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2014 pop culture review, and what we'll be talking about next year

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Posted at 8:25 AM, Dec 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-27 17:17:59-05

Kim Kardashian tried to break the Internet with her naked rear last month, and while it may have worked in 2008, Americans had other things on their minds in 2014.

Controversies, comebacks and debuts had us talking this year — and we said goodbye to some beloved people and franchises.

Robin Williams, Ebola and the missing Malaysia Airlines flight are among the five most searched-for topics on Google in 2014. Williams’ unexpected suicide on Aug. 11 was arguably the biggest pop culture moment of the year as his fans mourned on Twitter and Facebook, while starting a nationwide conversation about depression.

An uncomfortable conversation about online privacy was also sparked this year after stolen personal photos of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kaley Cuoco were leaked on the web. Lawrence was the most-Googled celebrity of the year, likely because of the scandal.

In recent days, a hack of Sony Pictures, along with threats of violence to the United States from North Korea, led the studio to cancel the scheduled release of its film "The Interview." The comedy, directed by and co-starring Seth Rogen, depicts a plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The nation threatened to attack American movie theaters who screened the picture.

But it wasn’t all bad news that moved the pop culture needle in 2014.

The Ice Bucket Challenge that benefited ALS research was a sensation this summer, with videos of participants being shared millions of time on social media. According to Billboard, singer Justin Bieber’s pair of Ice Bucket Challenge videos were the most popular, collecting more than 1 million Instagram likes each.

A year of revivals

Singer Garth Brooks performs in Illinois, at the first show of his 2014 comeback tour.

Several comebacks were welcomed with buzz in the past year. Most notably, a new “Star Wars” film trailer hit theaters for the first time in nearly a decade. Since it was posted to the series’ official YouTube channel on Nov. 28, it’s been viewed more than 12.8 million times.

Also last month, country music icon Garth Brooks released his first album in 13 years. “Man Against Machine” has so far been a commercial success, topping Billboard’s Country Album chart and peaking at number four on the Top 200 Albums chart.

Other stars that returned to the limelight in 2014 included Michael Keaton, whose role in the film “Birdman” has picked up considerable Oscar buzz, Chris Rock, whose pet project “Top Five” earned the comic long-awaited critical acclaim, and Dave Chappelle, who nailed a sold-out residency at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. And let’s not forget the announced return of TV’s “Twin Peaks,” which lit up social media in October.

Not all comebacks were welcomed though, as many people groaned when a hologram of singer Michael Jackson performed at the Billboard Music Awards in May. The minutes-long digital show reportedly cost several million dollars to pull off but left audience members somewhere between amazed and creeped out.

Another comeback that had the nation talking was Lebron James’ return to Cleveland. The nation’s reaction was mixed to James’ July announcement but so far, the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers have put themselves in position for at least a playoff appearance. James made non-basketball news this month when, while posing for a photo with British royals Prince William and Kate, he committed a foul by touching the latter’s shoulder.

Sports took center stage in pop culture several times this year, especially during the FIFA World Cup and 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Americans were mostly unmoved by the nation’s overall performance at the games but all eyes were on the Jamaican bobsled team whose life-imitating-art appearance in Sochi echoed Disney’s 1993 film “Cool Runnings.” The Jamaicans ultimately finished dead last in the sport, but were no doubt a favorite of Millennials across the U.S.

Gone but not forgotten

A still from the Warner Bros. film "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

In addition to losing beloved entertainers such as Williams and Joan Rivers, audiences said goodbye to some of their favorite franchises in 2014. Director Peter Jackson’s epic Middle Earth saga closes with the release of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” this month. Since the first “The Lord of the Rings” movie hit theaters in 2001, the series has made over $1.2 billion at the U.S. box office.

Some of the bigger television series that signed off for the final time this year included CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother,” FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” USA Network’s “Psyche” and HBO’s “The Newsroom.”

Music audiences were shocked when the year’s hottest musician pulled her music from Spotify. Taylor Swift abruptly yanked her tracks from the streaming music service last month before decrying what she called a lack of respect from such companies for a musician’s artistry. The singer-songwriter’s latest album “1989” was certified Platinum almost immediately upon its release.

Looking ahead to 2015

A still from the trailer of "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," coming in 2015. (Walt Disney Pictures)

The pop culture landscape of next year is sure to have its surprises but there are a few huge moments we can already see coming.

In theaters, “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens,” “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” will likely be 2015’s biggest blockbusters. Other movies that will surely make bank include “Jurassic World,” Pixar’s “Inside Out,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2,” and the next James Bond film “Spectre.”

On television, we will see the end of AMC’s seven-time Emmy Award-winner “Mad Men” as well as audience-favorites like NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” Fox’s “Glee,” CBS’s “Two and a Half Men” and USA’s “White Collar,” to name a few. On May 20, 2015, David Letterman will host his final episode of “The Late Show” on CBS after 22 years. Those events are sure to be huge on social media, along with the return of HBO’s “True Detective,” arguably TV’s most intriguing series.

There’s also no reason to doubt the return of the Ice Bucket Challenge come summer, so get your cameras ready. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.