Is 2011 the most creatively bankrupt year of all time for US theatrical releases? I believe so. Just look at this list (screenshot via Wikipedia, data via Box Office Mojo):


List of top 10 movies by box office receipts, 2011



  1. Eighth film out of ten (and counting).
  2. Third film out of six (and counting).
  3. Fourth film out of five (and counting).
  4. Fifth film out of five.
  5. Fourth film out of seven (and counting).
  6. Second film out of three (and counting).
  7. Fifth film out of nine (and counting).
  8. Second film out of three.
  9. First film out of three (and counting).
  10. Second film out of three.

It gets worse, if you can believe it. Numbers 11 through 20 are: Shrek spinoff; Sherlock sequel; children’s movie about a bird; Planet of the Apes sequel; Marvel movie 4 out of 26 and counting; an uplifting French dramedy (the only original film in the top 20); an adaptation of a children’s comic; Marvel movie 5 out of 26 and counting; X-Men movie 5 out of at least 13; and the third Chipmunks movie out of four.

The most anodyne lineup possible. The platonic ideal of modern tentpole moviemaking where every movie is an action-adjacent, safely-established intellectual property, rated PG-13, and is an installment in a drip campaign directed at children, teens, parents, and grandparents. And then a sop is thrown to the rest of us in the form of one or two  raunchy comedies, and that dang French film snuck into the top grossers of the year (it was massive, worldwide; it didn’t crack ten mil in the US), no doubt ruining the day of some American exec.


I’ve watched some of these movies, but the only one that I saw at the time was the Harry Potter movie, of all things. I have not watched #s 4,5,6, or 7, and will never. lol. I was pretty out of it in 2011, having moved to a new city, left a long relationship, and everything else recounted in the 2010 installment. On top of that, I had met my wife-to-be, so I was floating among the clouds, with no time to waste on crummy franchises. I have no idea why we felt the need to watch Deathly Hallows, Part 2 unprompted, but we sure did! And it was long and boring and dim. So it goes.

One must travel way, way, way down the box office results list if one wishes to find unique voices and novel ideas. Bridesmaids, for one, is a fantastic comedy. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of my favorite spy films, as is Haywire. Much further down the list is a hard-R trash pile of an action movie that prominently features someone drinking out of a cup made from their enemy’s skull. HELL YEAH, I’m talking Drive Angry. Warner Bros. probably spent more on craft services for Harry Potter than they did the entire budget for this Nic Cage / Amber Heard revenge film.

While Drive Angry lacks the poetic madness of Mandy (2018), it is cuckoo in its own ways. For instance, Drive Angry includes the premise that Satan is a muscle car fanatic, and the lord of darkness maintains a Jay Leno-sized garage in hell. This is both bananas and highly relevant to the events of the film, since Nicolas Cage’s John Milton steals one of Satan’s cars when he escapes hell in his quest to stop the evil cultist (he also steals a gun called the Godkiller). And obviously this prompts Satan to dispatch his Accountant to retrieve the automobile, and of course said Accountant is played by William Fichtner.

Oh, also Drive Angry is an hour and forty minutes long, so you could almost watch it twice in the time it would take to watch Deathly Hallows Part 2. Or you could watch Drive Angry and Mandy and still come out at about the same time commitment, but with infinitely cooler movies rattling around in your head.

When I wax romantically about R-rated comedies and action movies, it is not just because I’m a deviant. In our current world, the R rating from the MPAA comes with implicit assumptions:

  1. The film will make far less money in the theater than if it were PG-13.
  2. The film will hit far less eyeballs in streaming than it were PG-13 because of kid filters.
  3. The film will almost certainly have a fraction of the the budget than if it were PG-13 (see #s 1 and 2).
  4. If the funding somehow comes together and the producer keeps it under budget, the film may also have less studio interference.

The lowered expectations of the R rating may give a greater creative freedom in the making of the film. That is not a guarantor of success (see an absolute failure like Sabotage (2014) that definitely plays like the studio was hands-off), but at the least, it means that any fun shit may have a puncher’s chance of making it into the picture. I shudder to think of the ways that Drive Angry would be studio-noted to oblivion if it had been slotted as PG-13: no Katy Mixon scene, the edges would have been sanded off of everyone from Piper’s boyfriend to cult leader Jonah. The ending would have teased a potential sequel. The budget would have increased and the cult leader villain would have been recast as Zac Efron or someone else to bring in another quadrant of viewers.

Drive Angry also feels like a movie that got to be as weird as it wanted to be, no doubt aided by Michael De Luca being the producer (look at his filmography: he has been a part of some great and unique films, from Deep Cover (1992) to Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)). Again, Nic Cage plays a character named John Milton who escapes eternal damnation in hell by stealing a muscle car from Satan, and heads back to Earth to stop a satanic cultist who has kidnapped his daughter, and he is being chased by a demon called The Accountant. This is also one of Nic Cage’s greatest wigs, if you are a fellow connoisseur of such things.

Have I sold you yet?


Other 2011 candidates: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Haywire; Tower Heist; The Raid: Redemption; Fright Night; Bad Teacher; Horrible Bosses; Drive; Bridesmaids


I turn 40 in December. To commemorate the milestone, I’m writing 40 short biographical essays pertaining to a movie per year of my life.