What is it that makes a film "anticipated," anyway? It can't be that we expect it to be good. That would make it a foregone conclusion. No, if we really sit down and think about it, the films we anticipate the most are the ones that could go either way, and that – whether they turn out great or just plain awful – that we'll have to see for ourselves no matter what. That's what we're looking at today with this, Our Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2013. These are the films that could either rewrite the history of the filmmakers, or have an enormous impact on the film industry, and change the landscape of major movie releases in the years to come. Let's take a look at the films that are really going to mean something this year.
Riddick (September 6)
Vin Diesel is back in the role that made him a star: Richard B. Riddick, the morally ambiguous intergalactic criminal from the cult classic Pitch Black. The first sequel, Chronicles of Riddick, was overblown, ridiculous and squandered a lot of the good will engendered from the first, relatively grounded creature feature, but franchise creator David Twohy seems eager to go back to the character’s roots with Riddick, a lower-budgeted, gritty sci-fi action thriller that once again finds Riddick fighting monsters on an alien planet and fighting mercenaries out for the bounty on his head. We don’t have our hopes up too high (it’s #10 for a reason), but we can’t help but wonder if Twohy and Diesel can make this series take off by finally giving us what we wanted in the first place: more badass b-movie goodness. Riddick is either going to kill the franchise altogether and doom Vin Diesel to a career of Fast and the Furious sequels, or finally prove that modest genre entertainment can be better than the big-budget Hollywood crap David Twohy tried to turn this franchise into back in 2004.
Much Ado About Nothing (June 21)
Last year, Joss Whedon directed The Avengers, one of the most popular and successful motion pictures in history. This year, he’s releasing a microbudget William Shakespeare adaptation filmed at his own house. Somehow we don’t think it’s going to make quite the same impression, but we want to see this anyway. The cast of Whedon regulars – including Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Clark Gregg – should satisfy his hardcore fan base, the mainstream Avengers fans might get a crash course in just how awesome The Bard can be, and the classy subject matter might just win some of the art house snobs over to Whedon’s side. And fortunately for Whedon, even if it bombs he’s got The Avengers 2 comingin 2015. It seems like a no-lose situation for everybody, doesn’t it? But if Much Ado About Nothing doesn't connect with audiences, Joss Whedon might get stuck making superhero movies for the rest of his career, and it would only be a matter of time before he gets tired of it and lets us all down.
Ender’s Game (November 1)
Orson Scott Card’s classic science fiction novel was stuck in development hell for ten years, with Air Force One director Wolfgang Peterson attached to direct, but it took X-Men Origins: Wolverine director Gavin Hood to finally get the production off the ground. Whether that’s for better or worse remains to be seen. Hugo’s Asa Butterfield stars as Ender Wiggins, a child prodigy drafted into a military program designed to train children for combat against a hostile alien race, and Harrison Ford is on hand to teach him the ropes. Card’s book pulls no punches in its treatment of children forced into brutal situations for the greater good, and we certainly hope that Hood can do the material justice while still making the movie an entertaining sci-fi thriller. He’s not the director we would have chosen for Ender’s Game, so we’re hoping for the best but prepared for a major train wreck, just in case.
Pain & Gain (April 26)
Michael Bay hasn’t directed a low-budget movie since 1995’s Bad Boys (which he made for just $19 million), but after the enormously successful – and critically panned – Transformers trilogy, he’s actually going back to basics with Pain & Gain, a bite-sized crime comedy starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie as body-builders who get in over their heads with a lunkheaded kidnapping scheme. Michael Bay has actually been doing quirky comedies for years, but he kept intercutting all his wacky parents and oddball workplace shenanigans with giant robots kicking the crap out of each other. Now he’s finally releasing the movie it feels like he wanted to make all along, and now we get to find out if he’s actually any good at it, or if he just needed to get screwball comedy out of his system.
Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8)
Sam Raimi’s first foray into blockbuster filmmaking since the Spider-Man trilogy – after the modestly successful horror thriller Drag Me to Hell – is a CGI-spectacular that reveals the origins of Oz, the magician-turned-emperor of the L. Frank Baum-created fantasy world that inspired 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, one of the best fantasy movies ever made. Raimi appears to have used that classic film as a major influence, opening in black & white and borrowing character designs left and right, but isn’t that fealty going to be a major logistical problem? Wasn’t this so-called “Oz” just a dream representation of a real-life figure Dorothy Gale ran into the day before she was knocked unconscious by a tornado? Doesn’t this whole story, well… not exist in any way, shape or form? We’ll have to wait and see if Oz: The Great and Powerful makes any sense whatsoever, but Raimi’s still a virtuoso visual stylist with a unique sense of humor that’s been missing from the multiplex for years. This movie either will put him back on the map as a major force in blockbuster entertainment, or send him right back to the minors.
Pacific Rim (July 12)
Guillermo del Toro is such a ubiquitous presence in the world of modern cinema that it actually seems surprising that none of his movies have been box office blockbusters. Pacific Rim seems likely to turn all that around. A big budget action-palooza starring Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, Pacific Rim takes place in the near future, where giant monsters from another dimension constantly invade the earth and humanity’s only defense are giant robots with human pilots. The film’s first trailer promises tons of action and creativity, so now we just have to wonder if del Toro’s strange sensibilities are finally going to translate to mass audience appeal. Pacific Rim looks pretty good, but will it finally make the director a household name with audiences who usually stay away from his films in droves?
The World’s End (October 25)
The fourth film from Edgar Wright – a director whose previous films, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, were all one form of cult classic or another – remains a bit of a mystery, but with a resume like that we’ll gladly line up for anything he has coming up. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost headline a cast of characters whose night of epic binge drinking ultimately ties into the apocalypse… or something like that. If there’s one thing Edgar Wright never had a problem with, it’s coming up with clever ideas. If there’s two things, it’s coming up with clever ideas and making them dramatically resonant despite their inherent ridiculousness. The World’s End would be one of the most exciting movie releases of the year even if we had no idea what it was about, so what little we actually have gathered doesn’t mean squat. We just want him to entertain us again, and are hoping like mad that this isn't the film that screws up his winning streak.
Iron Man 3 (May 3)
The first Marvel Studios release since The Avengers has a lot to live up to, and frankly, we’re not worried in the slightest. Iron Man 3 finds Tony Stark dealing with the aftermath of his dramatic character arc in Joss Whedon’s blockbuster and fighting The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, a villain who probably qualifies as the superhero’s arch-nemesis in the comics. Robert Downey Jr. completely owns this character, and teaming him up with writer/director Shane Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon and writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, seems like a sure thing if ever there was one. Will Marvel’s “Phase Two,” leading all the way up to The Avengers 2, be just as exciting as the first one, or can it only be a diappointment after last year's blockbuster superhero team-up? We’ll find out in May. The wait is killing us.
Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)
If there’s one thing J.J. Abrams is good at, it’s infuriating internet film critics who are responsible for building – or at least reacting to – the hype for all his films. We still don’t know for sure who the bad guy in this Star Trek sequel is, even though he’s being played by pop culture icon Benedict Cumberbatch (the BBC’s very own “Sherlock”). He’s probably Kahn, or maybe he’s Gary Mitchell, or maybe he’s just some new guy called “John Harrison.” Whatever. Abrams is playing us like a fiddle regardless, and his little guessing game is distracting us from the real issue: whether Star Trek Into Darkness is going to be any damned good or not. The trailers revealed nothing of consequence other than big special effects sequences, which were a given anyway. Is J.J. Abrams hiding a lackluster Star Trek sequel beneath mountains of speculation, or just letting us obsess over the little details so the actual film can take us by surprise? Good or bad, Star Trek Into Darkness is going to be one of the most talked about movies of the year.
Man of Steel (June 14)
Let’s be 100% clear about this: Man of Steel is the “make it or break it” movie of 2013. Warner Bros. has everything riding on Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise, and if it bombs, they’re completely screwed. Man of Steel is the studio’s response to Marvel Studio’s critically acclaimed, enormously successful superhero franchise, and will set the stage – directly or merely thematically – for their Justice League movie, scheduled to be in direct competition with The Avengers 2 in 2015. If it’s a major success, both critically and financially, we’re in for a new wave of potentially classic superhero movies adapted from DC Comics. If it tanks completely, the studio will lilkely enter a creative tailspin threatening the adaptation of every superhero comic book at their disposal. Worse yet, if Man of Steel sucks but makes tons of money anyway, it could set the stage for dozens of mediocre superhero blockbusters in the future. There is nothing about Man of Steel that isn’t important – to the industry, to the fans and even to the character of Superman (who desperately needs a credible mainstream interpretation these days) – so the whole world is going to be watching this movie very, very closely. Can the director of Sucker Punch actually pull this off? It could go either way, and we’re bating our breath until will find out for ourselves.