The year ahead | Alien movie invasion

It’s never too soon for a Hollywood studio to start claiming prime opening dates for its films.

In fact, the 2009 calendar already is a done deal.

Undoubtedly films will drop out and move around, but the heavy hitters are in place and gearing up marketing campaigns designed to separate you from your entertainment dollar.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll see the arrival of Oscar contenders that opened last month in New York and L.A. — “The Reader” (opening here Friday), “Gran Torino” (Jan. 9) and “Revolutionary Road,” “The Wrestler” and “Defiance” (all on Jan. 16).

Then the official 2009 entries start pouring in. More than a dozen of these films will be shown in digital 3-D (most of the Dickinson chain’s local theaters should be all-digital by the end of February), including James Cameron’s long-awaited space saga, “Avatar,” next December.

But between now and then there’s a bit of everything. Here’s a selection:


These are the year’s big franchise pictures, the guaranteed (or so Hollywood hopes) titles that already have strong buzz and salivating legions of fans eager for every shred of information, photo, trailer and film clip.


declared it one of the great books of the 20th century — is a knotty yarn about a group of superheroes who from the ’40s to the ’80s battle bad guys and each other. Fans of the book are eagerly awaiting this film from Zack Snyder (“Dawn of the Dead,” “300”), but it’s virgin territory for most audiences, who won’t find familiar characters and may not glom on to its decade-jumping narrative.

No big stars, but lots of good actors: Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley.

•“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

(May 1): Hugh Jackman’s surly Logan (aka Wolverine) has always been the best thing about the “X-Men” series, so we’re looking forward to this prequel about how he came to be. Director Gavin Hood may bring a bit of his art-house sensibility (“Rendition,” the Oscar-winning “Tsotsi”) to the megaplex (a good thing) and has assembled a solid supporting cast: Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan, Danny Huston.

•“Star Trek”

(May 8): The venerable space opera returns to the big screen and … and does anybody care? The franchise hasn’t had a current TV show for several years, and young moviegoers don’t have a history with Kirk Co. Are there enough hard-core Trekkers to keep this one afloat?

J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Alias,” “Cloverfield”) produces and directs this yarn set during the early careers of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Scotty (Simon Pegg), “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Also on hand: Eric Bana, Winona Ryder and Bruce Greenwood.

•“Angels Demons”

(May 15): This prequel to the hugely lucrative and critically drubbed “The Da Vinci Code” once again stars Tom Hanks as antiquarian Robert Langdon, this time without the bad ’do. He’s on the trail of the Illuminati, a centuries-old super-secret conspiracy to destroy the Roman Catholic Church. Ron Howard is once again at the helm; also in the cast are Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård and Israeli beauty Ayelet Zurer.

•“Terminator Salvation”

(May 22): After Skynet goes ballistic on humanity, John Connor (Christian Bale) rises from the wreckage to lead mankind in rebellion against the machines. What with three earlier “Terminator” features and TV’s current “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” aren’t we just about terminated out? Hope the six writers credited on “Salvation” came up with something interesting. Directing is McG of music video and “Charlie’s Angels” fame — not the obvious choice for post-apocalyptic drama. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter.

•“Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian”

(May 22): 2006’s original was a monster hit ($250 million), so this sequel was inevitable. This time bumbling museum guard Ben Stiller infiltrates the Smithsonian, America’s biggest repository of historic artifacts.

Director Shawn Levy returns, as do actors Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson. New cast members include Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart, Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible, Eugene Levy as Albert Einstein and Bill Hader as Gen. George Custer. Look also for Hank Azaria, Ricky Gervais and Dick Van Dyke.

•“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

(June 26): A $319 million haul for the 2007 big-screen version of this toy-and-television franchise pretty much guaranteed a sequel. Director Michael Bay is back and has reassembled much of his cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, plus a professorial Rainn Wilson of “The Office.”


(July 10): This has nothing to do with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Instead it’s director Roland Emmerich’s cautionary tale about what will happen when the Mayan calendar runs out in the year 2012. We’re talking volcanoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and advancing glaciers. Emmerich already mined a lot of these ideas in his 2004 ecological disaster hit “The Day After Tomorrow.” With John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover.

•“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

(July 17): Fans were crushed last year when Warner Bros. yanked the latest Harry epic from the holiday schedule and relocated it to a prime summer slot. But as the last of the hot months’ big pictures, it should play well into the fall.

•“The Wolfman”

(Nov. 6): The old Universal horror franchise gets new blood. Benicio Del Toro is the hair-sprouting Lawrence Talbot; with Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving. Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo,” “October Sky”) directs.

•“New Moon”

(Nov. 20): Speaking of wolf men, the sequel to the wildly popular “Twilight” includes not only romantic vampires but an amorous werewolf, too. Stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart will return under the franchise’s new director, Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”).


(Dec. 18): The year closes out with this 3-D alien tale from James Cameron, the visionary who brought us “The Terminator,” “Titanic” and “The Abyss.” A paraplegic space marine (Sam Worthington) is assigned to a team exploring and exploiting a newly discovered planet. Instead he leads the indigenous population in a revolt against his fellow humans. If that sounds familiar, maybe it’s because you’ve seen “Dances With Wolves.” The cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi and C.C.H. Pounder.

Personal picks

Reading about the following titles made me want to see them. Hope they live up to my expectations.


(Feb. 6): Haven’t seen much lately from stop-action animator Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach”). So I’m looking forward to this fantasy about a young girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who finds a secret door to an alternate version of her life.

•“State of Play”

(April 17): Americanized version of acclaimed Brit miniseries about reporters and cops trying to solve the murder of a politician’s mistress. With Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, Helen Mirren, Jeff Daniels.

•“The Soloist”

(April 24): L.A. journalist Robert Downey Jr. helps homeless musician Jamie Foxx get to play in the new Disney Concert Hall. With Catherine Keener; directed by Joe (“Pride Prejudice,” “Atonement”) Wright.

•“The Taking of Pelham 123”

(June 12): Third movie version of the novel about armed men who take over a New York subway train and hold everyone hostage. Tony Scott directs Denzel Washington (as the good guy) and John Travolta (bad guy).

•“Julie Julia” Mastering the Art of French Cooking

. Amy Adams plays Powell; Meryl Streep is Child. I’m hungry already.

•“Taking Woodstock”

(Aug. 14): Ang Lee does … a comedy!?!? A fellow working in his folks’ motel in the Catskills inadvertently sets in motion 1969’s infamous Woodstock music festival. The cast includes Emile Hirsch, Paul Dano, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy. Go Ang!

•“The Informant”

(Sept. 11): True story of an agrichemical executive (Matt Damon) who became a whistleblower over corporate price-fixing. Could be director Steven Soderbergh’s version of “The Insider.”

•“Where the Wild Things Are”

(Oct. 16): Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) delivers a live-action version of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, and it looks like a visual tour de force.

•“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”

(Nov. 7): Eccentric Wes Anderson (“Rushmore,” “Bottle Rocket”) directs an animated film about farmers trying to frustrate a chicken-eating fox. With voices of George Clooney and Cate Blanchett.

•“The Lovely Bones”

(Dec. 11): Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson directs this heartbreaker about a murdered girl who from the afterlife watches the effects of her death on her family. With Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.

•“The Princess and the Frog”

(Dec. 25): Disney animated fare set in 1920s New Orleans and featuring mostly African-American characters.

•“The Road”

(TBA): This adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel was supposed to come out around Thanksgiving. Now it has been delayed until some time in ’09. Hope that reflects the distributor’s unease over how to sell such a downbeat yarn rather than misgivings about the film’s quality. With John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”) at the helm and Viggo Mortensen as a father desperate to keep his son safe from starvation and cannibals, this has the makings of a classic.

Comedy •“Bride Wars”

(Jan. 9): Best friends Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway accidentally schedule their respective weddings on the same date in the same hotel.

•“He’s Just Not That Into You”

(Feb. 6): Interconnecting stories about misreading human behavior. With Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore.

•“The Pink Panther 2”

(Feb. 6): Steve Martin returns as Inspector Clouseau.

•“Confessions of a Shopaholic”

(Feb. 13): Aussie P.J. Hogan (“Muriel’s Wedding”) directs this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s best-seller. With Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy.

•“Miss February” Playboy


•Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail”

(Feb. 20): This time, an imprisoned Madea (Perry) helps a fellow inmate (“Cosby” kid Keisha Knight Pulliam).

•“All About Steve”

(March 6): Convinced they’re meant to be a couple, an eccentric woman (Sandra Bullock) follows a CNN cameraman (Bradley Cooper) all over the country.


(March 27): College grad takes job in amusement park. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig.

•“Observe and Report”

(April 10): A mall security guard (Seth Rogen) wages war on the cops. With Anna Faris, Ray Liotta.

•“17 Again”

(April 17): Miserable middle-ager Matthew Perry wakes up to find himself back in high school (and played by Zac Efron).

•“The Brothers Bloom”

(May 29): Crooked brothers Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody try to con eccentric heiress Rachel Weisz.

•“The Hangover”

(June 12): Groomsmen at Las Vegas wedding lose the groom after a drunken night and must retrace their steps. With Heather Graham, Bradley Cooper.

•“I Love You, Beth Cooper”

(July 10): Nerd (Paul Rust) uses his valedictorian speech to declare his love for an unattainable cheerleader (“Heroes’ ” Hayden Panettiere), setting off a memorable graduation night.

•“Funny People”

(July 31): In the latest from Team Apatow, a dying stand-up comic (Adam Sandler) takes under his wing a green funnyman (Seth Rogen).


(July 31): High school outcast and popular girl team up to create a rock band.

•“The Post Grad Survival Guide”

(Aug. 14): College grad Alexis Bledel moves back in with her family while deciding what to do with her life.

“Old Dogs”

(Nov. 25): John Travolta and Robin Williams somehow end up in the care of 7-year-old twins.

Romance •“New in Town”

(Jan. 30): Hotshot Miami businesswoman Renee Zellweger deals with her new life in a small Midwestern town. With Harry Connick Jr.

•“The Ugly Truth”

(April 3): Chauvinistic TV show correspondent (Gerard Butler) puts his romantically challenged producer (Katherine Heigl) through a series of outrageous tests. Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”) directs.

•“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”

(May 1): At his brother’s wedding a bachelor (Matthew McConaughey) is haunted by the ghosts of his past girlfriends (all played by Emma Stone). With Michael Douglas.

•“The Proposal”

(June 12): Canadian businesswoman working in U.S. forces her assistant to marry her so she won’t be deported. With Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds.

Action/suspense/horror •“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”

(Jan. 23): No Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight leather … but “Frost/Nixon’s” Michael Sheen is on board for this third “Underworld.”


(Jan. 23): Ex-spy Liam Neeson seeks daughter kidnapped into the sex trade.

•“The International”

(Feb. 13): Interpol agent Clive Owen uncovers arms dealing ring. From director Tom (“Run, Lola, Run”) Tykwer.


(Feb. 6): Young clairvoyants band together to battle shadowy government agency. With Dakota Fanning, Camilla Bell, Chris Evans.


(March 20): Corporate spies Clive Owen (again) and Julia Roberts pull a con job on their bosses.


(March 20): A newly opened time capsule makes chilling predictions — some have already come true — convincing Nicolas Cage that his family will play a role in an unfolding drama.

•“12 Rounds”

(March 20): To save his kidnapped girl, cop John Cena must overcome a dozen challenges.

•“Fast Furious”

(April 3): The franchise continues … with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez. Vroom. Vroom.

•“Crank 2: High Voltage”

(April 17): His character died at the end of the first “Crank,” but Jason Statham is back. So are Amy Smart and Dwight Yoakam.


(April 24): Ticket scalper Channing Tatum becomes underground street fighter. With Terrence Howard.


(April 24): Fling between professional man (Idris Elba) and wacko office temp (Ali Larter) threatens his marriage (to Beyonce Knowles). Hey, anybody see “Fatal Attraction”?

•“Next Day Air”

(May 8): Driver delivers a package of drugs to the wrong address. With Mos Def, Donald Faison, Mike Epps.

•“Drag Me to Hell”

(May 29): Sam “Spider-Man” Raimi returns to his horror roots with this tale of a woman (Alison Lohman) dealing with a supernatural curse. With Justin Long.


(July 24): Couple lose child, adopt 9-year-old who is not what she seems.

•“Final Destination: Death Trip 3D”

(Aug. 21): Teens have scary premonitions … in 3-D!


(Sept. 4): In the future, humans will control each other in mass-scale, multi-player online gaming environments. A better cast than it deserves: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, John Leguizamo, Milo Ventimiglia.


(Sept. 4): Spaceship crew members wake up with no knowledge of their mission or their identities. Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster.


(Sept. 9): Animated post-apocalyptic nightmare featuring the voices of Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Elijah Wood and Martin Landau. Not for kids.


(Sept. 11): Kate Beckinsale tracks a killer in Antarctica.


(Sept. 25): In the future, people have their robots do everything; to solve a murder, a cop (Bruce Willis) must leave his home for the first time in years.

“Sherlock Holmes”

(Nov. 20): Robert Downey Jr. is the great detective, with Jude Law as Watson.

Family fare •“Hotel for Dogs”

(Jan. 16): Children keep nine stray dogs in a vacant house.


(Jan. 23): Brendan Fraser can make characters from books come to life.

•“They Came From Upstairs”

(Feb. 13): Kids protect their Maine vacation home from invading aliens.

“The Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience”

(Feb. 27): First Miley Cyrus, now her opening act.

•“Race to Witch Mountain”

(March 13): Reboot of the venerable Disney franchise about UFOs and kids with paranormal powers. With Duane “the Rock” Johnson.

•“Monsters vs. Aliens”

(March 27): Animated effort about a girl infected by a meteorite and imprisoned with others who have become monsters. With voices of Seth Rogen, Reese Witherspoon.

•“Hannah Montana: The Movie”

(April 10): You coughed up the money for the 3-D concert film. Now see a big-screen version of the TV show.


(May 29): Pixar animated effort about old codger who uses thousands of balloons to turn his house into an airborne nest … and discovers he has a young stowaway.

•“Land of the Lost”

(June 5): Big-screen version of ’70s kiddie TV hit about family stranded in world of dinosaurs and cavemen. With Will Ferrell, Anna Friel.

•“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”

(July 1): Yep. They’re back.


(July 24): Specially trained guinea pigs (voiced by Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Penelope Cruz) are sent on a mission to thwart a billionaire’s plan to dominate the Earth. 3-D animation.

•“G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra”

(Aug. 7): Director Stephen Sommers and his “Mummy” star Brendan Fraser re-team to bring the toy line to life. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, Dennis Quaid.


(Aug. 7): “Spy Kids” creator Robert Rodriguez dishes a wish-granting rock that causes chaos in a suburban town.

•“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”

(Sept. 18): In this 3-D animated tale, a scientist working on world hunger is flummoxed when food starts falling from the sky.

“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”

(Nov. 6): Jim Carrey voices Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts of Christmas. 3-D animation.

•“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel”

(Dec. 25): Yep. They’re back, too.

Drama “Notorious”

(Jan. 16): The life and death of the rapper Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard). With Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie.

•“My Sister’s Keeper”

(June 26): Girl conceived as a marrow donor for her ailing older sister goes to court to be emancipated from her family. With Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin.