Box Office Blockbuster Tourney: Odd-Numbered Years Conference, Round One

So as explained last time, we are playing a seeded tournament-style elimination game amongst each of the US domestic box office champion movies from the last 32 years.  Seeding was done via Rotten Tomatoes scores, with ties broken with Metacritic scores.  Three of our six judges will vote on each match-up of two films, with the winner advancing to the next round and the loser skulking off into obscurity, until we have our overall Champion!

The Last Jedi

We start off with the Odd-Numbered Years Conference, Round One!  As I write this out, I’m struck that this list includes some of the longest and most punctuated movie titles ever, and that amongst them is a head-to-head battle between two consecutive Star Wars movies, even though those films have 10 years and 3 episode between them.  Weird.

Whenever I’m voting, I made a point of writing up my votes before reading anyone else’s.  I tended to list the other votes in the order that I received them, except sometimes I’d mix it up if the voting wasn’t unanimous in order to preserve the suspense.

1. Toy Story (1995)

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16. Star Wars–Episode I:  The Phantom Menace (1999)

Ben:  Well, here’s an easy decision to start us off.  Toy Story was a great film that kicked off one of the best franchises we’ve ever had.  The Phantom Menace, on the other hand, was a great disappointment of underdeveloped characters, irritating humor and unengaging plotting, which pulled off the remarkable feat of making Star Wars boring and tedious.  With Toy Story, I actually prefer the first sequel (not in this tournament) more than the original, but it’s miles ahead of The Phantom Menace.

My Vote: Toy Story

Rod: Is this a competition? The only, only, only thing Episode 1 does better than Toy Story is the great trailer they had with “Every generation has its own legend” or “mythology” or whatever. I was so excited. And then I saw the movie…..I didn’t hate it right away, and still think its not the worst of the prequels, but ultimately, its hot garbage. Toy Story is not the best Toy Story (that would be Toy Story 2) but doesn’t matter. It was monumental for animation, for film, and was excellent. And this coming from a guy that’s generally pretty negative towards American animated films.

My Vote:  Toy Story

Josh L: If it weren’t for the fact that Episode I has got to be the most anticipated film of all time it probably would not have made it into this list. Toy Story on the other hand was a film that created a new genre and challenged Disney’s niche market on what animated films could look like, CG or otherwise.

My Vote:  Toy Story

The Winner: Toy Story

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8. The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire (2013)

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9. Titanic (1997)

Ben:  I guess Titanic had a lot going for it in terms of production grandeur and a decent performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.  But it’s also a by-the-numbers blockbuster that wasn’t, frankly, terribly memorable.  And while The Hunger Games movies petered (Peeta-ed?) out badly at the end, with Catching Fire it was still quite good and gripping, so for me it’s Katniss who is the survivor, not Rose.

My Vote:  The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire

Bruce: Catching Fire resonates emotionally better than any of the other installments–if that’s even possible with these franchises–and is the most entertaining chapter in The Hunger Games quadrilogy. But it’s need to serve the following two films overshadows anything that actually happens, leaving the audience hanging much like a season ending TV episode. Titanic on the other hand makes the loss and love between two people most of the focus despite its Blockbuster set pieces and effects, while also taking the viewer back to a time in history where we can imagine what someone went through in those last moments before impending death.

My Vote:  Titanic

Josh M: I’m a big fan of the Hunger Games series — mostly the books, but I felt that the movies really did a good and solid job of translating the books to the screen. Catching Fire was probably my least favorite of the books, but the movie made it work. Titanic, I always felt, was a generally decent but highly overrated movie. Cameron, Winslet, and DiCaprio all have much better and more interesting work.

My Vote:  Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Winner: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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5. Star Wars–Episode VII:  The Force Awakens (2015)

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12. Star Wars–Episode III:  The Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Ben:  At the time, a lot of people were saying that Revenge of the Sith was the course correction that Star Wars needed, saying it’s even better than Return of the Jedi.  I don’t agree, but I didn’t mind the movie, mostly because the romantic dialogue between Anakin and Padme was relatively minimal.  And a lot of people criticize The Force Awakens as being needlessly derivative–which it is, but it also does a terrific job bringing back the thrills and fun that we’d been missing from Star Wars for a loooong time.  For me, that “fun factor” is a bigger selling point than any gravitas that Lucas’ prequel trilogy brought us.

My Vote:  Star Wars–Episode VII:  The Force Awakens

Josh L: While Episode III had the daunting task of transitioning into the original films in a satisfying and non-predictable way, it left me with an entirely different feeling than I had during and after Episode VII. The Force Awakens “felt” more like a Star Wars film and JJ Abrams seemed highly aware of creating the nostalgia that brought us to the theatre in the first place. Though a little overdone in some areas and with some of the most awkward dialogue I’ve seen between Han and Leia, I was still kept in the consistently engaged and excited frame of mind as when I watched the originals.

My Vote:  Star Wars–Episode VII:  The Force Awakens

Pete: The Force Awakens is better, it just is. (Vader is heard screaming ‘No’ in the background, thus proving my point.) But what I appreciate about it over Revenge of the Sith is that it functions to expand the universe, to find new stories to tell, and become invested in new characters. Revenge of the Sith could be titled ‘Shoehorn: The Movie’; let down by the need to put all the characters in place exactly where we find them at the beginning of Star Wars.

My Vote:  Star Wars–Episode VII:  The Force Awakens

The Winner: Star Wars–Episode VII:  The Force Awakens

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4. Terminator 2 (1991)

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13. Three Men and a Baby (1987)

Rod: Clearly, we are thinning the herd here. T2 is one of the best action movies of all time. One of the best 90s movies. One of the best Schwarzenegger movies. THE best Edward Furlong movie. Three Men and a Baby is maybe the 2nd best Steve Guttenberg movie? I think Police Academy 2 may be a better film though, so that’s probably Steve’s best. No no no. T2 for the win. It’s a fantastic piece of silly sci-fi mess goofiness that birthed some of the worst sequels ever. I’m not some massive T2 fan, but if you haven’t seen this film, you better.

My Vote:  Terminator 2

Josh L: An interesting matchup, both of which I have not seen for some time. Terminator 2 pushed the boundaries of what anyone had seen before in film with its morphing antagonist, but from a purely emotive perspective I have to go with the baby. Even though when I watched this I had no idea of what fathering looked like personally, the relatable conflict and character arcs left me with warm fuzzies that remain.

My Vote:  Three Men and a Baby

Bruce: For me this a no-brainer. Three Men and a Baby is a fluffy Rom-Com most Dads want to connect with even if they won’t admit it–protecting and raising their little princess in a fantasy setting. But it never digs deeper than the fantasy or finds any belly laughs to compensate its shallow nature. Terminator 2 doesn’t offer much beyond the special effects, tight action sequences or the constant overdose of adrenaline but I got exactly what I asked for when I bought the ticket. This is preference over debate of quality–though I could easily argue production value also triumphs. 

My Vote:  Terminator 2

The Winner: Terminator 2

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6. Star Wars–Episode VIII:  The Last Jedi (2017)

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11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, aka Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Rod: This is where it gets interesting. The first Harry Potter film is not a good film. It’s a lot of world building, and bad childhood actors. Whoever was in charge of casting for this film though deserves half of JK Rowling’s money. They got soooo fortunate that they cast these annoying kids that grew up to be Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson. And the guy that played Ron….you know, the guy who hasn’t done much else….was a great Ron. But again, its not a good film. Its pretty boring and VERY goofy. But they needed it to do that world building, and it ultimately achieved some key goals.

BUT OH MY GOODNESS The Worst Jedi is a travesty. It’s greatest crime is it’s a waste of time – boring, insipid, tedious, pointless, silly, embarrassing, annoying, and aggravating. It’s second worst crime is everything else about it. I don’t care that Luke was bitter, or that Rey wasn’t special or whatever (JJ is gonna “fix” that anyway) BUT this film was garbage. If you want to know why, then google it and search on youtube…..there has been soooooo much written and said. This was the worse Star Wars movie of all of them.

I don’t have the time or space to explain in detail why I hate this movie so much. But yes, this definitely does not get a vote. Harry Potter, take your prize, purely because your opposition shouldn’t even exist.

My Vote:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s / Philosopher’s Stone

Josh M: Chris Columbus kicked off the Harry Potter franchise with a movie that adequately translated the charm and whimsey of the books, but was ultimately not the best or strongest of the series. Rian Johnson gave us a Star Wars film which defied expectations with some daring and controversial choices. I give him points for boldness, where Columbus played it safe.

My Vote:  Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

Pete: Even though The Last Jedi reaches grander moments, Philosopher’s/ Sorcerer’s Stone works better cohesively, the tone is perfect for it’s target audience, and while it does lack in areas it has a charm that The Last Jedi just doesn’t have.

My Vote:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s / Philosopher’s Stone

The Winner:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s / Philosopher’s Stone

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3. The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King (2003)

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14. Batman (1989)

Ben:  This is a bit of a tough one.  Return of the King is not my favorite Lord of the Rings movie, and Batman is not my favorite Batman movie.  But they have stuff that I enjoy.  I think in the end, my memories of Batman are dominated by things I found irritating about it (Tim Burton’s dark but cartoonish vision for the character and his world, as well as Batman’s murderous tendancies), while with Return of the King, I mostly am left with just the enjoyment of seeing the epic adventure of some beloved characters reach its conclusion.

My Vote:  The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King

Josh M: The Lord of the Rings was the book series that got me into filmmaking. In junior high school, I read the books and decided I wanted to make them into movies. Peter Jackson achieved the remarkable feat of creating movies which I love, even though they were very different from what I’d been imagining for twenty years. Nothing against Tim Burton and the rise of the modern comic-book movie, but I do love a good epic fantasy. And Lord of the Rings is as good as it gets.

My Vote:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Bruce:  I’ve never been the biggest Tim Burton fan, but his dark dramatic rendition of the Batman origin story is catapulted into something memorable only because of the crafty veteran behind that crazy smile. And it had a very distinct style filled with dark shadows and bright colors for contrast that felt very much like reading a beautiful comic book. It also happened to be what Generation X wanted. But with Return of the King we are talking about the culmination of one epic story that even after two incredible films still managed to soar even higher. And I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a book adaption done this well, finishing with the best of the best. The investment in the characters, the epic battles…it all pays off better than I ever could have imagined.

My Vote:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Winner: The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King

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7. Jurassic Park (1993)

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10. Avatar (2009)

Bruce: Cameron’s Avatar had a mountain to climb for me. I was bombarded with praise from every Tom, Dick and Harry I ran into for a month after it came out. I “simply had to see it” was the anthem. While Jurassic Park I saw cold turkey. I only found out it was a Spielberg film an hour before going into the theatre. The man truly knows how to craft a story and create drama, or in this case, serious anxiety. When I left the theatre it reminded me of the best rollercoasters I enjoyed as a teenager (and adult). But even after the otherworldly expectations set upon its shoulders, Avatar’s world building and use of 3D was a cinema experience like no other. And for that reason alone I’d pick it as my winner here. 

My Vote:  Avatar

Pete: We have probably all heard what’s in Jurassic Park, (dinosaurs and Goldblum, lot’s of both) so let’s talk about what’s not in Jurassic Park: Sam Worthington, special effects induced nausea, the word ‘unobtainium’, generic boring villains, and heroes who you hope will lose in the end.

My Vote:  Jurassic Park

Josh L: Both these films brought something to the screen that audiences had never seen before and although Avatar was ridiculed for stealing its plot from Pocahontas, again I have to judge from an emotive perspective as that is ultimately the power of film is in its emotive communication. Avatar, the first film I had ever seen in 3D, drew me into a world I had never seen one that I thoroughly enjoyed discovering and being immersed in.

My Vote:  Avatar

The Winner: Avatar

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2. Harry Potter and the Curse of the Deathly Hallows part two (2011)

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15. Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Rod: Harry again. I’m really not some Harry Potter fan. But against Spider-Man 3? You’d have to be really really “Last Jedi” bad to lose to Spider-Man 3.

I tried and tried and tried to talk myself into this being a good film…or a passable film.  I remember walking out of the cinema with some friends and trying desperately to argue with them that it was a good film. Once that shock wore off, I came to believe Spider-Man 3 was as big a disappointment as the Star Wars prequels. The first Spider-Man in its time was just such a huge move forward for a genre of story that I loved. Spider-Man 2 BLEW my mind. I couldn’t believe we were getting comic book movies of such quality. (That response has to be taken in the context of its pre-MCU/pre-Nolan Batman films era). Spider-Man 3 was such a huge mistake. So much wrong with this film. There’s no way for me to express it clearly in the short comment I’ve been asked to give, but I shouldn’t need to anyway.

The Point is: Spider-Man 3 deserves the negativity it gets.  The End of Harry Potter is a competent film. Therefore it wins

My Vote:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2

Pete: To be completely honest, just for the Sandman B-plot Spider-Man 3 wins. Also I’d rather watch a symbiote infected Topher Grace go just as crazy as the script his reading off, than rewatch a bunch of dudes standing around, scowling and pointing bits of tree at each other. At least Spider-Man 3’s melodrama was cheesy, and not dour.

My Vote:  Spider-Man 3

Josh M: The Harry Potter movies, I feel, just got stronger as they progressed — up to a point (right around Prisoner of Azkaban, I think), after which they devolved into highlight reels illustrating the key points of the books. Mostly, they suffered from too much story crammed into too little movie. Spider-Man 3 had a similar problem — I’ve always felt that it would have been better if it had been split into two movies. Which is what they did with Deathly Hallows, giving the series finale a bit more breathing room.

My Vote:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2

The Winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2

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And there we go.  The judges, including me, have spoken.  No real surprises as far as winners go, though there are some surprising votes–like a positive vote for Spider-Man 3, for example.  One friend was disgusted to hear that Avatar had beaten Jurassic Park.  I haven’t seen Avatar and I’m not a big fan of Jurassic Park, so it’s not something I feel passionate about–though I enjoyed Pete’s take on why he didn’t like Avatar.

Round One of the Even-Numbered Years Conference will be up soon!

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