It’s going to be a power-house year for the box office, and though the field is narrow for newcomers, Pixar, Star Wars, Guillermo del Toro, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr., Tarantino, Apatow, Bond, Mad Max, and a new Terminator timeline are just a few of the bright shining lights among a glut of famous names and ready-made over-budget sequels. So before you discount the reboots and second drafts “plaguing” Hollywood, consider just how hard everyone’s working to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes (especially sci-fi fan favorites that had a less-than-stellar 2000s). We’ve pulled together the best action, comedy, romance, and family films, as well as some early Oscar bait and one very promising horror flick to keep you entertained between everything else you plan to do in 2015.
Release Date: March 6
WALL-E did the whole “robots are people, too” thing pretty perfectly. Before that, there was Blade Runner, not to mention a show titled Battlestar Galactica or an under-appreciated 1980s masterpiece: Short Circuit. Chappie appears to be a bit of all of those things, along with District 9 director Neill Blomkamp’s talent and Hugh Jackman’s physique. Expect the film to be understated, with equal respect for science fiction, friendship, and South African culture (and a necessary cameo from Die Antwoord).
Release Date: April 10
That same “artificial intelligence as the ideal of humanity” thing as Chappie, but, like, what if the robot is a sociopath? A great question for the writer of 28 Days Later to answer in a creepy, sexy, whodunit thriller about what happens if artificial intelligence decides to play the power game, too. It has all the makings of a mind-breaker: brilliant inventor, sexy robot, a naive protagonist easily manipulated by power and sex. What it doesn’t have is a predictable ending. Maybe she wasn’t a robot. Maybe he was the robot. Maybe they’re all robots. Maybe the whole thing’s a video-game like simulation. We have to go deeper — why is that top still spinning? Expect this one to either break your mind or your spirit, because Ex Machina is either going to deliver a classic, or fail miserably trying.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Release Date: May 1
The massively-anticipated Age of Ultron will be one of two things to die hard fans. 1.) A gigantic, clunky disappointment shoehorned full of awkward character cameos and plot threads that won’t connect for another five years and/or eight movies. 2.) A squeal-inducing thrill-ride full of creepy childhood favorites sung over the havoc wreaked by Spader-bot, while the collective power of six franchises wrestles with how to get appropriate volumes of ass-kicking into a three-hour IMAX orgasm. Either way, expect a character you love to die, because director Joss Whedon is known for killing fan favorites just to satisfy his blood lust.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Release Date: May 15
Right now, the least believable part of Mad Max: Fury Road is the gas shortage. But let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment. If you’re thinking the Fury Road trailer looks ridiculous, think really hard about Beyond Thunderdome. Good, now that we’re all in context again, consider two things: The Road Warrior was awesome. Tom Hardy: also awesome. This is as much thinking as a Mad Max film should require to enjoy. We’re not expecting to hold the film that coined the phrase “two men enter, one man leaves” against one that coined “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” but expect this to be grittier than the Mad Max films of yore. That shouldn’t stop it from being a fiery explosion, gun battle orgy of awesome CGI. Plus, they didn’t drag Mel Gibson out to pretend he’s sane enough to reprise the role (or even a cameo, so far as we can tell), so kudos.
Release Date: May 22
Everyone thought Disney had fully-exhausted their canon of themes, rides, and trademarks (hence the buying of Marvel and Lucasfilm), but Tomorrowland actually looks like an inspired film that reaches back for some of that old Disney magic while still trying something new. And the cast includes George Clooney, just in case. Pixar veteran Brad Bird directs a quasi-futuristic epic that we hope will have the same kick and creativity as the last amusement adventure Disney penned: Pirates of the Caribbean.
Release Date: June 12
At first glance, Jurassic World appears to have a lot in common with its 22-year-old predecessor: A cynical badass placed in horrifying nightmare scenario, with the promise of kids being traumatized when a highly intelligent killer dinosaur escapes containment to find food. But here’s what it’s done for us, the audience, to prove they’re not just phoning in another sequel: first, they cast Chris Pratt, who appears infallible on a Tom-Cruise-in-the-90s level at the moment. Second, the new dinosaur is a hybrid of the two that made the first film so scary: a car-crushing T-Rex, and a brilliant pack-hunting, door-opening velociraptor. Blatant crowd-pleasing behavior? Yes. Absolutely. Now shut up and enjoy the chase scenes.
Release Date: June 19
Up, Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc., Toy Story 2, Brave, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, The Incredibles, A Bug’s Life: The studio that brought you a long list of near-perfect films is making one about the little voices inside your head that make up your thoughts, feelings, and decisions. As with every Pixar film, there will be the perfect intersection of the familiar, everyman, family film, and the delicious burst of magical realism that makes every cliche seem fresh and new, like you’ve never seen people act that way before. Expect to cry, like a man, then a child, then hopefully like a man again before anyone notices.
Release Date: July 1
Director Alan Taylor made three bold casting choices for Genisys: Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke, and bringing back Arnold. Done right, this will bring sci-fi and fantasy nerds from across a broad swath to theaters for an epic blowout. Done poorly, you’ve got pretty much every nerd on the internet pissed off and calling for blood. But with the return of the T-1000, and a new timeline for fans to argue about, we’re going to remain optimistic for now. It will either reinvigorate the series, or kill it for good. Plus, just how many more times can aging Arnold make good on his promise to be back?
Release Date: July 10
Okay, yes, it’s a children’s movie. A hard-PG with little violence, other than sentient Twinkies being bonked on the head or shot with fart guns. But rather than remind you of all the great movies throughout history that were made for children, rather than mention Pixar or comic books or how you’re a little old to be so fervently searching eBay for classic He-Man toys, even when half-drunk, we’ll just say this: The movie takes place in Manhattan in the 60s and Jon Hamm is somehow involved. Man up and buy a ticket.
Release Date: July 17
Judd Apatow has been a bit hit or miss in recent years, but the producer-of-everything-we-laugh-at is working with some excellent material this time: a script penned by Amy Schumer. You may know Schumer from her Comedy Central series, which is quietly brilliant. You may know her from Comedy Central Roasts, on which she battered Mike Tyson worse than Buster Douglas did in the 90s. After this movie comes out, you’ll know her as the star of this plot-still-under-wraps vehicle that puts her alongside Daniel Radcliffe in his first comedic break, plus about a dozen other Apatow favorites. Expect: laughter. Gut-busting laughter.
Release Date: October 16
The second horror film from Guillermo del Toro in recent years, and the second in which Jessica Chastain has appeared. Following on his well-done ghost spooktacular Mama, this time del Toro is focusing on a gothic-Victorian haunted house trope, which we’re hoping he’ll toy with in new and inventive ways. You may notice that this is the only horror movie on the list, and that’s because in recent years horror films have taken a beating, both in creativity and box office draw. So when a director manages to do one well, and follows it with an original rather than a sequel, everyone should take note.
Release Date: November TBD
Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson star as 17th Century Catholic priests sent to Japan to observe the state of Christians in the increasingly shut-to-outsiders world. No, there’s no action in that description, even though you saw names from Spider-Man, Star Wars (twice), and Taken. No guns for Liam Neeson — in fact this film occurs 200 years prior to the events of The Last Samurai, if you were keeping track. Expect this to be less Taken and more Schindler’s List, given the themes of religious persecution. What you will see is a Scorsese film destined for some serious nominations, and Garfield and Neeson finally able to flex their acting chops in an accent-friendly environment. But, strangely, no Leo.
Release Date: November 6
With 23 films already in the series, there are more Bond films than in any of the Scary Movie, Saw, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Star Trek, and Fast And Furious franchises, and yet another one comes out this year. Why do we never get tired of 007? Because he’s the epitome of masculine cool. Bond can be predictable, he can fall flat, he can even become self parody, but he’ll always come back renewed with a fresh face. Though some will disagree, the reinvention of Daniel Craig as Bond has given the franchise its best run in decades, with three great films already on the books and (likely) two more stellar turns on the way. That reinvention, capped off by the death of the previous M and instatement of her successor in Skyfall, has all been leading up to this, the moment we meet head-on the forces of Bond’s greatest foe from novel and screen: SPECTRE. Expect great things again from Craig, Christoph Waltz, and Monica Bellucci. The car and watch will be pretty cool, too.
Release Date: November 13
The only thing more intense than Tarantino’s scripts is his casting. Bruce Dern to Sam Jackson and everyone in between is in this film (with dozens of cameos to be expected). A setting in Post-Civil-War Wyoming sounds encouragingly like a Django Unchained sequel (it’s not) but the eight-men-in-a-confined-space plot line looks more like Reservoir Dogs. As the master of the stylized genre revival, we’ll take it for granted that Tarantino can meld two of his own masterpieces into one. Expect blood, vulgar language, and a lot of the same gun violence that has happened in every other Tarantino movie ever made.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Release Date: December 18
A long time ago there was a franchise with the potential for awesome sequels that now seems so far, far away. Sci-fi nerds the world over are waiting with bated breath for the return of the series that had a couple of really great decades and a couple of pretty awful ones. Director J.J. Abrams is working hard not to let fans of the original trilogy down, but most of them already breathed a sigh of relief when George Lucas sold the empire to Disney and promised not to hurt us anymore. So far there’s been a startled stormtrooper (or is it?!), a bouncy ball-droid, the Millennium Falcon went full dune buggy, and the likely bad guy kicked on his Swiss Army lightsaber. So far, so good.