Just a month ago, I devoted a column to telling you why 2015 could be the biggest year for geek-friendly movies in Hollywood history. And while all that's all well and good, a quick look at the slate of movies that will have to tide us over until the greatest year ever begins reveals at least one recurring theme in the 2014 cinematic calendar: next year is going to be one big gamble after another for movie-loving geeks.
From reboots that bravely reimagine familiar, iconic characters to sequels that boldly go where many films have failed before, there are more than a few movies premiering in 2014 that have studios rolling the dice and taking some big risks.
Here are some of the films to keep an eye on next year, as their success – or failure – could affect more than just the studios' returns on their investments:
RoboCop (February 12)
Director Paul Verhoeven's original 1987 RoboCop was a surprise success that spawned a sprawling franchise that included movies, television series (both live action and animated), video games and multiple comic book series. And it did all of this despite being a brutal, ultraviolent exploration of capitalism, gentrification, the power of the media, the nature of humanit, and a number of other heady themes, and almost becoming the first film to receive an “X” rating due to its intense, bloody action sequences. Still, it turned its modest $13 million budget into a $53 million hit.
Cut to 2014 and audiences are being primed for a PG-13 reboot of RoboCop that seems (according to the various trailers and promotional material released thus far) to dispense with much of the overt philosophical pondering of the original and substitute a heavy dose of CG-fueled action. While the cast of the film is impressive – Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L. Jackson join star Joel Kinnaman (best known for his role in The Killing TV series) – much of the same could be said of 2012's underperforming Total Recall, another PG-13 remake of boundary-pushing, R-rated sci-fi classic from the same period. Could RoboCop be following a similar trajectory?
More importantly, can Brazilian director Jose Padilha (who did a great job with the low-budget action thriller Elite Squad) convince audiences to embrace this new, franchise-friendly version of RoboCop, or will the 2014 version of cop-turned-cyborg-cop Alex Murphy end up on the scrap heap?
300: Rise of an Empire (March 7)
Say what you will about the work of Zack Snyder, but his 2006 adaptation of Frank Miller's relatively obscure (before the movie, at least) graphic novel 300 – about a group of Spartan soldiers' valiant stand against the Persian army in 480 B.C. – was a pleasant surprise for both audiences and the studio that produced it, to the tune of more than $456 million in worldwide ticket sales. The film's unique tone and flashy, eye-catching action became Snyder's calling card in the years that followed, and earned the director a long list of high-profile gigs, including this year's Man of Steel.
Eight years later, a sequel arrives with a new, relatively unknown director behind the camera (Smart People's Noam Murro), and with many of the visual tricks and surprises of the first film now well-worn tropes. Still, the addition of some fresh, talented cast members like Strike Back actor Sullivan Stapleton (as Themistokles) and Casino Royale actress Eva Green (as Artemisia) could bode well for the film, which also sees the return of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) who has seen her star rise dramatically with a prominent role in Game of Thrones. This one really could go either way with audiences, and it will be interesting to see if Murro and the studio can replicate the success of its predecessor.
Noah (March 28)
Darren Aronofsky famously (or rather, infamously) left The Wolverine to direct this film based on his long-standing passion project: a big-screen retelling of the biblical story of Noah and his ark. The film stars Russell Crowe as Noah, and also features Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins in supporting roles (as well as one of my favorite character actors, Kevin Durand) – so it certainly has the star power, the famous filmmaker, the studio support, and the massive budget to do well. Heck, it even has an upcoming graphic novel based on an early version of the script that reportedly features threats from various monsters and other creatures along with the apocalyptic flood.
But is the world ready for a big-budget, biblical adventure with a musclebound Noah? The fact that the film is being heavily marketed to religious groups could just as easily work for or against the project, and with the film hitting theaters a few weeks before Easter, it's likely to get a lot of attention in the run-up to its premiere. Whether that attention will benefit it or sink Noah's ark remains to be seen.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2)
As someone who adored the 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I have high hopes for The Amazing Spider-Man sequel – but I can't help feeling a little concerned about the sheer number of characters from Spidey's rogues gallery making an appearance in the film. So far, it's the villainous trio of Rhino, Electro and Green Goblin with confirmed roles, but the latest trailer hints at three more villains possibly entering the mix (including Vulture and Doctor Octopus). And then there's Sony's announcement that spin-off films featuring Venom and the Sinister Six are in the works, too.
I'm a big fan of Marc Webb's handling of Spider-Man so far, and I have faith in Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci's script, but the memory of Spider-Man 3 and its overcrowded cast of villains still tweaks that part of me that's prone to fanboy rage. Will the group dynamic of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 share more in common with the excellent, well-balanced second X-Men movie or will it fall victim to the same flaws that doomed Spider-Man 3?
Please be more like X2. Thanks.
Godzilla (May 16)
The last time American audiences got a Godzilla movie, it was pretty darn terrible and somehow failed to connect with either mainstream moviegoers or fans of the famous kaiju. In its defense, that 1998 Roland Emmerich movie did make for a memorable scene in 2004's kaiju-friendly ode to Godzilla's 50th anniversary, Godzilla: Final Wars, in which the more familiar version of the monster applies a beat-down to “Zilla,” the American version of Godzilla. The upcoming year will feature our second attempt at getting Godzilla right, and despite our spotty history with the ol' “King of Monsters” here in the U.S., the film appears to be in good hands with director Gareth Edwards (whose 2010 film Monsters was one of my favorite movies of the year).
Early footage of Godzilla has been well received so far, and I'd be lying if my hopes haven't been raised a bit by what's out there now. Still, a fantastic trailer doesn't always mean a great movie, and even Godzilla himself is far from a guaranteed draw for American audiences. This one gets chalked up as yet another movie I desperately want to be good, but sadly, it won't surprise anyone if it flops on this side of the ocean.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23)
In the upcoming Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer will attempt to unite the previous, three-film X-Men film franchise with the more recent X-Men: First Class prequel and both of the Wolverine solo films released so far, creating a single, merged universe for Marvel's mutants. Oh, and he's doing so by bringing back every character (and actor) he possibly can from all six installments and putting them all into the same time-traveling story together.
Yeah, there's nothing that can possibly go wrong with that, right?
More than any other 2014 film, this is the one that could either be the year's most ambitious success story or the most ambitious failure. Either way, you have to admire Singer's chutzpah in even attempting a project like this.
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1)
At this point, it seems weird to consider any Marvel movie a risk, but now that The Avengers proved the viability of a superhero team-up movie as the culmination of multiple solo films, the next big question is whether the studio can take its cinematic universe into space and make use of its vast stable of cosmic superheroes and villains. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy the grand experiment that will provide the answer to that question, but the fact that the film features one of the publisher's most obscure superhero teams only adds to the difficulty level of this box office stunt.
Sure, we got comfortable with the dimension-hopping, alien-god Asgardians, and it didn't take audiences long to warm up to some of the other, more fantastic elements of the Marvel universe introduced in films so far, but the roster of the Guardians of the Galaxy includes a heavily armed, talking raccoon and a walking, talking tree-man.
Basically, it's going to be a weird year, folks.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (August 8)
He may have a lot of critics, but director-producer Michael Bay hasn't had too many misses among the hits on his long resume. Even so, I can't help wondering if the upcoming reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that he's producing might be the next exception to the rule. Sure, Leonardo, Donatello and the rest of the Heroes in a Half-Shell are part of a blockbuster franchise with a 30-year history, but ever since the upcoming, live-action reboot was first announced, there have been some big questions about how much of the characters' history will actually be honored in the film.
Talk of a new origin story that framed the turtles as aliens instead of mutated amphibians got fans worked up into a frenzy a while back, and much of the casting so far hasn't done anything alleviate the fears of the TMNT faithful. Having the Turtles' iconic enemy the Shredder played by a non-Asian actor (William Fichtner) certainly didn't win over longtime fans, and filling the cast with comedic actors like Whoopi Goldberg and Will Arnett has left many wondering whether Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman are taking their beloved Turtles seriously.
Even so, we have yet to see any footage from the film or promotional content, so it's hard to get a good idea of what Bay has planned for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For all we know, the new film could end up being the awesome, fresh take on the characters that will define them for years to come. Given Bay's involvement, one thing we can probably count on is plenty of explosions, though. Turtle Power!
Question of the Week: What's the 2014 film you're most worried about?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and is still not quite sure how he ended up writing (and talking) about comics, video games, and movies for a living. His personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org, and you can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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