The 2020 movie year begins with The Grudge. That’s right, we’re starting a new decade of cinema with a remake of a hit movie from 2004, itself a remake of a great Japanese film from 2002. So much for original ideas. In fact, too many movies opening this year are remakes, sequels, prequels, and reboots, making a lot of the movie-going options feel like more-of-the-same. On the other hand, there are dozens of in-theater experiences awaiting us that look irresistible and quite auspicious. We have half a year to go before we get a summer movie season with the return of Maverick, the Ghostbusters, and Bill and Ted. There’s also 11 long months before we get to see visionary Denis Villeneuve’s version of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Let’s hope these long-awaited films are worth the wait.
For now, despite the winter-spring movie season being referred to as a studio dumping ground, there’s gold to be mined. In the midst of the season that once gave us the likes of Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Norbit, there are occasional jewels and sleepers that pop up.
Here are ten of the most promising looking movies being released between now and the end of the school year.
The Turning (opens Jan. 24)
The Gist: A remake of Henry James’ classic horror novella, “The Turn of the Screw.”
Selling Points: Director Floria Sigismondi is a music video director making her first motion picture since The Runaways. Stars Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” and Terminator: Dark Fate scene-stealer Mackenzie Davis.
On the Other Hand: It’ll be very hard to top The Innocents and (an unofficial remake) The Others, both of which are still terrifying and don’t resort to having a spider crawl out of someone’s mouth.
Fantasy Island (opens Valentine’s Day)
The Gist: “Boss, dee plane! Dee plane!”
Selling Points: Instead of lazily remaking the cheesy but iconic Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize TV show as a comedy, the maniacs at Blumhouse have made it a sinister horror-satire. Yes, please! Stars Michael Pena and Maggie Q.
On the Other Hand: It’s rated PG-13. Let’s hope it’s at least better than Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare or that ’98 Malcolm Mcdowell TV revival, which was heavy on S&M and unintentional hilarity.
The Call of the Wild (opens Feb. 21)
The Gist: An adaptation of Jack London’s magnificent novel of a canine’s harrowing journey into the wilderness. Stars Harrison Ford.
Selling Points: Looks charming, with star Ford appearing dialed in and utterly likeable. Unlike last year’s family-friendly dog dramas, this one is an action movie. Hopefully, it hits big and draws audiences to the source material.
On the Other Hand: The CGI facial reactions on the dog appear overly cartoonish and very- “Snow Dogs.” Will they fix the effects before opening day? Also, London’s book is extremely gritty and violent – how sanitized will this be?
Emma (opens Feb. 21)
The Gist: Jane Austen’s timeless romantic comedy of manners and love is once again a movie.
Selling Points: Emma is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, the spellbinding dramatic actress from The Witch and Split, who is overdue for a lighter vehicle. The last big screen Emma was in 1996 and launched Gwyneth Paltrow into major movie stardom.
On the Other Hand: Will the crowd that made the “Downton Abbey” movie a surprise blockbuster come back for this?
The Invisible Man (opens Feb. 28)
The Gist: This time, the Invisible Man is the monster, not the victim, and terrorizing his girlfriend.
Selling Points: Elisabeth Moss, currently the best actress on television with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is smartly cast in the lead. The new take on the premise is novel and timely in the #metoo era. It’s rated R and comes from horror heavy-hitter Leigh Whannell (author of Saw and Insidious).
On the Other Hand: Wait, did they really give the whole movie away in the trailer?
A Quiet Place: Part II (opens Mar. 20)
The Gist: John Krasinski wrote and directed this sequel, which stars his wife, Emily Blunt.
Selling Points: It appears everyone who made the original special, in front of and behind the camera, is back.
On the Other Hand: The first movie wasn’t just a blockbuster but a surprisingly terrific movie that made audiences want to keep quiet for two hours. That’s a very hard act to follow.
Mulan (opens Mar. 27)
The Gist: Disney’s live-action remake of the week, based on their beloved 1998 animated film.
Selling Points: Unlike the recent, rotten live-action Disney remakes of 2019, this one looks different-enough, is devoid of distracting movie stars and, if it works, could carve out its own identity. It’s also efreshingly devoid of Caucasian actors in the telling of a Chinese folktale.
On the Other Hand: So, Mushu the talking dragon (and voice actor Eddie Murphy) is out but they added a sorceress instead? No songs? No “True to your Heart” over the end credits? Just what kind of remake is this?
The New Mutants (opens Apr. 3)
The Gist: A teenage X-Men movie with a strong horror movie vibe.
Selling Points: One of the year’s biggest curiosity items. It was filmed three years ago, pushed back repeatedly, rumored to be indefinitely shelved and now… Disney says they actually like it and are including it in their Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. Um, What?
On the Other Hand: Is the movie any good? The company that purchased then buried Dark Phoenix alive last summer has done a major about-face but will their newfound optimism be worth it?
No Time to Die (opens Apr. 10)
The Gist: Daniel Craig’s last round as Bond… James Bond, 007, License to Kill.
Selling Points: Skyfall, Spectre, and 1917 director Sam Mendes is out but “True Detective” creator and genius Cary Joji Fukunaga took over. Rami Malek plays the villain and Ana de Armas is the new Bond Girl – sorry, “Female Bond Accomplice.”
On the Other Hand: Spectre was a divisive entry and Bond fans are unhappy with Craig’s cranky attitude towards the franchise. Some may say farewell to Craig by simply not showing up.
Antebellum (opens Apr. 24)
The Gist: Janelle Monae stars in this horror-fantasy about an alternate reality.
Selling Points: The plot is top secret but the visually arresting trailer hints at a commentary on racial violence, past and present. If this hits a nerve as a horror-tinged social commentary, it could capture the zeitgeist in a way that sadly eluded the timely Queen & Slim.
On the Other Hand: The filmmakers are music video directors making their big screen debuts. If this is style over substance, it will be forgotten quickly. It’s being touted as coming from the producer of Get Out and Us, but Jordan Peele is working on the new Candyman and not this movie.