2011 is going to be another big year at the movie theater. If you call yourself a geek, then this is the ultimate list of movies you need to know about in 2011. We’ve got all the biggies and lots of others you’ve never heard of — but need to. You’ll find no comedic chick-flicks, moody dramas, or “important documentaries” on this list. This is pure popcorn movie magic, baby.
If it’s not listed here, then you don’t need to care about it.
February 4th. AKA, Extreme Spelunking: The Movie. James Cameron produces this 3D thriller about a group of cave divers exploring the deepest and least accessible cave system on earth. Naturally, a tropical storm cuts off their escape route and the group has to find a new way out before a flash flood drowns them. At least they keep the creepy underground monsters out of this one.
February 11th. An intriguing cast — including Channing Tatum, Mark Strong, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland — dons the togas-and-sandals of a Roman epic that finds a young centurion attempting to solve the disappearance of the real-life Ninth Legion.
I Am Number Four
February 18th. Another young adult novel-turned-movie, this time substituting teen aliens for teen vampires and teen wizards. The premise sounds nifty, if unoriginal: nine aliens, the last of their kind, were sent to Earth and raised as humans. The aliens are being eliminated one at a time by another hostile alien race, and when the protagonist finds himself next on the list, he must master his special abilities in order to survive.
February 18th. Remember that old TV show Nowhere Man? It starred Bruce Greenwood, who geeks know best as Captain Pike in the Star Trek reboot. High-octane thriller Unknown finds Liam Neeson taking on basically the same role — a man who finds his existence erased (not even his own wife recognizes him).
February 25th. I’m including this one very reluctantly, because it has a premise so bat-crazy that it makes you wonder how someone managed to sell it to a big Hollywood studio. Nicolas Cage sends his career further down the tubes in this bizarre car chase movie where he must fend off demons on the road while racing to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by an occultist. Yeah, that’s right.
The Adjustment Bureau
March 4th. Matt Damon stars in this scifi-ish tale of a senator who discovers a super-secret organization is tampering with people’s memories and lives. The trailer looks creepy-cool, which is appropriate for a film based on a Philip K. Dick short story.
March 4th. I’m not too sure about this spaghetti western-influenced animated tale of a chameleon who winds up acting as the doomed sheriff of a lawless animal town. But there’s potential, because it reunites Johnny Depp (who voices the main character) with his original Pirates of the Caribbean director, Gore Verbinski.
Battle: Los Angeles
March 11th. Aaron Eckhart leads an eclectic cast in a not-quite-a-summer-blockbuster about a group of marines fighting back against an alien invasion on the streets of L.A.
Mars Needs Moms
March 11th. One of those photo-realistic CGI animation films, like Beowulf, only based on a children’s book about… Well, the title pretty much says it all.
March 18th. Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro square off in this speculative thriller about a slacker writer who gets his hands on an illegal drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain, thereby becoming an instant success as the most perfect version of himself. But as it always goes, soon there are shadowy forces out to get him, stop him, or… something.
March 18th. The goofballs that gave the world the brilliant Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — unleash the world’s grooviest, party-loving-est Area 51 resident, an alien named Paul. Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Heder, Blythe Danner, and Sigourney Weaver join in the antics, along with Seth Rogen as the voice of the CGI title character.
March 25th. Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) presents his own fever dream of a female empowerment fantasy. Beyond that, it’s doggone hard to describe, but it looks like a huge mishmash of a fairy tale and nearly every action genre imaginable.
April 1st. I’m all kinds of jazzed for this one. The director of Moon is behind this story of a soldier (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) caught up in an experimental program where he’s inserted into the final memories of a man who died in a bomb blast on a commuter train. He’s meant to discover who was behind the terrorist act, but the soldier decides to go off script and attempts the impossible: to prevent the bomb from ever having gone off.
April 1st. An indie horror pic that — and I’m not kidding — tells the story of a sentient rubber tire that goes on a killing rampage. As dumb as it sounds, it’s getting rave reviews for its execution, which is being described as wholly original with “manic brilliance.”
April 8th. It’s La Femme Nikita if Nikita were a young girl trained as an assassin by her father, and whose very existence is full of secrets. The title role is played by The Lovely Bones‘ Saoirse Ronan, with a fantastic cast that includes Cate Blanchett as an enemy operative, Eric Bana as Hanna’s father, and Dollhouse‘s Olivia Williams. Throw in a score by the Chemical Brothers, and how can you not want to see this?
Atlas Shrugged – Part I
April 15th. A very long-awaited adaptation of the first part of Ayn Rand’s epic novel about capitalism follows a female railroad tycoon trying to hold on to her company in a United States that’s being subverted from within. It’s an independent production (not one second of video footage has yet been revealed), but if it does well, the filmmakers would like to make two further films to tell the rest of Rand’s story. It’s no coincidence that it’s releasing on Tax Day.
April 22nd. Not a sequel to Apollo 13 (though I’d totally go see that). Cleverly tying in with a real NASA mission to the moon that was canceled, the movie asks what if the mission wasn’t really canceled — but instead, evidence of it was erased because the astronauts found evidence of a deadly alien life form? Produced by Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov.
April 22th. Get this: Steven Soderbergh is doing an all-out action movie. Yet another Nikita-like female assassin, but this one’s played by American Gladiator‘s Gina Carano in her first major role. Ummmm yeah. To handicap whatever she may lack in acting chops, Soderbergh has surrounded her with Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, and Michael Douglas.
April 29th. Because the world will fall into despair without another Fast & Furious movie with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. I include it because I know a lot of car geeks can’t get enough of this stuff, but just so you people know: it does nothing for the rest of us.
April 29th. Japanese revenge flick about a bunch of martial arts assassins who team up to take down an evil despot. Because they were bored and there was nothing good on TV.
May 6th. Summer officially arrives with the first of Marvel’s two big Avengers-related superhero pics. Chris Hemsworth looks great in the title role, and Marvel hiring Kenneth Brannagh to direct was a stroke of brilliance. Bringing this character to the screen had to be a tough nut to crack, but the trailer is pitch-perfect. Bring it.
May 13th. Friday the 13th brings us Paul Bettany’s next gothic action flick from the same director that made Bettany an antihero in Legion. This time out, instead of battling angels, Bettany takes on… (wait for it…) vampires! Oooooh!
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
May 20th. Johnny Depp returns to his favorite role in an Orlando Bloom/Kiera Knightley-less Pirates movie. Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbosa, but this time they’re joined by Ian McShane as Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s daughter and love interest for Captain Jack. Chicago‘s Rob Marshall takes the reins for this all new outing that could serve as the starting line for a second trilogy.
Kung Fu Panda 2
May 27th. Jack Black returns to his best animated role in a new adventure that finds Po and a new group of friends kung fu fighting an old enemy.
X-Men: First Class
June 3rd. The jury’s way out on whether this prequel’s rewind to the 1960s-era origin of the film franchise X-Men will yield something worth watching, especially since this first class of mutants includes no Cyclops, no Wolverine, and no Jean Grey. The return of Bryan Singer to the franchise (he’s producing, not directing) can only be a good thing, but I think we’re all in major wait-and-see mode on this one.
June 10th. It’s J.J. Abrams doing his super-secret production thing with a small-budget homage to the early films of Steven Spielberg (who’s producing). All that’s known about the plot is that it has something to do with an alien escaping from Area 51. But what more do we need to know beyond “Abrams and Spielberg”?
June 17th. DC Comics attempts to expand its Hollywood portfolio by introducing another major hero to worldwide audiences. Ryan Reynolds stars as a ringbearer of a different kind (think less fantasy, more scifi) in what Warner Bros. calls “the Star Wars of the DC universe.” Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) tries his hand at superheroes for the first time, and the trailer looks promising.
June 24th. Little boys everywhere are on pins and needles, pestering their parents about when this sequel will finally come, so they can buy tons of new Disney toys. The storyline — about a global race where Mater and Lightning accidentally get caught up in the world of espionage — is pretty much beside the point. All that matters are the toys. Well, that and the fact that Pixar never fails.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
July 1st. The subtitle bugs me. They couldn’t have gone with Dark Side of the Moon? The trailer had me when they revealed the “real reason” Armstrong & Aldrin went to the moon, and if ever a franchise begged for 3D, it’s Transformers. The first film was a blast, but the second had no idea what it was about — and neither did we. As long as Michael Bay can curb his proclivity for racial stereotypes (those godawful twins have to go) and tell a story that makes sense, we’ll be there.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two
July 15th. By all accounts, it’s the summer blockbuster to beat. Warner Bros.’ well-oiled production machine hopes to deliver a grand finale that’s even more epic than the book (which was utterly beautiful). Part One was wonderfully dark and intense, but Part Two, which is said to be all action, has impossibly high expectations to live up to. Will it hit a home run? And is there anyone who doesn’t plan to be there to find out?
Captain America: The First Avenger
July 22nd. Chris Evans has it in him to deliver a perfect Steve Rogers (did you see his acting chops in Sunshine?), and Joe Johnston has it in him to give us a fantastic period piece/special effects action film (he resume includes The Rocketeer). And Hugo Weaving should be killer as the Red Skull. On the other hand, Johnston’s resume also includes Jurassic Park III.
Cowboys and Aliens
July 29th. It’s an insane premise, but director Jon Favreau wisely knew a cast of serious actors and a strong script would sell it to audiences. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are the headliners, while one of the guys behind Lost helped with the script. The deck is stacked, and I think we’re all primed to see how this one turns out.
August 2nd. Humans Neil Patrick Harris, Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara, and Glee‘s Jayma Mayes star alongside CGI versions of the cartoon classic characters, who find themselves transported to the “real world,” a la Enchanted. The Smurfs are voiced by the hope-destroying talents of Jonathan Winters (Papa Smurf), Katy Perry (Smurfette), Paul Ruebens (Jokey Smurf), and George Lopez (Grouchy Smurf), among others. This is gonna be a train wreck and we all know it.
The Darkest Hour
August 5th. There aren’t many details for this one, but it’s another Timur Bekmambetov production about a group of teens in Russia attempting to survive the aftermath of an alien invasion.
Conan the Barbarian
August 19th. Stargate Atlantis‘ Jason Momoa takes over the title character in this modern update that’s said to hew more closely to the Robert E. Howard novels than the Governator’s version did. Which means it’ll be a hardcore R film with tons of graphic violence and nudity.
October 7th. Hugh Jackman stars in this boxing flick with a twist: it’s set in the future, and all of the boxers are big robots. As directed by Shawn Levy of Night at the Museum and a bunch of rom-coms, this certainly looks to be the darkest thing he’s ever done.
October 14th. A prequel to John Carpenter’s classic horror film bearing the same name, this one stars Scott Pilgrim‘s Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a scientist stationed at Antarctica who discovers an alien craft there. Three guesses what’s inside.
The Three Musketeers
October 14th. Why we need yet another version of Dumas’ classic, I have no idea. This one’s from Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed all of the Resident Evil movies. Yeeeeeah. It stars that kid who was Percy Jackson as D’Artagnan, Christoph Waltz (the villain in Inglorious Basterds) as Cardinal Richelieu, and Milla Jovovich as M’lady de Winter. And it’s a period piece, so of course Orlando Bloom is in it, too.
October 21st. It’s Outbreak, only directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Which means that we will of course be there.
October 28th. A high-concept scifi thriller about a future where people don’t age physically beyond 25, but must buy “time” to live beyond that. The rich can live forever, while everyone else scrapes by hours at a time. From director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca).
Puss in Boots
November 4th. Antonio Banderas takes the spotlight in a prequel/origin story for his Shrek character.
November 11th. Tarsem Singh, visionary director of The Cell and The Fall, gives his take on a war between the Greek gods and mankind in this 3D visual feast.
Happy Feet 2
November 18th. The original was good fun until the second half, when it turned into An Inconvenient Penguin. Not much is known about the sequel’s plot, only that the original cast returns, along with fresh hams Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Pink, who takes over singing duties for the late Brittany Murphy.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One
November 18th. Any geek who spends money to see this shall have their entire geek credibility revoked. On the other hand, respect those Twi-hards, ’cause they will cut you. But a movie in which a half-vampire baby is born by breaking her mother’s ribs can’t be all bad, can it?
November 23rd. It’s hard not to love the Muppets. Forgetting Sarah Marshall star Jason Segel sure does, because he’s spearheading this film — in which the Muppets fight to save their beloved theater (for like, the tenth time) — that hopes to restore the Muppets to the brilliance of Jim Henson’s glory days. Segel has promised a faithful depiction of Kermit and the gang, while enlisting a slew of comedians to make cameos and introducing a new Muppet character who serves as an entry point for new viewers (that’s him with the iPhone).
Rise of the Apes
November 23rd. A prequel to… I don’t know, all of the different movies, I guess, that depicts the intelligent apes rising to power after being subjects of genetic engineering. James Franco stars opposite (for the first time) all-CGI apes, like the one played by Andy Serkis, above. But I’m wondering the same thing you are: Why do we need another Apes film?
December 9th. Martin Scorsese takes his first leap into “3D family adventure” territory with what’s said to be a beautiful, quirky tale of an orphaned boy who lives in the walls of a train station, and discovers an “automaton” — a robot (seen above) — that he believes carries a message from his father. Sounds very Neil Gaiman to me. The flick boasts an impressive cast that includes Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, and many more.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
December 16th. Primarily notable because director Brad Bird — the genius behind Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille — makes his live-action debut with this action-packed thriller that finds flavor-of-the-month Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Lost‘s Josh Holloway joining Tom Cruise on a new adventure in Dubai. Rumor has it that Cruise may be handing off the franchise to Renner et. al. with this one, paving the way for a “new generation” of IMF agents. J.J. Abrams, who helmed the third and best entry in the franchise, produces.
Sherlock Holmes 2
December 16th. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are back, this time facing off against the legendary Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris of Mad Men, aka Fringe‘s “Mr. Jones”). Noomi Rapace, the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, also joins the cast as a femme fatale. Plus, it’s a sequel, so you know… bigger, badder, with more explosions and stuff.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
December 21st. Hollywood’s version of the runaway bestseller, starring Daniel Craig and young actress Rooney Mara in the title role. Hot off his success with The Social Network is director David Fincher. Looks like a recipe for success.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
December 23rd. The first in a trilogy of all-CGI films from a partnership between Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Spielberg directs this one, with Jamie Bell donning the motion-capture tights for the title role, based on the classic stories by Herge. Bonus points for a screenplay by the brilliant Steven Moffatt (Doctor Who, Sherlock).
December 28th. Steven Spielberg looks to be competing against himself with a second film releasing in less than one week’s time (see above). But this one is a live actioner based on a young adult novel about the bond between a young man and his horse. When the horse is sold to the cavalry during World War I and sent to the front lines, the boy sets out to save him.