10. “Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.” (June 27)
OK, OK. Say what you want about director Michael Bay's Transformer movies. The truth is, if you like to see good and evil giant robots from space duke it out while causing enormous collateral damage to Earth, these are fun and entertaining movies. And yes, I consider Mark Wahlberg an upgrade over former leading man Shia LaBeouf.
9. “Edge of Tomorrow.” (June 6)
I'm a bit up in the air about this. I'm certainly a Tom Cruise fan (as far as his movies are concerned), but 2013's “Oblivion,” while visually terrific, was a bit flat in the story and acting departments. This time, it's a bloody "Groundhog Day" of fighting aliens in the future, and Cruise, as a combat novice, keeps dying in battle, reliving the day he dies over and over and over and over ...
But with the help of a skilled Special Forces soldier (Emily Blunt), he continues to improve during each repetition. Will they ultimately prevail? Who knows. But Ms. Blunt's presence alone should be worth the price of a ticket.
8. “Transcendence.” (April 18)
In spite of the debacle that was 2013's “The Lone Ranger,” Johnny Depp is apparently a believer in getting right back on the horse, so to speak. No cowboys or steam locomotives in sight this time around, though. Instead, Depp plays a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence. His quest: to create a sentient computer with the sum total of human knowledge and a full range of human emotions.
What happens next has not yet been revealed, but apparently it involves Depp's transcendence of his own humanity and his increasing appetite for power.
This film is also of note because first-time director Wally Pfister has worked as the cinematographer on the Christopher Nolan films “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” At least it should look really cool.
7. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” (July 11)
The 2011 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was compelling enough to keep me interested in this next chapter but not great enough to have sold me completely on this re-imagined approach to the “Planet of the Apes” mythology.
Having recently re-watched the original 1968 film, I was struck once again by both how solid a story it was and by how well the film holds up almost 50 years later. I suppose that shouldn't be a big surprise given that the story began as a novel by acclaimed French author Pierre Boulle, (“The Bridge Over the River Kwai”) and was originally adapted into a screenplay by Rod Serling (“The Twilight Zone”). Having Charlton Heston lending his patented brand of gravitas to the proceedings didn't hurt, either.
Hopefully, this latest installment will take the franchise to new heights.
6. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
My response to 2012's “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a definite “meh.”
Oh, sure, the cast was engaging enough, particularly Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, but the whole reboot felt a bit like an unnecessary cash-grab so soon on the heels of Sam Raimi's excellent “Spider-Man” trilogy. (2002-2007.)
In spite of the mind-numbing excesses of 2007's “Spider-Man 3,” it still seemed way too soon to retell Spidey's origin story, and the rest of “The Amazing Spider-Man” felt pretty formulaic.
However, previews for this year's sequel make it look intriguing, energized and fun. We'll just have to hope that with three famous Spidey foes (Electro, the Rhino and the Green Goblin) this chapter doesn't suffer the dreaded “too many villains syndrome,” which seriously plagued Raimi's third installment.
5. “Interstellar” (November 7)
Following career highlights like the three most-recent Batman films and “Inception,” anything Christopher Nolan takes on has my attention. Particularly a sci-fi film about interplanetary travel. Even a preview where all I saw was some old space program footage, Matthew McConaughey driving a pickup past a cornfield and a rocket blasting off in the distance can't subdue my interest.
Expecting big things from director Nolan has become almost instinctive, and he hasn't let me down yet.
4. “Guardians of the Galaxy.” (August 1)
Had they sought a less literal title, Marvel Studios might have called this movie “Going Way Out on a Limb.” Having reached a nearly unparalleled level of success with their “Phase One” and “Phase Two (post-"Avengers") movies so far, the filmmakers are stepping away from their most well-established characters to bring to life a tale of an odd band of space-faring ex-cons turned galactic freedom fighters.
When I say an odd band, I mean it. Bradley Cooper portrays a ray gun-toting, talking raccoon named Rocket, Vin Diesel plays a tree-being called Groot, Zoe Saldana is a green-skinned alien assassin and “Parks and Recreation's” Chris Pratt plays their half-human, half-alien leader, Star-Lord.
Based on Marvel Comics characters that first appeared in 1969 and were rebooted in the comics in 2008, this film presents an opportunity for Marvel to greatly expand the cosmic aspect of its universe. And, of course, this is all part of the setup for “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” coming in 2015.
3. “Jupiter Ascending.” (July 25)
The writing-directing partnership of siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski, creators of “The Matrix” films, has built and used up a lot of credit with me as a moviegoer.
I have shrugged off the somewhat flawed conclusion to that otherwise brilliant trilogy, admired “Speed Racer” for its crazy kinetic pop-art visual style alone and even credited “Cloud Atlas” as an ambitious-but-doomed attempt to realize a possibly “unfilmable” novel onscreen.
I do recall that during a futuristic sci-fi sequence of “Atlas” I wished fervently that the Wachowskis would just make an entire film in that mode. From the previews for “Jupiter,” it appears as though that wish may have come true.
We'll see if the Cinderella-like story (about a human (Mila Kunis) with a secret galactic destiny and protected by an alien super-soldier (Channing Tatum) marks a return to top form for the creative duo. I certainly hope so.
2. “Godzilla.” (May 16)
As Godzilla fans learned in 1998, a blockbuster director (Roland Emmerich, “Independence Day”) and a huge budget ($130 million) do not necessarily a great Godzilla film make.
The biggest problems? The monster bore no resemblance to the Godzilla of yore. The cast, which was made-up of Matthew Broderick and mostly unknown television actors, was uninspiring at best. And a general lack of a coherent plot (and what plot there was seemed very derivative of “Jurassic Park”).
This time around, British director Gareth Edwards and his crew seem focused on creating a monster more in the spirit of the original, and they field a cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and up-and-comers Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Kick-Ass” 1 and 2) and Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”). Taylor-Johnson appears in the teaser as one of a group of paratroopers apparently being sent against the monster. The suspense of their drop from the sky into the city is palpable, and at the very end of the trailer, Godzilla rears his head and screams the chillingly familiar Godzilla scream.
It looks crazy good!
1. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” (April 4)
There are a couple of reasons that this is my most anticipated film of 2014.
One, Cap and Batman are my all-time favorite superheroes. (I'll have to wait for 2015 to see what Ben Affleck does with the Caped Crusader!)
Two, I loved Marvel Studios' first Cap flick, 2011's “The First Avenger.” Initial doubts about Chris Evans' ability to convincingly portray the Sentinel of Liberty were quickly dispelled, and Cap's origin was retold dazzlingly, in a manner more or less true to the comics. Hugo Weaving was awesome as Cap's arch-nemesis, the Red Skull, and the entire film was basically one big joyride for Cap fans.
This years' sequel continues the C.A. thread from “The Avengers,” as the Captain, a man 70 years out of time, must continue to come to grips with his present-day reality. While doing so, he must confront a new threat from the past. Robert Redford's mysterious role as a “high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. official” smells a bit like stunt casting to me. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, near the end of the film, he reveals … well, maybe I won't go there.
But I'm expecting continued greatness from this film. Marvel has definitely been on one heck of a roll so far.
So there you have it. Given the releases already announced for 2015, including “Star Wars VII,” “Batman vs. Superman,” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” I could probably assemble next year's list now.
But I think I'll wait. There are likely to be some surprises coming down the line.