By BARRY HERTZ
Friday, January 5, 2018
Exactly one year ago, everything seemed fine in the Hollywood ledger. The months ahead promised sequels, reboots and all manner of hopeful blockbusters - enough premium studio content to blow past the box-office high set in 2016, when North American moviegoers forked over $11.4-billion (all figures U.S.).
But then, audiences actually saw what 2017 had on offer - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Baywatch, The Mummy - and decided to spend their time and money elsewhere, leading to a 2.5-per-cent box-office dip from the year before, and the worst summer movie earnings in 11 years.
Eternally optimistic and cocksure, the industry is betting 2018 will be a turnaround year - and given the ludicrous number of tentpole productions slated for release - approximately 50 sequels, reboots, remakes, spinoffs and hopeful franchise-launchers from now till Christmas - they may not be wrong.
To prepare for the big-budget onslaught, The Globe and Mail presents its guide to the 10 potential blockbusters that will likely dominate the next 12 months - for better, and for worse. (All release dates subject to change.)
FIFTY SHADES FREED
The Fifty Shades series is one that helpfully writes its own jokes. For instance, the trilogy's final entry arrives with the tag line, "Don't Miss the Climax."
Har-har, not bad. If only the rest of the E.L. James adaptation took itself less than completely utterly madly seriously. Still, expect the James Foley-directed romance to be on top of the box office this Valentine's Day.
And if you found any sexual innuendo in that last sentence, it is of your own making. (Feb. 9)
READY PLAYER ONE
The inclusion of this Steven Spielberg film is a bit of a cheat, since the sci-fi drama isn't technically a sequel, remake or reboot. Yet it does have the potential to be the franchise to end all franchises, as its core concept - the story focuses on a virtual-reality world where users can appropriate all manner of pop-culture identities and items, from riding alongside the Iron Giant to cruising in Back to the Future's DeLorean to taking on the form of Freddy Krueger - is an intellectual-property explosion. Judging by the trailers released so far, Ready Player One seems less like a standalone film and more an uber-franchise, engineered to appeal to anyone who's seen a movie in the past four decades. (March 30)
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Speaking of uber-franchises, Avengers: Infinity War is what Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building toward for 19 films over the course of nine years. Nothing like this superhero bonanza has ever been attempted before, with directors Joe and Anthony Russo coralling dozens of heroes (ie., billions worth of intellectual property) into one adventure.
Spider-Man, Iron Man, Groot, Doctor Strange, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and so many, many more do-gooders will crowd the screen this May as they battle the intergalactic CGI thingy Thanos (Josh Brolin). If one supersized Marvel extravaganza wasn't enough for a single year, the studio is also rolling out Black Panther (Feb. 16) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6) in 2018, too. Everything in moderation, right? (May 4)
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
Since reawakening the Force in 2015, Disney has been slotting its new Star Wars films in December, ensuring no one in your family will escape Christmas without enduring at least one sassy droid. With Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Mouse House is going back to the summer, the traditional season for Lucasfilm's space operas. But Solo, chronicling the smuggler's pre-Jedi days, represents more than a change in the release calendar. This past summer, the film underwent the most highprofile behind-the-scenes shakeup in recent industry memory. With about two-thirds of the film already shot, co-directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) were fired, replaced by Ron Howard.
Now, with only five months until release, Solo has yet to release a trailer, a teaser or much in the way of marketing - and the future of Disney's multibillion-dollar bet on Lucasfilm hangs in the balance. We love you, Han, but ... well, you know that already. (May 25)
Before 21st Century Fox's favourite trash-talking, self-regenerating merc with a mouth becomes part of the Disney family thanks to a $52.4-billion merger, Ryan Reynolds's Deadpool returns for another presumably vulgar superhero outing. Whether a second go-round will be as shockingly successful as the first ($783-million worldwide), it's a safe bet Reynolds and Co. will double down on the swearing, the violence, the nudity and everything the PG-rated Avengers stand against. Along with Fox's other coming outings X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Nov. 2) and The New Mutants (April 13), the yeahwhatever-titled Deadpool 2 may mark the last time any mutants fall under Rupert Murdoch's purview. Go out with a bang, fellas. (June 1)
THE INCREDIBLES 2
As Pixar (another Disney-owned property, in case you forgot which corporation will dominate 2018) seems in the habit of mostly making sequels these days, it was only a matter of time before they returned to the animated world of Bob Parr and his superfamily. Brad Bird is again in the director's chair, and likely hopes this new adventure will wash away both memories of his 2015 effort Tomorrowland, and any lingering toxic-workplace headlines involving "on-leave" Pixar chief John Lasseter. (June 15)
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM
Just like the dinosaurs it houses and consistently fails to control, the Jurassic Park franchise will just not stay dead. Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World blew away box-office expectations in 2015 ($1.6-billion worldwide, or almost double the amount earned by both Jurassic Park III and Jurassic Park: The Lost World) - if not earning much critical love. The fifth instalment in the theme-park series - remarkably not based on an actual theme park ride, like so many other modern Hollywood joyrides - looks to be more of the same ... but this time, with a volcano! Run, hide, adopt a false identity, try whatever you like - but you will not escape this behemoth. (June 22)
Studios are used to pumping out traditional sequels and spinoffs.
But The Nun, which is part of the surprisingly strong Conjuring Cinematic Universe, is an ancillary product not quite seen before. The horror movie, directed by Corin Hardy, is a spinoff of The Conjuring 2, which itself inspired Annabelle, a prequel to the first Conjuring, and Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to its own prequel. All of this makes The Nun - which is about exactly what you think - the fifth film in a franchise that comprises one starting-point film, one sequel, two prequels that are also kinda spinoffs and, now, a spinoff of that original sequel. Scary stuff. (July 13)
Everyone who loved Justice League ... wait, where are you all going? Even though Zack Snyder's 2017 superhero team-up didn't deliver as anticipated ($650-million worldwide as of press time, nearly $1-billion less than Marvel's original superhero team-up The Avengers earned in 2012), Warner Bros. isn't about to give up on its comic book slate yet. Perhaps James Wan's Aquaman spinoff starring Jason Momoa will deliver a flood of good news to Warner - or it'll end up all wet. And yes, I refuse to apologize for these water puns, as I'm positive the film itself will be 60 per cent exactly that. (Dec. 21)
Despite the fact that the last Transformers film was a gigantic middle finger to the medium of cinema, it made enough ($604million worldwide) to justify Paramount's continued pursuit of filthy Autobot lucre. In the franchise's first spinoff/prequel, and the first Transformers film to not be helmed by vulgar auteurist Michael Bay, Travis Knight's Bumblebee looks exclusively at the adventures of the mute, yellow alien-robot of the title. Expect incoherence and many, many utterances of "Why, lord, why?" from exhausted parents dragged by their offspring. (Dec. 21)
Top: The superhero bonanza Avengers: Infinity War is what Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building toward for 19 films over the course of nine years. Above: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth instalment in the Jurassic Park series, looks to deliver more of the same.
Top: Expect Fifty Shades Freed, the final movie of the Fifty Shades trilogy, to be on top of the box office this Valentine's Day. Above: Ready Player One has the potential to be the franchise to end all franchises.