Welcome back folks! This is the part of my lists where I'm having a hard time sorting things out. Y'all know me, I'm a sucker for science fiction, superheroes and animated films. These next four movies cover that whole range and I had a tough time figuring out where my heart lies. I think I'm cautiously optimistic about these next four than I am just outright, hands-down getting my ticket for Thursday night previews. I think we're kinda seeing American audiences get smart about sequels. Sure, the last Transformers and Pirates movies made a ton of bucks, but it was all overseas. And even though Hollywood is looking more and more to appease those international audiences, I don't think they're necessarily forgetting about their domestic prospects. Studios have gotten a lot smarter - they've hired fan-favorite directors (Star Wars with Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson and Guardians of the Galaxy with James Gunn) and they've taken a lot of risks with their 'tentpole' titles - like Deadpool and Ghostbusters - to varying degrees of success. I think the problem is that we expect Hollywood to shed its old image of being unfriendly to anyone outside of the white male demographic. And we should be critical of that - but it's going to take time and a worthy amount of conscious effort on the part of studios to change. We'll see, but I think we're starting to see shifting tides with more female and black leads and stories in the next few years. And this may open up the door for Asian Americans and Native Americans to have them represented as well. Hopefully.
16. War of the Planet of the Apes
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Judy Greer
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Release: July 14
Leaving things off the way they did at the surprisingly good Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it was inevitable that an outright war would be the next conflict for Caeser and his colony. A lot of the cast and crew are back for the next film and that's awesome. I think these films will, over time, hold up astonishingly well. They have a formidable protagonist with Caeser, played by the brilliant Serkis. It's funny that this animated ape has more depth than a lot of leading action heroes, but that's the kind of care Matt Reeves and his writing partner, Mark Bomback, have put into the role. And casting Woody Harrelson as the main bad guy is sublime. I don't know when it was when I've come to enjoy Harrelson as much as I do, but he's had a storied and diverse career. I think he's one of the few actors with a pretty good range where you could see him in a dumb comedy and then turn around and watch him in an Oscar nominated drama. So yes, I'm all in on this story - I don't know what they have in store for us in this movie and that's a good thing. If it's like Dawn, then it will be a smart and fantastic summer action flick.
15. The Lego Batman Movie
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis
Director: Chris McKay
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Release: February 10
I think The Lego Movie snuck up on everyone a couple years ago. It was unique and funny and pretty cool. There was something for everyone, including the adults. And everyone agrees that Arnett was the perfect casting choice for Batman. Turning the narcissistic and emo Batman dial up to 11, they found a lot of humor with the character. And it looks like the movie won't fall prey to the Jack Sparrow syndrome. Turning a funny side character into the main event ruined the Pirates franchise. The trailer looks like it's going to turn Batman into the more straight-laced (well, as straight-laced as you can get in the Lego Universe) character who has to babysit Robin and deal with two crazies with the Joker and Harley Quinn. And how can you not enjoy the fact that Robin, the boy wonder, is being played by man-boy Michael Cera? If anything, Cera has got that schtick down. Chris McKay, a regular director on Robot Chicken and the editor from The Lego Movie, is helming this film. If anything, it looks and sounds as frantic and hilarious as a Robot Chicken episode. Plus the writers involved - Seth Grahame-Smith is one of my favorites - he's written the novels of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The others are well-versed in writing episodes for some of my favorite shows like Community, Happy Endings and The Mindy Project. So the more adult and meta jokes should be right up my alley. Barring some let down, like all the good jokes are in the trailer, this might be one the funnier movies next year.
14. Kong: Skull Island
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein
Release: March 10
I think it's safe to say we're currently obsessed with monsters. Well, at least Hollywood is. Universal owns the properties to King Kong and they desperately want their own shared universe with all the monsters. They let Warner Bros. partner with Legendary to make this movie and it will allegedly have ties to the 2014 Godzilla movie. The movie rights are a bit convuluted, but Warner Bros. looks to be the main beneficiary for this 'shared universe'. Which, honestly, is cool with me. I don't want every single blockbuster movie to have a shared universe, but Godzilla and King Kong existing in the same cinematic world makes sense. And much like Jurassic World and Godzilla before, Kong: Skull Island is recruiting and up-and-coming indie director to helm this movie. It's worked out brilliantly for those two movies and I have no doubt about it for Kong. Jordan Vogt-Roberts made a coming-of-age story about 3 friends running away to live in the wilderness called The Kings of Summer. It was a fantastic film and if Vogt-Roberts can bring the same sensibility and depth of character to this film, the film should not only blow up the box office, but it'll make nice with jaded critics. I really did enjoy Godzilla and Jurassic World, despite some of their flaws. And the trailers are at least selling a visually-epic film which only adds to my excitement. Plus the cast looks fantastic and you have Dan Gilroy of Nightcrawler fame writing along with Max Borenstein, the writer behind Godzilla. So yeah, count me in on this one. It's exciting to see that some of these movies are hitting so early in the year and March is quickly becoming a month for big-budget summer blockbusters.
13. Justice League
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio
Release: November 17
Okay, I know, I'm may be putting this one way too low on my list. But 2016 has proven that DC and Warner Bros. need to restore a little bit of faith back into their comic book cinematic universe. Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad had some excellent trailers. The movies left a lot to be desired, though and now we're faced with two more movies next year that probably have a little bit more weight on their shoulders because of the relatively mediocre critical success. But needless to say, those 2 movies made $1.6 billion at the worldwide box office. It's no slouch, but then again Captain America: Civil War alone made $1.1 billion and Doctor Strange has pulled in over $600,000. If you would've told any comic book fan or movie lover five years ago that Captain America and Doctor Strange would outpace both Batman and Superman and the Joker at the box office, they would've laughed in your face. Such is the state of DC comic book movies, though. They're still looking for a worldwide must-see movie and universal love from critcs. But they haven't quite hit magic like Marvel has. Wonder Woman is coming out in the summer and while the success of that movie might not spell doom for Justice League, it could be the bellwether for Justice League and the end of a promising universe. Zack Snyder has both his critics and his fans and he sure does have a unique take on the characters. I'm hoping the trailer isn't selling a lie here. I think the casting for the movie is good - Ezra Klein looks like he's going to be the best version of The Flash ever - yes, even better than the goofball hamming it up on the CW right now. And Jason Momoa seems to be adding some weight to the red-headed superhero stepchild that is Aquaman. And I think we all know that Gal Gadot is pretty kickass as Wonder Woman. Snyder isn't the best at creating great characters, so hopefully the writing can fill in the gaps where Snyder seems to overlook. Chris Terrio did write Argo, but he also wrote BvS, so I don't know! This is why I can't muster up any more excitement than no. 13 on my list. It's just that there's a lot of evidence going against this movie than for it. Will I see it opening weekend? Hell yes! But will I end up regretting seeing it opening weekend? There's a strong possibility I'm going to say hell yes to that come November.
We're chugging along here. It's funny how things get grouped together once I finish a post. I have two movies with ties to the Cold War and secret operatives, I have two movies that are set in Berlin, 70 years apart. I have two science fiction films. And as much as these movies have some familiar elements, they're vastly different from one another. They run the gamut from big-budget blockbusters to quiet, independent movies that will barely see a theatrical release. I'm betting that the smaller movie might win me over more than the epic sci-fi, but maybe I'll be wrong and Matt Damon will rule my life forever.
16. The Great Wall
Starring: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing
Director: Yimou Zhang
Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy
Release: February 17
Now most of y'all probably only heard about this film because of the outcry of the casting of a white guy in an Asian film. And while I think the film does bear some criticism, it's not like anyone has actually seen the movie. Sure, it looks like a white savior movie, but maybe the movie will flip that trope on its head . Maybe it's Matt Damon who fucks everything up here and he needs to be saved in the end? (This an interesting decision for Damon, IMO. As my wife Maggie said earlier, when did Matt Damon become such a controversial figure?). Besides the three white guys in the film (the most prominent in the trailer, really), it's mostly made up of an Asian cast. So we'll see. I'm excited to see the visuals and the movie just feels epic. The director, Zhang, known best for House of Flying Daggers and Hero, is filming his first English-language film. This is one of those movies that's either going to be awesome and epic or it could fall flat on its face like a Roland Emmerich movie because it relies too heavily on the visuals and action. I think Zhang has a good track record, so I'm giving this movie the benefit of the doubt. It's probably play well in China, but it might be really hard to envision this being a runaway hit here in the states.
15. American Made
Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Lola Kirke
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Gary Spinelli
Release: September 29
A based on a true story film, Tom Cruise stars as a TWA pilot who gets recruited by the Medillin cartel to become a drug smuggler in Central America. He then gets recruited by the DEA to be an undercover informant and his covert operations would eventually expose the Reagan administration on the Iran-Contra affair. It's a convuluted story and I'm interested to see how it plays out. Barry Seal is by no means a heroic figure or even a great protagonist, so it will be interesting to see how the movie handles his point of view. Tom Cruise plays the lead here and I've already expressed my enthusiasm for the man's acting ability, so I no doubt think he will nail it. And Domhnall Gleeson, the crazy dictator from The Force Awakens is playing an unspecified role, but I like the guy, especially his turn in the tearjerker romantic movie About Time. And Doug Liman is teaming up again with Cruise - they last did a fun little move called Edge of Tomorrow and I think their pairing in this movie is going to be special again. The biggest hurdle for this film is catching people up on the background of American politics in the 80s and the war on drugs and foreign affairs during the Reagan administration. I went down the rabbit hole on Wikipedia about the whole Iran-Contra affair and it's very confusing. The movie could get bogged down in exposition and setting things up when really I want to know more about this over-the-top character Barry Seal.
14. The Coldest City
Starring: Charlize Theron, Sofia Boutella, James McAvoy
Director: David Leitch
Writer: Kurt Johnstad
Release: July 28
Taking place 30 years ago during the end of the Cold War, the movie is based on a comic about a top-level spy in the MI6 who is dispatched to Berlin to investigate an espionage ring that just killed an undercover agent. If you haven't noticed there's a lot of sci-fi on these lists. And now you can add spy movies, because I do love them as well. I think a lot of the modern spy movies have switched into action thrillers. And there's nothing wrong with that - I love the Bond and Mission: Impossible movies. But The Coldest City looks like it's going to go back to classic spy stories like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, where it's not really about the action but the subterfuge and drama that ensues from the relationships between each character. The cast looks great - Charlize Theron is on a badass woman streak and she'll be taking the lead. I've loved McAvoy since the movie Wanted and his turn as Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies. He's proven to be a really talented actor and I'm excited to see him act opposite of Theron. David Leitch, the stuntman who helped co-direct John Wick is directing this movie and I think he's going to bring some intensity to the action part of the spy movie. Kurt Johnstad, the writer, has had some experience in adapting comic book movies - he wrote the screenplays for both 300 movies. There's lots of potential here and I hope it doesn't turn out to be just another generic action film with spy parts. I want a real old school tale here. If it ends up like the book than it'll be something special.
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux
Director: Duncan Jones
Writer: Duncan Jones
This is supposedly a 'spiritual successor' to Moon, the debut film of sci-fi director Duncan Jones, who also helmed the movies Source Code and Warcraft. Oh and he's David Bowie's son. I swear I didn't intend this, but this movie takes place in Berlin. The story is about a mute bartender who goes looking for his missing friend and ends up tackling the seedy underbelly of Berlin. Set 40 years into the future, Jones hopes to style the movie in the vein of Blade Runner. That's some pretty big shoes to fill, but I really enjoy Jones' work. I have yet to see Warcraft, but his smaller movies are excellent. If you haven't seen Moon, I highly suggest to stop reading this and witness a modern classic. The cast looks solid, I'm a huge fan of Paul Rudd and I can get behind both Skarsgård and Theroux. I'm really stoked at Jones getting back to a more intimate, personal story. Apparently this is a dream project of his and at one time was supposed to be a comic (see image above). Sometimes the best movies are the ones that are more quiet (see what I did there?) and this one looks like it will have a big impact next year. Netflix has bought the rights to distribute and they're looking at a small theatrical release with it showing up on their service sometime next year.