All things considered, 2015 was jam-packed full of great films, and the last month of the year was no exception. From the box office behemoth that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens to intriguing new releases like The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, the month was filled with anticipated films and potential awards contenders.
While January is traditionally considered one of the slowest months at the box office, the film world is still entering 2016 with some surprises in store for moviegoers. In addition to the films hitting theaters in the coming weeks, a number of smaller critical favorites are likely expanding to wider releases to build buzz ahead of February's Academy Awards ceremony. As far as new releases go, here are 10 films to check out in January 2016:
10 The Forest (Release Date: January 8)
Natalie Dormer may be best known for her roles as Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones and Cressida in The Hunger Games franchise, but in The Forest, the actress faces off against sinister forces of another sort. The film follows Sara Price (Dormer) into Japan's Aokigahara Forest as she searches for her twin sister, who may have headed to the remote location in order to commit suicide.
The feature directorial debut for filmmaker Jason Zada, The Forest could be Dormer's best shot yet at establishing herself as a credible big-screen lead, and fortunately for the film, it won't be facing much competition in the horror department. Whether the film manages to deliver the psychological scares and creepy imagery fans may be expecting remains another mystery in and of itself.
Check out the latest trailer for The Forest.
9 Ride Along 2 (Release Date: January 15)
Buddy action/comedies have a long history of reining in box office dollars. So, when Ride Along combined the massive appeal of stars Ice Cube and Kevin Hart back in 2014, it wasn't much of a shock to see the film perform well. Even less surprising was the announcement that Ride Along 2 would follow the $135 million success of its predecessor.
With both leads back in action (and Hart's character now a cop himself), the stakes are higher than ever for James Payton (Ice Cube) and Ben Barber (Hart) as they head to Miami to take down a drug lord (Benjamin Bratt) before Ben's wedding to James's sister. Ride Along 2 may not be breaking any new ground, but the film's popular cast -- and new additions like Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong -- should deliver the laughs that audiences expect.
Check out the latest trailer for Ride Along 2.
8 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Release Date: January 15)
As his follow-up to Transformers: Age of Extinction, director Michael Bay is turning his attention to 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a new action thriller based on the 2013 book of the same name. Set on September 11, 2012, the film centers on the true story of a six-man security team who fought to defend the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
The film's politically charged subject matter may seem like a bit of a change of pace for Bay, whose films tend to lean toward action spectacle. Still, the patriotic themes and military focus should give the divisive director plenty of opportunity to put his signature stamp on the tale, and its ensemble cast -- which includes James Badge Dale, John Krasinski and Max Martini -- seem like strong fits for the the real-life men they are portraying.
Check out the latest trailer for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
7 The 5th Wave (Release Date: January 22)
With The Hunger Games seemingly over (for now) and the Divergent series chugging along towards its own conclusion, The 5th Wave could easily end up the next big franchise based on a series of young adult novels. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Cassie Sullivan, a teenage girl navigating the barren wasteland left in the wake of an alien invasion in the hopes of rescuing her young brother (Zackary Arthur).
Moretz has proven time and again that she's a capable, versatile talent, but -- aside from reprising her role as Hit-Girl in the Kick-Ass sequel -- the young actress has yet to secure her own franchise. If The 5th Wave connects with moviegoers, don't be surprised for the remaining sequels based on Rick Yancey's trilogy of novels to be announced shortly thereafter.
Check out the latest trailer for The 5th Wave.
6 Dirty Grandpa (Release Date: January 22)
After wowing audiences with his over-the-top comedic turn opposite Seth Rogen in Neighbors, Zac Efron has entered an entirely new phase of his film career, and Dirty Grandpa -- which pairs the actor with a particularly rambunctious Robert De Niro -- could be the next step in establishing Efron as a marquee comedy actor, a boost that the young star could use after the disappointing performance of musical drama We Are Your Friends.
Directed by Dan Mazer -- perhaps best known for co-writing the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat film -- Dirty Grandpa also marks new territory for De Niro, who has mostly stuck to less zany performances in films like The Intern and Joy in recent years. This new project may not appeal to all audiences, but as far as raunchy comedies go, it might just fit the bill.
Check out the latest trailer for Dirty Grandpa.
5 Mojave (Release Date: January 22)
Fresh from his popular performance as Resistance pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (and a similarly scene-stealing turn in Ex Machina), Oscar Isaac is back in Mojave as a homicidal drifter who crosses paths with a near-suicidal artist (Garrett Hedlund) in this crime thriller written and directed by William Monahan, who earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his work on The Departed.
The film initially premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring and is currently available on DirecTV Cinema. However, the film -- which also stars Mark Wahlberg, Louise Bourgoin and Walton Goggins -- is finally set to hit theaters in limited release this year, giving moviegoers eager to see Isaac up on the big screen yet again the chance to do just that.
Check out the latest trailer for Mojave.
4 Ip Man 3 (Release Date: January 22)
Ip Man 3 continues the franchise the chronicles the life of Wing Chun grandmaster Yip Man, as played by Hong Kong star Donnie Yen. This installment finds the man who ultimately trained Bruce Lee forced to take a stand against crooked property developers in the late 1950s and could very well be the final film in the Ip Man series, as Yen was reportedly hesitant to return to the role for a third time.
In addition to Yen, the film will feature Mike Tyson among its cast as a street fighter and property developer who will likely trade blows with the title character. Moreover, early reports claimed Lee would be integrated into the film using CGI. However, as it turns out, Danny Chan Kwok-kwan -- who played Lee in the 2008 television series The Legend of Bruce Lee -- will assume the role once again for this film.
Check out the latest trailer for Ip Man 3.
3 The Finest Hours (Release Date: January 29)
Over the years, Disney has become a reliable source of inspirational dramatizations of true events, and The Finest Hours is the studio's next such effort, as the film is loosely based on the Pendleton rescue mission attempt in 1952 by Coast Guard ships. Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz and Eric Bana lead the cast.
While director Craig Gillespie's filmography ranges from quirky indie films like Lars and the Real Girl to more mainstream fare like the 2011 Fright Night remake the filmmaker has previously tread the familiar narrative waters of films like The Finest Hours, having directed sports drama Million Dollar Arm for Disney. With such a strong team behind the project and even stronger material, The Finest Hours could prove to be a surprise hit this month.
Check out the latest trailer for The Finest Hours.
2 Kung Fu Panda 3 (Release Date: January 29)
Five years have passed since the previous installment in the Dreamworks Animation franchise, but by all accounts, the core audience of Kung Fu Panda 3 will be lining up for another martial arts adventure with everyone's favorite oversized kung fu master, as Po (voiced by Jack Black) is tasked with training a village of pandas to protect themselves against an ancient evil.
In addition to Black, series regulars like Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and others return. Meanwhile, Bryan Cranston joins the cast as Po's long-lost father, and Kate Hudson and J.K. Simmons voice Po's intended love interest and his aforementioned nemesis, respectively. If the first two entries were any indication, this third Kung Fu Panda should provide just as much laughter and thrills as fans expect from the franchise.
Check out the latest trailer for Kung Fu Panda 3.
1 Jane Got a Gun (Release Date: January 29)
Several years after winning her Best Actress Oscar for Black Swan, Natalie Portman has kept her big-screen appearances limited largely to her role as Jane Foster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Thor films. However, this month she's bringing another character named Jane to life in director Gavin O'Connor's Western Jane Got a Gun. In the film, Portman plays Jane Hammond, a woman who must recruit an ex-lover (Joel Edgerton, reuniting with his Warrior director) to help rescue her husband from a vicious gang that tormented her in the past.
Between Portman, Edgerton and Ewan McGregor -- who plays the gang's leader -- Jane Got a Gun marks a reunion for three of the stars of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (Edgerton played the young Owen Lars). If the film lives up to its screenplay's listing on the 2011 Black List of the best unproduced scripts, the film could be a highlight of all three of its stars' careers and in particular the best performance from Portman since her chilling Oscar-winning role.
Check out the latest trailer for Jane Got a Gun.
There may not be any major comic book films or giant blockbusters set to invade theaters in the first month of 2016, but chances are strong that a sleeper hit or two will emerge from this bunch. With so many different kinds of films set for release, there's bound to be something for every taste. Those of you thirsty for another superhero spectacle, don't worry. The months ahead will have plenty in store for you, starting with Deadpool in February.
Once again, here are the 10 films to check out in January:
January 8: The Forest
January 15: Ride Along 2, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
January 22: The 5th Wave, Dirty Grandpa, Mojave, Ip Man 3
January 29: The Finest Hours, Kung Fu Panda 3, Jane Got a Gun