SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," several comic book movies and Netflix shows released in 2016!
2016 was laced with heavy-hearted moments off-screen, such as the deaths of Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and of course, our princess, Carrie Fisher, but on-screen, there was much to celebrate in terms of pop culture. When it came to comic book adaptations and sci-fi properties, whether it was on television or in cinemas, we had quite our fill.
Some of the highlights included the first standalone "Star Wars" film, as well as both Marvel and DC heroes going head-to-head with each other over clashing philosophies on how the world should be policed. With Avengers beating each other down, Batman showing Superman no mercy, fans getting a new take on Joker, Deadpool being as crude as he is lethal and Netflix once again upping their vigilante justice game, CBR decided to look at 15 of the biggest pop-culture moments that had us geeking out this year!
15 SPIDER-MAN JOINS THE MCU
It definitely felt like a homecoming when Spider-Man showed up with Team Stark in "Captain America: Civil War." As he humorously arrived to Tony Stark's "Underoos!" battle-cry, it wasn't even about which side Spidey swore his allegiance to as much as it was about Marvel Studios finally using him as an Avenger.
The deal struck between Parker and Stark (or more accurately, between Marvel Studios and Sony) saw a teenage wall-crawler (played by Tom Holland) make his first on-screen steps as Tony's protege. From their quippy exchange during recruitment to the awkward moments with Aunt May and then Spidey kicking ass against Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it was indeed a glorious spectacle to behold. When he eventually squared off against fellow New Yorker, Captain America himself, fans couldn't help but feel the same level of excitement that they did while reading Mark Millar's "Civil War" event. Seeing him exploring his new suit, stealing Cap's shield and bringing the house down with Giant-Man all gave us a taste of what we can see in the upcoming Spider-Man story, arriving in July 2017.
14 KINGPIN PUMMELS MATT MURDOCK
Season 2 of "Daredevil" found Matt Murdock struggling with those around him, namely Elektra and Frank "Punisher" Castle, waging merciless wars. In episode 10, "The Man In The Box," things came to a head when Murdock met Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) in jail to inquire about orchestrating Castle's escape so that he could help eliminate Fisk's enemies. Frustrated, Murdock shot a sly comment about Fisk not being able to see his beloved Vanessa again and what transpired caught everyone off-guard.
A snarling Fisk broke his handcuffs and proceeded to slam Murdock's head on the table repeatedly before choking him. He furiously reminded Murdock that he'll rule over Hell's Kitchen once more, with Vanessa by his side. It was truly a one-sided moment that left Murdock bloody and visibly shaken, especially with Fisk promising vengeance on him and Foggy for their efforts in incarcerating him. Fans couldn't believe that they saw Murdock rag-dolled like that with Fisk ending on the gloating note of "Let's do this again, sometime." For the first time, it felt like our hero was no longer 'The Man Without Fear.'
13 THE SINISTER BRIEFCASE
When the credits rolled on "X-Men: Apocalypse," fans were treated to hints of a prominent X-villain that we've waited quite some time for. We returned to the government facility where Logan staged his blood-drenched escape, with a military crew cleaning up spent bullets and packing the remains of the soldiers Logan carved up into body bags. A group of suited men then emerged in the messy corridor, making their way to the lab that housed the Wolverine.
One grabbed a vial of blood marked "Weapon X" (Logan’s government designation) and placed it in a briefcase along with other mystery vials. The briefcase was slammed shut to reveal an "Essex Corp" label, pointing speculation towards Nathaniel Essex a.k.a. Mister Sinister: the creepy X-Men villain and Victorian-era mad scientist obsessed with genetics, cloning and experimenting with mutant DNA. Fans jumped for joy as they thought it could lead to him appearing in the third "Wolverine" solo movie. Even after "Logan" was announced to be featuring X-23 (a Wolverine clone in the comics), Sinister was never confirmed, but that won't stop fans from holding on to hope that he'll at least cameo in Hugh Jackman's farewell.
12 JOKER RESCUES HARLEY QUINN
"Suicide Squad," while entertaining, was admittedly a little all over the place. Aside from Amanda Waller's covert ops ruse and Deadshot's inner-turmoil, the story also showed us the devolution of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the psychiatrist charged with treating the Joker, into the psychopathic Harley Quinn, his lover/victim/partner in crime. Throughout the movie, Task Force X's central mission remained subduing the mystical Enchantress and her minions, but the running sub-plot of Joker's obsession with and objectification of Harley, even after he created and rejected her, added intrigue.
Joker appeared to have met a fiery demise while almost ruining the Suicide Squad's mission, but the team ultimately succeeded and returned to Belle Reeve Prison with some extra privileges. In the film's finale, Harley found herself having her own tea party to the beat of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The guards were suddenly attacked by Joker and his men with the tempestuous Harley yelling "Puddin!" as she jumped into his embrace.
11 LEX LUTHOR MEETS STEPPENWOLF
In the theatrical cut of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," we saw several nods to Apokolips, including Bruce Wayne's vision of parademons and Darkseid's Omega symbol, a Mother Box in Cyborg's creation and Lex Luthor ranting and seemingly mimicking a Mother Box's "PING!" in jail. Amid all this foreshadowing, the most direct indication of the otherworldly threat to come stood in a deleted scene titled "Communion."
It featured special forces apprehending Luthor at the film's end in the Kryptonian ship used to create Doomsday. However, before doing so, they find him eerily communicating in a sludge-filled basin with an alien creature, confirmed to be Darkseid's general, Steppenwolf. What really got our engines running wasn't just the scary and intimidating alien design of the creature, but rather the sight of the monster holding three gray cubes, perceived to be Mother Boxes. Everything dissolved away as the snipers took aim at a kneeling Luthor, who turned to the camera with an ominous and petrified look. This scene not only informed us how and when he was taken into custody, but also provided the context behind his eccentric behavior throughout the film.
10 DEADPOOL'S ROAD RAGE
The majority of the praise that "Deadpool" garnered came from how unafraid it was when it came to unabashed violence and crude humor. One particular scene is when Wade Wilson decides to exact revenge on the villainous Ajax for experimenting and turning him into a disfigured mercenary. It stands out because it feels like a "Deadpool" sequence that came directly from the comic panels. It featured a lot of the test footage that was leaked to help convince the studio to make the movie.
In the scene, Deadpool casually jumped off a bridge and into an SUV to begin a ludicrous assault, skewering and shooting up enemies with maximum effort. This high-octane pursuit was filled with jokes that had the audience rolling as well as exceptional fight coordination and vehicular stunts, blended with just the right amount of CGI. With our mouthy anti-hero using a cigarette lighter as a weapon, counting bullets as he sliced and diced through the opposition , ending in his humor-laced run-in with the disapproving X-Men (Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead), this gory sequence left fans giddy while setting a high bar for new director, David Leitch.
9 LUKE CAGE'S NETFLIX ORIGIN
Episode 4, "Step In The Arena," reminded us just how capable Netflix was with the origins of Marvel's finest characters. Mike Colter turned in a brilliant performance here as the series flashed back while he was under the rubble of a collapsed restaurant in an attempt on his life. This tweaked origins shifted from the source material's love triangle with him, Reva Connors and Diamondback, while depicting Cage, framed and imprisoned in Seagate, as a mistreated and oppressed prisoner, eventually beaten within an inch of his life by the corrupted guards and inmates.
The show adjusted Diamondback as the Judas figure in Cage's Harlem history while retconning Connors as the psychologist who recommended him for the experimental treatment that'd grant him super-strength and invulnerable skin, saving him. While this episode managed to shed light on his eventual relationship with Connors, it also touched sociopolitical ground, elaborating on the hardships and injustice of prison while still offering fan service by showing the protagonist immersed in the power-granting chamber. Seeing Cage wearing a tiara-like piece of equipment and escaping to don a yellow Power-Man-esque shirt ended up being the icing on the cake!
8 PUNISHER'S PRISON MASSACRE
"Daredevil" Season 2, Episode 9, "Seven Minutes In Heaven," showed the Punisher unhinged, unrestrained and laying waste to anyone who tried to kill him in the confines of prison. After being influenced by Kingpin to take out a key inmate, Castle found himself in a corridor, double-crossed and seemingly trapped. However, driven by the thought of getting out and taking revenge on his family's killers, Castle brutally dispatched attackers in one of the show's best-executed and bloodiest fight scenes.
It was so good that it put to bed the other corridor scenes we saw Daredevil beating down baddies in and showed Castle as one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the game, out-maneuvering everyone even though he was vastly outnumbered. Featuring shivs, sticks and stabs, it was a bone-crunching bonanza that really pushed the limits of Netflix, reminding us how fit Jon Bernthal is for the intensity that is the Punisher. In just over two minutes, he took out about a dozen prisoners before being subdued by the guards, whom the Kingpin would continue to exploit in exchange for Castle's freedom.
7 DOCTOR STRANGE'S TIME STONE TRICKERY
Strange using the Eye of Agamotto was huge for Marvel fans because it contained the precious Time Stone that Thanos is seeking in the MCU. He utilized it to reverse the damage done to the Hong Kong Sanctum and its surroundings by fallen sorcerer, Kaecilius, despite being warned of tinkering with the timestream in the past by ally, Wong. Strange ignored the repercussions and leapfrogged Kaecilius to square off against Dormammu, who was looking to assimilate Earth into his Dark Dimension.
There, Strange once more used the Stone's trickery to trap the villain in an infinite time loop of mystical nagging, which eventually saw Dormammu relinquish dominion and leave with his dark disciples. The visual aesthetic of how Strange used the Stone, like gears grinding backward, fit the CGI perfectly as he reconstructed the world around him, while dodging his enemies. It was awesome to see an Infinity Stone used to reverse, instead of inflict, explosive destruction while still showing the artifact's power. This was a genius move by the hero, who always preferred brains over brawn, which sadly managed to turn friend, Mordo, into foe, believing such manipulation was an abuse of power.
6 WOLVERINE'S BERSERKER RAGE
"X-Men: Apocalypse" brought the animalistic take on Wolverine that fans demanded ever since the "X-Men" movie franchise had rebooted, finally giving us a no-holes-barred taste of his infamous Berserker mode. When Stryker kidnapped Mystique and her charges as they tried to combat Apocalypse and his troops, Scott, Jean and Nightcrawler infiltrated the military facility to rescue their comrades, only to unleash the rabid Wolverine who was being experimented on. What ensued wasn't the diluted Logan we saw so many iterations of, but rather it was Wolverine as a mindless Weapon X, driven by his most primal instinct: kill and survive.
Logan unsheathed his claws and annihilated soldier after soldier, inadvertently helping the X-Men escape. In the process, a sympathetic Jean helped restore a portion of his memories in gratitude before he ran off into the wilderness, leaving a massacre in his wake. While Fox kept the blood-factor PG-13, it was a very violent scene that must have at least partially inspired James Mangold to go gory in his "Logan" finale.
5 AMANDA WALLER AND BRUCE WAYNE'S DINNER
In the "Suicide Squad" mid-credits scene, we witnessed a moment that surely hyped up fans of the DC Cinematic Universe. Following the Suicide Squad's successful, albeit messy, handling of Midway City and Enchantress, Amanda Waller found herself in the crosshairs of the powers-that-be and, in a dinner meeting, she sought protection from none other than Bruce Wayne himself. Wayne guaranteed she'd be kept safe, but it was revealed that it came at a price: the government's info on metahumans, namely Flash and Aquaman.
This was clearly a precursor to Wayne assembling heroes in "Justice League" to prepare for Darkseid's arrival. Their exchange was as cold, cynical and business-like as could be expected, made all the more appetizing when Waller hinted she knew of his activities as the Batman. To which he warned her that she needed to shut down the Suicide Squad or he'd do it for her. Fans rejoiced watching them mix pleasantries with subtle threats, making the current squabble between both teams in DC Comics hold even more importance. Seeing them both calculating and moving their pieces on the chessboard opened the doors up for a potential film crossover as well.
4 DC'S TRINITY STANDING TALL
Many felt that "BvS" crammed too many characters in, but whatever your qualms, you couldn't contain your excitement when that glorious shot of DC's Trinity emerged, battle-ready. With Wonder Woman set in the foreground to her Amazonian heavy-metal theme song, her shield and God Killer sword in tow, it was apparent who was taking lead as Superman and a gun-toting Batman stood in the back, prepared to engage the behemoth known as Doomsday.
The scene started with Superman regenerating via the sun's rays in space while Wonder Woman finally made her DC film debut, flying down to protect an outmatched Batman from Doomsday's heat-vision. She returned fire with the magic of her wristbands while Superman charged in to temporarily quell the threat. The team then strategically assessed how to tackle the energy-absorbing monster as Wonder Woman made it clear she was capable of killing creatures from other worlds. We all sank our teeth into her commanding presence and fearlessness, all of which helped build-up our anticipation for when DC's most famous heroes will unite.
3 STEVE ROGERS THROWS DOWN THE SHIELD
Many moments signified the fracture of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark's relationship in "Civil War" but perhaps none are as poignant as when Cap dropped the shield to the ground after defeating Iron Man in the film's final battle. After sparing Stark's life and picking up a wounded Bucky, Steve took his leave only to be taunted by Stark that the shield didn't belong to someone who was undeserving and that it was made by Stark Sr. This verbal shot was the final straw as Steve departed with his best friend, seemingly leaving the Avengers and the mantle of Captain America behind.
With the wedge of the Sokovian Accords (the registration of superheroes in the wake of the "Age of Ultron" chaos) firmly driven between the two, this scene showed that the philosophies and allegiances of both men, once close friends and brothers-in-arms, no longer aligned. While sighs of relief were breathed that neither was killed, Steve ran afoul of Stark one last time as the movie closed, rescuing his team from the Raft, but reminding Iron Man that their relationship wasn't irreparably damaged. It was a heartbreaking moment that changed the landscape of the MCU.
2 THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN
The second half of "BvS" turned its gaze from the brawling heroes and unraveled the death of DC's most iconic superhero at the hand of Doomsday, engineered by Luthor from Zod's DNA. As the Trinity struggled with the rampaging giant, they turned to the kryptonite spear Batman meant for Superman and as Wonder Woman restrained the creature, Superman flew in, piercing his tough exterior. However, a protruding Kryptonian bone from Doomsday impaled Superman, killing him.
This capped an hour-long, relentless battle that saw the trio pushed to their limits and was remarkably executed, drawing inspiration from the 1992 comic event that left the last son of Krypton dead. Seeing his lifeless, pale body cradled by Lois as Bruce and Diana stood over the fallen hero was truly heartbreaking. It paralleled the "Funeral for a Friend" story arc that saw the world react to his sacrifice, including his mother and also Lois, whom he intended to marry. His passing also rallied Batman and Wonder Woman to start recruiting for the Justice League, while the final shot where the dirt began to levitate above Superman's coffin certainly whets the appetite for his cinematic return.
1 DARTH VADER MASSACRING REBELS
Fans were left in disbelief at the end of "Rogue One" as director Gareth Edwards unleashed Darth Vader like never before. Vader boarded a Rebel ship to attain the Death Star plans, stolen by Jyn Erso's team in the Scarif suicide mission, and dismantled the resistance he met in glorious fashion. As he breached the ship, his signature breathing in a dark passageway tortured the Rebels until his red lightsaber menacingly lit up, illuminating him and announcing the upcoming deaths of the rebels.
The Sith Lord destroyed his opposition through a series of Force-chokes, Force-throws and a mix of lightsaber-deflected gunfire, stabs and slashes, slaughtering his way to the stolen data. As he stormed through the bodies, chills ran down fans' spines as the Alliance fighters scrambled helplessly to defend themselves. This scene invoked the ruthlessness of the classic Vader from the original trilogy, but now also wrapped him in a new level of intensity and intimidation. Watching Vader stare down Princess Leia's escaping vessel, you couldn't help but feel that this was Vader done to perfection, truly setting the stage for opening a "A New Hope."
What were your biggest geek-out moments of 2016? Let us know in the comments below!