The first quarter of a calendar year is often when studios dump movies that are neither worthy of summer blockbuster status nor potential Oscar material. Which is to say, the pickings often are a tad slim.
However, in recent years, in a fit of counterprogramming, a few studios have busted out some potential tentpoles and other surprises (see also: “Black Panther”).
Here are several interesting-looking movies slated to appear from now through April. All release dates are subject to change.
Helen Mirren stars as the widow Sarah Winchester, responsible for the totally bonkers Winchester Mystery House, the home that she built and kept building for 38 years in San Jose, Calif., to keep the ghosts at bay. (That is not an allegory – she really believed she was cursed.)
▪ “Fifty Shades Freed”
We reach, perhaps, the end of the line with these films, as Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson), now newlyweds, attempt to escape their pasts (well, mostly his). That is not to be. I say “perhaps” because “Fifty Shades” author E.L. James is in the process of publishing a new trilogy telling the exact same story from Grey’s POV, including “Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian” (2015) and “Darker: Fifty Shades Darker as Told by Christian” (2017). This just in: E.L. James is a stone cold genius.
▪ “Peter Rabbit”
James Corden stars as the voice of the titular, CGI-ed character, a rabbit in a coat who has been a children’s literature staple since 1902. Written and directed by Will Gluck (“Easy A,” the 2014 “Annie”), the picture, set in modern times, features Domhnall “General Hux” Gleeson as Mr. McGregor and Rose Byrne as the love interest for, uh, both.
▪ “Black Panther”
What more is there to say? Directed by Ryan “Creed” Coogler, “Black Panther” is easily the season’s most anticipated popcorn picture, perhaps the year’s. There have been two or three trailers for this thing, and they have been total fist-pumps, with superheroes and hip-hop blended together perfectly.
Chadwick Boseman reprises his “Captain America: Civil War” role as T’Challa/Black Panther, now returning home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country.
When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) to fight threats internal and external to his extraordinary nation.
And let’s be real: The best part of the trailer for the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War,” which comes out in May, is when T’Challa points to bearded Captain America, clearly on the lam in Wakanda, and says, “Get this main a shield.”
▪ “Early Man”
The very old meets the slightly less very old in this awesome-looking feature from stop-motion master Nick Park (“Wallace and Gromit,” “Chicken Run”). Eddie Redmayne voices Dug, a caveman who is having a perfectly nice, stone-tool life when he and his tribe run smack into Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) and his Bronze Age army. Looking like a very good entry into the “Well, ‘Black Panther’ is sold out – what should we see?” sweepstakes.
This is an interesting one – Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac star in this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s award-winning 2014 sci-fi novel about a team of scientists who go to investigate a region known as Area X. Many groups have tried to explore it – exactly one person has returned alive.
This is the new film from “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland, but the promotion has been awfully minimal, and international distribution has been dumped on Netflix. Word has it that producer Scott Rudin (“The Social Network,” “Lady Bird”) and Garland refused to make changes after Skydance executive (and Paramount financier) David Ellison (“Terminator: Genisys”) called the movie “too intellectual” and said that Portman’s character wasn’t sympathetic enough. So … see you there opening night?
▪ “Game Night”
The weekly couples game night hosted by Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) takes a turn when Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party that may in fact involve an actual murder.
▪ “Leisure Seeker”
Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland are Ella and John Spencer, who rediscover their relationship in an RV they call the Leisure Seeker. Based on the well-regarded novel by Michael Zadoorian.
▪ “Death Wish”
That scream you hear is from genre purists (and, let’s be real, movie fans of a certain age in general) objecting to the very existence of this picture. Bruce Willis stars in a remake of the controversial 1974 B-movie classic that starred the great Charles Bronson. The louder scream you hear is folks realizing this one is directed by torture porn maven Eli Roth.
▪ “Red Sparrow”
Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina recruited by Russian (possibly international?) intelligence after a career-ending injury. The trailer features a few wonderfully goofy Hollywood tropes, including the Russian main character talking to her Russian mother in English with a Russian accent, some torture/training montages and, hey, the great Charlotte Rampling as someone code-named “Matron.” (The latter isn’t a trope; it’s just nice to see Rampling working.) Directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation), aka the guy who did a few “Hunger Games” movies. Looks like awesomely dumb fun.
▪ “A Wrinkle in Time”
The great Ava DuVernay directs Storm Reid, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey in a highly anticipated adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s downright legendary children’s novel.
Nash Edgerton – stuntman, actor, frequent video director for Bob Dylan and brother-of-Joel-Edgerton – helms this action-dramedy starring David Oyelowo as a businessman who gets batted around by drug lords, a mercenary and colleagues who are not who they appear to be. Also featuring, as you might imagine, Joel Edgerton, along with Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton and Sharlto Copley.
Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy and the late Anton Yelchin star in first-time feature filmmaker Cory Finley’s thriller about emotionally … complicated? stunted? … teens and the trouble into which they get. This debuted more than a year ago at Sundance and is just now being released.
▪ “A Fantastic Woman”
This Chilean entry for the best foreign film Oscar stars Daniela Vega as waitress Marina Vidal and Francisco Reyes as her older lover Orlando. When Orlando dies unexpectedly, Orlando’s family throws Marina under the proverbial bus, seeing as how Marina is a trans woman and Orlando’s family was not at all happy about their relationship.
▪ “7 Days in Entebbe”
Jose Padilha (“Narcos,” “Elite Squad”) directs this thriller. Inspired by the true events surrounding the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, the film depicts one of the most daring rescue missions ever attempted. Starring Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl as two of the German terrorists who captured the aircraft; Eddie Marsan as Shimon Peres; Brontis Jodorowsky (son of Alejandro) as Michel Bacos, the heroic captain of the flight; and impossibly handsome Israeli model Angel Bonanni as Yonatan Netanyahu, who probably deserves his own biopic, considering his completely bonkers career as an IDF commando and how it affected his well-known brother Benjamin.
▪ “Love, Simon”
Based on Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed novel, this is the story of 17-year-old Simon Spier, a young gay man who has not yet come out to his family or friends and doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous classmate he’s fallen for online. With Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
▪ “Sherlock Gnomes”
James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige and Johnny Depp star as the voices of the gnomes in this sequel to 2011’s “Gnomeo & Juliet.”
The new one from Steven Soderbergh is one of his formally experimental films – he shot this one, about a woman (Claire Foy) involuntarily committed to a mental institution, on an iPhone. But is it a remake of the 1982 Dario Argento horror film that shares its name? With Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharaoh, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins and Amy Irving
▪ “Isle of Dogs”
Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton and Fisher Stevens join Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Nijiro Murakami and a woman named Yoko Ono in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated sci-fi story about an island off the coast of Japan full of Japanese dogs.
Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (“Leviathan”) latest sounds like rough sledding. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are a Moscow couple in the midst of a gnarly divorce, and neither one is interested in their 12-year-old son, Alexey, whom they plan on abandoning to an orphanage. And then Alexey vanishes, to the panic of … nobody.
▪ “Pacific Rim Uprising”
Steven S. DeKnight directs John Boyega in this sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s kaiju/mecha picture “Pacific Rim.” Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the son of the late (and amazingly named) Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Long story short: The kaiju are back. And they are not happy.
▪ “Ready Player One”
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of this mega-popular novel written by Ernest Cline, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The punchline here is that “Ready Player One” is all about ’80s movie and videogame culture, culture that was directly inspired by Spielberg.
Tye Sheridan stars as Wade Watts, a teenager from a profoundly overpopulated Columbus, Ohio, in 2045. Watts spends a lot of time in the virtual reality world of the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a place that has taken over many education and entertainment tasks.
Will Wade find the prize that recently deceased OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has hidden in the center of the game? Think Willy Wonka meets dystopia.
▪ “A Quiet Place”
John Krasinski directs, co-writes and stars in this supernatural thriller, which co-stars his wife, Emily Blunt. You might remember Krasinski from such roles as Jim Halpert on the U.S. version of “The Office” and writing and directing a film version of David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”… OK, you probably don’t remember that second one.
“Pitch Perfect” screenwriter Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut with this comedy about three parents attempting to stop their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity on prom night. So, yeah, that’s the plot of a movie, all right. This movie has five credited writers, including Cannon’s husband, Eben Russell.
This Israeli entry into the best foreign film category in the Academy Awards concerns two parents who learn their son has died in the line of duty. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2017. It also stars Lior Ashkenazi, who can also be seen in “7 Days in Entebbe” as the late Yitzhak Rabin.
▪ “Truth or Dare”
A harmless game of truth or dare turns deadly – as sometimes happens – in this horror flick. You will note this is opening on Friday the 13th.
“Juno” director Jason Reitman reteams with “Juno” writer Diablo Cody for this comedy starring Charlize Theron as a mother of three whose brother (Mark Duplass) gifts to his sister a nanny for her family, a young woman named Tully (Mackenzie Davis, fresh off the end of “Halt and Catch Fire”).
▪ The untitled “Cloverfield” movie
The release date for this thing has jumped around a lot, which is rarely a good sign. David Oyelowo, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Debicki and Gugu Mbatha-Raw star in a film allegedly about a space station that suffers a mishap involving a particle accelerator.