It’s a new year—and with it comes twelve months’ worth of upcoming movies to get excited about. Rather than doing a conventional rundown of all the big potential blockbusters or major Oscar contenders, we’ve decided to focus on just 20 movies that, for myriad reasons, really interest us. Two quick caveats: (1) We’re not including anything that will premiere at Sundance later this month—we’ll be doing a specific overview of that festival in a couple weeks—and (2) we’re skipping films that will open this year that we already saw at festivals in 2015. (Otherwise, you’d have seen movies like The Lobster, The Witch, and Cemetery of Splendour on this list.) So here are the movies we can’t wait to see in 2016. If they turn out to be terrible, we disavow any knowledge of ever putting this list together.
Hail, Caesar! (February 5)
Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have stayed away from wacky caper comedies over the last few years, focusing on somber character studies such as A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis. But with Hail, Caesar!, they appear to be back in full-on O Brother, Where Art Thou?/Hudsucker Proxy mode, following a Hollywood fixer (Josh Brolin) as he tries to track down a kidnapped movie star (George Clooney) in the 1950s. As to be expected, the movie looks like it’ll be an immaculately designed, cleverly constructed period comedy, but we confess that the Coens’ meticulous goofs can sometimes wear out their welcome. (O Brother is a great soundtrack in search of a story. Hudsucker Proxy is brilliant production design and golden-age-of-Hollywood satire without much soul.) So, consider Hail, Caesar! a tantalizing possibility that, nonetheless, makes us a tad anxious.
Knight of Cups
It’s hard to think of a major filmmaker whose reputation has taken such a hit in the last few years as Terrence Malick. Just five years ago, he was the toast of the critical community with his Palme d’Or-winning opus The Tree of Life—his first film in six years—but since then he’s received plenty of derision for To the Wonder, which many felt was a carbon copy of Tree of Life’s dreamlike aesthetic, and Knight of Cups, which got very mixed reviews at last year’s Berlin Film Festival. At last, Knight of Cups hits U.S. theaters, telling the story of a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter (Christian Bale) trying to make sense of his life and career. Costarring Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, the film has far less buzz than The Tree of Life, and it will be interesting to see if it inspires a torrent of “Is Malick over?” think-pieces. For our money, though, even minor Malick is still pretty major, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Special (March 18)
Jeff Nichols is a talented indie filmmaker who first sprang onto the scene with Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, both starring Michael Shannon. Now after 2012’s Mud, he returns with Midnight Special, his most commercial project. It’s a sci-fi thriller that once again stars Shannon, this time as a father protecting his supernaturally-powerful son, who’s being targeted by a religious cult and the government. Nichols’ dramas have always had an amazing sense of place—specifically, the South or Midwest—and been filled with lived-in, stripped-down characters. Midnight Special feels much bigger—it’s his first being distributed by a major studio (Warner Bros.) and the first with an effects budget—so it’ll be interesting to see if the intimacy of his early gems can translate to this more ambitious endeavor, which costars Adam Driver and Joel Edgerton.
Everybody Wants Some (April 15)
It’s billed as Dazed and Confused but set in the 1980s, and the trailer sure plays that up: All that’s is missing is a stoner Patrick Bateman. This is Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Boyhood, but it’s right in his hey-hey-heyyyyyy-man strike zone, with a whole gaggle of wannabe McConaugheys. You can expect Linklater to embrace his inner bro, always quietly lurking beneath the empathy of some of his best pictures. After Boyhood, Linklater’s just looking for a good time, and no arguments here.
Captain America: Civil War (May 6)
Of the non-Avengers Marvel films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier might be the best, directors Anthony and Joe Russo bringing suspense and stakes to Steve Rogers’ man-out-of-time storyline. The Russos return for this new installment, which will finally feature the showdown between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) that’s been brewing after two Avengers’ movies’ worth of passive-aggressive tension between the superheroes. Civil War seems poised to be Marvel’s highest-grosser outside of The Avengers and its sequel, and that fact brings with it plenty of audience expectation. Considering that Avengers: Age of Ultron was widely considered to be a letdown, the studio may need to prove with Civil War that the bloom isn’t off this particular comic-book rose.
The Nice Guys (May 20)
Writer-director Shane Black survived the excesses of screenwriting superstardom back in the 1990s (the Lethal Weapon films, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero) and has emerged as one of the wittiest, most unabashedly verbal of Hollywood directors. His Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a blast, and he upped the ante with Iron Man 3, which had more twists and surprises than any Marvel movie should have the right to have. He’s sure enjoying himself here, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as 1970s private eyes investigating the death of a porn star. It looks funny, dark, and funky in an accessible way: Think Inherent Vice, but possible to follow.
The BFG (July 1)
At age 69, director Steven Spielberg has been on a hot streak of late, turning his attention to the gripping period dramas Lincoln and Bridge of Spies. For his latest outing, though, he’s shifting gears to make a family film based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book about a kindly giant known as the BFG. (Mark Rylance, an Oscar frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Bridge of Spies, voices the giant.) The BFG will be opening during a very competitive Fourth of July holiday that includes The Legend of Tarzan and The Purge 3 and represents Spielberg’s most commercial project since his wan 2011 animation adventure The Adventures of Tintin. Disney’s teaser trailer suggests an almost Tim Burton-ian sense of spookiness enveloping this film, which is not a usual mode for a Spielberg picture. We’re pretty confident he can pull it off far better than Burton can these days.
Ghostbusters (July 15)
Part of the reason the world balked initially at the idea of another Ghostbusters was that the image of an aging Dan Aykroyd donning the gray jumpsuit one more time seemed…well, less than inspiring. But even if it’s one more cash-grab reboot, an all-female Ghostbusters at least feels fresh enough to get audiences excited about what a new generation of comics can bring to the story. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are among the funniest people on the planet, and in director and cowriter Paul Feig (the director of Bridesmaids and Spy), they’ve got a filmmaker who’s equally comfortable with comedy, action, and sentiment. The biggest worry about this new Ghostbusters is that it’s going to be just a clever concept—hey, what if the Ghostbusters were ladies!?—but we’re willing to be optimistic that these stars will bring much, much more to the premise.
Untitled Jason Bourne Sequel
Not that long ago, Matt Damon sounded like he wasn’t too interested in reprising his role as Jason Bourne, especially after 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum put a satisfying cap on the trilogy. And director Paul Greengrass, who helmed Ultimatum and its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy, seemed equally ready to move on, making Green Zone and Captain Phillips. But after the underwhelming Bourne Legacy, which starred Jeremy Renner and made us really miss Damon and Greengrass, the actor and filmmaker have reunited for a new Bourne picture, which doesn’t yet have a title. In addition, nobody seems to have any idea what it’s going to be about. (You have to love IMDb’s current plot description: “The plot is unknown.”) The Bourne trilogy helped reinvigorate the spy thriller—Daniel Craig’s Bond movies’ muscular action scenes and terse plotting are unimaginable without Bourne’s influence—but now that Skyfall took the formula to new heights, is Damon’s franchise a bit musty? That’s the bar he and Greengrass have to leap over.
The Magnificent Seven (September 23)
Yes, it’s another unnecessary remake, but if you’re going to remake The Magnificent Seven, those seven better be pretty magnificent. It’s tough to beat the top three: Chris Pratt (who, improbably, might be the biggest movie star in the world right now) and Training Day co-stars Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, working under their previous director Antoine Fuqua. With The Hateful Eight in danger of being Quentin Tarantino’s lowest grosser since Jackie Brown, the Western is still in need of saving. If these guys can’t do it, maybe no one can.
Doctor Strange (November 4)
Speaking of Marvel … the studio’s superhero movies have begun to take on a worrisomely familiar look, culminating in Ant-Man, a movie about a man who turns into an ant and calls this a superpower that’s too fan-servicey and obsessed with setting up future Marvel movies to have much fun with the inherent insanity of such a concept. That director Edgar Wright was run off that project has led to fears that Marvel is too obsessed with continuity and merchandise to make any of the daring choices (giving Iron Man to Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr., giving The Avengers to a TV dork like Joss Whedon) that made them so popular in the first place. Well, here’s your hope. This is a comic-book movie in which the lead character is a neurosurgeon/magician who after a car accident discovers the ability to conjure up all the “mystical entities” of the universe. This is the oddest oddball little story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, almost an art film among the Avengers chaos, and it’ll be fascinating to see what Benedict Cumberbatch brings to the role. He’s got some top-shelf company too, with Chiwetel Ejiofor (as the bad guy Karl Mardo), Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton as the good doctor’s mentor. In a different planet, this could have been a Coen brothers film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (December 16)
That sigh you hear is coming from Disney’s corporate offices, where there is much relief that The Force Awakens has successfully relaunched the Star Wars franchise. Episode VIII doesn’t arrive until 2017, but in the meantime there is this spinoff film, which boasts a nifty premise. Taking place before the events of the original Star Wars, Rogue One follows a group of rebel spies as they steal the plans to the Death Star. (Remember in Star Wars when Luke and everybody attend that briefing about how they could blow up the Death Star? Rogue One shows us the undercover mission that made that attack possible.) Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards, who helmed the 2014 Godzilla remake, and it’s got a hell of a cast, including Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker. The commercial stakes for Rogue One won’t be nearly as high as they were for The Force Awakens, but maybe that means this movie will be its own funky beast, not so concerned with living up to the legacy of the original trilogy.
Assassin’s Creed (December 21)
What’s the best movie based on a video game of all time? Mortal Kombat? Tomb Raider? Prince of Persia? The point is that Assassin’s Creed doesn’t have the highest bar to clear, and it comes with a sort of shocking pedigree. How does Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotilliard (fresh off playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth), Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, and Michael Kenneth Williams work for you? And directed by Justin Kurzel, director of the fascinating, and gory, Macbeth adaptation? This has the opportunity to feature some very smart people using a big, recognizable property to make a big, very weird movie in a very different way. Color us intrigued.
Passengers (December 21)
Two of the biggest stars on the planet—Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence—team up for this sci-fi romantic drama. Set in the future, Passengers follows a spaceship carrying hibernating passengers to a distant planet. But when a computer malfunction accidentally awakens one of the passengers (Pratt) prematurely, he decides to awake another crewmember (Lawrence) so he has someone to talk to during the long journey. This follow-up film from Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum is poised to be one of the Christmas season’s bigger wild cards, competing with Rogue One, Assassin’s Creed, and the Jumanji remake, and one of its best selling points is the air of mystery its distributor Sony has placed around it.
Release Dates Unknown:
So here’s a fascinating story, about an American army medic (played by Andrew Garfield) who served during World War II as a conscientious objector, yet still received the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 Americans during the battle of Okinawa … without ever picking up a weapon. The supporting cast is excellent—Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Sam Worthington, and Vince Vaughn, still trying to wash off that True Detective stink—but the real fascination is the director on this one. It’s … Mel Gibson! OK, OK, before you run out of the room, it’s worth noting that for all Gibson’s flaws as a human, he’s a terrific action director; his last film, Apocalypto, was insane yet impeccably put together. To quote South Park: “Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the son-of-a-bitch knows story structure.” We’re cautiously intrigued.
A Hologram for the King
There are two adaptations of Dave Eggers books coming out this year; later on comes The Circle, directed by the white-hot James Ponsoldt, of The End of the Tour and The Spectacular Now. That one is the higher profile one, based off a better-selling book and starring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Patton Oswalt, and a Star Wars-shining John Boyega, but we’re actually looking forward more to this one, directed by Run Lola Run’s Tom Twyker. If he’s anything like the lead character from the book, this should be one of Hanks’ more ambitious roles, an outcast and offshoot of a global economy that is quickly turning against people like him … and making him increasingly desperate. This is less plot-driven than The Circle, and thus a little more fascinating to see how it will translate to the screen.
Russ and Roger Go Beyond
It has been a good couple of years for seeing America’s most famous film critic of all time on the big screen. 2014 brought Life Itself, a sad, funny documentary about the life of the late Roger Ebert, and 2016 brings him in comedic form. Josh Gad will play Ebert in a dramatization of Ebert’s experience writing the screenplay for Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, considered one of the craziest, bustiest, wildest cult films of all time. Perhaps the most fun part: Meyer will be played by Will Ferrell. Michael Winterbottom, perhaps the only guy weird enough to take this on, directs. (Of note: We have a history with Ebert ourselves, as most film critics do.)
A longtime passion project for director Martin Scorsese, Silence was initially believed to be a 2015 release. As of now, no one’s sure exactly when this period drama will be released, but the hope is that it will be unspooled around awards season this winter. Silence stars Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield as seventeenth-century Jesuit priests who travel to Japan, facing persecution once they arrive. (Liam Neeson is supposedly playing the priests’ mentor.) On paper, Silence doesn’t have the same sexy sizzle that projects such as The Wolf of Wall Street or The Departed had, but the simple fact that Scorsese has long wanted to tell this story, based on a 1960s novel that’s inspired by actual events, makes it a must for any fan of the Oscar-winning auteur.
Untitled Woody Allen Movie
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Woody Allen is the reason the two of us started writing and thinking about movies in the first place, so whatever your thoughts on his personal predilections, the coming of a new Woody Allen movie is always big news around these parts. It must be the same for actors, because he keeps getting great ones in his movies: This one stars Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Judy Davis, and Steve Carell. We know nothing of the movie’s plot, or even its title, but that hasn’t stopped us from the previous 47 (!) movies, so it won’t stop us now. Also reportedly coming out this year: the Amazon television series Allen is signed up for, the one he admitted “immediately regretting.”
Speaking of streaming services, here’s this year’s Netflix entry into the Oscar race, on the heels of 2015’s Beasts of No Nation. War Machine is a satire of the leadup to the war in Afghanistan, based off the late Michael Hastings’s terrific book The Operators. The film is directed by David Michod, who made Animal Kingdom and The Rover. This one has plenty going for it, not least of which is Brad Pitt in the lead role, playing General Stanley McChrystal. It’s notoriously difficult to get military satire right, but this one still feels urgent today; it’s a plum fruit ripe for picking.
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic. Follow them on Twitteror visit their site