2012 in Film: The Year That Changed Everything

It is crazy to think that 2012 was ten years ago but the movies of that year shaped our modern concept of a typical release schedule. It was dubbed “The Year of the Nerd” for a good reason. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and recap the year 2021 in film. 

The Numbers

The ten highest grossing films of 2012 were:

  • The Avengers
  • Skyfall
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Ice Age: Continental Drift
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
  • The Hunger Games
  • Men in Black 3

These films combined for a box office gross of $9,255,686,422 and was also the first year to have four films gross the billion-dollar mark with The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey all grossed over a billion dollars during their box office runs. That list, built with sequels and adaptations of existing properties, ensured that 2012 was bound to be a successful year for Hollywood.

“The Year of the Nerd”

Nerds flocked to movie theaters during 2012 but the biggest draw was a film that had been teased for years thanks to 2008’s Iron Man. Before post-credits scenes became the norm in films, many had missed the scene in Iron Man when Nick Fury surprised Tony Stark to talk to him about the secretive “Avenger Initiative” and four years later, we got the team-up comic book fans had been dying to see. The Avengers opened its box office run with a $207 million opening weekend which would set a record (that record has since been broken multiple times so it’s laughable to try and keep up with it) and would set a new standard for the box office returns for the Marvel Cinematic Universe entirely. Billion dollar and even multi-billion-dollar grosses have come to be expected with Marvel and its films but a new challenger would enter the ring late in 2012 and it would be in the form of the world’s greatest secret agent.

With Daniel Craig’s run now concluded following 2021’s No Time to Die, his legacy as the best modern interpretation of 007 was cemented following the release of Skyfall. Directed by Sam Mendes and featuring some of the best work from renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall finally brought Bond into the 21st century by stripping down the character to his core and humanizing the womanizing, hard-drinking spy with a license to kill on Her Majesty’s secret service. Starring alongside Craig was Naomie Harris, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw and included some of the best action sequences in the entire 007 series along with the best title song performed by Adele. Skyfall would become the highest grossing in the Bond franchise and would go on to win two Academy Awards including the first win for Best Original Song for the aforementioned song.

Speaking of action auteur cinema was the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. Expectations were high following the release of the game changing film The Dark Knight in 2008 and fueled speculation as to how Nolan would manage to finish off his trilogy and while the film didn’t live up to the hype in some respects mainly the meandering story, the inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the uneven special effects, audiences still showed up for the Dark Knight to rake in a box office gross of $1.081 billion to put a final touch on what was a spectacular trilogy of films rivaled by few franchises. In short, superheroes had a banner year in 2012 and an unexpected reboot released to redefine a favorite web slinging hero. 

Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was not expected to be as good or be as well received as it was with only five years removed from the whimper that was Spider-Man 3 and it looked to be the reboot nobody needed or even wanted. Thanks to the relatable performance of Andrew Garfield and the chemistry he shared with co-star Emma Stone, it offered a somewhat darker look at the wall crawler as he comes to grips with the fac that his actions are creating his villains and has to forge ahead to balance the life of a masked vigilante and a love life with a police captain’s daughter. While the follow-up two years was a critical dud, fans and critics loved the first film in what was a promising start with a run that concluded with $757 million in box office gross. Thankfully, Garfield’s version of Spider-Man returned for some redemption in 2021’s multiverse outing Spider-Man: No Way Home and Sony has now reopened the possibility of producing a third film in the Amazing series. 

If it seems like the nerd films are merely cash grabs to get butts in seats, you wouldn’t be wrong but the tipping point was the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from director Peter Jackson. When plans were announced for a new batch of films in the Lord of the Rings series in 2010, a collective eye roll went out among the general with Jackson announcing that the original book, The Hobbit, would be made into two parts and then a third film was announced after Jackson realized he wanted to make the final 40 pages of the novel into a nearly three hour long third film. While An Unexpected Journey was a hit, it was the beginning of Lord of the Rings/Peter Jackson fatigue and his particular brand of fantasy blockbusters. With Amazon expecting to release their series The Rings of Power sometime later in 2022, The Lord of the Rings is returning to the cultural lexicon.

The ”Prestige” Films

Since Hollywood had and continues to have a bias towards major blockbusters, 2012 was also an important year for the major award winners. The winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Argo, finally gave Ben Affleck some credibility as a filmmaker completing a journey that began with directing 2010’s The Town. Argo would win two additional Oscars and would become a box office success. While rife with historical inaccuracies on par with Braveheart, the faults of Argo have been overlooked as it has grown to become one of the stalwarts of the political thriller genre. 

2012 was also a strong year for political films as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln would give Daniel Day-Lewis his third Academy Award for Best Actor and would earn the most nominations at the 85th Academy Awards with 12, while only winning two but the Oscar race that year was loaded. Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker was the adaptation of the real-world hunt for Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty which pulled no punches in its depiction of torture or the failings of the CIA prior to the successful raid in 2011, in where operatives from Seal Team Six managed to infiltrate a compound in Pakistan that resulted in the death of the Al Qaeda leader and architect of the 9/11 attacks. It is also one of Jessica Chastain’s best performances of her career which earned her a Best Actress nomination but the competition was even fierce in that category as she went against an up-and-coming Jennifer Lawrence. 

Silver Linings Playbook made waves for many reasons. One being it was furthering the legacy of director David O. Russell who had previously coached Oscar winning performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in 2010’s The Fighter and looked to be on the warpath once again after having four actors in Playbook nominated for Oscars; Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jacki Weaver and Robert Deniro all gave credence that Playbook could make a serious run at a feat that had not been accomplished since The Silence of the Lambs in 1991, to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards. Lawrence would be the only one to take home Oscar gold for the film but Playbook has lived on in its depiction of mental health struggles, love and family devotion as it seems to grow more and more relevant thanks to society’s growing awareness and acceptance of everyone’s mental health journey.

Speaking of relevant journeys, Quentin Tarantino upped the ante of his films when he released Django Unchained starring Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz. Django has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino film; gratuitous violence accented by quick editing, vicious sound design, banging soundtrack, quick wit, dark humor and shocking dialogue packaged into what has become the writer/director’s new signature, period pieces that provide an alternate take on history. Django was and is a satisfying take on revenge films and presents no one as a hero. Django massacres people everywhere he goes, Calvin Candie is the definition of evil slave owner (let’s be honest, those two are mutually exclusive) and even Dr. Schultz is an anti-hero as he doesn’t free Django out of any grand sense of morality. It’s a business transaction that grows into a friendship and he sacrifices himself just to kill Candie knowing he will likely doom Django and his wife to certain death. Just imagine how different Django Unchained would have looked if Will Smith had accepted the lead role.

The Other Players

2012 also had a huge number of re-releases. Thanks to the rise and improvement of IMAX technology, a number of past films received wide re-releases like Raiders of the Lost Ark which received an IMAX restoration, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace received an IMAX 3D re-release which was meant to be the first in a series of re-releases from director George Lucas but these plans were derailed due to Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm the following year but Disney had no issue getting people to theaters with re-releases of Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. all getting the 3D treatment. 

Besides the major blockbusters, 2012 included the releases of 21 Jump Street, American Reunion, The Cabin in the Woods, The Five-Year Engagement, Prometheus, Ted, Lawless, The Master, Looper, Pitch Perfect and Wreck-It Ralph. All films were critical successes in addition to being big box office draws. It was a great year for variety and every month seemed to offer something new for audiences but there were also the busts like Underworld: Awakening, The Grey, Act of Valor, John Carter, The Three Stooges, Dark Shadows, Battleship and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

We are now used to most years being filled with sequels, reboots or remakes, 2012 was the first year to show us what was really possible and proved that nerds are the biggest audience to draw to theaters. 

Featured Image Credit: Polygon

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