2017 is packed full with big-name franchise movie releases (reboots, sequels and/or prequels in some cases) and intriguing original films alike, but not only during the traditionally busy summer and fall/winter holiday frames. The first month of that year will not only see a number of buzzed-about critical darlings and/or movie awards season contenders expand into a wide theatrical release, but also the latest installments in certain long-running genre properties - as well as a Vin Diesel franchise revival, no less - hit the scene too.
Much like February and March of 2016 gave rise to some of the biggest commercial successes of the year, those same months in 2017 will see the release of animated film spinoffs, cult action movie sequels, monster movie re-imaginings and the latest Disney live-action retelling - all of which have the potential to be both proper crowd-pleasers as well as box office hits. As has become our tradition here at Screen Rant, we have narrowed the hefty list of impending 2017 film releases down to a more manageable roster of 20 "must-see" movies arriving in the first four months of the year, along with some honorary mentions.
Per usual, these movies are listed in the order of their release date, so we leave it to you (the readers) to decide which ones are your most anticipated releases for the first third of 2017. So, without further ado, here is Screen Rant's 2017 Winter/Spring Movie Preview - The 20 Films to See.
A Monster Calls (Wide on January 6th)
J.A. Bayona's critically-acclaimed foreign-language supernatural horror movie The Orphanage and his natural disaster drama The Impossible (as well as his work on Showtime TV series Penny Dreadful, to a lesser degree) have paved the way to him securing his biggest job yet: helming the Jurassic World sequel. However, before Bayona goes about trying to scare moviegoers with dinosaur-based thrills, he will be doing his best to reduce audiences to tears with his big screen adaptation of the celebrated novel of the same name, A Monster Calls.
A Monster Calls is now playing in New York and Los Angeles as part of its run to qualify for the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony - and based on the critical word of mouth so far (including that from some of Screen Rant's own editors), the fantasy parable is just as powerful an exploration of grief as its source material is widely recognized to be. The story by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the film adaptation, revolves around a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) who is struggling to deal with his mother's terminal illness when he finds an unexpected source of support: the tree outside his room, which is really a monster in disguise (portrayed by Liam Neeson).
With storytelling elements (as well as visuals) that make it akin to the European arthouse filmmaker version of Inside Out and a great cast that also includes Sigourney Weaver and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story headliner Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls sounds like a great way for film buffs to kickoff their movie-watching in 2017 - by checking out Bayona's adaptation when it enters wide release.
Hidden Figures (Wide on January 6th)
True story-based dramas are par for the course during the movie awards season, meaning what sets Hidden Figures apart from the rest of the pack is the subject matter as much as the fact that it's based on real events. Hidden Figures tells the largely-unknown story about the African-American female mathematicians who played a pivotal role in NASA's efforts to launch a human into a space orbit before the Soviet Union could, around the peak of the Cold War. Based on that plot summary alone, it's easy to see why the film is generally considered to be refreshingly more revolutionary than your average Hollywood feel-good, inspirational, based-on-real-events offering.
Hidden Figures is further buoyed by a main cast that includes Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer and Oscar-nominee (not to mention, Empire star) Taraji P. Henson, as well as Moonlight costars Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali. Meanwhile, working behind the camera is director Theodore Melfi, a filmmaker who made a splash with his well-received feature-length directing debut (the Billy Murray-led dramedy St. Vincent) and whose reputation only looks to improve, based on the initial positive reception for Hidden Figures in its limited Oscar-qualifying theatrical release.
Between A Monster Calls, Hidden Figures and some of the other awards season contenders gong into wider release in January (including the next entry on this list), there are plenty of good options for moviegoers to choose from as the new year begins.
Silence (Semi-Limited on January 6th)
Silence is a true passion project for Martin Scorsese, in the sense that the filmmaking legend spent multiple decades attempting to get his movie adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’'s 1966 novel (of the same name) off the ground, before finally succeeding. That same passion shines through in the actual film too, judging by the critical praise that's been heaped on Silence thus far.
For those unfamiliar, Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a journey to Japan to find their mentor (Liam Neeson) in the seventeenth century, at a time when Christianity has been banned in the country. As with Scorsese's prior movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence has drawn some controversy for it subject matter and story (focusing on the plight of white Christians spreading their beliefs in a country they are not native to), but the general reaction has been positive - to both the film's craftsmanship and its deep exploration of spirituality.
Scorsese's past explorations of religion and faith (with such films as The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun) have not performed well at the box office and it's expected that because of its subject matter, Silence also won't replicate the mainstream success of the director's bigger box office hits in recent years (see The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street). Still, it's hard to imagine that the film won't get its fair share of love from film buffs in theaters, as well as attention from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, when all is said and done.
Live By Night (Wide on January 13th)
Live by Night is the second Dennis Lehane novel adaptation for Ben Affleck as a writer/director, after the Oscar-winning actor/filmmaker made his directorial debut by adapting Lehane's Gone Baby Gone book for the big screen in 2007. Affleck's new Lehane adaptation is itself a Boardwalk Empire-style Prohibition era tale that revolves around one Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the son of a Boston police captain who tries to pull himself up by his bootstraps in the criminal underworld of the time period.
Warner Bros. Pictures had positioned Live by Night as a potential awards season contender with a limited theatrical bow in December 2016, but the initial wave of reviews for the historical crime flick have instead painted it as being a mediocre offering on its own, much less as Affleck's directorial followup to his Best Picture Oscar-winning Argo. At the same time though, there are elements of the film that are getting their fair share of positive recognition - including, the cinematography from Quentin Tarantino's go-to collaborator, Robert Richardson.
A beautifully-shot, if by the numbers and somewhat unremarkable gangster flick may not be an Oscar contender, but there's enough there to recommend Live by Night as (possibly) a decent filmgoing experience, especially for a movie opening in wide release in mid-January. If nothing else, Live by Night will go down as having allowed Affleck to further hone his storytelling abilities in the crime drama genre - a skill set that ought to serve him well in his next directorial project, the DC Extended Universe solo superhero movie The Batman.
Split (January 13th)
Early reviews for Split have painted the film as being a comeback for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, though that in part depends on whether you were a fan of the filmmaker's last offering - the 2015 fake amateur documentary-style horror/thriller, The Visit. Split, like The Visit, is a lower-budgeted horror/thriller and stars James McAvoy as Kevin: a troubled fellow who supposedly has 23 different personalities, who then proceeds to kidnap three teenage girls in order to carry out some sort of ritual that will apparently allow him to unleash his final (and, literally, monstrous) personality
This being a Shyamalan creation, it's safe to assume that there's more going on in Split than what that (somewhat vague) plot summary indicates and early word of mouth is that indeed, Split boasts one of the filmmaker's trademark twist endings. Both McAvoy's performance and the movie's twists/turns are being praised more than criticized thus far, so Split may yet join The Visit as being part of the Shymalan comeback tour that follows a pair of infamous big-budget duds from the director (in The Last Airbender and After Earth).
Split also costars Anya Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of the acclaimed folklore horror/thriller The Witch (another favorite among Screen Rant's editors). Taylor-Joy was also singled out as a rare high note in the sci-fi thriller Morgan last fall and has two other horror/thrillers due to arrive in 2017 (Marrowbone and Thoroughbred), in addition to Split. Perhaps the young actress will cement her status as a modern-day Scream Queen over the year ahead?
xXx: Return of Xander Cage (January 20th)
Vin Diesel hasn't starred in a xXx movie since, well, the first installment was released back in 2002. The news that Diesel is returning to the role of Xander Cage at all came as a surprise for most everyone when it first broke - and it seemed to beg the question "Why?" more than anything else. Since then however, things have started to look up and up for the new Diesel-headlined action/thriller sequel, xXx: Return of Xander Cage.
Return of Xander Cage, for starters, does away with the idea of Xander Cage being an extreme sports athlete-turned secret agent who works alone, surrounding Diesel with an international ensemble of acting talent (including, Donnie Yen, Ruby Rose, Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa and Nina Dobrev, among others) and having Toni Collette play the 'M' to Cage's James Bond. That's a trick borrowed from Diesel's Fast & Furious franchise playbook, but it appears to be working here too - judging by both the sheer number of views that the third xXx movie's trailers have gotten and the generally positive response to the footage, to boot.
The new xXx film, as directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, I Am Number Four), also looks to embrace the sort of tongue-in-cheek temperament (and feature the type of ridiculous stunt work/action sequences) that the Fast & Furious movies have increasingly taken to over the years. It remains to be seen if Xander Cage's return leaves moviegoers wanting a xXx 4, but it should help Diesel fans to scratch that F&F itch until Dominic Toretto returns later in the year (more on that later).
John Wick: Chapter Two (February 10th)
John Wick became the cult-hit-that-could when it hit theaters in 2014, delivering not only a great B-movie action/thriller but also the sort of rich world-building that's typically associated with comic book adaptations nowadays. A sequel was inevitable for these reasons and so here we are in the present, facing the impending release of John Wick: Chapter Two - once again starring Keanu Reeves and directed by John Wick helmsman Chad Stahelski.
The second John Wick installment picks up but a few days after its predecessor and follows John on a trip to Rome, after he's called upon to fulfill a blood oath to an old acquaintance (Reeves' The Matrix costar Laurence Fishburne, in fact). Facing off against John in the sequel will be assassins played by Common and Ruby Rose - who appears in no less than three franchise films in the first six weeks of 2017 alone - while John Wick supporting players Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo will be reprising their roles in some capacity here.
John Wick: Chapter Two promises to deliver not only more action than its predecessor, but even flashier and more sophisticated gun/fist-fights between John and his fellow killers-for-hire. The John Wick franchise will also continue to expand across different mediums in 2017, with a John Wick comic book series by Dynamite Entertainment arriving sometime that year along with the movie sequel. If Chapter Two can live up to the standards established by the first John Wick film, then there's little reason to think moviegoers won't be left wanting to see the property live on in a third "chapter" thereafter.
The LEGO Batman Movie (February 10th)
The LEGO Movie was an unexpected runaway critical/commercial smash hit for Warner Bros. Pictures and the studio wasted little time in taking steps to capitalize on the animated feature's success. While a straight-forward sequel to the original LEGO Movie is currently in development, the next LEGO flick to arrive on the scene is the LEGO Movie spinoff, The LEGO Batman Movie. Featuring Will Arnett back in his LEGO Movie voice role as the Caped Crusader, THE LEGO Batman Movie revolves around the eponymous superhero's efforts to save Gotham City from the Joker (Zach Galifianakis)... and make some new friends/allies in the process.
Directed by The LEGO Movie animation supervisor/co-director Chris McKay, The LEGO Batman Movie promises to not only deliver DC-related Easter Eggs aplenty (including, Billy Dee Williams playing Two-Face at last), but also serve up a genuinely funny - and maybe even touching - Batman story at the same time. The LEGO Batman Movie has the potential to be a great animated film in its own right in that respect, rather than just a spinoff that tries to get additional mileage out of a scene-stealing supporting player.
Not to mention - although Justice League is arriving in theaters in 2017, The LEGO Batman Movie will technically be the first film to see DC's greatest superheroes unite together on the big screen (and against more famous DC villains than you can shake a stick at).
A Cure for Wellness (February 17th)
Filmmaker Gore Verbinski may be more widely-known nowadays for his work on big-budget Disney swashbuckling adventures like The Lone Ranger and the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, but the director first made a proper splash with a very different sort of genre movie in 2002: the Japanese horror film remake, The Ring. Verbinski is now returning to the realm of horror for his next directorial effort - a peculiar-looking original project titled A Cure for Wellness.
A Cure for Wellness stars Dane DeHaan as an ambitious young executive who travels to the Swiss Alps in order to retrieve his company's CEO from a mysterious "wellness center", only to land in hot water (possibly, somewhat literally) there himself. The trailers for Verbinski's film have succeeded at serving up loads of freaky imagery without revealing too many plot details at the same time, giving horror movie buffs in particular all the more reason to want to see A Cure for Wellness and find out what it's about for themselves.
2016 saw several celebrated horror/thrillers hit the scene (varying from The Witch to Green Room to Don't Breathe), so the bar has been set high for the genre in 2017. If A Cure for Wellness lives up to its potential though, it could mark the beginning of another great time frame for movies that are aiming to scare and/or creep the dickens out of audiences. Verbinski's film might isn't the only noteworthy horror feature hitting the scene in February 2017 either, as we'll discuss shortly...
The Great Wall (February 17th)
Nowadays Legendary is perhaps best known for its monster movies, be they revivals of popular franchises (Godzilla (2014), Jurassic World) or original features about creatures that range from other-worldly beasts (Pacific Rim) to nasty magical beings (Krampus). The Great Wall is another original Legendary offering that pits humans against mysterious monsters, albeit this time in the context of a historical epic directed by the acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, of Raise the Red Lantern, Hero and House of Flying Daggers fame (among other Chinese productions).
Matt Damon stars in The Great Wall as a European mercenary traveling through ancient China who makes his way to the eponymous landmark, only to unwittingly discover what it was really built to defend China's people from. The film, which costars Pedro Pascal (of Game of Thrones and Narcos fame), as well as Willem Dafoe, Andy Lay and Jing Tian, has already grossed some $120 million in China (where it was filmed) at the time of writing this, just a couple months ahead of its U.S. theatrical bow.
The Great Wall has been criticized for featuring Damon as the film's protagonist (in what is seen as an example of whitewashing casting) and the small handful of reviews released for the movie so far haven't exactly painted a glowing pictures of the big-budget historical fantasy adventure. Legendary's latest monster-heavy feature may have difficulties performing well at the domestic box office if that buzz doesn't improve - though given the talent involved here, it's best to not write off this particular CGI monster-driven tentpole this far ahead of its stateside debut.
Get Out (February 24th)
Key and Peele became famous for the quirky and frequently weird, yet pop culture-savvy humor of their sketch comedy series, so it wasn't all that surprising when they went on to make an equally-idiosyncratic action/comedy in 2016, in the form of Keanu. Now (Jordan) Peele is moving on to solo write and direct the film Get Out, a movie that - naturally, given the talent that's involved behind the camera - is shaping up to be as much a strange horror film as it a twisted dark comedy.
Daniel Kaluuya stars in Get Out as Chris, a young black man who travels with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams of Girls fame) to spend a weekend at her wealthy parents' estate, only to discover that something is terribly wrong with the black people who work there - and everyone else who lives there, by the look of it. Get Out's premise alone begs comparison to something like The Stepford Wives, albeit with more comedy that's based around commentary on racial and/or class tensions in the vein of Peele's previous work.
Keanu was only somewhat successful at the box office thanks to its $15 million production budget, suggesting that both (Keegan-Michael) Key and Peele have a stable, but very much niche fanbase at the moment. Get Out might not make much of an impact, commercially-speaking, for the same reasons, but it nevertheless has the potential to be one of the most memorable horror films of the year - as well as one of the more unique offerings (and darkly funny) offerings from the genre in 2017.
Logan (March 3rd)
Believe it or not, Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for nearly seventeen years now and is ready to hang up his claws at last, with the upcoming Logan. The second R-Rated X-Men movie spinoff after Deadpool, Logan loosely adapts famous comic book stories such as Old Man Logan and Death of Wolverine for a movie that takes place in a near-dystopic future, where most of mutant-kind has mysteriously vanished and Logan himself no longer self-heals the way that he used to.
The film comes from The Wolverine director James Mangold and follows the semi-aged Wolverine as he's called upon for one last battle: a fight that reunites him with a now-ailing Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), on a mission to protect a mysterious young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) - hint hint, to comic book readers. Both the creative talents behind Logan and 20th Century Fox's marketing campaign for the X-Men spinoff have painted it as being a mix of gritty neo-western action and (superhero) character drama, making it look genuinely different from any other comic book adaptation arriving in 2017 (or recent memory, for that matter).
Indeed, there are enough parallels between Logan and 2016's Deadpool (both R-Rated X-Men films with distinctly different tones and styles) to suggest that like Wade Wilson's solo vehicle, Wolverine's final stand ought to play well with critics, moviegoers and at the box office too. Now about those crossover rumors...
T2 Trainspotting (Wide on March 10th)
Belated movie sequels typically take on the form of either comedy followups or franchise revivals - making the upcoming T2 Trainspotting an unusual addition to the collection of sequels made decades after their predecessor was released in theaters. T2 is arriving just over twenty years after the first Trainspotting hit the scene, in fact, but reunites Trainspotting director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge with the main cast for their 1996 breakout hit drama; including, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Kelly Macdonald.
T2 (all Terminator jokes aside) borrows some elements from Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting novel sequel, Porno, but it is also something of an original work itself. The story follows Mark Renton (McGregor) when he decides to head back home to Scotland to rekindle ties with his old friends - and, if he can help it, avoid Francis Begbie (Carlyle), who's fresh out of prison. The members of the Trainspotting cast have already noted the parallels between that story and their real-life experience of reuniting for the sequel - suggesting that T2 might carry deeper meaning for longtime Trainspotting fans, too.
Whereas many belated sequels (comedies especially) are guilty of hitting the reset button on the characters and world of their predecessor, T2 thankfully appears to feature evolved versions of both while still leaving room for references to the original Trainspotting. If that's the case, then T2 could prove to be the rare late-arriving continuation of a cult classic that's both satisfying as a sequel and capable of standing on its own.
Kong: Skull Island (March 10th)
As was discussed with respect to The Great Wall, monstrous creatures have become Legendary's bread-and-butter of late, so it's only fitting that the studio (and Warner Bros. Pictures) would take steps to put together a shared cinematic universe of famous monster types. The 2014 Godzilla reboot set the stage for such a movie-verse, but the next brick in that wall is Kong: Skull Island - a reboot/re-imagining of the King Kong film franchise that takes place in the same universe as Godzilla and will lay the foundation for Kong and "The King of Monsters" to eventually throw-down against one another in 2020.
When Skull Island picks up however, it's the 1970s (just after the end of the Vietnam War) and humans are mapping out the eponymous island for the first time, when they discover that Skull Island is home to the mighty Kong... and some other giant creatures that humankind really shouldn't even try to take on (spoiler: they do anyway). The humans exploring Skull Island in the film as played by such name actors as Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, among others.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer), Kong: Skull Island shouldn't be saddled with too much franchise-building and can instead just focus on being an exciting adventure set in Kong's home turf. If it succeeds in that respect, then it's hard to imagine that the filmgoing masses won't be game to see this new (and bigger than ever) Kong take on ol' Godzilla in a few years from now, too.
Beauty and the Beast (March 17th)
Disney's 2D animated versions of Cinderella and The Jungle Book have already gotten live-action/CGI makeovers and now it's the Mouse House's animated musical Beauty and the Beast's turn to follow suit. Based on the sheer number of views accumulated by the film's trailers, it's safe to say there's a whole lot of interest in - and, in turn, concern towards - this new version of the "Tale as Old as Time". Fortunately, footage from the fairy tale re-telling have been by and large well-received so far and there are other ingredients in place, indicating that Disney's new Beauty and the Beast could prove to be something special.
Harry Potter alum Emma Watson stars in Beauty and the Beast as Belle, opposite Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens as the self-centered prince who is transformed into a (furry) beast in the story. The film's supporting cast is particularly impressive, with Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci and Gugu-Mbatha Raw amongst its ranks. The more realistic, CGI designs of the enchanted servants that most of the cast are playing have gotten a mixed reaction thus far, but the talent behind them has certainly not, by comparison.
Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon appears to be remaining largely faithful to the Disney animated version with his re-imagining, though there will be new elements included in the mix to further help freshen things up. If Condon's film can either reach or exceed the bar set by Jon Favreau with The Jungle Book, then neither longtime Beauty and the Beast fans nor Disney executives should walk away disappointed with the results here.
The Belko Experiment (March 17th)
Even those who are only familiar with writer/director James Gunn for his work on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise might not be that surprised to learn that he tends to specialize in darkly offbeat comedy and quirky material, when he's not working on massively-budgeted studio films. The upcoming horror/thriller The Belko Experiment was written and produced by Gunn, with Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) stepping in to direct, but the decidedly R-Rated movie appears to have the same twisted sense of humor as Gunn's horror/comedy Slither and costumed vigilante flick Super (and, to a lesser degree, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake that Gunn wrote).
The setup for The Belko Experiment is straight-forward: the employees at a company's Colombia-based corporate office are locked in the building and forced to participate in an "experiment" - a game in which they must either kill others or be killed themselves. Frequent Gunn collaborator Michael Rooker and Sean "Brother of James" Gunn are among the cast members in the film; one that has already drawn comparisons to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale with its premise, as well as The Purge movies with respect to its setting (where "anything (murderous) goes").
James Gunn's indie film offerings tend to be decidedly niche in their appeal and it stands to reason that The Belko Experiment will fall into the same boat. That said, those who dug Slither and/or Super (or want to find out if those films might be their cup of tea) ought to also appreciate Gunn and McLean's horror/thriller, for many of the same reasons.
Power Rangers (March 24th)
Power Rangers is a superhero franchise that has been around since the early 1990s, so it was perhaps inevitable that the ongoing golden age of superhero cinema would eventually lead to the Power Rangers property getting a makeover, for the 21st century on the big screen. The 2017 Power Rangers movie takes the franchise back to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers characters that started it all and includes such famous players as the sorceress Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and easily panicked robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), looking decidedly different from how they used to.
The Power Rangers' mission, however, is very much the same here as it's always been: to protect their hometown of Angel Grove and the Earth from Rita and her monstrous minions (Putty Patrollers, Goldar, and so forth), with the help of their wise mentor Zordon (Bryan Cranston). Similarly, the Rangers themselves are a diverse group of young male and female actors who are working together for the first time here, much like the "teenagers with attitudes" that they're playing.
Power Rangers seems to have a look and feel similar to director Dean Israelite's first movie, Project Almanac - itself a found-footage fantasy reminiscent of the found-footage movie Chronicle - and might be all the better able to connect with a new generation as a result, while still offering an interesting update of the property for older Rangers fans. Lionsgate and Saban are clearly hoping for a new franchise here, but it will be moviegoers who ultimately decide if this reboot is worthy of one.
Life (March 24th)
A new Ridley Scott-directed Alien franchise installment, titled Alien: Covenant, will be hitting theaters about mid-way through 2017. However, for those moviegoers in the mood to get an early fix of human space astronauts making first contact with a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that's out to kill them all, this March brings with it the release of Life - an original sci-fi horror/thriller that reunites actor Ryan Reynolds with his Deadpool movie screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, as well as his Safe House director, Daniel Espinosa.
Life stars Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hiroyuki Sanada (in his second space mission-gone wrong thriller, after Danny Boyle's Sunshine) and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation standout Rebecca Ferguson as members of a space crew that discovers the existence of microbial life on Mars - microbial life that, of course, subsequently begins to attack the human explorers. While the premise alone is proof that Life borrows some tricks from the Alien playbook, the space-set thriller has the potential to be one of the better additions to the list of Alien descendants, based on the caliber of talent involved on both sides of the camera.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that Life will face is being able to get the attention of the filmgoing masses, seeing as it's due to arrive during what is shaping up to be a more competitive-than-usual March. Life shouldn't have much direct competition as far as darker sci-fi/horror entertainment goes though, so it may yet prove to be a success on multiple fronts... assuming it doesn't turn out to be the next Apollo 18, anyway.
Ghost in the Shell (March 31st)
Scarlett Johnasson is a true A-lister with multiples hits under her belt from the past few years alone (and not all of them are Marvel Cinematic Universe films either) - something that Paramount Pictures is aiming to take advantage of by having her headline the upcoming Ghost in the Shell. The live-action film is based on the anime/manga property of the same name and tells the story of The Major (Johansson), a human/cyborg special ops agent tasked with battling terrorists and criminals in a futuristic world where cybernetic technology is an everyday part of life.
Although Ghost in the Shell fans have fair reason to be impressed by the faithful and reverent visual approach that director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) is taking with the live-action adaptation, the film has been mired in controversy from the get-go over its casting decisions - namely, having caucasian actors such as Johansson, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche and Pilou Asbæk play what were previously Japanese characters, in a film that still takes place in a futuristic version of Japan.
Those behind the film have defended Ghost in the Shell from its whitewashing critique by pointing to its international ensemble cast (which does include Chin Han and Rila Fukushima in pivotal roles), as well as its fidelity to the original anime/manga. Nevertheless, the whitewashing issue may affect the film's box office prospects in the long run and doesn't even touch on the question: for those moviegoers who are just now finding out what Ghost in the Shell even is, will Sanders' live-action movie stand out as something more than a mashup of elements from western sci-fi classics like The Matrix and Blade Runner?
The Fate of the Furious (April 14th)
The Fate of the Furious is not only the eighth (!) installment overall in the Fast & Furious franchise, it's also the first to be released since recurring cast member Paul Walker's death mid-production on Furious Seven and is reportedly set to serve as the beginning of the final Fast & Furious film trilogy. Universal's trailer for The Fate of the Furious has only made the project all the more intriguing, revealing that the film sees Vin Diesel's loyal-to-a-fault Dominic Toretto betray his extended family in order to join forces with Charlize Theron as the villainous Cipher. That there's obviously more to the story than that, is part of what makes it such an enticing marketing hook.
Director F. Gary Gray likewise appears to be bringing on even more larger-than-life vehicular stunts and set pieces in The Fate of the Furious than the directors on previous series installments have, including some of the heist filmmaking sensibilities that he honed on The Italian Job and is now applying here. The Fate of the Furious will also be mixing up other things onscreen, be it by having Jason Statham's Furious Seven villain work for the good guys this time around and/or incorporating Dame Helen Mirren into the proceedings in some as-yet unrevealed way.
In short: while it may prove difficult for the Fast & Furious franchise to keep moving forward at the same pace after its touching sendoff to Walker in Furious Seven, The Fast of the Furious certainly seems to be making a solid effort at doing just that. If everything goes according to plan though, this could turn out to be one of the best (and certainly the most adrenaline-fueled) true superheroes movies of the year.
- Underworld: Blood Wars (January 6th) - The Underworld movies have never been critical favorites, yet even a number of longtime fans of the supernatural creature action franchise seem to agree that the series is just running on fumes at this stage. Still, a couple of mindless hours with Kate Beckinsale as Selene fighting all sorts of monstrous baddies can never be all bad... right?
- The Founder (Wide on January 20th) - This biopic about the founder of McDonald's hasn't gotten the awards season traction that the Weinstein Company had hoped for when it moved the film from summer 2016 to a later, more awards-friendly date. Still, Michael Keaton starring as Ray Kroc, the complicated man behind the McDonald's store chain, might be reason enough to give this one a look in theaters.
- Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (January 27th) - Similar to the situation with Underworld, filmgoers known by now whether or not they're still fans of the Resident Evil franchise, under the supervision of filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson. With this being (like the title indicates) the last time around for Anderson and star Milla Jovovich, these's little reason to hop off the Resident Evil train now - assuming you haven't already, of course.
- The Wall (March 10th) - Directed by Doug Liman of The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow fame, The Wall could prove to be a effectively terse viewing experience that joins the ranks of films like Buried, on the list of great minimalist thrillers. Plus, any movie that stars John Cena in a leading role has to be worth a look at some point.
- Smurfs: The Lost Village (April 7th) - The Smurfs live-action/CGI films were commercial hits, yet failed to impress critics and even a number of general moviegoers that saw them. Can this all-animated reboot deliver the playfully whimsical experience that Smurfs fans have been waiting for?