2013 was an incredible year for getting your geek on. But 10 moments stood out among all the rest as the biggest, most memorable of all. Let’s count them down.
Okay, I admit it: I watched it. But only because my wife made me. I thought it was stupid at the time, and I still think it’s stupid now. But for whatever reason, the stars and planets aligned for this ludicrous Syfy telefilm, resulting in a frenzied social media explosion. You couldn’t be anywhere on the Internet without someone talking about the so-awful-it’s-kinda-awesome Sharknado, creating memes galore and endless punchlines, and giving the flick a lot more than its fifteen minutes of fame. Sharknado — about sea-born tornadoes that suck up sharks and spew them out onto victims on land — should have been just another dumb Syfy movie that was quickly forgotten, but for whatever reason, it became a perfect confluence of pop culture absurdity.
Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of The Hobbit seems to have Tolkienites split regarding its worth. But no matter where you stand, no one can deny that seeing the legendary dragon brought to life on screen (in The Desolation of Smaug) was one of the coolest moments of year. Sure, we’ve seen dragons in movies before, but Smaug isn’t just another dragon. He’s the dragon, the great-granddaddy of dragons in fantasy literature and the object of many a fanboy’s dreams. Jackson’s ace in the hole was to hire Benedict Cumberbatch to voice and act out Smaug’s movements; it was a casting as perfect as Andy Serkis’ Gollum. Watching Smaug’s massive size, incredible agility, and infinite malice on screen, you can feel all of the time and love and passion that Jackson and Cumberbatch and Weta poured into bringing him to life.
8. Tom Hiddleston at Comic-Con
Somewhere between Thor and The Avengers, Tom Hiddleston transcended his greasy villain Loki to overtake Robert Downey Jr. as Marvel’s biggest star. This was never more clear than at San Diego Comic-Con in July, where Hiddleston surprised everyone by taking the stage in full costume as his alter-ego before a raucous crowd of thousands in the legendary Hall H. It would have been enough for Hiddleston to merely appear at the Marvel panel, but by showing up in character, he became the darling of the convention — and won even more fans.
7. The Walking Dead‘s Assault on the Prison
Most fans thought the climax of the prison storyline (well known from the comics as an all-out attack by the Governor, complete with tanks) would come at the end of Season 3. But the show’s writers surprised everyone by leaving the prison intact at the end of last season and exiling the Governor from the show’s primary storylines. This was no doubt a tactic to lull viewers into a false sense of security so that when the Gov finally returned to get revenge, we would be properly stunned. And oh how we were, by The Walking Dead‘s most epic, gut-wrenching battle ever.
We knew Alfonso Cuaron was a great director. We had no idea the full breadth of his genius until he gave us Gravity. Best viewed in IMAX 3D, Gravity presented Sandra Bullock (in an Oscar-worthy performance) as Dr. Ryan Stone, a scientist on a space shuttle mission gone terrifyingly wrong. When the rest of the shuttle’s crew is lost to a catastrophic cascade of colliding satellites, this inexperienced astronaut must find a way to survive the vacuum of space and return to Earth, via one death-defying, last-ditch effort after another. Cuaron filled his frames with long, extended takes and some powerful metaphors for death and rebirth. There are few directors in the world capable of crafting a movie that delights both fans of scifi blockbusters and “serious drama” lovers, but Cuaron has cemented his place among them with this gorgeous, mind-blowing triumph of modern cinema.
It’s not every day an entire city full of people join together to support a single cause. Usually we’re all too busy with our own lives and pursuits, or too incongruent in our beliefs and opinions. But on one special day in November, the entire city of San Francisco came together to make one remarkable little boy’s dream come true. Five-year-old Miles Scott, who’d fought and beat leukemia, got the day of his dreams thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which arranged for San Fran to become Gotham City and Miles himself to be Batman (er, “Batkid”) for the day. There were villains to defeat, pedestrians to save, a custom-made newspaper, video messages from city officials, and loads of daring-do around town. Dubbed “Batkid,” Miles won the hearts of the city — and the world — by being exactly what he’d always been: a hero.
4. The End of Breaking Bad
Through four-and-a-half seasons, we’d watched the remarkable performance of Bryan Cranston as average joe chemistry teacher Walter White slowly transforming into Heisenberg — a deadly, villainous drug lord. It may have been hard to find anyone to root for on Breaking Bad, but you couldn’t pry your eyes away from its searing performances and stunning plot twists. When the show finally returned for one last half-season, expectations were high. How would this unlikely saga end? Would Walter go out in a blaze of glory? Would he redeem himself? Would he lose his family once and for all? Would he defeat all of his enemies and escape unscathed? I’m not going to spoil Walter’s climax for those that haven’t yet seen it, but suffice it to say, Breaking Bad was landmark television — and never once did it disappoint.
3. Catching Fire
Hunger Games fans had plenty of reasons to be worried. Sure, the returning cast as led by the always-great Jennifer Laurence was as solid as they come. But behind the scenes, the second film in the series underwent quite the shakeup: director Gary Ross turned down the opportunity to helm #2 and was replaced with the less proven Francis Lawrence, while the entire production had to work on an accelerated schedule to make its November ’13 release date. Catching Fire had many reasons to crash and burn but instead it soared, besting the first film in every way. Catching Fire set an astonishing new standard for how to properly make a satisfying book-to-film adaptation. Collins fans and general audiences agreed: this was one of the most triumphant cinema experiences of 2013.
2. Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding
How could Game of Thrones possibly top the previous season finale’s Battle of Blackwater Bay? With a battle of a different kind: much smaller in visual scope, but astronomically higher in emotional impact. It was a staggering bloodbath — and the end of several actors’ tenures on the show. Even fans of Martin’s novels (from which Game of Thrones gets its plots) who knew the Red Wedding was coming were left stunned and drained by the emotional gravity of seeing it portrayed so vividly. Overnight it became one of television’s most talked-about moments of the year.
1. 12 Doctors Together on Doctor Who
In a special 50th anniversary movie that provided fans with one killer geek-out after another — three Doctors share a single story! all 13 Doctors unite to save Gallifrey! a Tom Baker cameo! — the coup de gras was the final scene, when the 11th Doctor dreamed of himself and his eleven previous personas standing side-by-side and staring at Gallifrey, which they’d just saved by working together. Seeing all twelve of them on screen at the same time — thanks to three stars, nine stand-ins, and some CGI facial trickery — was a moment of pure geeky bliss that was worth waiting 50 years for.