and action-packed movies, this flick took a more subtle route by telling a heartfelt rendition of a nontraditional American dream. Starring Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Sasha Lane, the movie displays the highs and lows of blissful teenage youth and dreamy escapism. It is triggering at some points, slightly naive, charming and is set to a wild soundtrack booming with trap bangers. And Shia’s acting, some of his best in a long time, also deserves an Oscar nod. Bianca Gracie

2 / 20

'Zootopia'

Disney is known for inciting dialogue by adding subliminal messaging into their films, but Zootopia arguably takes the cake as one of their most progressive films to date. It successfully tackles discrimination and equality in a way that is digestible and fun for children, yet engaging and stimulating for adults. Zootopia's portrays a world where predators and prey live harmoniously side by side, but still struggle with equality. It’s a funny yet introspective film.Malikah Shabazz

3 / 20

'Moana'

There’s a reason we were looking forward to seeing Moana this year: Disney gave us a princess flick that’s not full of trite cliches and eye-rolling romance. In fact, Moana didn’t even have a central romance—it was purely a story of a fierce, adventurous girl setting out to save her island. Nary a white person was present in the film, and the voice acting echoed that fact, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, newcomer Auli'i Carvalho and Lin-Manuel Miranda leading the charge. It’s nice to see Disney show girls that life’s more than looking pretty and getting the guy. Moana will make you giggle, cry and hum along to its addictive soundtrack. —Brooke Bunce

4 / 20

'Star Trek Beyond'

There are multiple trailers out for Star Trek Beyond (check out our complete guide) and each one makes it look like a different movie, but the above trailer best captures what made the movie so good: a sense of FUN. Yes, there’s danger, and a breathtakingly beautiful space station, amazing special effects and a menacing villain played by Idris Elba. But what always made Star Trek great—and made Beyond work so well—is the characters. This cast is in their third movie together, having fun at last with back-and-forth banter and great little moments that pop without stopping the story. Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) wrote the script with reverence for the original series, wit and a sense of adventure. Every cast member gets to shine, and Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is a kickass addition and, we hope a permanent one.

The film includes two tributes in the credits: one is “In Loving Memory of Leonard Nimoy,” who died last year of complications from COPD, and the other is “For Anton,” in honor of Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov and died in a car accident this year at age 27. Star Trek is, and always has been, a family, which is a big part of what makes it endure.—Laurie Ulster

5 / 20

'10 Cloverfield Lane'

In contrast to the big blown-out creature feature Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane focuses on the trust of fellow humans. The story focuses on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who awakens to her leg chained to a wall in an underground bunker after surviving a car accident. Her "savior" is Howard (John Goodman), owner of the aforementioned bunker and self-proclaimed "protector." He also lives with Emmett (John Gallagher. Jr), a fellow survivor. The trust game ensues, and we learn that the subtle elements—from the environment to Howard's certain behaviors—are all a part of what makes a must-see monster movie.—Lacroix Scott

6 / 20

'The Jungle Book'

The classic Disney movie was brought to life in this stunning, live-action remake. Not only was the animation realistic enough to make you believe animals have been talking for decades, but all the humor and quirks (Baloo!) that made the original so beloved are totally kept intact.—Jeff Benjamin

7 / 20

'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'

New treasure Julian Dennison and a Scrooge-y Sam Neill form a hard-won bond after their unlikely foster family is crippled by its matriarch's death. They wind up in the gorgeous New Zealand wilderness—er, "the bush"—for months, and writer/director Taika Waititi finds an almost impossible balance between quirky hilarity and profound heart. Add a fantastic, peppy soundtrack and a faithful canine companion named Tupac (our young hero Ricky Baker loves American hip-hop and fancies himself a real G) and you're sitting among the classics.—Zach Dionne

8 / 20

'Arrival'

Perhaps the biggest misconception people have about the Amy Adams-starring Arrival is that it’s just another alien attack movie, like Independence Day or War of the Worlds. Without giving too much away (because there are a few surprises you should really experience on your own, I’m here to assure you the visitors from a distant galaxy are more of a means to an end. Sure, these extraterrestrials play a key role, but this is not the typical “popcorn movie” we’ve come to expect when we see aliens in a trailer. Arrival, as I came to understand it, is more of an allegory about communication, unity and how we each view life. Let’s just say it felt somewhat ironic (and comforting) debuting just a few days after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.—Mark Sundstrom

9 / 20

'Queen of Katwe'

With Hollywood heavy hitters David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga, there's a lot of star power in this Disney joint. Queen of Katwe was adapted from an ESPN article and tells the story of 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi, who, after discovering chess, quickly becomes a master at the game, giving her an escape from poverty. It's an inspiring and beautiful tale about growing out of your hometown and seeing what the world has to offer.—Emilee Lindner

10 / 20

'Ghostbusters'

Maybe I’ll be hated forever for saying this, but the original Ghostbusters was something I never idolized, so an all-female remake was totally welcome. Despite the extremely misogynistic forecasts by 4chan-ing neckbeards that it’d be a flop, Paul Feig’s refreshing reboot was funny, well-balanced and just the right length (and had many critics eating their words). Movies still struggle to deliver us complex female characters that aren’t prioritizing men above everything else, but Ghostbusters gave four smart women that kicked ass, too. —Brooke Bunce

11 / 20

'Deadpool'

Marvel dominated the superhero realm early in the game by dropping Deadpool at the top of the year. This brilliant R-rated movie tossed all the ideas you had about comics out the window, and brought to life one of the most explicit, sarcastic and snarky-as-fuck antiheros we've ever seen on the big screen. Ryan Renolds completely owns his role as the titular character, and it has a solid balance of a flawed love story and incredible action scenes. I mean, there's a reason the movie grossed $782.6 million worldwide! Let's just hope the pending sequel lives up to it.—Bianca Gracie

12 / 20

'The Witch'

A 17th century family of religious New England colonists gets banished from society and sets up in a remote location just next to the woods. Rarely ever does an actual witch visibly menace the two parents and four children, but the way they all start suspecting their teenage daughter/sister of being possessed by ungodly evil echoes the panic of the Salem witch trials. Many great horror movies come with the caveat that it’s a slow burn with a crazy finish, and The Witch is the best kind of example, giving you things in the final 15 minutes that you’ll never be able to forget.—Zach Dionne

13 / 20

'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

Now that the Harry Potter generation has grown up, they need some new wizards to idolize. Cue J. K. Rowling's latest, which acts as a bit of prequel to the Potter story. Fans got to see creatures like bowtruckles and billywigs—which they likely read about years ago—come to life on the big screen in a more mature tale that had more themes of romance, family issues and the darker sides of being an outcast.—Jeff Benjamin

14 / 20

'Blair Witch 2'

The surprise sequel to 1999's found-footage nightmare expanded the scope of the Blair Witch's mythos and stayed true to the original without feeling like lazy rehash. It gave us clearer ideas of the scope of the reality-distorting evil ruling the Black Hills Forest, of the picture’s borders, while keeping the central figure in total incomprehensible shadow.—Zach Dionne

15 / 20

'Captain America: Civil War'

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again. When it comes to comic book movie adaptations, MARVEL IS KING. Another entry into the Marvel lexicon of films, Civil War not only gave us more back story into the history of the Winter Solider, but also introduced us to the infamous internal conflict within the Avengers. And most importantly, it gave us the silver screen live action debut of the King of Wakanda himself, T’Challa, whose solo film will be released in 2018.—Malikah Shabazz

16 / 20

'Suicide Squad'

Okay, don't you even start rolling your eyes at this one! Let's take note from director David Ayer and forget the critics' reviews for a second. Despite the jumbled plot line, the unnecessary Enchantress character and lack of The Joker (we're sorry, too, Jared Leto), Suicide Squad still remains an entertaining and humorous movie from the DCEU. Margot Robbie is the star of the whole thing, playing the manic role of Harley Quinn perfectly. Will Smith's portrayal of Deadshot is also memorable, and shows that bad boy assassins have hearts too.—Bianca Gracie

17 / 20

'Moonlight'

2016 has been a wonderful year for independent films from various backgrounds. Moonlight is an amazing story chronicling a young boy’s journey toward manhood in Miami. Not only is the film aesthetically beautiful, but the characters themselves are rich and complex. It elegantly shines a light on an often misunderstood and misrepresented group and shows the humanity often ignored in Black Men. This is a must see for EVERYONE.—Malikah Shabazz

18 / 20

'Manchester by the Sea'

Casey Affleck shines in this drama about moving back home (or thinking about it) and facing troubles from his past. He plays janitor Lee Chandler, who finds out that his brother's heart has failed, and he's faced with the option of becoming his 16-year-old nephew's guardian. Lee doesn't want to give up his life as he knows it, even though he doesn't have too much going for him. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and so far determined a hit in limited release, the movie also stars Michelle Williams.—Emilee Lindner

19 / 20

'Doctor Strange'

As if Captain America: Civil War wasn’t enough, Marvel gave us more delicious comic book treats with the mystical Doctor Strange. As Wong said in the movie (which you should have seen by now and if not...SPOILER ALERT) the Avengers handle more physical dangers. We got to see the mystical side of Marvel and Doctor Strange grow from a egotistical surgeon to a humble sorcerer. They expertly cast Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, and I can’t wait to see his contribution to the following Avengers movies in the future.—Malikah Shabazz

20 / 20

'Kubo & the Two Strings'

Even a disarmingly white voice-acting cast (Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara) in the principal roles of a Japanese folktale couldn’t mess with the singular magic exhibited literally nowhere else in children’s filmmaking in 2016. There were great family flicks, but Kubo is a one-of-a-kind instant classic.—Zach Dionne

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Photo of the day

Mar. 28: ‘Bel-Air’ Reunion

The cast of ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reunited and it’s making us emotional. Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton Banks on the beloved show, shared the heartwarming pic on Instagram after spending an afternoon with his ‘Fresh Prince’ family which included Will Smith, Tatyana Ali, Karyn Parsons, Daphne Maxwell Reid and Joseph Marcell. James Avery, who played Uncle Phil on the show, sadly passed away in 2013, but he is not forgotten. “Wishing that James Avery was still with us to make this complete.” Ribeiro shared.

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