Everyone knows the gag by now. 2016 wasn’t a year, but a malevolent entity sent to spread misery and pain to all mankind.
It was just a silly meme people used to ease tensions after another shitty thing happened, but it’s just as true that 2016 really was a bumpy road, full of awful news and unexpected deaths.
But was it ALL bad? Hell no! To close out 2016, here are 11 things that I actually LIKED about it:
#1: Rogue One!
I ended up enjoying Rogue One even more than The Force Awakens, and that’s saying a lot.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to like it so much. The movie’s core conceit sounded a bit humdrum to me, and I just never imagined that they’d be able to shoehorn the story into Star Wars canon and have it feel organically integral. I’m crazy enough about Star Wars to happily devour anything under its umbrella, but I figured that this would be a movie only for people like me.
I WAS SO WRONG. It’s legit great. Like okay, it does kind of take a while to get going and there were a few threads left dangling by the end of it, but so much of it is fantastic, and the last act had my whole theater inching out of their seats. By the end of it, I felt like I’d ridden five roller coasters and suffered six breakups.
(Also: I loved Jyn, Chirrut and Director Krennic so much that I’d already list them among my favorite-ever Star Wars characters.)
#2: The Return of Hi-C Ecto Cooler!
God bless Coca-Cola for bringing back Ecto Cooler, which as of this writing is wrapping up its second (and perhaps final) run. If you see it in stores, BUY IT, because it’ll be gone before you have another chance.
With the new Ghostbusters movie acting as a natural prompt, Ecto Cooler’s return seemed like a now-or-never proposition. Still, nobody could’ve predicted how seriously Coke would take the revival: Ecto Cooler came back in juice boxes AND all-new cans, along with the full complement of social media pushes.
I’ll never forget the day me and Jay drove to some faraway movie theater just so we could be among the first to taste the green goddess again, nor will I forget the conversations I’ve had with fellow fans who just couldn’t believe that this was actually happening.
Now several months into its return (and hours shy of its second death), we’ve all started to take Ecto Cooler for granted. That’s natural, but make no mistake: If you’re even 1/20th as wild about Ecto Cooler as I am, all of those rumors and confirmations and in-store sightings and Amazon Pantry orders were all part of a weirdly communal pop culture event that none of us will ever forget.
#3: Halloween Garlic Pepper Doritos!
The Halloween season wouldn’t be worth half as much without thematic junk food, and this year, I gotta call those Garlic Pepper Doritos the grand champ.
Exclusive to Japan, I admit that procuring them took a peculiar level of dedication. Whatever, they were goddamned worth it. Spooky, dark and stinking like fishy ramen, the chips looked like evil starships and tasted like garlicky soy sauce. I loved them.
#4: Pokemon Go!
I was only into Pokemon Go for a month or so, but man, what a month that was! Me and my girlfriend would take turns driving while the other caught Pokemon, and even when we did this super late at night, there were always gaggles of players congregating at key areas.
Every local landmark became a tiny-sized block party. I’d never seen anything like that before. No matter where you went, people were catching Pokemon. Back before most of us had better understandings of the game’s mechanics, the silly game felt so impossibly real that it was hard to put down.
My passion burned bright for a while, but I eventually viewed Pokemon Go as a too-expensive money trap that penalized anyone who didn’t live between skyscrapers or strip malls. Still, those first few weeks were an absolute blast.
#5: Tiny Toast Cereal!
I wasn’t sure what to make of Tiny Toast when General Mills first began yapping about it, but it may very well be the tastiest cereal currently on the market.
People my age are always complaining about how today’s cereals aren’t as delicious as the ones we grew up with. Well, the biggest compliment I can pay Tiny Toast is that it’d be more at home in 1987, back when the government still let General Mills use paint and coffee grinds and gold leaf. It’s SO good, guys. Try it!
#6: 10 Cloverfield Lane!
I’ll never buy that the marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t hinting at a more tangible connection to 2008’s Cloverfield, but all’s well that ends well: This was a fuckin’ great movie, and my favorite film of the year.
I still find myself thinking about 10 Cloverfield Lane quite a bit, even months later. This isn’t too much of a spoiler, but the very last shot in the movie practically begs you to spend forever wondering what might’ve happened next.
Here’s some irony that the crew can be proud of: While a few dismissed 10 Cloverfield Lane for not being a straight-up sequel to Cloverfield, many are now calling for a straight-up sequel to 10 Cloverfield Lane!
(Also, God Particle? Come at me, bro. I am all about the Cloververse now.)
We adopted Storm last April, and she’s secretly been the best thing about 2016. As a former stray with a chip on her shoulder, being lovey-dovey goes against Storm’s instincts… which makes it all the sweeter when she actually does act that way.
As I write this, Storm is peering this way from the corner of the desk, with a look that says “pet me” but also “I will bite you if you try.” Course, were she able to read these words, she’d wonder why I’m calling her “Storm.” In truth, that name never stuck, and we more commonly just call her “Little Cat.”
#8: Independence Day: Resurgence!
This movie was a thousand pounds of lava trash, but I absolutely adored it. I don’t care what anyone says: I know a contemporary Congo when I see one, and Independence Day: Resurgence is it.
By objective measures, this was a bad film. The dialogue was horrible, and the story made no sense even by ALIENS INVADE EARTH standards. But here’s what I love about it: The movie somehow presupposed that there was a Jurassic Park-level of nostalgia for the original Independence Day, but also drew the conclusion that it should play exclusively to six-year-olds. Major chutzpah!
Here’s this bazillion dollar sequel that dusts off Brent Spiner’s totally ancillary character from the first movie, and then makes that character thirty times more important than anyone else. And you want me to CRITICIZE this? Resurgence is ballsy and bizarre, and it’s absolutely going to become BELOVED GARBAGE in due time. Trust me, I won’t be the only member of this fan club forever.
#9: The Angriest Whopper!
Given all of the hubbub over the Halloween Whopper’s unfortunate side effect, I was shocked to see Burger King try something with a similar theme. The gamble paid off. I’m still holding out hope that other weirdly-colored burgers will be added to the series. I want a new one every six months.
#10: AJ Styles!
Already a veteran by the time he signed with WWE, AJ Styles debuted last January and has consistently been THE SHIT. After a great showing at the 2016 Royal Rumble, AJ weathered the usual starts and stops of a “WWE push,” and remained so undeniably great that they pretty much had to make him one of their main dudes.
Now cast as a villain, AJ is still regularly cheered no matter who they slot against him. Part of that is the WWE fanbase’s inclination to dig bad guys, but I think it has more to do with his own output: It’s practically a given that anything involving AJ Style will be the match of the night — and often enough, a contender for match of the year.
#11: Return of the Madballs!
Madballs have returned in several forms this year, but they’re most importantly available as regular retail toys, now sneaking into the toy aisles at Target. This isn’t the first time the Madballs brand has been resurrected, but it is the first time a relaunch could be sufficiently aided through social media word-of-mouth.
(So hop to it, Instagram people. Make sure all of your friends buy a weird monster ball. Let’s keep this thing alive.)
So no, 2016 wasn’t all bad. Hell, I didn’t even mention Crystal Pepsi’s return, let alone Mountain Dew Pitch Black’s. And I assume there were even more highlights that had nothing to do with soda.
What are some of the things that YOU liked about 2016? Share stories in the comments!
PS: I still haven’t seen Stranger Things. That’s why it isn’t on this list. Don’t yell at me.