Every year, thousands of movies hit theater screens around the world and I’m usually only able to catch a handful during their entire theatrical run. Therefore, I have to be pretty damn selective when it comes to what I choose to spend that precious Fandango gift card I received for Christmas on to see. With that in mind, I have assembled a list of the 20 films that are most likely to chip away at the obsidian monolith that is my movie ticket budget.
As you may have already noticed, I took the subheading of this article from a quote often attributed to Terminator 2: Judgment Day: “The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” I suppose that’s my pretentious way of suggesting that one or more of the films on this list could turn out to be complete wastes of time, but we won’t know for sure until they’re released theatrically in the coming months.
Also, the release dates noted in the article are correct as of press time, but are subject to change.
Read on for my Most Anticipated Films of 2015…
20. Rock the Kasbah
Once upon a time, it looked like Bill Murray was no longer in it for anything but the money. Then he made his first movie with Wes Anderson and suddenly started caring again. Now if you pair him up with the right eclectic visionary director you might actually get a memorable performance out of this still-daring comedic genius. Barry Levinson has the kind of track record in film that most directors half his age would kill for; he co-wrote two of Mel Brooks’ funniest features, made his directorial debut with the ensemble masterpiece Diner, and has since made films such as The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, and the prescient satire Wag the Dog. Levinson has been a little off his game recently, but maybe teaming up with Murray, playing “a washed-up music producer finding one last shot at redemption with a golden-voiced young girl in Afghanistan” (so goes the official synopsis for Rock the Kasbah), could do wonders for both talents. Having a script written by Mitch Glazer, who co-wrote the quotable Murray Christmas classic Scrooged, and a supporting cast that includes Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, and Bruce Willis couldn’t hurt their cause. Or could it? I remain cautiously optimistic.
Release Date: November 13, 2015
After District 9 I look forward to the latest Neill Blomkamp film with a certain excitement at knowing that one of the most original voices in modern cinematic sci-fi is being permitted to follow his creative muse with studio backing and none of the typical executive interference that privilege entails. His last feature, Elysium, was good, but far too derivative of his breakthrough but with little of its salient, challenging social commentary. So far, I’m not sure what to make of Chappie, Blomkamp’s tender yet action-packed story of a junk heap robot with feelings. Like the mechanical marvel of the title, the film looks to be assembled out of the parts of better movies past, like Short Circuit, RoboCop, and even Wall-E. Some South African rap group called Die Antwoord is in the cast, as are the more recognizable Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, and Sigourney Weaver. Sharlto Copley, no stranger to the world of Blomkamp, performed the part of Chappie through motion capture. At least the filmmaker is doing his own thing. What that thing is this time remains to be seen.
Release Date: March 6, 2015
18. Mission: Impossible 5
2011’s Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (how many colons can fit into one title before it starts to look desperate?) was the best film in the franchise to date, and the last time Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie collaborated was for the sorely underrated Jack Reacher. Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg all look to be returning to the fold, with Alec Baldwin and Sean Harris joining the fun this time. Will Baldwin be playing the latest IMF honcho? Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) co-wrote the script with professional video game scribe Will Staples. McQuarrie won an Oscar for writing the classic The Usual Suspects and made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun, another gut-punch actioner in need of more love. M:I 5 is packing a pedigree not to be easily disavowed, but if McQuarrie expects to top Ghost Protocol‘s practical thrills and stunts, he has his work cut out for him. The title is obviously subject to change.
Release Date: July 31, 2015
17. Victor Frankenstein
The classic Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein has been revisited more times than I’ve visited distant family members. The latest, Victor Frankenstein, directed by Paul McGuigan (The Acid House) from a screenplay by Max Landis (Chronicle), tells the story from the perspective of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) and explores how his destiny became intertwined with that of ambitious medical student Frankenstein (James McAvoy). The supporting cast includes Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock). Prequels and reboots of established properties are typically hit-or-miss, but McGuigan and Landis’ take on the horror legend could bring something new and fresh to the table. By the way, since I couldn’t find any official stills from the film, so I decided to go with one from my personal favorite Frankenstein movie. I’ll give you three guesses as to what it is but chances are you’ll only need one.
Release Date: October 2, 2015
16. Ricki and the Flash
Meryl Streep gives up a comfortable family life to chase her dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom in Ricki and the Flash. When she realizes too late what she has done, her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) gives her a second chance to make things right by helping her daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life offspring) through her own post-divorce life. Sounds Lifetime-ready, but this is a Jonathan Demme joint so don’t go into Ricki and the Flash expecting the tired and usual. Diablo Cody wrote the script; Young Adult is one of my favorite films of recent years, making her participation an absolute plus. The Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan, plays Streep’s estranged son and 80’s rock icon Rick Springfield is stretching his acting muscles some as one of her bandmates. Music has always played a key role in Demme’s films, and he’s made some of the finest rock documentaries and concert films in history. If you doubt me, check out his Talking Heads performance epic Stop Making Sense. He’s made a few missteps in his career, but Demme’s best films meld the strangely humane and sweetly offbeat in ways that would defeat most filmmakers on his level. Streep has already been nominated for her next Oscar.
Release Date: August 7, 2015
15. The Peanuts Movie
If you were born and grew up in the 20th century, then Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang need no introduction. The comic strips have been running for decades, the television specials remain holiday viewing staples, and Vince Guaraldi‘s “Linus and Lucy” will be bringing sweet smiles to many until the universe implodes. The characters are legendary cultural icons, and this being the 21st century, Hollywood dictates they must be immortalized in CGI-animated form. Bridesmaids director Paul Feig served as a producer on this feature for The Peanuts Movie. Real child actors were cast in the voice roles instead of adults pretending to be kids. Bill Melendez returns to provide the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock, which is amazing considering he died in 2008. If his legacy is continuing to be honored, then maybe Charles M. Schulz‘s timeless creation will be introduced to a new generation in a fashion it richly deserves. If not, we’re all going to feel like blockheads this November.
Release Date: November 6, 2015
14. Jurassic World
I have a love/hate relationship with the Jurassic Park franchise. I saw the original four times on the big screen in the summer of 1993 and countless times on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray in the years since. On the other hand, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III have failed to hold even a fraction of my attention after the first viewing. The series has laid dormant for fourteen years with its full potential yet to be exploited, and Jurassic World could finally solve that dilemma. Indie filmmaking discovery Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), once rumored to take the helm of the next Star Wars movie, jumps into the big-budget tentpole realm with a cast headlined by Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The first trailer has us expecting even crazier genetically-enhanced dinosaur shenanigans on a grander scale than even John Hammond himself could have imagined. Here’s hoping that Jurassic World recaptures the wonder and terror of the original rather than the repetitive and creaky plot machinations of the sequels. This time they truly spared no expense.
Release Date: June 12, 2015
13. The Gunman
It’s about time Sean Penn went the Liam Neeson route and embraced his inner badass action hero, and he’s doing it with Taken‘s Pierre Morel on directing duties and a script co-written by Pete Travis (Dredd). Penn can bring the sweaty intensity with Method dedication and the right supporting cast to bounce off; lo and behold he’s backed up on The Gunman by fellow silver screen manly men Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, and Javier Bardem. Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill would pawn their souls to Satan for that caliber of a cast. This could be a kick-ass good time in the slow, cold months before summer arrives.
Release Date: March 20, 2015
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I haven’t felt this much apprehension about a new MCU feature since the original Thor. Bringing Ant-Man to the screen had long been a cherished project of Edgar Wright, a filmmaker who commands the medium of cinema like precious few of his contemporaries, and when he left the troubled production early last year, the entire affair was thrown into a state of unfathomable upheaval. Anyone who signed on to direct in Wright’s place was doomed to be dismissed unfairly from the start as “good, but Edgar should have made this,” and judging by the recently unveiled teaser trailer, it looks as if chosen helmer Peyton Reed is working his keister to the bone to prove that the loss of Wright was not as devastating to Ant-Man as we all feared. I’ve had my doubts about a Marvel Studios movie before and they’ve been blown right out of the water. With a cast that includes Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas and a script overhauled by Rudd and Adam McKay, two guys who definitely know funny, Ant-Man has the potential to be a pure summer movie blast.
Release Date: July 17, 2015
11. Midnight Special
With Take Shelter and Mud, Jeff Nichols (above with the cast of Mud) has made two of the best motion pictures of this decade. He’s making his major studio debut with Midnight Special, which the filmmaker describes as a “sci-fi chase film” in the vein of 1980’s John Carpenter movies, such as Starman. Production wrapped in New Orleans back in March with a cast that includes Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, and Sam Shepard. Plot details are scant, but the last time a brilliant young independent director made a big-budget Hollywood genre film and succeeded we got Rian Johnson’s Looper. Now that guy’s writing and directing the eighth and ninth Star Wars movies. Why shouldn’t Nichols get a shot at that big brass ring? He’s a master of making intelligent, entertaining films and drawing amazing performances from his casts. The dude aided in the McConaissance for cryin’ out loud. I’m game for anything he does. You should be too.
Release Date: November 25, 2015
I love Amy Schumer. Her stand-up comedy is hilarious and honest and her Comedy Central series is one of the funniest on television. She has the talent and the natural charisma to be a movie star. With Trainwreck, Schumer’s finally getting her own big screen starring vehicle, one she wrote the screenplay for, and she has a top comedy director in Judd Apatow in tow. I was starting to get sick of Apatow’s movies because they were reminding me of that guy sitting next to you on a non-stop flight who won’t shut up about his family, but since I can’t find his wife and daughters on Trainwreck‘s IMDb page, I can actually look forward to one of his films again. The supporting cast looks aces; among the acting heavyweights signed on to back Schumer up are Bill Hader, Daniel Radcliffe, Tilda Swinton, Marisa Tomei, Ezra Miller, and….freakin’ John Cena?! This opens the same day as Ant-Man and can shrewdly operate as counter-programming to the deluge of superhero fanboys swamping the theaters that weekend. Plus, it’ll probably be funny as hell. Did I mention that I love Amy Schumer? Okay, I’ll stop now.
Release Date: July 17, 2015
9. Black Mass
Sorry Johnny Depp, but you ain’t exactly a movie star anymore. That’s okay. They say that pride goeth before the fall, and at least you’re falling into what could be your best role in ages. In Black Mass, Depp is playing notorious Boston mobster “Whitey” Bulger (the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed) in this true-crime story based on the 2001 book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The project originally started out under the direction of Barry Levinson, but stalled when the studio refused to meet Depp’s asking price. I guess a few box office flops too many proved to be quite the humbling experience because Johnny Boy is back on board with Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) in the director’s chair and a supporting cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch (as Bulger’s brother Bill), Sienna Miller, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly. Expect some high-quality ham acting, lots of atrocious Boston accents, beautiful cinematography, and bloodied corpses aplenty. Wicked pissah.
Release Date: September 18, 2015
After The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and his live-action directorial debut Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Brad Bird can do no wrong in my book. Of course now, we all have the capacity to do wrong at least once in our lives, so I can’t help but have mixed feelings about his second live-action feature, Disney’s Tomorrowland. The mystery surrounding the project’s storyline has been maintained ever since its inception years ago, but with four months to go before it hits theaters, Bird, producer and co-writer Damon Lindelof, and Walt Disney Pictures need to ramp up their promotional campaign pretty soon. So far all we know is that the plot centers around Britt Robertson‘s teen heroine becoming immersed in an amazing adventure full of fantastic images and danger and George Clooney is her guide on this trip beyond the boundaries of the imagination. Or something like that. Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Judy Greer, Tim McGraw, and President Obama’s “anger translator” Keegan-Michael Key co-star. Tomorrowland should be great fun for kids of all ages if Bird managed a miracle of Olympian proportions and actually wrestled a decent script with a beginning, middle, and end out of the overrated Lindelof.
Release Date: May 22, 2015
7. Triple Nine
John Hillcoat (above), possibly our finest director of dark, gritty adventures, is back with Triple Nine, an action-drama about a gang of crooked cops blackmailed into pulling an impossible heist. Part of their plan involves murdering a rookie police officer. The cast includes Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, and Michael Peña. I haven’t seen Hillcoat’s Ghosts of the Civil Dead and his last film, Lawless, left me cold, but I loved his brutal western The Proposition and Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. So far I’m about 50/50 with the man’s filmography. Triple Nine could make me a fan of his forever or fill me with trepidation every time he announces a new film.
Release Date: September 11, 2015
6. Crimson Peak
Recently I discovered that I own every Guillermo Del Toro film on Blu-ray, from Cronos to Pacific Rim. His films run the gamut of emotions from wonder to horror and bemusement with immaculate attention to the details and nuances of the worlds he carefully crafts using the influences of his favorite films, books, and music and the bubbling creative cauldron of his restless imagination. When inspiration strikes, Del Toro can be unstoppable in his chosen artistic medium. A crumbling mansion in 19th century rural England provides the setting for the filmmaker’s latest, Crimson Peak, a Gothic tale of the supernatural and the romantic starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, and Jessica Chastain. Think Downton Abbey by way of the original The Haunting. If only so my Del Toro Blu-ray collection goes without a noticeable gap, Crimson Peak must be a winner. The Mexican madman is a true genius of the cinematic fantastic and he has yet to fail me.
Release Date: October 16, 2015
5. The Revenant
High as a dadgum kite from the critical praise fumes emanating from his award-adored Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu launches into his next feature, – a grungy western revenge saga – with stars Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in tow. Based on the 2003 novel by Michael Plunke, The Revenant has been in developed for more than a decade. Park Chan-wook and John Hillcoat were both mooted to direct in the past, but only Iñárritu had the clout to finally get it into production. DiCaprio plays a fur trader who gets mauled by a bear and then robbed and left to die by his compatriots, which include Hardy and Will Poulter. After he recovers from his injuries, he sets out to seek vengeance as vicious as the bear wounds on the traitors. The last time DiCaprio and Hardy shared scenes was in Inception, and that feature worked out pretty well in the end. Iñárritu added a lot of money to the budget by shooting the film in chronological order and in natural light. His desire for authenticity might drive the financiers a little crazy, but the tireless efforts by all involved should result in a haunting period thriller the likes of which we don’t really see much these days.
Release Date: December 25, 2015
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Like many of you, I was left pretty snowed by that Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer that was released after Thanksgiving last year. Even though I would hardly consider myself a die hard Star Wars fan anymore (thanks prequel trilogy!), the exciting visuals on display in our first look at the universe created by George Lucas and revived under the stewardship of J.J. Abrams was enough to make a believer out of me once more. Abrams is keeping the vital plot details close to the chest for now, but the trailer’s awe-inspiring synthesis of practical and digital effects, diverse casting, and the majesty of John Williams‘ soaring soundtrack gives me the security of knowing the saga is proceeding forth in the most confident and respectful of hands.
Release Date: December 18, 2015
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I’m a Marvel man for life. Joss Whedon can command an ensemble cast of rising stars with vision, wit, and authority and do it with effortless grace. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes reunite in Avengers: Age of Ultron to tackle their latest Greatest Threat Ever Faced (copyright pending). James Spader plays the classic Marvel baddie Ultron, a role he could have done without special effects if you’ve ever seen him play evil, amoral psychopaths before. Big changes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including a radical change in the Avengers team roster, are rumored to be in store this summer. Age of Ultron should wrap up Phase Two and kick off Phase Three in spectacular style. Is it too early to pre-order my ticket?
Release Date: May 1, 2015
Casino Royale rebooted the James Bond series. Skyfall topped it in every conceivable way and solidified Daniel Craig as the best Bond in decades. Now, Sam Mendes returns to direct Spectre, his second straight entry in the longest-running franchise in film history, and if the title is any indication, Craig will finally be going head-to-head with Bond’s greatest nemesis. Christoph Waltz joins the fun as a character who might be the film’s villain, but is definitely not Blofeld. I mean, he might definitely not be Blofeld. Drax Bautista is certainly playing a villain, or at least the villain’s henchman. Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci are on board to play the latest Bond beauties, but both are supremely talented actresses, so it’s safe to say they won’t just be playing arm candy (that is, if Mendes knows what’s good for him). Early word on the development process is that the script is in less-than-filmable shape. I have faith that Mendes and company will deliver another smart and exhilarating blockbuster. Then again, I had faith that Quantum of Solace would do the same.
Release Date: November 6, 2015
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. George Miller, the creator of the Mad Max series, has been looking to make a third sequel since before the second Iraq War began. Mel Gibson aged out of returning to the role that made him an international action cinema icon, so rising star Tom Hardy assumes the position in what hopes to be a continuation of the greatest post-apocalyptic saga of all time, Mad Max: Fury Road. Charlize Theron co-stars as someone who could give Max a run for his money in the futuristic badass contest. The stunt work highlighted in the first and second trailers looks sick. This is 100% for reals. Miller is back and Max is madder than ever. The director promises a grand-scale viewing experience that is essentially one long, relentless chase sequence. Count me in.
Release Date: May 15, 2015
Personally, I hope that this list strongly resembles the one I put together at the end of the year to represent the best films of 2015, and not the worst. It helps to have the most open of minds, but the directors behind most of the entries on the list lack the capacity for failure when they’re given a certain amount of creative leeway. Good or bad, these movies have my money this year.