It’s time for the annual look ahead to the new year’s most exciting movies!
Which — thanks to COVID-19 — is going to read a lot like last year’s look ahead to the new year’s most exciting movies. Coronavirus! (Shakes fist at sky.) Ah, well. With the understanding that premiere dates can change, let’s dive in:
The Big Guns
No Time to Die (April 2): Of course you’re going to see this movie, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final appearance as 007. Everybody is.
Black Widow (May 7): Finally, finally, finally Scarlett Johansson gets the movie she’s deserved since Natasha Romanoff was introduced in “Iron Man 2.” It’s a particularly poignant film, given the character’s fate in “Avengers: Endgame,” but don’t count ScarJo out yet — she could return as a parallel-world version (like Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), or as a clone, or conjured up by the reality-warping Scarlet Witch, or a thousand other ways characters have returned from certain death in Marvel Comics. In the meantime, I expect Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova to carry the Black Widow legacy forward.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (July 9): A product of the goofy kung fu craze of the late ‘70s, Shang-Chi is nevertheless a terrific character that I have followed avidly. Initially he was the son of Fu Manchu, but Marvel has subsequently lost the rights to that character, so Shang-Chi is the son of … well, somebody else. We’ll know who on July 9.
Eternals (Nov. 5): Honestly, I always considered this group to be one of Jack Kirby’s lesser creations — sort of Inhumans Lite. But given the star-studded cast and ambitious story, my opinion might be about to change.
Untitled Spider-Man Sequel (Dec. 17): There are a lot of rumors about this movie, but precious few facts. It may, or may not, include characters from previous Spider-Man franchises. It may, or may not, include Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). All we can be sure of is that Tom Holland will play the lead.
Slightly Smaller Guns
The King’s Man (March 12): Believe it or not, a third Kingsman movie is in the works, as well as a Statesman spin-off. So what is this? A prequel, it seems, where Ralph Fiennes forms the espionage agency with a bunch of ex-soldiers in the early 20th century.
Godzilla vs. Kong (March 26): The King of Monsters. The King of Skull Island. Someone’s gonna lose a crown, and it won’t be pretty! Starring Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) as the token sympathetic human, this is a film I’ve waited for my whole life, and just didn’t know it.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (June 25): Here’s another Sony-Man effort, a sequel to the Tom Hardy-starring “Venom,” featuring the one Spider-Man character I actively despise.
Dune (Oct. 1): This is deep, layered, hard-core SF, which is why I don’t think it will be a tentpole. Americans don’t like being made to think! But we old-school SF fans — I first read “Dune” in high school — can’t wait, and hopefully there are enough of us to make Dune a franchise.
What To Watch Between Guns
Mortal Kombat (April 16): There are a number of movies based on video games, for players of those games. Here’s another one.
Free Guy (May 21): It’s hard to pigeonhole this movie, which stars Ryan Reynolds as an NPC (non-playing character) in a violent, open-world video game, who somehow becomes self-aware. I normally wouldn’t be very interested, but Reynolds has won my undying loyalty for his utterly fearless, R-rated and hilarious take on Deadpool. It was the only way the character could avoid milquetoasty failure, and Reynolds had the guts to fight for it.
Cruella (May 28): If you’re a genre fan who hadn’t fallen in love with Emma Stone on general principles by 2014, then her turn as Gwen Stacy in the otherwise forgettable “Amazing Spider-Man 2” should’ve done it. Now she’s giving us Cruella de Vil’s origin, which will change forever how I see “101 Dalmatians.”
Jungle Cruise (July 30): I laughed when Disney announced the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. “How can you make a movie out of a theme park ride,” I snickered. “What a joke!” Five successful “Pirates” movies later, I’m not laughing any more. If I need any more convincing to buy a ticket, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as the headliner, makes the case.
Sherlock Holmes 3 (Dec. 22): The first two movies were funny, but also respectful of Holmesian lore. (I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories in high school, too.) I enjoyed them both, and expect to enjoy another.
Sequels Nobody Asked For
A Quiet Place Part II (April 23): If you saw the first one, you know which major character can’t be in this one.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (June 11): I was rooting for the all-female “Ghostbusters” (2016), but the negative reaction to that movie in certain quarters almost deep-sixed the franchise. So this movie is pretending the third GB movie didn’t happen, and is instead acting like a sequel to “Ghostbusters II” (1989). It has an all-new cast, which is worrying, but that cast includes Paul Rudd and Finn Wolfhard, which is reassuring.
Top Gun: Maverick (July 2): I didn’t care for the mindless machismo of “Top Gun” the first time around. I won’t watch, but plenty of other people will.
Mission: Impossible 7 (Nov. 19): Wait, there are seven now? I think I’ve missed a few.
The Matrix 4 (Dec. 22): I have completely forgotten everything from the first three movies except the red pill/blue pill bit.