The first half of 2017’s popcorn movies will see the usual mix of superheroes and action, as well as a couple of oddballs, including a comedy based on the Baywatch television series.
Fantasy is in a slump on the big screen – witness last year’s critical and box-office disappointments The Huntsman: Winter’s War and Warcraft – in contrast to its success on television.
But not all film-makers have been scared away from tales of knights and knaves.
In May, there is King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, one more try at telling a story that everyone knows. This time, the story is powered by director Guy Ritchie, who made old titles such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Sherlock Holmes (2009, 2011) pop again.
Director Christopher Nolan, who knows his way around superhero movies (the Dark Knight trilogy, 2005 to 2012), takes a break from them this year to helm Dunkirk, a film recounting one of the largest military evacuations in modern times.
Here is a list of the most interesting picks, not necessarily the films that will have the biggest branding campaigns.
FIFTY SHADES DARKER
Opens: Feb 9
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
The hook: This is the rare major release that is not about action or superheroes. In the second of a planned trilogy, Anastasia (Johnson) asserts her independence from the domineering Grey (Dornan).
The first movie based on the best-selling erotic thriller made it to Singapore screens in 2015 uncut and enjoyed the biggest opening here yet for a R21 movie, earning $900,000. Fans here will doubtless be eager to savour the sequel.
• The Lego Batman Movie (Feb 9), in which Will Arnett voices the Dark Knight
• John Wick: Chapter 2 (Feb 16), which sees Keanu Reeves reprise his role as a former hitman
KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Opens: March 9
Stars:Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian
The hook: This reboot of the movie monster is no one-off–it is the first of a series which, in a few years, will see Kong battle Godzilla and who knows what other creatures from the Hollywood bestiary.
This is set in the 1970s, not the 1930s as in the2005 version, so expect an updated arsenal on the human side.
DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Opens: March 16
Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor
The hook: The girl from Harry Potter sings. Unlike recent music-free Disney remakes such as Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2015), this movie has the tunes that keep the 1991 animated version on constant DVD replay. There is no word yet on how much music this will have, but it features three ballads not found in the 1991 movie or the Broadway stage version.
Watson as Belle croons her own songs and leaked audio indicates she makes the grade.
The hook: Hollywood has tried live-action versions of anime–Speed Racer (2008) and Dragonball: Evolution (2009)– and the results were terrible. This time, by aiming at an older audience with a sexy cyborg called Major (Johansson), the producers hope to have a winner.
• Logan (March 2), the continuing adventures of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine
FAST & FURIOUS 8
Opens: April 13
Stars: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham
The hook: It is a macabre reason, but it will be interesting to see how the team dynamics will change after the death of key player Paul Walker in 2013, during the making of the seventh instalment.
For now, it looks like the story, in which Dom (Diesel) goes rogue under the influence of cyber criminal Cipher (Theron), will not have a Walker “type”, a straight arrow who acts as his buddy and conscience.
MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2
Opens: April 27
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice of Rocket), Vin Diesel (voice of Groot)
The hook: The 2014 origin story was the most cartoon-like of the films in the Marvel franchise. Fans loved its mix of 1970s rock, talking animals and slapstick humour.The team of frenemies, led by Quill (Pratt),now quarrel their way around space, evading destruction while coming to grips with Quill’s mysterious father.
• The Boss Baby (April 6), featuring the voice of Alec Baldwin in the titular role
• Gifted (April 20), starring Chris Evans as guardian of a child prodigy in mathematics
Opens: May 11
Stars:Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra
The hook: Beaches, babes, beefcake and maybe a few jokes. This big-budget action-comedy version of the television series is directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, 2011; Identity Thief, 2013), so expect raunchy humour with the sand, sea and crime-solving, lifeguard style.
Opens: May 11
Stars:Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn
The hook: Screenwriter Katie Dippold knows comedy, having penned The Heat (2013) and Ghostbusters (2016). She teams up with Jonathan Levine, director of 50/50 (2011) and Warm Bodies (2013), to make this mother-daughter romp starring Schumer and Hawn as the duo who are kidnapped while on vacation in Ecuador.
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
Opens: May 11
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
The hook: Director Guy Ritchie (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., 2015; Sherlock Holmes, 2009) is a specialist at taking a title people think they know and shocking it back to life. Here, he gives the Camelot crew a makeover, starring Hunnam as the ruffian who has to act like a regent if he is to fight Law’s evil autocrat Vortigern.
Opens: May 18
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, James Franco
The hook: All the anticipation created in the opening movie Prometheus (2012) pays off in the sequel– so we hope. The second in the prequel franchise features the toothy, multi-jawed killers in full, according to rumours from director Ridley Scott’s set.
DISNEY’S PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: SALAZAR’S REVENGE
Opens: May 25
Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Kaya Scodelario
The hook: Jack Sparrow (Depp), Will Turner (Bloom) and Barbossa (Rush) are back after six years, following 2011’s On Stranger Tides.
Depp’s string of turkeys –which include Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016) and The Lone Ranger (2013)– and script troubles have given Disney pause on this. But all that has been worked out. Oscar winner Bardem is the villain Salazar, a ghost out to settle scores with Sparrow.
Opens: June 1
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
The hook: Could this be the female superhero movie that works? The tanking of Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005) gave rise to the idea that fans prefer women who support (Harley Quinn, Mystique, Black Widow), not lead.
Then, Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the best thing in last year’s otherwise soggy Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, raising the hope that this might be the female superhero flick that bucks the trend.
• The Mummy (June 8), in which Tom Cruise battles an ancient princess awakened from her crypt
• Despicable Me 3 (June 15),which has Russell Brand and South Park co-creator Trey Parker joining Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig
• Transformers: The Last Knight (June 22), where one hopes the acting talents of Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci and John Turturro will not go to waste
Opens: July 6
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Donald Glover
The hook: Holland, the latest actor to play the web slinger (after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in recent memory), was a cheeky, fun presence in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. This is not quite an origin story– the life of Peter Parker carries on from the fight in Civil War and includes the mentorship of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr).
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Opens: July 13
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Judy Greer,Andy Serkis
The hook: A shaven-headed Harrelson playing a mad military commander in the vein of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now(1979) sounds like fun.
In the third movie of the rebooted franchise, humans and apes are fully militarised.
Opens: July 20
Stars:Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles
The hook: Writer-director Christopher Nolan uncorks something fresh with each movie he helms (Interstellar, 2014; Inception, 2010).
From the trailer, this drama about the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation that saved more than 300,000 soldiers from German encirclement is immersive, putting the viewer in the shoes of the men waiting on the beach for the boats that would save them.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
Opens: July 20
Stars:Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Ethan Hawke
The hook: This is French director Luc Besson’s return to the realm of space fantasy, a world he left after cult favourite The Fifth Element (1997).
Based on a French comic book, this movie has a sense of playfulness that should make a change from the usual grim, action-based science fiction.
THE DARK TOWER
Opens: July 27
Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Katheryn Winnick
The hook: It has been a while since a work by author Stephen King has had a major movie treatment and book fans should be eager to see how the writer’s magical western, featuring the exploits of The Gunslinger (Elba), will be adapted.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Stay glued to the big screen'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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