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Pixar, Star Wars and the fans themselves: Why 2015 was a good-verging-on-great year for movies
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Sadness and Joy in "Inside Out." - photo by Jeff Peterson
2015, aka the year that brought us things like velociraptor motorcycle gangs and an astromech droid even cuter than R2-D2, has come to an end. The year that, a full two years before it even started, was already being hailed by some entertainment outlets as possibly the greatest year in movie history is finally over.

Like so many of the most hotly anticipated movies that hit theaters in the past 12 months, while 2015 may not have lived up to everyones expectations and been everything for everybody, it was still a pretty good year maybe even verging on a great year for film.

Here are a few reasons why.

1. Two non-sequel Pixar movies

Pixar movies come but once a year, as the old saying goes. Except in 2014, the moviegoing public was sorely disappointed when The Good Dinosaur was put off until 2015. While it was bad news for families in a year with an already noticeable lack of variety for kids, the upside was that 2015 saw not one, but two Pixar releases. Moreover, neither one of them was a sequel.

(Dont count on that happening again for a long, long time.)

Although both critics and audiences definitely seemed to prefer the first of the two Pixar releases, Inside Out The Good Dinosaur earned the second lowest opening weekend of any Pixar movie ever above A Bugs Life (and the lowest ever when taking into account inflation) the two films together helped make 2015 a memorable one for animation fans, who were also treated to things like a Minions-centric spinoff, a very well-received Peanuts movie and a Genndy Tartakovsky-directed Hotel Transylvania follow-up.

2. Legacyquels

In 2015, a very specific kind of franchise installment seemed to finally come into its own, even spawning a new term: The legacyquel, in which an old franchise gets a new installment with lots of winking and nodding for diehard fans and, often, as Screen Crush describes it, in which beloved aging stars reprise classic roles and pass the torch to younger successors.

Hollywood has been churning out this kind of sequel for a long time, but many of the high-profile legacyquels of years past like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Tron: Legacy and even Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (although for entirely different reasons than the other two examples; it was too successful) have stumbled in one way or another, ending up with the aforementioned torch either not changing hands at all or else getting snuffed out until someone down the road decides to light it again.

This year was different, though. Movies like Jurassic World, Creed and Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens all successfully managed to restart their respective franchises exactly as they had set out to do with new characters and new narrative potential.

Out of those, Jurassic World although not necessarily even a good movie, by some standards defied every early box-office estimate by a, frankly, absurd margin and became the third-highest grossing movie of all time, according to Box Office Mojo a record that may very soon be shattered by "The Force Awakens.

3. Movies made by fans for fans

With a few notable exceptions, 2015 was a year of crowd-pleasers. Fans were treated to the movies they wanted to see the stuff that, in some cases, they might have dreamed about for years or even lifetimes. Bigger, badder dino battles? You got it. Lightsabers and dogfights in outerspace? Sure, why not?

Part of this trend is, arguably, that studios are turning more and more to filmmakers with a genuine appreciation for the source material. They have started to recognize the value of investing in writers and directors who are fans themselves and will do everything they can to do right by fellow fans.

Whether thats Star Wars geeks (The Force Awakens), Disney junkies (Cinderella), science nerds (The Martian) or just the kid at heart trying to recapture something from his or her childhood (Paddington, The Peanuts Movie), the results speak for themselves.

Films in 2015 were put together with an unusual amount of love, and that resonated with audiences.

As George Lucas told Vulture when asked what he thought of The Force Awakens, Its very much the kind of movie (fans) have been looking for.

On the flip side, when studios failed to listen to what fans wanted this year, as in the glaring example of Foxs grim-dark reboot of the Fantastic Four which, as many pointed out, was about as far from the tone of the original comics as anything could be audiences were far less forgiving than they might have been 10 or 20 years ago.

4. More good movies, period

For those who thought it was just a little bit harder to see all the good movies in theaters this year than in years past, it isnt just your imagination.

The uptick in quality in 2015 is actually quantifiable.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, compared to the 114 Fresh-rated releases of 2013 and the 133 of 2014, 2015 saw a noticeably higher 142 movies (so far) earn Rotten Tomatoes oh-so-desirable Certified Fresh seal of approval.

Sure, nine good-to-great movies more per year might not seem like a lot at first, but its a welcome shift that should help movie lovers avoid falling prey to the typical doom-and-gloom sentiments like how Hollywood has lost its creative mojo, etc., and instead see the upcoming cinematic year with a touch more optimism.