Say what you will about 2016, but the year finished strong with both critics and audiences. Damien Chazelle's awards-friendly musical La La Land finally opened in theaters (albeit in a gradual rollout designed to build buzz), while Rogue One: A Star Wars Story catapulted into the year's top three highest-grossing films. However, December was also marked by some less successful releases as well, namely the video game adaptation Assassin's Creed -- which seemingly confirmed how difficult it is for the world of gaming to cross over into big-screen success -- and the star-studded but critically panned Collateral Beauty.
Although January isn't traditionally the most fruitful of months when it comes to films (aside from the lingering Oscar bait that tends to stick around for a while longer), 2017 may be off to a stronger start than usual, with some high-profile sequels and promising horror films among the offerings coming moviegoers' way. To kick off the new year, let's take a closer look at the first batch of releases hitting theaters in the coming weeks.
Here are 10 films to check out in January 2017:
Underworld: Blood Wars (Release Date: January 6)
Since 2003, Kate Beckinsale has played the vampire assassin Selene in the Underworld franchise, and while the series has never been a critical favorite, its fan base has remained loyal over the years. In fact, the ongoing vampire/Lycan war has earned more than $500 at the worldwide box office across its four installments, with 2012 release Underworld: Awakening serving as the highest-grossing to date.
The followup, Underworld: Blood Wars, sees Selene out to protect her daughter from both the vampire and Lycans, as she seeks a way to bring their eternal conflict to an end. Directed by Anna Foerster, this fifth entry hopes to keep the franchise alive for years to come, as both a sixth Underworld film and a television series remain in development.
Check out the latest trailer for Underworld: Blood Wars.
A Monster Calls (Release Date: January 6)
Based on the Patrick Ness novel, A Monster Calls tells the story of a young boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall) coping with his mother's (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. In this time of emotional crisis, he meets a humanoid tree -- the titular "monster," voiced by Liam Neeson -- and a friendship is born that offers an escape from the harsh reality Conor must endure.
The film -- directed by acclaimed filmmaker J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) -- aims to use fantastical elements as an allegory of how people deal with pain and grief. Considering that Ness himself is the screenwriter on the project, chances are strong this adaptation will retain that sentiment. Thus far, the critical response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, boding well for its moving tale.
Check out the latest trailer for A Monster Calls.
The Bye Bye Man (Release Date: January 13)
Horror is often among the most subjective genres of filmmaking. What one moviegoer finds terrifying might feel derivative and flat to another. It's unclear exactly which category The Bye Bye Man will fall into, but the latest film from director Stacy Title (Let the Devil Wear Black) certainly has promise, especially seeing how it's one of the few horror films making their way to theaters this month.
The Bye Bye Man centers on a trio of college students who become haunted the eponymous supernatural creature, who may or may not have been responsible for a string of killing sprees in recent years. There's the real opportunity here for Title's film to explore a bit of social commentary, but even if it doesn't seize that chance, Doug Jones' performance as the mysterious antagonist will likely be a highlight.
Check out the latest trailer for The Bye Bye Man.
Monster Trucks (Release Date: January 13)
Sure, the premise of Monster Trucks -- in which a high-schooler (Lucas Till) winds up with a truck inhabited by a monstrous creature -- is more than a bit goofy, but there's hope yet that director Chris Wedge (Ice Age) can deliver a fun adventure for the whole family with this one. After all, its story does feel like a throwback to 1980s films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Till may still be best known for his role as MacGyver in the CBS reboot, but in Monster Trucks, he's accompanied by a strong supporting cast that includes Jane Levy (Don't Breathe), Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, and Danny Glover. Families who have caught up on all the holiday films might want to give this one a shot, especially as ones of the few releases this month specifically aimed at younger viewers.
Check out the latest trailer for Monster Trucks.
The Founder (Release Date: January 20)
Ever since his Oscar-nominated lead performance in Birdman, Michael Keaton has seen his career resurge in ways that most actors of his generation can only hope for. The Batman star played a key role in Best Picture winner Spotlight and is set to rejoin the world of comic book films as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming later this year.
Yet, before he does so, Keaton will breathe life into the story of Ray Kroc, the businessman who acquired McDonald's in 1961 from founders Dick and Mac McDonald. Director John Lee Hancock specializes in turning real-life stories into hit films (The Rookie, The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks). We suspect that The Founder -- which looks to balance a bit of satire into its own account of Kroc's McDonalds purchase -- will follow suit.
Check out the latest trailer for The Founder.
Split (Release Date: January 20)
Not so long ago, M. Night Shyamalan seemed to be an industry pariah. However, 2015 horror film The Visit offered the director a bit of redemption. In addition to earning mostly strong reviews, the $5 million film went on to bring in $65 million at the domestic box office.
By all accounts, Split may be able to keep Shyamalan's hit streak rolling along. Starring James McAvoy as a kidnapper suffering from dissociative identity disorder, the film could simply be a showcase for McAvoy's onscreen range, but with 2016 breakout Anya Taylor-Joy among its cast and strong reviews coming out of its festival run, we're hoping that Shyamalan has officially reclaimed his title as a powerful horror director.
Check out the latest trailer for Split.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Release Date: January 20)
Back in the early 2000s, Vin Diesel's career seemed to be on fire. Between Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious and xXx, the action star had three popular roles (and potential franchises) in the can. Though he would ultimately revisit Richard B. Riddick and Dominic Toretto in future films, Diesel seemingly missed out on his chance to headline any sequels to xXx, having missed out on the 2005 sequel.
Now, 15 years after first playing the extreme sports junkie-turned-spy, Diesel is back as the title character in xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Despite the fact that a short film seemingly confirmed Cage's death, he resurfaces to race the villainous Xiang (Donnie Yen) and winds up recruiting a team to help him complete a top-secret mission. Even though the premise sounds eerily similar to a Fast and Furious film, we're curious to see if this third xXx film connects with audiences like the first one did.
Check out the latest trailer for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.
The Red Turtle (Release Date: January 20)
With three animated films among the most successful of the year, 2016 was a tremendously profitable time for animation. However, while American audiences had plenty of chances to see the latest Disney and Universal animated films, this French release -- which is heavily tipped to earn a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod -- is only now getting a limited theatrical run in North America.
Featuring no dialogue, The Red Turtle -- a co-production between French company Wild Bunch and famed Japanese house Studio Ghibli -- tells the story of a shipwrecked man who befriends a giant red turtle, and while its plot is simple, the film has received universal acclaim for its visual style and storytelling technique. Dutch-British animator Michaël Dudok de Wit makes his feature directorial debut here.
Check out the latest trailer for The Red Turtle.
Gold (Release Date: January 27)
Matthew McConaughey stars as businessman Kenny Wells in this crime adventure from director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana). Wells teams with a geologist (Édgar Ramírez) to find gold in the Indonesian jungle. Though Gold began hitting theaters in December 2016, it receives a wide release this month, hoping to redeem McConaughey's summer 2016 misfire Free State of Jones.
With a script by Patrick Massett and John Zinman (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), Gold could stand apart as one of the few original adventure films coming out this month. In addition to McConaughey and Ramírez, the film features Bryce Dallas Howard, Joshua Harto, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, and Bill Camp. It will also marks McConaughey's final big-screen role before he stars alongside Idris Elba in The Dark Tower.
Check out the latest trailer for Gold.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Release Date: January 27)
For 15 years, Milla Jovovich has proven that a popular video game series can be adapted into a financially successful film franchise. As Alice -- the central figure of the Resident Evil films -- the actress has taken on the Umbrella Corporation and hordes of zombies in five films, and the sixth entry, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, aims to wrap up the series in epic fashion once and for all.
A number of familiar faces from the franchise's history return to help Alice in one last showdown with Umbrella in Raccoon City, where the apocalypse started in the first place. Paul W.S. Anderson writes and directs this one, which should easily push the Resident Evil franchise reach a cumulative worldwide box office gross of $1 billion. Not too shabby.
Check out the latest trailer for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
While many more exciting months may still await moviegoers in 2017, January brings several potential blockbusters to theaters, kicking the year off in style. Although the first quarter of any year is traditionally a quieter time in which the industry's awards season kicks into high gear, we're confident that this month brings a release or two you'll be excited to see. Let us know in the comments which films you'll be checking out in January.
Once again, here are the 10 films to check out in January:
January 6: Underworld: Blood Wars, A Monster Calls
January 13: The Bye Bye Man, Monster Trucks
January 20: The Founder, Split, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, The Red Turtle
January 27: Gold, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter