Why Infinity War was the best movie of 2018

2018 was a banner year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Ant-Man and the Wasp and especially Black Panther were huge successes, it was Infinity War that truly captivated the collective consciousness. The biggest Avengers event yet gripped the world with a dreadful, Thanos-induced anticipation for months, only to cruelly rub salt in the wound with that depressing cliffhanger of an ending.

While not everyone may be a fan of Marvel or superhero movies in general, it's hard for anyone to doubt the tremendous impact that the third Avengers film had on Anno Domini 2018. The impact went far beyond the release of the movie itself. The utter lack of neat resolutions in its wake created a sense of near mass hysteria as everyone searched and scrabbled for anything to hang their hopes on as the desperately quiet months flew by with nary a word being spoken until the Avengers: Endgame trailer finally dropped in early December. With such a massive impact, there's certainly an argument to be made that Infinity War might have been the best movie of 2018. Let's break down the reasons why.

Box office records

It's hard to argue with cold, hard numbers, and Infinity War has a boatload of them in its back pocket. Where to even start? It smashed the U.S. opening weekend box office record (previously held by Star Wars: The Force Awakens) with an impressive $258.2 million debut, a cool ten million above the record from a galaxy far, far away. But that ended up looking like child's play in retrospect — as the film rolled out globally, more records crumbled under the gloved fist of Thanos.

It quickly became the fastest movie to hit the $1 billion mark, before rocketing on to become the fifth-biggest film worldwide just three short weeks after its release. The galactic steam-roller just kept on keeping on from there, refusing to slow down until it finally topped the $2 billion mark while still in theaters, becoming one of just four movies to ever do so at the box office. 

That's a lot of zeroes. Say what you will about the movie, the stats are pretty hard to argue with. Infinity War hands-down dominated the competition at the 2018 box office, with the only serious threat to surpass it, at the moment, coming down the pike in the form of its sequel in 2019.

It became a pop culture phenomenon

Another major indicator of Infinity War's success was the level of awareness that it created. Though superhero fare has been increasingly popular with mainstream audiences over the past decade, the biggest, geekiest reactions are usually reserved for the most ardent comic fans. Not so with Infinity War. Within weeks of its release, all and sundry were aware that the cinema sensation had hit the big screens.

The buzz that surrounded the film in the lead up to its release was nothing short of astounding. Its infectious anticipation turned even the most lackadaisical of followers into rabidly intrigued fans overnight. And the cultural impact wasn't constrained to the English-speaking world — the movie raked in a staggering $200 million in China on opening weekend alone. Mic drop, anyone? 

The shell-shocked aftermath was another effect of the film that pervaded the globe. From the emotional reactions in the theaters to the laundry list of theories that were instantly spawned online, in many ways Infinity War was a shared experience that brought a plethora of people from totally different walks of life together. In short, it was a pop culture phenomenon.

The finger snap

While Infinity War is filled from one end to the other with witty one-liners, jam-packed action sequences, and emotionally distressing interludes, there was one element of the movie that really stuck out. When Thanos finally snapped his fingers with the fully-powered Infinity Gauntlet, the moment was instantly engraved in the memory of every viewer. The event and its devastating fallout literally became a byword, with anyone able to reference "the snap" in virtually any scenario.

There are occasional moments in films that manage to leave their mark on a culture, worming their way into everyday conversation until they become a normal part of life. In 2018, that moment undeniably came courtesy of the Infinity Gauntlet. While we don't know what indelible moments are in store for future Marvel films, there is a good chance that the finger snap will remain one of the topmost referenced memories from any MCU film for quite a while.

A story well told

Another surprising aspect of the third Avengers flick was that, at it's core, it's just a good story. Filming a movie on this gargantuan a scale while keeping it both understandable and at a reasonable length is a mighty challenge for everyone — screenwriters, producers, directors, actors, and editors. It's the very reason director Joe Russo went on record warning that Avengers: Endgame could easily end up being over three hours long.

The fact is, the two-part superhero arc is about as ambitious as it gets, with a mass of substantial sequences within its storyline that are challenging to fit into the span of two movies. It even required cutting a much anticipated reunion scene between Captain America and Iron Man, as it deviated from the primary Thanos-focused story arc too much. Balancing all of these factors could have been a recipe for disaster, but the film defied the odds and came together into a coherent, fluid story that was accessible to both diehard Marvel fans and casual viewers alike.

A decade of prologues

One of the most unique factors that Infinity War had going for it was that it was the culmination of literally a decade of other movies. It's a support system that few films can boast. There have certainly been sequels that have relied on the strength of their predecessors, but rarely have so many films actively worked their way toward a grand finale on this scale.

That isn't to say that there aren't more Marvel movies planned for the future — there certainly are — but it will probably be a while before we get another two-part Marvel bonanza that is the culmination of a staggering three phases and eighteen installments. Those earlier movies, of course, can stand alone on their own strengths, but the larger picture was always present as well. The way Marvel has purposefully woven the greater Avengers storyline into the films from Iron Man forward has been nothing short of phenomenal. It's a rare treat, to say the least.

The sheer scale

When the MCU started, it was a rather earthbound affair. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2 all dabbled in superscience, but remained more or less tethered to the real world. It wasn't until Thor that we began to see the larger Marvel galaxy truly unfold on the screen. But even then, the bulk of the story found Thor in mortal form and stranded in the recognizable deserts of New Mexico.

Over time, Marvel gradually put the "universe" in "cinematic universe," with Chitauri hordes invading from space in The Avengers, Doctor Strange revealing other dimensions, and the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks trekking far beyond the reach of any of our planet's superheroes. But Infinity War brought the true power and scope of a genuinely cosmic conflict. Suddenly, humanity was cast into an intergalactic struggle that dragged everyone in the MCU into the fray all at once. The increase in scale was drastic, but they pulled it off. We saw Spider-Man and Iron-Man fighting on Titan while Black Panther, Cap, and Widow defended Wakanda from an alien attack… and it all fit seamlessly together.

Balance in the universe

While the galactic size of Infinity War was impressive, it could have become unwieldy were it not for the impressive balance that the film maintained. While the action sequences were numerous, and certain story beats were kept brief in the interest of keeping things from getting too far afield, the space between epic battles showcased the more emotional, dramatic, and even comedic side of events.

From Cap and Bucky's happy reunion in Wakanda to Thor's comic-turned-emotional meeting with the Guardians of the Galaxy to Tony Stark and Doctor Strange's plucky back and forth as they headed to Titan, the film took plenty of time to breathe, bringing a sense of welcome balance and relief to a film that otherwise kept everyone as wound up as a jack-in-the-box. There were even a few "low-pressure" scenes, like Stark and Potts jogging in the park, where they found time to sow a few potential seeds for future stories.

The greatest crossover of all time

One of the easiest things to point to that made Infinity War the best movie of its inaugural year was the fact that it was the greatest crossover of all time. The sheer number of A-list actors being crammed into one movie was nothing short of astounding. In the run up to the film it seemed to be folly to try to fit that many big personalities into a film that, technically speaking, wasn't even about them.

Yet, the filmmakers fearlessly took up the task of juggling the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the Chris trifecta of Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt… the list just keeps on going. The fact that the whole thing didn't fall apart at the seams during filming is nothing short of miraculous. The even greater fact that the movie came together so well, with each actor hitting it out of the park despite limited screentime, makes the achievement the stuff of legend.

Thanos

Of course, the string of top-notch actors that starred in the biggest film of 2018 really were all there to support one giant personality: Thanos. The Mad Titan has been around the Marvel universe for well nigh half a century at this point, and his conflicts, victories, and defeats within the comic book world have been numerous and varied. But the way that the creative minds of the MCU chose to translate the demigod from page to screen was remarkably successful.

In the comics, Thanos is well-known for his obsession with Death and his desire to please her, which leads to his subsequent desire to wipe out half of the universe. However, the version of Thanos that ultimately found his way into the movies ended up with a different motivation. The Thanos we meet in Infinity War believes himself to be on a noble crusade of sorts, with his ultimate goal being balance in the unverse. This agenda is supported by his own tragic experience with his home planet. When all was said and done, the Thanos of the MCU ended up having quite the gripping personality, with a captivating storyline to boot, both of which were key elements to the film's ultimate success.

The Russos

Of course, one of the most important ingredients to a successful film is the director (or, in this case, directors). The impact that Joe and Anthony Russo have had on the MCU is hard to overstate. Marvel's onscreen endeavors were humming along nicely before the brothers arrived, but once they did, everything kicked into overdrive.

The brothers haven't been behind every Marvel success story, but they had certainly proven themselves before taking on the monumental challenges of the third and fourth Avengers movies. They had already directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, two films that are widely regarded among the best that the MCU has to offer. Their penchant for telling singularly entertaining stories while also impacting the greater cinematic universe as a whole is extraordinary. Civil War was already a monumental crossover. Infinity War simply expanded on their increasingly astounding track record.

Defying the odds

At the end of the day, one needs to remember that Infinity War was just the first installment of a two-part movie, with the odds heavily in favor of Endgame eventually surpassing its predecessor in the record books. But nothing will likely match the excitement of seeing it all work on this scale for the first time. Despite all the build-up of fan anticipation, Infinity War could very well have crashed and burned, or turned out to be just another Marvel movie with that purple dude from the comics.

It wasn't until everyone saw it and the buzz truly went through the roof that the movie began turning into a pop culture phenomenon, paving the way for the Endgame to follow in its footsteps. From this perspective, the question should be asked, how many "biggest movie of the year" films are just the first flick in a two-parter? In the case of Infinity War, despite being a "setup" movie, it far and away blew everything else out of the water. Impressive? We think so.

The unanswered questions

Not since The Empire Strikes Back has a blockbuster sequel left so many questions hanging in its wake. We were denied that reunion between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, but what about the communication between Stark and Potts that was so abruptly cut short? Or the fact that Rocket Raccoon is the only Guardian of the Galaxy left at this point? Why was Bruce Banner unable to get the Hulk to come out and play? How is Stark going to get back to Earth after his crushing defeat on Titan? Why weren't Scott Lang or Clint Barton involved? And then, of course, there's the biggest question of them all: how can the victims of the finger snap be brought back? Or, horror of horrors, are they lost forever?

While we've gotten many hints about the answers to these questions since the film was released, the cliffhanger remains staggering. And yet, how often has a movie that left so many unanswered questions been this hotly anticipated, well executed, and thoroughly enjoyed? It's yet another reason that it stole the show in 2018.

Setting the stage

One final piece of the Infinity War mania that launched the flick into the top ranks of 2018 was the simple fact that there is more to come. The film managed to impress on its own through its incredible balancing act as it developed Thanos, gave everyone a little bit of screen time, and scaled the entire MCU to a galactic level. But it also wasn't a finale. The finger snap, that new piece of the collective jargon, ensured that Infinity War not only succeeded on its own merits, but that it also prepared the way for Endgame to follow up with even more success.

It's hard to argue with the fact that Infinity War was the number one movie of 2018. It simply embodied so many successful cinematic elements. It was also a beginning as much as it was an ending. It brought to everyone's attention the fact that the first three phases of the MCU really were wrapping up with Endgame, while simultaneously launching the entire cinematic universe into a larger, galaxy-wide setting that would allow Phase 4 to launch with a ton of momentum.