Reality as we know it is over, so it’s only fitting that 2016 is shaping up to be the first year in movie history where the top 10 movies in the domestic box office take place in the realm of fantasy.
Deadline’s Michael Cieply points out that unless something drastic happens in the last gasps of this terrible year, Finding Dory –a movie about a talking fish – made $486 million in domestic sales, topping the box office charts for the year. The movie about the lost fish joins a list that includes Zootopia, a very good movie about race relations for children, and The Secret Life of Pets, a movie that I did not see but considered renting on Thanksgiving. Rounding out the list are comic book franchise adaptations like Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool , the purely stylish escapism of Doctor Strange, and J.K. Rowling’s unavoidable Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Aside from being the sort of blockbusters you’d expect to top the box office, none of them take place in anything vaguely resembling reality. As Cieply notes, “there’s virtually no chance that any comedy, drama or thriller set in anything that remotely resembles the universe we inhabit will join the top-ranked films.” In past years, movies like Inception and anything involving Jason Bourne have topped box office charts, but those films hewed to a kind of reality that’s at the very least recognizable, clinging to some sort of plausibility in spite of themselves. This year, audiences have cast reality aside in favor of pure fantasy– a reflection of the escapism you seek when you pay $20 for a ticket and a Cherry Coke and settle into a chair next to strangers for two hours to forget about whatever hell is raging outside the theater walls. Fantasy and escapism and blockbusters featuring superheroes in capes sell; critical darlings like the transcendent Moonlight are well-received but will never make gobs and gobs of money Finding Dory did.
Cieply points out that American moviegoers haven’t abandoned reality completely. Sully, that Tom Hanks tearjerker about a man who lands an airplane in the Hudson, is hovering somewhere in the top 20 and Central Intelligence, featuring Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as CIA agents or something is doing just fine. But none of those movies will shake the grip that fantasy has on the wallets of Americans who pay money to see movies. Reality as we know it right now is pretty bad. As the reality of the next four years starts to sink in, it’s only fitting that the entertainment we consume provide a visceral escape.