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The best and the worst movies of 2015

It may seem hard to believe, given the months of hype and speculation, that record-shattering opening and the merchandise — so very much merchandise — but movies other than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opened in 2015.

Even more difficult to comprehend: Not only was there a “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” Steve Wynn chose to have roughly 95 percent of the dreadful thing set at Wynn Las Vegas.

The first recipient of Nevada’s film tax credit, the sequel was that exceedingly rare stink bomb that wasn’t screened for a single critic and registered a shocking 0 percent score on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes — meaning not a single critic who bought a ticket would recommend it — until it started trickling out overseas.

As I wrote at the time, Wynn could have trained a team of monkeys to defecate in the lobby to the sounds of banjo music and it wouldn’t have been any more embarrassingly off-brand for the high-end resort.

On the other end of the quality spectrum, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling came to Caesars Palace for several key scenes in the Golden Globe-nominated “The Big Short,” which humorously attempts to explain what led to the subprime mortgage crisis.

Good Kill,” starring Ethan Hawke, offered a blistering look at the escalating horrors of drone warfare and the toll it takes on those waging it in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Working behind the scenes, Las Vegan Steve Bland, an original cast member of Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” helped assemble the performers who wielded spears and chain saws as they swayed atop poles attached to some of the souped-up jalopies of “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

And Las Vegas-based theatrical pickpocket Apollo Robbins taught Will Smith and Margot Robbie the tools of his trade for “Focus.”

Las Vegas also contributed to what was a historic year for high-profile flops. The Zac Efron EDM movie “We Are Your Friends” shot an extended sequence on the Strip and throughout Paris Las Vegas.

But nearly as many people could have watched Efron and co-star Emily Ratajkowski filming those scenes as saw the movie when it opened Aug. 28 to an alarmingly bad $1.8 million. At the time, it was the fourth-worst opening for any movie playing on at least 2,000 screens. Then, on Oct. 23, Bill Murray’s “Rock the Kasbah” and the toy-spawned “Jem and the Holograms” would do even worse with $1.5 million and $1.4 million, respectively. Talk about truly outrageous.

October was an especially brutal month for openings as the $150 million-budgeted “Pan” hooked just $15.3 million. Star vehicles and awards hopefuls didn’t fare any better as Bradley Cooper’s “Burnt,” Sandra Bullock’s “Our Brand Is Crisis,” the biopic “Steve Jobs” and the 3-D extravaganza “The Walk” all opened to $5.5 million or less.

It obviously wasn’t all bad news. As you may have read, “The Force Awakens” has made a little bit of money. And “Jurassic World,” “Furious 7,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Minions” all topped $1 billion at the worldwide box office to rank among the 10-highest grossing movies of all time.

My 10 favorite movies that opened in Las Vegas in 2015: 1. “The Martian” 2. “Mad Max: Fury Road” 3. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” 4. “Inside Out” 5. “Jurassic World” 6. “Inherent Vice” 7. “Room” 8. “Brooklyn” 9. “Creed” 10. “Spotlight.”

My favorite performances included Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper,” young Jacob Tremblay in “Room,” Benicio Del Toro in “Sicario,” Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina,” Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies,” Matt Damon in “The Martian,” Joaquin Phoenix in “Inherent Vice,” Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in “A Most Violent Year,” Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs,” Julie Walters in “Brooklyn” and Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo.”

Among the other highlights of 2015 were:

• The opening Mexico City tracking shot in “SPECTRE.”

• The ridiculously brutal carnage during the church scene in “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

• The insane contract negotiation scene in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (“Genital clamps? Absolutely not!”) The rest of the movie, though, was like watching paint dry — and then watching that paint get spanked.

• The practical stunts in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”

• The wild, wacky behind-the-scenes look at QVC in “Joy.”

• The “Bye, Felicia” bit in the sequel’s complete and utter lack of a plot.

• The party scenes in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

• The movie spoofs of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” — especially “2:48 p.m. Cowboy.”

• The bonkers ending of “The Boy Next Door.”

• And the closing credits of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” There wasn’t anything special about them. They just signaled the sweet embrace of the lobby.

— Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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