Hollywood found some of 2009’s most anticipated films in an unexpected place: 2008.
Several studios have pushed movies slated for last year into this one to get some breathing room in an overcrowded and hypercompetitive market. Others bowed to constraints in their marketing budgets and shuffled their year-end slates.
First show: (top) X-Men Origins: Wolverine is another instalment of the comic-book franchise. Twentieth Century Fox / WSJ; and will release in July. Warner Bros. Pictures / WSJ
Warner Bros opted to move the sixth instalment of its Harry Potter franchise from last November to 17 July. The shift nearly provoked a riot among Potter fans, but it gives the studio another shot at the kind of summer-blockbuster business it enjoyed with 2008’s The Dark Knight. Paramount Pictures, facing budget pressures in fall last year, surprised the industry when it moved to April the release of The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr as a newspaper columnist who writes about a homeless man (Jamie Foxx). That dashed the film’s Academy Awards dreams for this year.
Distributors also pushed back the wide releases of some smaller films into 2009, including Defiance, starring 007’s Daniel Craig as a Jewish resistance fighter during World War II, and Steven Soderbergh’s two-part, four-hour Che, starring Benicio del Toro in the title role of Che Guevara. The strategy of opening in a handful of theatres in December 2008, then in far more cities this month, defers marketing costs onto 2009 budgets.
Here’s a guide to some of the biggest movies expected in 2009. The opening dates of some of the films may change.
For the major studios, the big-movie sweepstakes is to begin in earnest on 6 March, when Warner Bros, with several big franchises this year, hopes to release Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the cult comic Watchmen (however, that release could be delayed as 20th Century Fox and Warner battle over who owns the rights to distribute). The film tells a dark story about retired super heroes threatened by mysterious forces. Snyder, who directed 2007’s surprise blockbuster 300, calls the movie “a deconstruction of an entire Hollywood golden genre” because “it questions the entire mythology and social implications of the superhero film”.
One of several major new 3-D productions opens 27 March: the animated sci-fi adventure Monsters vs Aliens, from DreamWorks Animation. In April, Walt Disney Co.’s biggest star, Miley Cyrus, returns to the big screen in The Hannah Montana Movie, which Disney hopes will bring in its cable series’s legions of fans.
The summer blockbuster season starts 1 May, when 20th Century Fox releases X-Men Origins: Wolverine, another instalment of the lucrative comic-book franchise, starring Hugh Jackman as the mutant superhero. Shortly after, another look at origins: J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek, which Paramount Pictures is hoping will spark a new franchise. The story begins even before what most Trekkies consider the beginning, chronicling the earliest days of Captain Kirk and how he met crew members like Spock.
May will also see two very different actors reprise old roles. Tom Hanks plays academic Robert Langdon again in Sony Pictures’ Angels & Demons, the delayed follow-up to its 2006 hit The Da Vinci Code. Britain’s Sacha Baron Cohen, who brought in big money two years ago playing the clueless Kazakh journalist Borat, revives another one of his old TV-show characters: gay fashion-celebrity journalist Bruno (Universal Pictures).
At the end of the month, Disney’s Pixar unit, which in recent years made animated stars out of a rat (Ratatouille) and a robot (Wall-E), tries the same thing with a senior citizen. Up—about an old man who travels the world in his house, which floats through the air attached to hundreds of balloons—features Ed Asner’s voice.
As June winds down, Paramount will send out a sequel to its 2007 hit Transformers, while July brings the Potter film (The Half-Blood Prince) and Sony’s remake of the 1974 thriller, The Taking of Pelham 123, a New York subway-hijacking tale starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.
While it’s too early to know what big autumn and holiday movies will generate Academy Awards buzz next year, Fox has bet big on Avatar, a long-in-the-works 3-D movie from Titanic director James Cameron. People who have seen snippets say the use of cutting-edge technology is top-notch. In November, Guy Ritchie, chiefly known for edgy little British thrillers (and for being Madonna’s soon-to-be-ex-husband), will show what he can do with a bigger budget in Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr.
Musicals did pretty well last year—Mamma Mia proved a huge hit for Universal Pictures— and Weinstein Co. will have a musical in November: Nine, with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Day-Lewis. Late-year animation includes Warner’s Where the Wild Things Are, from Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, which uses live action as well, and Disney’s hand-drawn The Princess and the Frog, from its newly revitalized animation studio.
Meantime, some smaller movies that already have the industry buzzing include The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, starring Viggo Mortensen (another deferral from 2008). In March comes Sunshine Cleaning, held over from last year’s Sundance Film Festival, starring Emily Blunt.
All release dates are for the US.
THE WALL STREEET JOURNAL