21 to See in 2018
I don’t necessarily expect everything on this list to be good – in a couple of cases, far from it – but I’m hopeful that they should all at least be interesting. That’s essentially why I haven’t included any DC or Marvel (cinematic universe) tentpoles; I’m sure Avengers: Infinity War and Blank Panther will deliver, but their trailers thus far have included too many familiar elements (another giant CGI humanoid big back, two more guys in mech suits duking it out) to have made the difference.
As usual, there are a couple from last year’s list that failed to make a 2017 release date – White Boy Rick, Annihilation, The God Particle/Cloverfield Movie 2018 – and I still have high hopes for them. Generally, a Wes Anderson excursion would be at the top of my most-anticipated movies, but I was lukewarm on Fantastic Mr Fox, and his follow-up foray into animation, Isle of Dogs, hasn’t yet grabbed me. Likewise, much as I enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, having not been swayed by his previous offerings, Freak Shift’s proof will be in the pudding of Alicia Vikander battling giant crab monsters.
Did 2017’s to See I’ve seen so far live up to expectations? Suburbicon, The Snowman (both generally slated), The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (both generally raved over) are still on my to do list, but amongst the let-downs were interesting let-downs Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Kingsman: The Golden Circle and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and rather anaemic “okays” Wonder Woman and Dead Men Tell No Tales. Most of the rest, though, were winners. So, without further ado…
I was really rooting for Valerian, even when it became clear how woefully miscast it was. While there were flashes of Besson’s visual brilliance, it was undone by an ungainly structure and pace, and ultimately couldn’t coast on sheer spectacle. If the best thing to do when you get knocked down is to get straight back up again, though, Besson’s next might see him emerging victorious. Not a lot is known, apart from it being an actioner with a female lead (Sasha Luss, who played an alien princess in Valerian) and features Cillian Murphy, Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy. At least Besson’s stalling on Lucy 2.
20. Ready Player One
Does Spielberg still have the chops to make a blockbuster? Or has he lost his touch, able only to service made-to-order prestige pics that receive a pre-rehearsed effusion of accolades but are soon forgotten? I’m inclined to think so. 2016’s The BFG was nothing short of a stinker, and placed next to his other expressly-engineered family entertainment of the 21st century, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, suggests the ‘80s Amblin man can no longer find his inner child, or adolescent. There have been other event movies, sure – the really very good Minority Report and the less-so War of the Worlds – but they were expressly more cynical, adult-skewing fare. Indeed, the only picture you could squarely call a Spielberg of old movie of late was 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, his only all-CGI, mocap madcap animation, offering a level of wit and energy entirely absent from the fourth Indy.
And so we come to Ready Player One, Spielberg presenting us with a dystopia based on geek Ernest Cline’s geek-out novel – one oft derided by other geeks – in which the populace of 2045 Earth escape to the OASIS, a virtual reality world offering the nostalgic comfort blanket of… ‘80s Amblin. Well, pretty much. The movie comes armed with an easy plot propellant of a treasure hunt, so on that level, it’s Spielberg’s ball to drop (there’s also a message about how reality is obviously better, but who was Cline trying to kid, right?)
The problem is, ever since he paired with Janusz Kaminski – 25 years now – the awe has gone out of the berg’s images. His regular cinematographer is fine for more dour fare, but tends to sap the life from anything even slightly carefree (he was only lighting consultant on Tintin, which might explain why it manages to feel like fun). There’s also the little thing of a futuristic virtual world approximating the graphic reality of a contemporary video game. Nevertheless, while there’s a nagging feeling of your out-of-touch uncle trying to get hip again with this (the director even decided to avoid over-referencing his own fare, which is kind of defeating the very point of the nostalgia trap), such that never grownup geek directors whose childhoods were in that era might have been a better bet, the results will be fascinating not just artistically but financially; Spielberg’s bankability is essentially riding on its success, and if Ready Player One flounders, it will be very hard to get anyone excited for Indy 5.
Due Date: 30 March
Steven Knight’s (not to be confused Steven S DeKnight, currently doing his best to kill the Pacific Rim franchise stone dead) biggest success to date has been on the small screen, in the form of Peaky Blinders. Before that he supplied David Cronenberg with the screenplay for one of his best received non-horror/SF movies in Eastern Promises. It’s easy to forget Knight’s less remarkable scripts (Closed Circuit, Allied, Seventh Son) when he can deliver something as small and compelling as Locke, his second feature as director (a capsule movie that entirely works within its enclosed space). Those best forgotten include his directorial debut, Hummingbird.
His third feature, Serenity, not to be confused with Nathan Fillion, is described as a noir thriller – “I wanted to take the genre and upend it” – and has attracted a cast including Matthew McConaughey, Diane Lane and Anne Hathaway. McConaughey’s a fishing boat captain with a dark past that comes back to haunt him, Lane his wife and Hathaway, well, I doubt he’s remaining faithful.
18. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
How did a Melissa McCarthy movie get on here? Bear with me a moment. Director Marielle Heller’s feature debut – which she also wrote – was 2015’s superbly observed The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and here she comes laden with a screenplay from Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the above name, an account of the author’s turn towards forgery and thievery after her publishing career hit a brick wall.
McCarthy plays Israel, while Richard E Grant (REG!) is her best friend and accomplice. Billed as a comedy-drama, it will be interesting to see how Heller tackles her protagonist (Israel showed no remorse for her behaviour, quite the reverse). On the subject of McCarthy, a mention for another 2018 picture, The Happytime Murders, in which she plays a detective teaming with a puppet private eye to track down a serial killer. It comes courtesy of Brian Henson, and sounds like a cross between Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Angel’s Smile Time. Would Jim have approved?
Due Date: 19 October
17. Alita: Battle Angel
Everything about this screams wrong. Robert Rodriguez, one of the sloppiest filmmakers going, entrusted with a long gestating Manga adaption by renowned perfectionist James Cameron? Jimbo’s insistence on the main character replicating the unnaturally large eyes of the illustrated original, as if medium is irrelevant?
But, judging by the trailer, this has something – an unexpectedly introspective tone, Rodriguez displaying unaccustomed care, a general sense, unlike last year’s Ghost in the Shell, that this has been made for a reason, not merely to capitalise on a brand. And it would be too easy to write off the lure of those over-sized eyes. Didn’t many of us take exactly that aesthetically dismissive attitude towards Avatar’s blue cat people? I remain unconvinced that Rodriguez can make a really good movie, but I’m willing to give him a chance to rise to the challenge, and on the evidence of the trailer, Alita should at very least be a fascinating failure.
Due Date: 20 July
16. Dragged Across Concrete
S Craig Zahler is on something of a roll. Bone Tomahawk was a brutally mesmerising horror-western debut. He followed it with more physical carnage in last year’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, which dared to make Vince Vaughn a convincing hard man. Others have tried and failed. One of them, Mel Gibson, co-stars with Vaughn in Zahler’s latest.
They’re a pair of cops – Vaughn’s the temperamental one, though – indulging in wanton police brutality, who need a new cash supply after they’re suspended. They soon find themselves navigating the criminal underworld. Along with Don Johnson and Jennifer Carpenter. Of course, as the debate over Hollywood morals continues apace, Mel’s rehabilitation has its share of critics, particularly thorny if, in contrast to Daddy’s Home 2, he’s making decent movies. Another, The Professor and the Madman, is also due in 2018, in which a professor (Gibson) compiling the first Oxford English Dictionary consults with a Broadmoor patient (Sean Penn), from a screenplay co-credited to John Boorman, and directed by the Apocalypto screenwriter.
15. Blessed Virgin
Paul Verhoeven, don’t ever change. As if the mad Dutchman ever could. He celebrates turning 80 by slipping into Ken Russell mode. Well, almost. Armed with a screenplay from Gerard Soeteman, his regular collaborator pre-Hollywood (and most recently on Black Book), Blessed Virgin is based on Judith C Brown’s Immodest Acts – The Life of a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy. That titillating title might have been fine to attract an audience, but Verhoeven being Verhoeven, he’s chosen the more provocative, Catholic church-baiting, concise one.
Sister Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efra, Elle) entered a convent at nine, at 23 began receiving all manner of visions (religious and erotic), became an abbess (at 30), but was subsequently accused of faking miracles and possession by demons, during which she would rape another nun, and of holding a wedding ceremony with Christ. She was imprisoned for 35 years; whether Verhoeven seizes on the most lurid aspects of the book (shall we guess…), which critics of the title point out makes up a very minor part of it, or focusses on the degree to which her mysticism was real or faked, will likely be the line between this receiving serious appraisal and coming across as merely sensationalist.
Is it bad form to have Marvel come in and bail you out and then repay them by going off and doing precisely what you understood they wouldn’t be doing? Whether Sony did or didn’t say they’d hold off on developing a Spider-Man cinematic universe while Spidey himself had been parcelled out, joining the Avengers as Marvel helpfully produced his standalone movies (Spider-Man: Homecoming was still the biggest superhero movie of 2017, even with all the attention falling on Wonder Woman, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok and – for completely the wrong reasons – Justice League), to rush ahead with the likes of Venom and Silver & Black can only have seemed like an unceremonious slap in the face.
But, having been and gone and done it, and with the proviso that this is from the studio that gave us the Amazing Spider-Mans, left to its own devices (I’m something of an apologist for them, but only something of one), there’s enough reason to be intrigued by Venom, even if it turns out to be a disaster. The least interesting person involved is Ruben Fleischer, who made a dent with Zombieland, but Gangster Squad suggested bigger budgets might not be his thing.
The screenplay from Scott (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) Rosenberg, Jeff (Fringe) Pinkner and Kelly (er, Fifty Shades of Grey) Marcel adapts a couple of mid-‘90s stories in which supersoldier clones are created from the Venom suit, and features the “birth” of Carnage (Riz Ahmed). If this is done well, and Fleischer is selling it as a horror film but “more pop and fun”, it might find itself filling a gap in the superhero market no one knew was there. On the other hand, Sony’s track record with anything hasn’t been so great of late.
Due Date: 5 October
Things went all “blockbuster syndrome” for Duncan Jones in 2016, the fate that befalls perfectly promising and decently talented directors of smaller movies when they have $100m+ budgets thrust upon them and are expected to sink or swim. Warcraft was loved by few, and if not for making a tidy half of its gross in China, would have been deemed an outright flop.
Mute had been planned long before that arrived on the horizon. It’s a smaller affair by some considerable margin, set in Berlin four decades hence, with Alexander Skarsgård as a mute bartender searching for his girlfriend. Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux and Sam Rockwell – as his Moon character – also appear. The imagery suggests Blade Runner neon is very much going to be back in then, but this one won’t have the performance expectations of a 2049 weighing on it; Netflix will be releasing Mute (although Jones said he’d like it to be shown in cinemas too: dream on).
12. The Incredibles 2
Brad Bird probably wasn’t intending to go back to animation any time soon, whatever he says to the contrary. But I don’t expect Andrew Stanton was either, before John Carter’s opening weekend take came in. Bird’s cross to bear was the failure of Tomorrowland, which barely made back its budget (so it came in massively in the red, basically). As a result, following up his 2003 family-based Pixar – is there any other Pixar? – superhero yarn – one that has post-the-fact been accused of taking an objectivist outlook – suddenly seemed a lot more appealing.
I’ll readily admit that the trailer, focussing on Jack-Jack’s superpowers, didn’t do anything for me, but Bird promises The Incredibles 2, which picks up where the original left off, is mostly about Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl (Bob/Mr Incredible is a stay-at-home dad). There’s also the little thing that Bird hasn’t directed an animation I haven’t liked. In other words, if this one’s only as good as Finding Dory, it’ll be a massive disappointment.
Due Date: 15 June
11. Captive State
Rupert Wyatt scored a surprise hit and started a new spin on an old franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but then followed it with a redundant remake of The Gambler, for reasons best known to himself. He was subsequently attached to Fox’s X-Men spinoff Gambit, which still has Channing Tatum attached, but (probably wisely) dropped out. The long and short is, it’s been four years since his last movie, but Captive State might prove that increasingly rare thing – a low-to-medium budgeted sci-fi picture that manages to find itself an audience (co-star John Goodman has some recent history with this and 10 Cloverfield Road).
Co-written with Erica Beeney, Wyatt posits an ET-occupied world, or more specifically Chicago, with Captive State focussing on both the collaborators and resistance. It’s almost inevitable that this will lend itself to a degree of political commentary, just as long as it isn’t so on-the-nose that it gets in the way of the storytelling. Also starring Vera Farmiga, Ben Daniels and Alan Ruck.
Due Date: 17 August
An apparently complete change of pace for Gareth Evans, best known for The Raid movies, and another intriguing, “auteur-based” project that has found a home with Netflix. Dan Stevens travels to a remote island to rescue his kidnapped sister from a religious cult. We’re told the cult will “regret the day it baited this man”.
Whether that means this Evans intends to turn Apostle into a more familiar actioner, as some sites have inferred, or it ends up closer to Straw Dogs meets The Wicker Man (circa 1905), remains to be seen. I really liked The Raid but was less enthused by its sequel, and wouldn’t mind particularly if he Evans devotes himself to a multitude of other projects before circling back round to his promised Raid 3. Also featuring Michael Sheen, possibly getting hacked to death horribly during the third act.
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Depending on which insider has spoken, Disney/Lucasfilm has already written off Solo as a disaster or is expecting it to do exceedingly well. Go figure. Some considerable trepidation for its prospects would be understandable, though, considering that its original directors were fired only a few weeks from completion and little Ronnie Howard then came in for reshoots (read: remade the entire thing, barring effects work), perhaps the most lethargic choice Disney could have gone for outside of Joe Johnston.
To be fair to Ron, he’s occasionally directed a movie with a pulse (Apollo 13, Ransom, Rush, which was only five years ago), but more commonly, he brings a conspicuous anonymity to anything he touches and at his worst a kind of formal incontinence (the Dan Brown adaptations, The Grinch, A Beautiful Mind). There’s also that his last posting on anything George Lucas was the dreadful Lord of the Rings wannabe Willow.
Even with Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement (I mean, he got a credit on The Force Awakens, so his position as a keeper of the Force jewels is firmly in doubt), I have even less hope for this being good than I did when I first heard the idea of a young Han Solo movie, which was negligible. I’d point to Alden Ehrenreich being great in Hail, Caesar!, but apparently he was sent to get acting lessons, and I’d point to Donald Glover being charismatic as hell, but should Lando overshadow Han? Even if Solo arrives in a state of beyond-repair, though, it’s got to be no less must-see.
Due Date: 25 May
8. Hold the Dark
I haven’t seen Saulnier’s feature debut Murder Party, but then, many see his career proper kicking off with 2013’s Blue Ruin, a tense meditation on revenge starring his long-time friend and collaborator Macon Blair. He followed it with 2015’s more genre-embedded Green Room, perhaps not as resonant but more than delivering in the siege horror-thriller stakes. Blair, meanwhile, made a marvellous directing debut that eclipsed both, the tragi-funny shaggy dog I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, and the two are back together for this, with Blair adapting William Giraldi’s novel (and co-starring).
Jeffery Wright’s wolf expert is called to investigate the taking of a child by the beasties from an Alaskan village but discovers a secret that leads to the father (Alexander Skarsgård) taking off in pursuit of his now missing wife (Riley Keough). If it’s anything like Saulnier’s previous pictures, Hold the Dark will be unremittingly compelling viewing and an instant on many critics’ top 10 lists. Yes, it’s going to be shown on Netflix.
I hadn’t paid much attention to Karyn Kusama’s career prior to 2015’s The Invitation – I had enjoyed Aeon Flux despite its failings, so the studio interference retrospectively made sense, and I still haven’t got around to the widely slated Jennifer’s Body – but her dinner party from hell movie really made me sit up and pay attention to whatever she decided to do next (most of it has been TV, so I’m actually lying).
That turns out to be Destroyer, in which Nicole Kidman’s LAPD detective reconnects with her past and gang members from an old undercover assignment following the re-emergence of their leader. The screenplay is courtesy of her Flux and Invitation collaborators Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and the cast reeks of quality (Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford). Kusama has essentially inherited Kathryn Bigelow’s crown as the versatile female genre director, one Bigelow forsook when she decided anything other than prestige fare was beneath her.
6. The Meg
The Stat battles a giant shark. What more could you ask for in a movie? Perhaps only that he’s playing his character from Furious 8. Instead, he’s playing former naval captain and expert diver Jonas Taylor, attempting to rescue Chinese scientists (because box office) from a 70ft extinct megalodon. Ruby Rose plays Jaxx Herd, which isn’t a name unless you’re a disco bison. Jon Turteltaub is calling the shots, which might be a concern if this was supposed to be a tense nail biter, but if it’s going to have a sense of humour, as I hope it will – it’s the Stat! – the director of the National Treasures might supply the right kind of larky tone.
The Meg has been doing the studio rounds since Steve Allen’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror was first published two decades ago, about the same time since there was last an over-sized killer shark blockbuster (Deep Blue Sea). Names attached to the project have included Jan de Bont, Guillermo Del Toro and Eli Roth, but somehow the Stat starring seems just perfect. In the novel, his character’s estranged wife is eaten by the shark, which might be very funny, if in dubious taste, so I doubt will happen, and he manages to kill the shark by… well, no. But, if it’s retained, I suspect that might be very funny too. Certainly, a winning antidote to Jurassic World’s “save the extinct yet unnaturally revivified species” mantra.
Due Date: 2 March
5. Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard rose through the ranks of Joss and JJ collaborator before making his mark with 2012’s directorial debut and genre-twisting delight The Cabin in the Woods. Since then, he contributed to World War Z, adapted The Martian (getting an Oscar nom) and became showrunner of Daredevil before promptly leaving it (solid move) and has been variously attached to screenplays for Robopocalypse, Sony’s The Sinister Six and Fox’s X-Force (the latter two look like they’ll come to nothing).
This picture isn’t a comic book adaptation, though. Rather, it’s a ‘60s set thriller set around a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe, with Chris Hemsworth (who was in Cabin) and Jeff Bridges. A genre picture set in the ‘60s concerning criminal types? And it isn’t the new Tarantino? Will Goddard have the drop on Quentin?
Due Date: 12 October
Paul Verhoeven’s making French movies, while Brian De Palma’s gone to Denmark to direct this thriller from Kon Tiki writer Petter Skavlan, his first picture in four years. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a Copenhagen policeman teaming with another cop (Carice van Houten) to track down the murderer of his partner. The plot shenanigans lead to the involvement of Guy Pearce’s dodgy CIA guy, who is using the suspect to trap ISIS members.
I’ll admit, I’d be more intrigued if this didn’t feature some hacky War on Terror subplot, but the thought of some old De Palma magic, even just a classic set piece or two, makes any accompanying dross worth it.
3. M:I 6 – Mission: Impossible
Obviously, nothing is known plot wise, apart from Sean Harris being back as villain Solomon Lane, and Henry Cavill sporting a Krypton-defying tache. And Michelle Monaghan returning as Mrs Hunt. And that the Cruiser broke his ankle (amongst other injuries) doing one of his ill-advised own stunts.
But apart from those, and the burgeoning basket of regular returnees (Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin), the key ingredient to this one’s success is Rogue Nation man Christopher McQuarrie, once again calling the shots and on screenplay duties. Without really trying or getting bound up in continuity, the M:I series has been one of the most surprisingly satisfying of the past two decades (only one stinker, the second). Bond could do worse than take a leaf out of this series’ book, rather than continually getting caught up in 007’s backstory – that said, there’s supposed to be more of that for Ethan here, but it’s not like it’s been brewing or is likely to get in the way – and internal struggle or trying to emulate Bourne.
Due Date: 26 July
2. The Predator
Commonly referenced as a remake or reboot, it appears Shane Black is actually taking account of both Predator and Predator 2 in this attempt (co-written with Fred Dekker) to give the tepid franchise a Prometheus-esque shot in the arm (“to ‘event-ise’ the Predator again”).
I’m all on board, even given Black’s crutch of a father (or father figure) and his nipper (here Boyd Holbrook and the Wonder/Book of Henry’s Jacob Tremblay) is becoming as overused as his favoured Christmas setting. No one in the cast of former Marines up against the space monster looks like they will overshadow the beast (Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Kane, Alfie Allen; also featuring Olivia Munn, Jake Busey – as the son of Gary’s character – and Edward James Olmos,), but I’m curious if the alt-future 1997 of Predator 2 will be acknowledged in any way. I have my doubts this will succeed in “event-ising” the series, but Black has yet to disappoint as director.
Due Date: August 3
1. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
A few of the pictures on this list will be first seen on Netflix, but Don Quixote finally got its necessary budget from Amazon, the final leg in a mountain for Terry Gilliam to climb that saw his first attempt scrubbed in 1998 with only a “making of” doc to show for it. He tried to remount on a number of occasions, rewriting his screenplay with Tony Grisoni and attracting names such as Michael Palin, Ewan McGregor, John Hurt, Robert Duvall and Jack O’Connell. The main players finally stand at: Jonathan Pryce as Don Quixote (his fourth film with Gilliam), Adam Driver as Sanch Panza stand in Toby Grisoni and Olga Kurylenko as Jacqui. Gilliam seems to think it’s looking good (“It’s surprisingly wonderful”). Hopefully it will be.
Of course, the project has not been without controversies. I’m thinking less of the accusation of damage to a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the production, or the claim by a one-time producer that he owned the rights to the feature, than the background to the collapse of the original movie, of which the final straw was Jean Rochefort’s double herniated disc. In the last few years, it was learned that the actor was keen to get away from Gilliam's production and the injury essentially facilitated that (Rochefort felt his body somehow spoke for him); he held the director responsible for starving Quixote’s horse to make it look emaciated. Rochefort, a great horse lover, reported that the animal died the day after he left set.
It’s the kind of thing, on top of the endless sexual impropriety allegations permeating Hollywood, that makes you think there must be nary a decent person in the film business. Enough to make you wonder why you held a filmmaker in esteem if they have no problem starving an animal for the sake of a trifling movie. Rochefort’s claims have been raised by commenters on Gilliam’s Facebook page, but he hasn’t responded; I’d be surprised if it doesn’t dog the director’s publicity rounds when the picture comes out (it was commonly cited in Rochefort’s obituaries). In that light, should this be Number One? Is looking forward to The Man Who Killed Don Quixote somehow condoning the director's actions? I’d say not, although we all have to draw own lines in the sand in such matters. If Rochefort’s account is the whole story, Gilliam needs to address the matter, but also, after all this time, I’d like to see if Gilliam really did have a great story to tell.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.