It was a big year for movies. Several Marvel movies made huge splashes at the box office, but it wasn't just about the tentpoles. There were also low budget indie and foreign films that captured the art of many moviegoers. Sci-fi, fantasy, and animation were all represented with stellar new films.
Here, we list ten of our favorite films from 2014.
10. Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson has proven to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, having appeared in some of the biggest blockbusters of the last several years. Surprisingly, one of her best performances was in a film, which was also one of her least watched movies.
As a lower budget sci-fi thriller art film, Under the Skin didn’t have a huge marketing campaign behind it or a wide box office release, but it received very positive reviews from critics. In the film, Johansson plays an alien seductress who preys on men. Johansson’s performance is both haunting and mesmerizing, giving the film a depth far beyond the typical special-effects-laden sci-fi movie. – Joe Comicbook
While movies based on Marvel Comics character may have dominated this year’s box office, it's important to remember that the comics are bigger than just superheroes. Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s adaption of a French dystopian sci-fi graphic novel proved to be one of the most exciting films of the year.
Yes, the film wears its message on its sleeve – this is an ALLEGORY, in all caps, neon-lit letters – but at least the film is about something, and may be this year’s most complete realization of a cinematic vision. Oh yeah, and it also has a ridiculously talented cast. – Jamie Lovett
In an age where almost every big screen actor has one comic book film under their belt, Birdman couldn’t have hit at a better time. By examining the life of a washed-up Hollywood actor, years after he’s hung up his foam muscles, Birdman communicates one basic truth about iconic superheroes: They will always outlive the mortal creator who brings them to life.
While we would have been content with just a look at how the superhero film complex works, Birdman took it a step further by casting Michael Keaton, our own reality’s Batman from Batman and Batman Returns, as said washed-up tentpole actor. The brilliant casting choice makes for a metatextual story that possibly informs as much as it entertains. Add spot-on performances from fellow comic book movie actors like Edward Norton and Emma Stone, and a razor-sharp script, Birdman is one of the most engaging, if unconventional, superhero films you’ll likely ever see. - Andrew Steinbeiser
7. Live. Die. Repeat/Edge of Tomorrow
Released in theaters as Edge of Tomorrow, the film didn’t become the runaway blockbuster that Warner Bros. was hoping for, but it proved to be a favorite among viewers and critics who did see it.
While the idea of reliving the same day over and over might seem like a tired old cliché in movies, Live. Die. Repeat. pulled the concept off in an entertaining and exciting way. Tom Cruise gives one of his best performances ever, and Emily Blunt firmly establishes herself as one of the best female action stars in the business.
Live. Die. Repeat. is solid in the special effects department, but it’s really the storyline, which is able to build to a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion that makes this film stand above others in its genre. – Joe Comicbook
6. Big Hero 6
Disney set a very high bar for itself with Frozen. Rather than set itself up for comparisons with another musical princess movie, Disney gave us something totally different with Big Hero 6. Loosely inspired by the Marvel comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 was about the relationship a teenage boy named Hiro develops with an inflatable robot named Baymax as they form a super hero team, with the goal of finding the person responsible for killing Hiro’s older brother.
Disney has a long history of telling stories about people who lose family members, but rarely do these movies show the audience the actual grieving process. Big Hero 6 takes us through Hiro’s tragedy with maturity, not shying away or toning anything down. By doing this, the movie tells a story about relationships, even as Hiro’s scientifically minded friends turn themselves into powerful heroes. The rest of the team, Wasabi, Go Go, Honey Lemon, and Fred are four very different and interesting characters. But in the end, the movie belongs to Baymax, whose adorable look and sweet innocence create the sort of endearing sidekick that Disney is known for. Big Hero 6 is heartwarming, exciting, and as much so for adults as for children. (As is Feast, the short film that plays before.) And bonus points for showing that men and women, as well as people of various ethnicities, can be both scientists and heroes. - Emily Donn
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
When Fox rebooted Planet of the Apes in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, many weren’t expecting much, considering the previous failed attempt to reboot the franchise with Mark Wahlberg a decade earlier.
However, Rise of the Planet of the Apes proved to be a surprise hit, boosted by an incredible motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. As a delightful of a surprise as Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, it was an even bigger surprise that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was even better. Incredible special effects, intense action sequences, along with another stellar performance by Andy Serkis helped make this film one of the year’s best. – Joe Comicbook
4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past may be the biggest superhero movie event since The Avengers, and I’m not just saying that because I love the source material. In the same way that bringing all of Marvel’s Avengers stars together in one film felt like the fulfillment of a great promise, so to does bringing together the casts of the original X-Men trilogy and X-Men: First Class.
But the movie is so much more than a time travel gimmick, though basically erasing X-Men: The Last Stand from continuity is definitely a nice bonus. Quicksilver’s breakout scene is one of the best action sequences of the year, and the X-Men films continue to evolve around an absolutely brilliant cast. This film set a new bar for X-Men movies that it will be hard for X-Men: Apocalypse to top. – Jamie Lovett
3. The LEGO Movie
This film pulled out all the stops and much like a child’s imagination, there were no limitations. Just when you thought you saw everything, this movie threw something else at you. Lego Batman was definitely the MVP of this film and we can’t wait for his much anticipated spinoff. – Dennis Upkins
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s hard to think of another time when such an incredible tonal shift between a film and its sequel felt more appropriate. The Russo Brothers’ grittier, espionage tinted modern world in Captain America: the Winter Soldier feels appropriately displaced from the simpler feel of Captain America: The First Avenger. This film sets the stage for everything to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it also stands just fine on its own, thanks to intense action sequences and captivating performances by Marvel veterans Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson and newcomer Anthony Mackie alike. The Winter Soldier is another worthy addition to the Marvel canon. – Jamie Lovett
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Following on the heels of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, not a lot of people believed Marvel could top themselves -- but they were proven wrong when Guardians of the Galaxy came along, becoming instantly beloved by audiences and critics and eventually overtaking Cap 2 as the year's top-grossing film in the U.S.
Filled with heart and humor, Guardians took the Marvel formula and shuffled it around just enough to feel new and fresh, while still clearly existing in the same universe and echoing the studio's past successes. While Cap 2 was the year's crowning cinematic achievement in cohesive storytelling, Guardians was a triumph of world-building that expanded the Marvel Universe to new -- and arguably even more exciting -- territory. - Russ Burlingame