It was a year full of dragons, fighter jets, and multiverses on the big and small screen, and certain images are still living rent-free in our heads. As the year comes to a close, these are the most memorable moments from film and television in 2022:
Warning: This article includes spoilers throughout.
12. 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness': Wanda takes on the Illuminati
Can we take a moment to appreciate that Marvel released a movie this year that not only wasn't reliant on fan service but sought to actively troll fans?
That was the case with the most memorable scene from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which initially appears to be leaning into the worst tendencies of superhero movies. Doctor Strange finds himself in another universe, where he's called before a panel of the Illuminati consisting entirely of surprise cameos. There's Hayley Atwell returning as Peggy Carter, Patrick Stewart returning as Charles Xavier, and most exciting of all, John Krasinski making his debut as Reed Richards. For years, seeing Krasinski play that character was a dream for fans.
So was this just going to be an example of Marvel lazily throwing cameos on the screen to make fans cheer when it's not strictly necessary for the story? Well, not exactly. Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff proceeds to violently murder every single one of these characters in a shockingly brutal fashion for a movie ostensibly appropriate for kids, slicing Peggy in half with her own shield, snapping Professor X's neck, and turning Reed Richards into a pile of spaghetti … while blowing up his head.
It was the polar opposite of fan service, as Marvel gave fans exactly what they wanted … only to quickly, cruelly take it away. You could practically see director Sam Raimi gleefully cackling, anticipating our shocked, upset reactions. Fans continue to debate whether the film did Wanda justice, but this was certainly a wild, bold swing — the kind the MCU too rarely delivers.
11. 'The Rehearsal': Nathan feeds Kor Skeete trivia answers
No 2022 show defined the phrase "off the rails" better than Nathan Fielder's The Rehearsal.
The HBO series began with the already ridiculous concept that Fielder would help real people rehearse for major events in their lives. Yet it gradually devolved into a Charlie Kaufman-esque art piece that left us questioning the ethics of using child actors on television. The show was still arguably at its funniest, though, when sticking with the original premise, and the hilarious pilot involved Fielder helping a real trivia fan, Kor Skeete, rehearse for confessing to his friend that he lied about his academic background.
Already, the idea of putting so much effort into planning for a moment that isn't that big of a deal is absurd. But for convoluted reasons, Fielder at one point must feed Skeete a series of trivia answers without him knowing it in order to help him prepare for an upcoming game. So, in an elaborate Fielder scheme, he devises increasingly unsubtle ways to shoehorn the answers into their daily walks.
The highlight is an unbelievable moment Fielder has staged where a "police officer" (actually an actor) is supposedly standing outside an active hostage situation when, to ensure Skeete knows the origin of gunpowder, the officer says the funniest 12 words of 2022: "It's days like these that I curse the Chinese for inventing gunpowder." As was often the case with Nathan For You, the second punchline is Skeete believing this could possibly be a real situation. Fielder is like a deranged Willy Wonka surrounded by people simply nodding along and saying, "Okay."
10. 'Barbarian': Justin Long's introduction
The most pleasant surprise of the year was Zach Cregger's horror film Barbarian, and no moment speaks to its delightful unpredictability more than the introduction of Justin Long's character.
At the point Long comes into the film, we're already over 40 minutes into a movie that has been advertised with a seemingly simple, somewhat bland premise: It's about a woman, Tess, who's forced to stay in an Airbnb with a total stranger, Keith. From the opening act, we can see where the rest of the film is going, or so we think: Keith will be some sort of deranged creep with something messed up in his basement, and the cat-and-mouse game between him and Tess will be dragged out until a final confrontation.
But then Tess goes into the basement, witnesses Keith being brutally murdered by some sort of creature, and then … we cut to a brightly lit sequence of Justin Long, playing a character we've never met before, driving along and joyously singing "Riki Tiki Tavi." What the heck is going on? Who is this person? Why are we here? Is the Keith plotline truly over already? What is even the tone of this movie? It's the precise instant we understand the point of Barbarian will be to cheekily subvert expectations. The shock to the system this jarring transition creates, and the realization we no longer have any clue what to expect from here on out, is pure cinematic bliss.
9. 'Obi-Wan Kenobi': Darth Vader partially unmasked
Let's give it up for Hayden Christensen, who in 2022 returned to Star Wars for some redemption.
The actor was famously mocked for his performance in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, though to be fair to him, even Daniel Day-Lewis couldn't make some of that George Lucas dialogue sound natural. But nearly 20 years later, Christensen returned to play Anakin again in the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi and had the chance to really impress fans with his performance, however brief it was.
In particular, there was the chilling scene in the finale where we had the first instance of actually seeing Christensen's face underneath the Darth Vader mask, at least in live-action. As Vader's voice modulation glitches, we toggle between James Earl Jones' and Christensen's voices for some tragic final words between former friends. Anakin first appears broken down before filling with rage, telling Obi-Wan, "You didn't kill Anakin Skywalker. I did." An eerie smirk crosses his face, and it's as terrifying as it is heartbreaking.
After the scene, audiences now understand more than ever why Obi-Wan later believes there's no good left in Anakin during the original trilogy. It's also always been a bit of a challenge to picture Christensen inside the Vader suit given the prequels and the original trilogy feel so distinct, so this scene does a lot to fix that disconnect. Ewan McGregor knocks it out of the park making the transition, right in front of our eyes, from Obi-Wan feeling guilt over what happened to Anakin to grief that his friend is as good as dead.
Christensen is set to reprise his Anakin role in Ahsoka, but if he never returned to Star Wars again, this would have been a powerful note to go out on.
8. 'Top Gun: Maverick': Maverick and Iceman
More than any other movie in 2022, Top Gun: Maverick is the one we'll probably be watching in clips on YouTube for the rest of time. It's a film filled with individual sequences you immediately want to see again, from that amazing Mach 10 opening to Maverick completing the test run to a room of awe-filled students.
But the moment we can't stop thinking about is just a quiet dialogue scene featuring Val Kilmer's return as Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. He starred opposite Tom Cruise in the original Top Gun, but we go into the sequel unsure how the film will handle the character after Kilmer lost his voice due to throat cancer. Initially, we only hear about Iceman and see Maverick texting him, so we assume this is the movie's way of dealing with it.
But then Kilmer himself actually appears on screen, and the screenplay has thoughtfully constructed an entire sequence around giving the actor an opportunity to have a meaningful role. It's explained that Iceman also has difficulty speaking, but he communicates by typing on his computer, urging Maverick to let go of Goose's death.
We do briefly hear Iceman talk, and his voice was digitally altered. But Kilmer delivers a tear-jerking performance without any words needed, and the real-life context elevates this into one of the year's most moving movie moments.
7. 'Pearl': The monologue
This truly was the year of the long horror movie monologue.
First, there was the epic eight-minute monologue Rebecca Hall delivers in Resurrection recounting a bone-chilling story about her past. But there was also the one delivered in Pearl by Mia Goth, the actress who, as far as we're concerned, won 2022 as a whole. She turned in not one, but two dynamite performances in the same franchise in one calendar year, beginning with X, where she was tasked with playing two different characters: Adult film star Maxine Minx and Pearl, an elderly woman. But Goth returned less than a year later with Pearl, an origin story following the title character when she was younger, which essentially served as a 102-minute showcase of her talents.
There was no greater example of that than Goth's remarkable seven-minute monologue delivered to her friend Mitsy but directed toward her husband, Howard. It starts slow before gradually devolving into Pearl having a total breakdown, unloading all her fears and insecurities, and eventually admitting to murder.
It's remarkably performed by Goth, who actually gets us to sympathize with this homicidal maniac and flawlessly delivers nearly the whole thing in one unbroken shot. But the darkly comedic cut back to Mitsy, who we almost forget was sitting there silently the whole time, is the final cherry on top.
6. 'Better Call Saul': The death of [SPOILER]
The master stroke of Better Call Saul's endgame was making us feel so profoundly sorry for Howard Hamlin.
Introduced early in the series as a character we're meant to hate, Howard grows into a painfully tragic figure who's especially sympathetic in the final season, in which Jimmy and Kim set out to methodically take him down. In the mid-season finale, "Plan and Execution," they carry out an elaborate scheme to destroy his reputation and make him appear to be losing his mind, and after figuring out what they did, Howard confronts them in their apartment.
As they're all talking, a chill runs up the viewer's spine as a candle in the room flickers, and Lalo enters. We can see where this is going, and Howard is clearly in trouble. But we just assume there will be more to this confrontation. Jimmy and Kim will spend time desperately trying to reason with Lalo, we're thinking.
But no. Lalo pulls out the gun and immediately shoots Howard right in the head, his body collapses to the floor, and it's all over that quickly — sending us into the hiatus with the sound of Jimmy and Kim's screams. It's perhaps the most horrifyingly real and visceral death in the entire Breaking Bad universe, and we'll go to our graves declaring that #HowardHamlinDeservedBetter.
5. 'Nope': The chimp attack
It hardly takes more than a minute for Nope to make clear we're in the hands of a confident filmmaker. The audience has purchased a ticket for a movie apparently about UFOs, yet we open with … a sitcom laugh track and a shot of a bloodied chimp wearing a birthday party hat?
The context soon becomes clear, as we learn Steven Yeun's character, Jupe, acted on a sitcom as a child alongside a chimpanzee who went wild on set one day and brutally attacked the cast. So when, about an hour into the movie, we abruptly flash back to a sitcom taping, we're already dreading what we're about to see. The ensuing attack is raw and horrific, and the screams of Jupe's co-stars and the sounds of the animal slurping on flesh are haunting.
It's not just a shocking scene, but one that plays into one of the film's themes of the dangers of exploiting animals for spectacle. For a movie also largely about trauma being commodified and turned into content, the scene speaks to that idea when Jupe attempts to connect with Gordy using the fist bump from their show; the language of television is on his mind, even in this life-or-death situation. Even the balloons rising into the air and popping foreshadow how Jean Jacket will eventually be defeated by swallowing a balloon.
File this one under a scene from 2022 we wish we could forget, but unfortunately, Jordan Peele has made that impossible.
4. 'The Fabelmans': Sammy is confronted by his bully
Based on the marketing, you might go into The Fabelmans expecting a simplistic, wistful tribute to the magic of the movies from Steven Spielberg. But he has more interesting ideas on his mind throughout the semi-autobiographical film, as best demonstrated by its brilliant, climatic hallway scene.
By this point in the movie, Sammy Fabelman has been receiving nothing but grief from Logan, an antisemitic school bully. So when Sammy is tasked with filming his class' Senior Skip Day, a lesser movie might have Sammy use this opportunity to get his revenge, pulling a prank on Logan and making him look like a fool on screen. Instead, it's the total opposite: Sammy makes Logan the hero of the movie, and Logan is furious.
"I made you look like you could fly," Sammy says. "But I can't fly," Logan responds. The moment represents Spielberg's reckoning with the fact that he might value making the best possible movie over everything else in his life — and he'll even do so, almost unknowingly, against his own best interests.
It feels like the natural conclusion to a movie in which Spielberg gets surprisingly critical of himself, as we also see in the scene where he imagines filming his parents announcing their divorce while it's happening, suggesting he's already thinking about turning this painful situation into art, like Spielberg is doing with this movie — rather than simply paying tribute to his own greatness.
3. 'Everything Everywhere All at Once': Laundry and taxes
Nearly every other scene of Everything Everywhere All at Once is a potential candidate for this list, from the moment a mother and daughter share a heart-to-heart while they're both rocks, to the emotional conclusion, to a plotline that involves a chef with a raccoon on his head.
But amid all that wackiness, the scene we can't stop thinking about is a conversation between a husband and wife. It occurs in one of the film's alternate timelines, where Evelyn has become rich and famous. She seems to have it all, except that in this universe, she never married her husband, Waymond. Their alternate selves run into each other, and Waymond reflects on what might have been, had they stayed together.
If they had, Evelyn tells him, they would be living in a tiny apartment over a failing laundromat. But "in another life," he says, "I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you." It's both romantic and heart-wrenching, and in a movie that makes us ponder all the ways our lives could have gone, it serves as a reminder that if we take a step back, we may realize we're living in our best possible timeline after all.
2. 'House of the Dragon': Viserys enters the throne room
For much of House of the Dragon's run, it wasn't clear that the show's choice to jump forward years between episodes was really working. It could often make starting a new episode disorienting, as we didn't have enough time to settle into the status quo before it was radically altered.
But the decision paid off big time in "The Lord of the Tides." With this eighth episode, the show reflects the ravages of time by depicting a decrepit Viserys who is near death, a jarring contrast after we were watching him as a healthy, relatively young man just a few episodes prior. It's downright difficult to watch as Viserys moans in pain in nearly every scene. But the main conflict is Lord Corlys Velaryon's brother, Vaemond, challenging for the seat of Driftmark, in the process questioning the parentage of Rhaenyra's children — and, by association, her legitimacy as heir.
Viserys could settle this by himself, except that Alicent and Otto are ruling for him while he's in bed virtually all the time. But while the claim is being considered, Viserys shocks everyone by making a surprise entrance. For more than a minute, he slowly makes his way to the throne, clearly in immense pain given he had to forgo painkillers so he could be alert.
When we keep in mind this is one last act of a dying man to show his love for his daughter and protect her even at great pain to himself, it's one of the most heroic sequences in all of Game of Thrones, especially thanks to Ramin Djawadi's epic score. But none of it would work without the stunning performance by Paddy Considine. Were you watching, Golden Globe voters? Apparently not.
1. 'Stranger Things': Running up that hill
Stranger Things really knocked it out of the park this season, and not just when it comes to its musical selection.
But in introducing the new villain, Vecna, the Netflix show devised a brilliantly inventive conceit that the key to defeating him is listening to your favorite song, which helps pull you back into the real world. That allowed for the goosebump-inducing scene that introduced a whole new generation to the joys of Kate Bush when Max listens to "Running Up That Hill" while in Vecna's clutches, allowing her to make her escape. It was already a nail-biting sequence by itself in the context of the season, given that at this point, the threat of Max genuinely dying felt not only very real, but almost inevitable, so her survival brings a cathartic release.
But adding to the scene's power was the choice to intercut clips of Max bonding with her friends from throughout the show while the song reaches its emotional climax. It spoke to the idea that art, and especially music, can lead memories of a specific time and place to come flooding back — which, in this case, also evokes our nostalgia for the show itself. But more importantly, music also reminds us of who we are, what's important to us, and why life is worth living. In a year filled with movies about the magic of the movies, here was a show about the magic of the music.