ZAMM.COM: Future Films

By Martin Grove,

Future films You don't need a crystal ball to tell Hollywood's future.

A careful look at competitive release schedules for 2014 is sufficient to predict that Hollywood's likely to enjoy another good year at the boxoffice. The same formula that worked so well in 2013--domestic theatrical grosses were approximately $10.9 billion, up nearly 1 percent from 2012--should generate good results again this year.

That formula, as I wrote here in last week's column about 2013's top grossing films, is that big brands (familiar franchises and stars) plus big budgets plus massive marketing money plus broad playability plus 3D generally equals blockbuster business. It's not foolproof, but Hollywood's found that it works most of the time.

Hollywood typically releases its highest profile films to coincide with (or, sometimes, precede) holiday weekends when moviegoing expands. Understandably, many of this year's most anticipated films will arrive just in time to help people fill a few hours as they celebrate holidays.

Today's notes about future films (mostly franchise episodes, but also a few originals that could spawn new series) that look promising aren't meant to be a complete list of everything that's opening. This is just a snapshot of what the marketplace will look like at key times during the year and an indication of how moviegoers are likely to be spending their time and money. There always will be box office surprises, both good and bad, and invariably as the year moves on some release dates are bound to change.

JANUARY: Martin Luther King Day is the New Year's first long holiday weekend, running from Jan. 17-20. It's typically a great moviegoing weekend because there we are just two weeks after the holidays have ended and everybody's ready to enjoy another break from school or work. What's nice about MLK weekend from Hollywood's point of view is that with cold winter weather across most of the U.S., movies don't have to compete for attention with outdoor activities like picnics, barbecues and visits to the beach as they do in the spring and summer. It takes really extreme blizzard conditions to keep people away from multiplexes over MLK weekend, which is why it is always crowded with new wide releases.

Of those arriving this time around, the PG-13 action comedy Ride Along is looking very strong. Directed by Tim Story, it stars Ice Cube, Kevin Hart and John Leguizamo. Ride's tracking through the roof as a first choice for black moviegoers and, overall, it's a double digit first choice for under-25 males.

Hart plays a fast-talking guy who talks his girlfriend's police detective brother (Cube) into letting him ride along one night as Ice patrols the streets of Atlanta. It turns out to be a wild night that leads them to the city's most notorious criminal.

Another high profile MLK weekend entry is the PG-13 action thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Based on characters created by Tom Clancy, it stars Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley. It's tracking best with over-25 males.

Pine plays a young stockbroker recruited by the CIA, who uncovers a financial terrorism plot by a Russian billionaire (Branagh) to collapse the U.S. economy.

FEBRUARY: Valentine's Day, which falls on a Friday this year, is always a good time for a romantic comedy. About Last Night, a remake of the 1986 film based on David Mamet's play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, is perfect for couples planning a Feb. 14 movie date. The original was the first feature film directed by Edward Zwick and starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and James Belushi.

The new movie's directed by Steve Pink and stars Kevin Hart, Joy Bryant and Regina Hall. The storyline about two couples' efforts to find lasting love after meeting in a bar is a natural for Valentine's Day romantics.

Moviegoers looking for lasting love can find it in multiplexes starting Feb. 14 when the remake of the romantic drama Endless Love opens. Directed by Shana Feste and starring Gabriella Wilde, Alex Pettyfer and Bruce Greenwood, it's a new take on the 1981 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt and Shirley Knight.

Its storyline about a young madly in love couple whose parents try to keep them apart brings to mind similar plot points in Romeo and Juliet, all of which fits nicely with the idea of Valentine's Day movie dates.

MARCH: March doesn't have any national holidays, but that won't stop Hollywood from launching some high profile films. One of the biggest--and clearly hoping to go out as March often does like a lion--is the fantasy adventure Noah, opening Mar. 28. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, it stars Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Jennifer Connelly. Russell Crowe plays Noah, upon whose familiar biblical story the film is based.

APRIL: Easter Sunday falls on Apr. 20 this year, making the weekend of Apr. 18-20 perfect timing for an event film like the sci-fi action thriller Transcendence.

Directed by Wally Pfister, it's his first feature as a director after serving as director of photography on such films as The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Dark Knight and Batman Begins. Starring are Johnny Depp, Kate Mara and Rebecca Hall.

Depp plays a terminally ill scientist whose brain's uploaded to a computer, after which his powers are profoundly great and there's no stopping him.

MAY: May starts on an unofficial holiday note since Hollywood marketers like to launch the extended summer movie season then. This year the big day is May 2 when the 3D fantasy action adventure The Amazing Spider-Man 2 arrives in theaters.

Directed by Marc Webb, it stars Andrew Garfield as Spidey and Peter Parker, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx. In this second episode of the rebooted Spider-Man franchise, Peter finds that being Spider-Man comes at a price since only Spidey can protect his fellow New Yorkers from the formidable villains that threaten the city. Now Peter must confront Electro (Foxx), a new and far more powerful villain.

The first episode in the rebooted franchise opened July 3, 2012 to $62 million and went on to gross $262 million domestically. May winds down with Memorial Day on Monday, May 26, one of the year's top moviegoing weekends and for many years the traditional kick off for the summer movie season.

The 3D fantasy action adventure X-Men: Days of Future Past will arrive in theatres Friday, May 23 to get the celebrating underway. Directed by Bryan Singer, the new episode stars Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen. This time the X-Men fight a war for the survival of the species across two time periods. The original X-Men trilogy characters join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class in an epic battle to change the past so as to save the future.

JUNE: Every day in June is prime summer playing time, which makes the entire month a virtual holiday. June will kick off with a classic style summer event film--the 3D sci-fi action thriller Edge of Tomorrow. Directed by Doug Liman, it stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton.

Edge takes place in the near future when an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault that no military unit can stop. Cruise plays an officer who's never seen battle until he's sent into what looks like a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, he somehow finds himself in a time loop where he must re-live the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again and again.

With each battle, however, he becomes better able to engage his adversaries and increase his skill. Together with a Special Forces warrior (Blunt), they take the fight to the aliens and each repeated encounter brings them one step closer to defeating the enemy.

June will end with the arrival of Transformers: Age of Extinction on June 27, putting it in position one week before July Fourth weekend, one of the year's biggest moviegoing holidays.

Directed by Michael Bay, the latest episode in the blockbuster sci-fi action adventure franchise stars Mark Whalberg, Jack Reynor and Brenton Thwaites.

In this story, which picks up after Moon's conclusion, humanity's picking up the pieces and Autobots and Decepticons have pretty much disappeared. A group of powerful businessmen and scientists, attempting to learn from past Transformer incursions, push the boundaries of technology beyond what they can control. Meanwhile, an ancient, powerful Transformer menace sets its sights on Earth.

JULY: There's more high profile sci-fi action adventure on tap for July, including 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment's 3D Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, opening July 11. Directed by Matt Reeves (Let Me In), it stars Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Andy Serkis.

In the franchise's latest episode a growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar (Serkis) is threatened by a band of humans who survived a devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. Although they reach a fragile peace, it doesn't last and both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who emerges as Earth’s dominant species.

AUGUST: Summer starts winding down in August, but there will be new 3D sci-fi action to keep moviegoers energized. A case in point is Guardians of the Galaxy, opening Aug. 1. Directed by James Gunn, it stars Lee Pace, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.

The Guardians are 31st century aliens who travel back in time to enlist help to battle an evil alien race attempting to conquer Earth's solar system.

SEPTEMBER: After a sci-fi summer targeted to young moviegoers, Hollywood's fall focus will shift to more adult driven stories--like the crime thriller The Equalizer, opening Sept. 26. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, it stars Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz and Melissa Leo.

Based on a 1980's TV series, the film's story revolves around a veteran covert operative (Washington) seeking redemption for his past dark deeds. After quitting a CIA-like agency, he devotes himself to helping victims of injustice.

OCTOBER: Moviegoers who enjoy suspense thrillers can start October with Gone Girl, opening Oct. 3. Directed by David Fincher, it stars Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck and Missi Pyle.

Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, it's the story of a woman (Pike) who mysteriously disappears on her wedding anniversary. Her husband (Affleck), the prime suspect, must prove his innocence, but all is not as it seems.

NOVEMBER: November ushers in the year-end holiday season so there's usually a return to the kind of large scale big event films that are identified with the summer. For instance, the sci-fi action adventure Interstellar, opening Nov. 7.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, it stars Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain.

Based on a scientific theory developed by a Caltech physicist, the film's story revolves around a group of explorers who travel through a wormhole and wind up in another dimension, making it possible for them to overcome the vast distances of interstellar space travel.

Thanksgiving falls this year on Thursday, Nov. 27.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, directed by Francis Lawrence, opens Nov. 27 and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Sam Clafin. Based on the third book in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, it's the first half of the two episode conclusion to the film franchise. The second half, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, is scheduled to open Nov. 20, 2015.

The series' most recent episode, Catching Fire, opened last Nov. 22 to $158.1 million and has grossed $407.5 million through last weekend.

DECEMBER: The week from Christmas through New Year's is Hollywood's best grossing time of the year other than the summer season. As always, high profile product will hit the multiplexes in time for the holidays and with something for everyone to see.

The first few weeks of December are challenging for many new films because people are busy then doing their shopping and partying with friends and co-workers to celebrate the holidays. One film that clearly won't have any trouble attracting moviegoers is the 3D fantasy adventure The Hobbit: There and Back Again, opening Dec. 17. Directed by Peter Jackson, its ensemble cast includes Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis.

In the franchise's concluding episode we find out if Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and the Dwarves can reclaim Erebor and hold on to it and the treasure they're seeking.

The series' most recent episode, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, opened last Dec.13 to $73.6 million and has grossed $229.6 million through last weekend.

When Christmas Day finally arrives, Santa always has plenty of movies waiting for audiences everywhere since by then everybody's ready to relax. One of this Dec. 25's highest profile openings will be Disney's musical comedy fantasy Into the Woods.

Directed by Rob Marshall, Woods stars an ensemble cast, including Johnny Depp (as the Wolf), Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep.

Adapted to the screen by James Lapine from the 1987 Broadway hit musical by Stephen Sondheim, it's the tale of a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Blunt) who desperately want children. To do so, they strike a deal with a Witch (Streep), who promises them a child if they bring her some very special items--including, Little Red Riding Hood's (Lila Crawford) cape, Jack from the Beanstalk's (Daniel Huttlestone) milky-white cow, Cinderella's (Kendrick) slipper and some of Rapunzel's (Mackenzie Mauzy) long golden hair. To accomplish all this, the Baker must travel into the dark and mysterious woods and battle a Giant (Frances de la Tour), also from the Beanstalk, who threatens to destroy the entire village.

Bottom line: If you liked 2013's movies, you'll find lots more to enjoy at the multiplexes in 2014.

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