The Films of 2017 That Defied My Expectations (For Better)

I try to do this every year. Usually, the earlier, the better. This year, through reasons beyond my control, it’s later. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This way I’ve been able to get everything in, so there’s not gonna be that one off film I saw after I put this up that everyone goes, “What about that one?”

The idea behind this list is — which movies throughout the year were ones that, when I saw them, I went, “Huh, wasn’t expecting that”? Typically ones where either I thought they’d be dog shit and they were actually pretty good or ones I didn’t really have expectations for that ended up being some of the best movies of the year. This is based on nothing other than my perception of the film, either at the beginning of the year or right before I saw it. All that is required for this list is that the movie I saw ended up being better than I thought it was going to be.

Here are the films of 2017 that, just like the above average students on their O.W.L.s, exceeded expectations:

1. The Big Sick

I had no expectations for this after it premiered out of Sundance. I just thought, at best, it would be a a charing little romantic comedy that would be fine at best. I just didn’t realize how charming it would be. Which is not the first time that’s happened. My #1 movie of 2015 was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which I also had no expectations for going into the year. So this happens, and I’m not surprised. This is one of those movies — if it was even like 60% of the movie I thought I was getting based on everyone’s reaction, it would have made this list.

2. The Boss Baby

Who knew this was gonna supplant Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made? This is another one where — my expectations were just sort of “maybe it can be okay?” — and then the movie I got was really charming. Didn’t change my life of anything (spiritually, maybe. Nothing but respect for MY president, the Boss Baby), but I thought at best I’d get one ‘cute’ chuckle from it. So yeah, we’ll say this exceeded expectations for the better. Put it this way — I was gonna make Boss Baby jokes regardless. This way, there’s not really the sense of irony behind it. I legitimately enjoy that this movie exists.

3. Get Out

Another movie I had zero expectations for before it came out. Jordan Peele was an unproven commodity as a director, especially in the horror genre. And it’s a Blumhouse movie, which means $5 million or under, and most of them are dog shit. And it came out in February. So yeah, expectations weren’t high. But also, given my general indifference toward the horror genre, it was gonna take something truly extraordinary to move the needle for me. And this was pretty extraordinary. I think most people would be lying if they didn’t say this was one of the movies that ended up way better than they thought it was gonna be a year ago.

4. Girls Trip

There’s always one of these movies each year. Most of them come and go without anyone noticing. Even if they do fairly well (which some of them have in the past), generally they aren’t that great. But this movie… aside from the great notices it started getting as it came out, and all the box office it did… it was good. I think this is a better movie than Bridesmaids. (Admittedly, I think a lot of movies are better movies than Bridesmaids.) It was hilarious. I actually laughed. Most comedies nowadays, I don’t find them particularly funny. This movie got legitimate laughs out of me. Definitely one of the better surprises of 2017.

5. It

Again, the horror movie thing. I had no expectations for this as a movie, especially after Cary Fukunaga left production after creative differences with the studio. Naturally, as one is wont to do in these situations, we assumed it was the studio creatively stifling the director who was going to have the more artistic take on the material and not churn out some shlocky garbage. So I figured there was no way this would be anything other than “meh.” But even as trailers started coming out… it looked good. This movie actually got me into a theater to see it. And I wasn’t even disappointed in that! This was more of a coming-of-age movie than a horror movie, though I wasn’t even all that upset at the horror portions. (Definitely loved the non horror stuff way more, but still.) This was a very emotionally satisfying film that wasn’t without its problems, but its also way more than I thought I was gonna get.

6. Lady Bird

I thought I had no expectations for this, but apparently I had some expectations for this. Still, I could have never seen this coming. This is a movie that everybody likes. It was the highest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes for like a week. I could never have guessed top ten from this. I could never have guessed the acclaim from this. At most I figured, “Great directorial debut from Greta Gerwig and hidden gem for the year.” This is legit one of the best movies of the year.

7. Lady Macbeth

The first hidden gem of 2017. It looked good, and I was excited to see it, but when I got it and unassumingly put it on, I had no idea what I was in for. This is the hidden gem of 2017, and a movie that, even though I thought it would be good, was really good. I had no idea just how hard I was gonna fall in love with this one. Florence Pugh is amazing, and this is that movie from the year that should be getting way more buzz than it is, because it’s really good.

8. Mudbound

Because I was expecting another movie that people were gonna say is great just because it’s in the same line as 12 Years a Slave and The Birth of a Nation, etc etc, and I was gonna think it was fine, and people would be talking it up too much, and I’d pull back from it and not like it as much as I maybe could have otherwise. Plus, Netflix, that whole argument. There were a lot of reasons for this to not meet my expectations (which were solid. You give me a movie with that cast, I’m gonna assume solid). And the first twenty-five minutes of this movie… I really thought this was gonna go on tomorrow’s list. But it rebounded really nicely and was a very engaging movie by its end. I generally don’t assume Netflix movies are gonna end up anything more than, “Yeah, I liked it” at best. But this is legitimately a really great movie that might be the best thing they’ve ever put out (not that there’s a whole lot of competition there). I still don’t like this as much as other people, but it definitely overcame all of my hesitance about it, which more than earns it a spot here.

9. Murder on the Orient Express

I would say, “This always sounded interesting to me and everyone said such bad things about it that it made me think it was gonna be bad,” but let’s be honest… that trailer was not good. The Imagine Dragons song… just not a good look. I definitely had lowered expectations for this going into it, even if back in January I could have expected it to be about at the level I found it. Though, you know what? Even that. This made my top twenty. I couldn’t have said that. This felt like a tier two at best. Going in, I’d have been lucky to get tier four out of it (expectations-wise). January, probably tier two was the high. But this made the top 20 for me. So yeah, definitely exceeded expectations, and I don’t think it’s as ‘meh’ as some people might have said.

10. Phantom Thread

Because as much as I figure a Paul Thomas Anderson movie is a sure thing, I really didn’t think a movie about a dressmaker could be as engaging as this movie was. Even after that trailer, which… not great… I still figured it would be good, but I had no idea what I was getting. And man, did this exceed any expectation I could have had for it. Even people I expected to not like this went, “I loved it, and I don’t know why.” That’s the sign of a master filmmaker. You can assume greatness and still be surprised.

11. Spider-Man: Homecoming

We’ll use this as the one entry for all three Marvel movies this year. Guardians, as a sequel, is a really interesting way to do a sequel to a big budget movie and, while it’s not one of my favorite Marvel movies (not that I particularly love any of them), it felt like it was better than we should have gotten (or normally get). Thor, meanwhile, was something that, while we hoped it would be good, we didn’t really know we were getting one of the most fun entries in the entire franchise. So that was nice. But really, if we’re gonna talk about which Marvel movie truly exceeded expectations, it’s this one. Why? Because in fifteen years (and it’s exactly fifteen years), we’ve had six Spider-Man movies, and rebooted the franchise three times. For reference, in that entire time, plus two more years, we’ve had nine X-Men movies (including Wolverine spinoffs), and even though they soft rebooted the franchise once, they immediately went back and merged the two versions together. So, Spider-Man wasn’t doing well. The Raimi movies were fine (I think the first one is still the best. I don’t subscribe to the narrative that 2 is the masterpiece that others do). The Garfield movies… not great. So here, even though Marvel was bringing the character into its fold, there were no expectations to actually have this be a good movie. Even the trailer for it was like, “Okay. Sure?” I wasn’t all in on this. But as both a Spider-Man movie and a Marvel movie, this was way better than I ever thought Marvel could do. Because for Spider-Man, this worked. It didn’t make me think of the first films, it didn’t do the same shit the others did, and it told a story that worked on its own and gave us a character we can keep going forward with. And it didn’t do what the Garfield movies did and crammed extra characters in there just for the sake of adding more villains. And on the Marvel end, they actually made a Marvel movie that was a pretty good movie on its own and wasn’t so overly connected to the rest of the universe that it felt burdened by that. Thor was kinda like that too. You can’t expect that these movies were gonna be good (unless you’re a person who automatically trusts Marvel, in which case we probably don’t have a whole lot in common, tastes-wise), so the fact that they were as good as they were really did surprise me.

12. Split

Because M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t made a good movie in 15 years. And his last three (and that includes the last one, which is the one people were saying was his ‘comeback’ even though it was a piece of shit) were unwatchable. So even if this looked like it could be okay, you still needed to see it in order to be sure. And this definitely exceeded expectations because it was actually good. I mean, yeah, it falls apart in the third act (and that last scene… yeesh), but it still works. Good for him, finally getting back to watchable movies.

13. Stronger

Unrelated to the fact that this movie’s thunder was stolen by Patriots Day, even as it was coming out I didn’t think it would be all that great. Because — Boston Marathon bombing… not really something I’m interested in seeing on screen. Guy lost his legs? Sure, fine. I didn’t really care about this. And while the two leads are people I liked, I thought it was just gonna be some small movie that was fine at best but too sappy or whatever to be good. I was not prepared for what this movie was gonna be. I’ve said it every time this movie comes up — this movie is like The Fighter. It’s got that local Boston crazy family charm to it. And then, rather than being about this dude and not having legs, it’s more about how much of a fuck up he is, even despite the legs. Which I also liked. It grounds you in character and keeps the ‘news’ stuff in the background. Which is more a thing that appeals to me than most. But, really, the point is — whatever you think this movie is, trust me, it’s not that. It’s way better than you think.

14. Wonder

Back in January, I’d have put this on Unforgivable watch. I probably did. I didn’t even think this was gonna be decent, let alone really good. And this is really good. And that’s the biggest surprise of the year for me. This movie is utterly charming and exceeded my expectations in every way. This is a movie I’m even gonna go so far as to say you’re gonna like. That’s how well this works. Shocked the hell out of me.

15. Wonder Woman

Because how could we have had any faith in D.C. doing something right? Even if I was excited to see this (which… I was more nervous and interested than anything), I still couldn’t have expected it to turn out as well as it did. This movie was really uplifting. I would say empowering, but that’s not my call to make. But what I can say, is that however you feel about this movie, it’s a photo like this that tells you it exceeded every expectation anyone could have had for it:

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Tomorrow, as you can guess, we talk the films that weren’t as good as I was expecting.

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