Listen to Hollywood’s wisdom about classic movie genres—suspense thrillers, war epics, musicals, creature features, horror-fantasy epics—and you might start believing that these supposed evergreens are now pushing up daisies. Pin down a production boss at a party, premiere or pickup basketball game and they’ll often say things stuff like, Hey, I’m crazy about those kinds of movies but the genres are just too risky these days. This from the same people who were gung-ho about some of the year’s biggest box office turkeys, including Neighbors 2, Ben-Hur, The BFG, Gods of Egypt and many more—each budgeted north of $100 million and likely to lose tons of dough.
We get it: Audiences are unpredictable. Moviemakers aren’t psychics who can prophesy moneymakers. Studios stay solvent and honchos keep honcho-ing only if their projects keep generating way more black ink than red. But nothing revives a supposedly dead genre like a big, fat, audience-pleasing hit, and five movies set for release next year may give the breath of life to a few wilting genres.
Edgy, visionary mind-benders like The Dark Knight and Inception have turned director Christopher Nolan into a brand with millions of rabid young followers. Next July, Nolan will be back in theaters, but not with another twisty mega-budget sci-fi original or a franchise flick. Instead, he’ll unleash his World War II action epic Dunkirk, the preview trailers for which have already set Twitter aflame. How will Dunkirk conquer ticket-buyers where, say, Fury and Unbroken didn’t? First off: Nolan. His name alone may lure faithful followers to an ambitious, big-budget, big-risk one-off. But also expect a carpet-bombing publicity push that will sell the movie as a must-see “event” shot in mega-huge 65mm, the better for Nolan to immerse us in a visceral recreation of the land-and-sea evacuation of over 300,000 Allied troops from Nazi-ridden France. We’ll be right up close to stars Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and James D’Arcy. It should be huge.
Monster movies, the kind that packed in audiences in the ‘50s and ‘60s, have taken a beating in the past few years. Jurassic World stomped the box-office, but what about Godzilla, Pacific Rim and Independence Day: Resurgence? Watch for a massive shot in the arm from Kong: Skull Island. After so many Kong redos, this one sounds cheesy—but cheesy in a $190 million kind of way. It also boasts a left-field cast that includes Oscar winner Brie Larsen, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Straight Outta Compton’s Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell. Also, a much bigger, meaner and less sentimental Kong. Equally intriguing, it’s set during the Vietnam era. People may go to hate-watch it at first but, trust us, these moviemakers know what they’re doing.
Big-budget horror-fantasy doesn’t always have to go the genre-bending way of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the long-in-the-works movie version of Stephen King’s beloved dark fantasy-science fiction-horror-Western book series The Dark Tower should prove it. Idris Elba as a Sergio Leone-esque Man with No Name gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as an ageless, devilish sorcerer sound like dream casting. Plus, from its rumored Junkie XL score to its arty, unconventional Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, and its grounded-in-reality fantasy approach, it already feels fresh. And, considering the 40 years of pent-up demand for a screen version of King’s vision, the movie’s relatively modest $60 million budget is super smart. We’re in.
Some say that director Alfred Hitchcock took to the grave the secret of making classy adult suspense thrillers. But encouraging signs of life, like Gone Girl, the upcoming Girl on the Train and director Paul Verhoeven’s deeply twisted Elle give us hope that the elegant-nail-biter tradition may carry on. Which brings us to The Snowman, based on one of Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo’s twisty series of crime novels featuring a hardboiled Oslo detective named, believe it or not, Harry Hole. Starring Michael Fassbender and once to be directed by Martin Scorsese, the film’s reins were taken over by the impressive Tomas Alfredsen (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In). If the movie clicks as big as some think it will, it’ll not only be a breakthrough for Fassbender but a big break for the thriller genre as a whole.
Tuneful movies including Chicago, Moulin Rouge, Into the Woods, Once and Sweeney Todd were all high-dollar box-office hits. But many are betting on the hip Los Angeles-based La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and already touted as an Oscar front-runner, to click with the right moviegoing demographic and ignite a musical movie renaissance. We say it’s about damn time for a modern-day Singin’ in the Rain meets The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. And this team, which includes Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, might be the one to pull it off.