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The Top-Grossing Movies of 2018 Say a Lot About Our Era

Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman in 'Black Panther'

Final domestic box office tallies are in and this was a big year for movies in America—superhero movies, to be precise.

MarketWatch cites IMDb’s domestic numbers round-up, drum roll please:

IMDbPro Top-Grossing Domestic Releases of 2018 (as of December 10, 2018)

1. Black Panther – $700,059,566

2. Avengers: Infinity War – $678,815,482

3. Incredibles 2 – $608,574,642

4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – $416,769,345

5. Deadpool 2 – $318,491,426

6. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018) – $223,324,225

7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – $220,159,104

8. Ant-Man and the Wasp – $216,648,740

9. Solo: A Star Wars Story – $213,767,512

10. Venom (2018) – $212,718,480

Black Panther delivered in every arena—critics loved it, audiences loved it, it entered into an important place in pop culture—and Black Panther out-performing Avengers: Infinity War in the U.S. is a significant step into a new age of superheroes.

Had Black Panther fallen short, we might’ve seen studios that are finally beginning to dip their toes into more diversity in comic book movies pull back. Instead, Black Panther so out-performed expectations that reports say Marvel scrambled to beef up its characters’ presence in Avengers: Endgame. Ryan Coogler and his epic cast scored the biggest February opening of all time. Wakanda is the future of the MCU, and if 2018 is remembered as the year of Black Panther, that’s the best thing that can be said about the last twelve months America.

What this list shows us is that the country is hungry for heroes. As film critic Joe Neumaier told MoneyWatch:

“The superhero film today really is what the Western was in the 1950s. It satisfies the same place in our consciousness: They are moral fables about good and evil; and about transformation and new universes; and about exploration; and what defines humanity,” said Neumaier. “This has been a contentious two years … and people want to see good vanquish evil. And part of the magic of movies is that people who are on either side of the political spectrum can look at these movies and see heroes and villains, and respond to those storylines, through their own prisms.”

Amen to this—though I’d argue that most of the hero-centric films this year are hardly apolitical and an “either sides” prospect. Black Panther is openly political, with Erik Killmonger’s plan to liberate black people from centuries of oppression; Solo dabbles in unseating unscrupulous businessmen and ultimately sides with the rebels; even Venom’s Eddie Brock reports on corporate malfeasance, homelessness in the Bay Area, and tech titan treachery. While it may be possible to watch some of these films and not pick up on certain thematic undercurrents, it’s impossible to say that anything that came out in 2018 was produced in a political vacuum.

Of course, not all of the movies here demonstrate audience hunger for social justice writ large with explosions. Even after scoring 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s success shows that American audiences continue to crave loud, familiar things that do not require much critical thinking.

In terms of the narratives that have sprung up around these films’ reception, it fascinated me to see that Solo: A Star Wars Story, which seems to have been left by the wayside and has been cited as an example of “Star Wars fatigue,” was actually in the domestic top 10, while Venom, with similar numbers, is treated as a smash-hit from left field.

Of course, global box office numbers figure heavily into the wider story when studios are considering their next moves, and those rankings help explain the chatter this year. Globally, we see: 1. Avengers: Infinity War, 2. Black Panther, 3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, 4. Incredibles 2, 5. Venom (2018), 6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout, 7. Deadpool 2, 8. Bohemian Rhapsody, 9. Ant-Man and the Wasp, 10. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

So when we look at worldwide grosses, Solo vanishes off the map while Venom moves up to the fifth-highest-grossing film of the year overall, which is pretty mind-blowing. One thing’s for sure: 2018 was an incredible year for Marvel Studios and Marvel-adjacent movies; 2019 has its work cut out for Marvel to match the enthusiasm shown for their properties here.

Did any of these box office rankings surprise you? I had no idea we were so into The Grinch as a nation.

(via MarketWatch, image: Marvel Studios)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.