There are two equal and opposing thoughts rising in me as I contemplate my fourth annual “most anticipated movies” list. First is that 2015 looks really exciting. Each of the last two years, I’ve put a Hunger Games movie in the top 10, even though I’ve never been completely won over by that series. But in the 2015 lineup, Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t even crack the top 20. That being the case, I considered returning to the concept of the 2012 list by posting a top 20 in two parts. Ultimately, I decided against it. There’s no point in expanding the list just for the sake of including something like the next Avengers movie. Here’s where my second thought comes in. This kind of endeavor seems to be getting drearier every year. I’m doing my best to make it more interesting and diverse by constantly discovering new directors. But I’m not yet to the point where I can fill a list solely on the basis of the directors or other personnel. In other words, the element of familiarity is still huge. It’s simply not the same rubric I use to determine what my favorite movies are. Inasmuch as it feeds into Hollywood’s status as an anticipation factory, it’s not an attractive rubric, either. (Read Mark Harris in Grantland about the throttling of the movie industry by franchises, superhero and otherwise.) Excitement for what’s around the corner is still a good thing, but I’m glad that I get more satisfaction from evaluating movies that already exist. As always, I’m sure I could put out a list of ten movies from the twentieth century that I hope to see for the first time next year, a list that would blow this one out of the water. The internet is more interested in Star Wars, though, and I aim to please.
- Release: March 13
- With Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera
- Director: Kenneth Branagh
What did I tell you about familiarity? The wave of live-action revisionist fairy tales hasn’t interested me before, but I do want to see what Branagh does with this well-worn material. From the looks of things, this won’t be gritty, at least. It could still be terrible and forgettable, of course. But the cast looks good. Besides that, I considered writing my own adaptation of this story a few years ago, as screenwriting practice. I never got around to it. Now it’s too late. This had better be worth dashing my plans.
9. The Martian
- Release: November 25
- With Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor
- Director: Ridley Scott
Adapted from Andy Weir’s acclaimed novel, the super-duper high concept description for this film is “Apollo 13 meets Cast Away.” But as you can see, neither Tom Hanks nor Robert Zemeckis is anywhere to be found. Ridley Scott, who started our current “survival in space” science fiction cycle with Prometheus in 2012, returns to it here. I have mixed feelings about this. Gravity and Interstellar are two of my favorite recent movies. Prometheus is not. Mars, however, is awesome. I just hope this isn’t mostly a Matt Damon one-man show.
- Release: October 16
- With Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson, Alan Alda, Mark Rylance, Sebastian Koch, Peter McRobbie
- Director: Steven Spielberg
Here’s the first film on the list that earns its spot mostly because of the people behind it. A story based on a real Cold War incident sounds interesting, but I’m really here for Spielberg and the Coen brothers (who worked on the script). A relatively unambitious suspense piece from Spielberg sounds really good right about now, and it’s possible the Coens will inspire some Catch Me If You Can-like energy from him. This will be the first time Spielberg has worked with Hanks in over a decade, as well.
7. Inside Out
- Release: June 19
- With Kaitlyn Dias, Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
- Director: Pete Docter
When it comes to Hollywood’s increasing reliance on franchises, certainly the most disheartening case study is Pixar Animation Studios. Inside Out will be the studio’s first original film in three years, its third in six years. There’s a lot riding on this film. Has the magic gone for good, or can it be rekindled? I’m betting on the latter. I love the oddball concept of Inside Out. The character design looks terrific. With luck, this will turn out to be a Miyazaki-esque exploration of the mind of an 11-year-old girl.
- Release: Not set
- With Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Issei Ogata
- Director: Martin Scorsese
A story about Christian missionaries in Japan told by lapsed Catholic Scorsese? I’m more than intrigued. This is a change of direction for him after The Wolf of Wall Street, to put it mildly, but then, his career is full of such swerves. And this is a movie he’s wanted to make for at least twenty years. Like The Martian, this will be an adaptation of a novel. Shusaku Endo’s book is one of the most celebrated of the twentieth century. I might even be inspired to pick it up before I see the movie, for a change.
- Release: November 25
- With Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Paul Sparks, Sam Shepard, Scott Haze, Jaeden Lieberher
- Director: Jeff Nichols
I thought this movie would come out last year, but when I published my list for 2014, shooting hadn’t begun yet. So I don’t take it as a bad sign that the movie got pushed back. It’s in post-production at the moment and has a release date. I don’t know anything more about the film than I did a year ago, but I still eagerly await what Nichols does with a science fiction concept. He’s one of the most talented young American directors.
- Release: May 22
- With George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Judy Greer, Kathryn Hahn, Tim McGraw, Keegan-Michael Key, Raffey Cassidy
- Director: Brad Bird
This is the kind of film for which the lack of information is one reason it makes the list. Tomorrowland is literally a “mystery box” movie, with only the vaguest hints being shared as to what it’s actually about. With an evocative title, a gorgeous teaser trailer, and Brad Bird directing, my hopes are sky high that what’s inside the box turns out to be wonderful. A Mission: Impossible sequel was one thing, but this is the real test of whether Bird can make a live-action film every bit as good as his masterful animated films.
- Release: Not set
- With Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
- Director: Quentin Tarantino
Of all the films on the list, this one has easily taken the most entertaining, circuitous path toward existence. The script leak, the “cancellation,” the live read — we’ll shake our heads and laugh at the whole backstage drama when the movie finally comes around. But this is a new Tarantino. It’s a Western filmed in my home state. It’s going to have an aspect ratio of 2.78:1 (few movies have been so wide). Whether the film succeeds or not, this is the kind of crazy-yet-crowd-pleasing project that Hollywood really needs right now.
- Release: December 18
- With Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis
- Director: J.J. Abrams
Seriously, this movie could be awful. A sequel and a reboot all at once (there will be some continuity with the original trilogy, but this film will begin a new trilogy arc), it’s a cash-grab of monumental proportions. And look at that teaser. Abrams flatters himself that he can whip us into a frenzy with the most banal images, the voiceover as boring and trite as the film’s subtitle. Then again, it’s Star Wars. This is a must-see even if it’s no good. And the teaser does make the movie sound good. Literally. All those familiar sounds — droids and speeders, TIE fighters and lightsabers — coming back. I can’t wait to experience this aesthetic on the screen again.
- Release: Not set (Will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival)
- With Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Imogen Poots, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Jason Clarke
- Director: Terrence Malick
Even in this new era of Malickian prolificacy, we have to wait. He’s been working on three movies simultaneously for about two years now, and they’re finally starting to see the light of day. The Knight of Cups trailer hit the internet this very week. It’s everything I could have hoped for, combining Malick’s unapologetic reach for profundity with unexpected fierceness and sensuality. It feels connected to both The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, certainly. But this is new subject matter for the director: a world of artifice and cheap pleasures. The world of Hollywood. If Malick can locate both the human and the divine in these surroundings, this will be one for the ages.