This is part one in a two-part series; the second article, focusing on TV, drops next week.
Full disclosure: This list is heavily influenced by my own preferences, which skews more pop culture than high brow.
Personal opinion always informs any such list, whether the author clarifies that or not. I don't think this is strictly a bad thing—would you want a list of movies I have no interest in seeing, just because they're fashionable or whatever? While the idea of creating such a list strikes me as kinda funny, I don't think it'd be very useful.
Anyway, if you're following me, chances are good we have similar interests and therefore this list will satisfy your needs.
Selections are ordered by release date, though the very first entry may be the one I'm most excited to see.
Dune: Part Two
In theaters March 1
Because I'm a nerd who loves disappearing into other worlds and especially since I like writing speculative fiction, it was sort of required I read Dune. I don't know who issues such edicts, but I'm enough of a rule-follower that I dutifully struggled through the book. It's a masterful, foundational text of science fiction, but it's also intentionally obtuse and sometimes even a little boring.
I've read Dune twice, most recently in 2012, after which I left a 4-star rating on Goodreads (out of a possible 5 stars). So I didn't hate the book. But the lingering impression is one of vague confusion. I now feel inclined to read Dune a third time so I can better articulate my feelings about it. But maybe this lack of clarity works as a meta explanation of the book itself.
Suffice it to say, I was cautiously optimistic for Dune (2021), especially after I saw the first trailers. Some nerd somewhere will take umbrage with this, but whatever, this is my article: The film completely eclipses the book, elevating what makes Dune such a powerful story while minimizing (or clarifying) points of confusion. It's also a breathtaking spectacle of sight and sound. There's still plenty of WTF, but now that's just narrative seasoning as opposed to uncertainty.
I loved the 2021 movie. And here's the crazy part: it was mostly just setup. A lot of the really interesting stuff is yet to come.
The Fall Guy
In theaters March 1
I'd never heard of The Fall Guy until I started researching for this article. Even then, I initially passed over this movie because the premise—a stuntman who's getting long in the tooth has to become an actual hero, for real—didn't grab me. Then I watched the trailer. I'd advise you to do the same. It's soooooo good.
Fresh off Barbie, Ryan Gosling plays the stuntman forced to become something more. The premise is ridiculous, and while the film looks hilarious, it treats the stakes honestly. This isn't a parody. It feels more like how The Guardians of the Galaxy mixes humor with action.
I'm gonna go on record: I think The Fall Guy will be one of the funniest movies this year. Given it launches day and date with Dune: Part Two and its light-hearted vibe pairs nicely with Dune's solemnity, maybe the two films will be 2024's Barbenheimer? I'll even give it a name sure to become viral—Fune. Pronounced 'Phune,' obviously.
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
In theaters May 24
The only Mad Max movie I'd seen prior to Fury Road was Beyond Thunderdome, which is universally considered terrible. I didn't realize that when I started watching it on random Saturday afternoons on TBS or whatever. I just enjoyed seeing Tina Turner preside over gladiatorial contests inside a giant jungle gym, with an unsightly crowd dangling from the bars chanting, "Two man enter, one man leaves." It left an impression.
I thought I knew Mad Max, but I wasn't ready for Fury Road. Seeing it in the theater remains one of my favorite movie memories. Lots of movies talk about being adrenaline thrill rides, but Fury Road meant that shit. I think I stopped breathing for about 40 minutes.
Now comes Furiosa, a prequel about the one-armed badass. Charlize Theron won't be back, alas, as the story occurs when she's a young woman and presumably still has all of her extremities. I generally consider prequels a lesser form of entertainment, but nonetheless, I'm excited about this one.
Inside Out 2
In theaters June 14
I've never properly ranked the Pixar films, but I can confidently say Inside Out is somewhere in my top 5. It's the best of everything Pixar is good at: hilarious, heartwarming narratives that leave you simultaneously feeling better about the world and also reconsidering parts of your life.
Sitting here pondering it just now, Inside Out may be peak Pixar. I dunno. The Incredibles and Wall-E are in the mix, as is at least one of the Toy Story movies. Mount Rushmore has four faces; Mount Pixar can, too.
So the bar is pretty damn high for Inside Out 2. I'm a bit torn on the idea of a sequel at all, as the original is so perfect. Hopefully we'll at least find out if the adolescent boy Riley had a crush on still lives in her brain, eternally declaring he would die for her.
In theaters July 26
I'm only the most casual of comic book readers, but even I know that Deadpool and Wolverine are long-time frenemies. Bringing their relationship to life on the big screen seemed like an impossible dream. Hugh Jackman had already hung-up his adamantium claws, and he's the only Wolverine anyone cares about. Would it really be the same if they'd recast Jackman for Deadpool 3?
No. The answer is clearly no.
Fortunately, Jackman's real-life bromance with Ryan Reynolds eventually brought him back into the fold, and by fold, I mean the iconic yellow spandex suit. That's worth the price of admission alone.
Movies about people with superpowers have worn out their welcome, but Deadpool remains an anomaly, in part because it's as much satire as it is action. In a post-superhero Hollywood, things like Deadpool and The Boys have become the best way to approach these stories. Uber-powerful aliens with genocide fetishes are so 2019, bro. Gimme super-powered dick jokes any day.
In theaters June (Chapter 1) and August (Chapter 2)
Chances are good you know about Horizon even if you've never heard the name. Horizon is the other woman in the Kevin Costner/Yellowstone relationship, the project he started snubbing Yellowstone for, necessitating a soft reset of the TV show (and the rumored casting of Matthew McConaughey, whose name I can never spell without Google's assistance). That's not exactly fair, though, as Horizon has been Costner's passion project since 1988.
Writing about The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien famously said the tale grew in the telling. That has been the case with Horizon, which was initially envisioned as a single film but has ballooned out to a 4-part series, the first half of which releases this summer. The trailer is almost exactly 10 seconds of Costner reining up and shooting a rifle at someone(s) behind him.
Look: The guy was put on this Earth for two reasons. 1) Playing washed-up jocks on their last chance at glory but really in pursuit of redemption, which obviously also involves a girl; and, 2) Playing grizzled cowboys who won't flinch from doing what needs doing. He's most comfortable in movies involving horses or balls.
Horizon takes place around the time of the Civil War, and in that way, is a Western in the traditional sense, not the nouveau, horses and trucks one.
In theaters September 7
On one hand, this is a sequel to a classic film that released 36 years ago, one that nobody expected or maybe even wanted. On the other hand, Tim Burton is back in the director's seat, and the key cast members—Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'hara—are reprising their roles. On a third hand (which works in this instance since Beetlejuice is all about comedic body horror), I offer you two words: Jenna Ortega.
After her star-making turn as the principle character in Wednesday, I'd hate to see Ortega pigeonholed as the alt-goth girl in quasi-horror fare. But she's soooo good at it. Frankly, as much as I love the original Beetlejuice, I'm solely excited about the sequel because of Ortega.
In theaters September 13
I always feel genuinely surprised whenever I see a new Transformer movie release, like—they're still making these? Who's watching them? It's the sort of disbelief you feel whenever someone mentions sending a fax. What century is this???
Transformers One is an animated film, the true home for this franchise; in the live action films, there is no escaping the sense you are just watching blurry CGI with a smattering of green-screened humans to provide emotional stakes. I'm hopeful Transformers One liberally borrows some of Spider-Verse's colorful and fun mojo. These are giant alien machines that reconfigure their bodies at whim to blend-in—this is not a serious franchise. Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm, and Lawrence Fishburne are just a handful of the actors voicing the machines.
Not for nothing, but the last animated Transformers movie is also the first animated Transformers movie, which is also the only truly great Transformer movie—The Transformers: The Movie. The 1986 classic traumatized an entire generation of kids. I'm not going to be so bold as to claim it was our Vietnam, but there was a lot of crying and an existential listlessness in 1986.
Joker: Folie à Deux
In theaters October 4
Full disclosure: I've never seen Joker (2019).
I imagine this confession elicits one of two responses:
- What? How can you claim to be a pop culture guy if you haven't seen this important film? Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for playing an insane clown villain.
- Meh. I haven't seen it either.
I don't know exactly why I never got around to it. I even bought it, sight unseen, because I felt like I should watch it. But I never felt in the right place emotionally. Some movies you just know are gonna kick you in the balls, and it's hard to sign up for that sort of abuse.
Anyway: In a truly inspired bit of casting, the sequel adds Lady Gaga to the mix as Harley Quinn. Interestingly, the addition of Gaga makes me far more interested in this one, enough that I'm going to sit down and finally watch Joker, even if I have to use one of those A Clockwork Orange eye contraptions. I've never really recovered from Gaga's performance in A Star is Born.
The title (Folie à Deux) is French for 'shared madness.' Just so we're all clear about the general vibe. A love story, with bouts of mania and occasional ball-kicking.
In theaters November 22
When I first heard there was going to be a Gladiator sequel, my initial response was basically: Why? And shortly thereafter: How? After all—spoilers!—Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, heroically dies in the first movie. Imagine if the sequel was just Maximus walking through fields of long grain in the afterlife.
So sadly, there will be no Russell Crowe. But Ridley Scott went out and got the next-best thing: Denzel Washington. Looking forward to the scene where Denzel tells a crowd of confused gladiators, "King Kong ain't got shit on me!"
The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim
In theaters December 13
You had me at Rohirrim.
I've always had a soft spot for the Horse-lords of Rohan. There is so much old-world nobility in how they hold themselves, so much poetic melancholy in King Théoden, the last of his line. Everybody gets worked up over Aragorn's stoic heroism or Legolas' chiseled beauty, but Théoden might be my favorite character. Just listen to the way this guy talks.
Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?
I guess moping about his dusty throne room inspires him. He's really on his game when certain death awaits.
The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep one last time. Let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn.
Speaking of Helm Hammerhand: The War of the Rohirrim is an animated film about the legendary king of Rohan, the guy Théoden name-drops before Gimli starts blowing on that insanely large horn. So this is basically a prequel, but Amazon has nothing to do with it, so hope endures.
Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse
In theaters TBA
The animated Spider-Verse films are single-handedly keeping my love for superhero films alive.
The MCU lately has been simultaneously overdone and undercooked, and DC is doing DC things (e.g. loud and stupid). In contrast, the Spider-Verse movies are vibrant, fun, and push the genre forward. The only fly in this web: Beyond the Spider-Verse recently moved from its initial March 2024 release to an undefined date, which might end up being 2025. Given Across the Spider-Verse ended on a huge cliffhanger, that is a major bummer.
I just noticed this list is almost entirely comprised of sequels and spin-offs. Make of that what you will.