There’s nothing wrong with caped crusaders, and there will be plenty of options to watch some save the planet from complete destruction in 2018 if you so choose. But there are times when you may want something a little different from your cinematic entertainment — something that isn’t a sequel or reboot or part of some shared universe. In that case, read on for a sampling of promising original films set for the year ahead, conveniently broken down into categories.
Rooney Mara takes the title role in “Mary Magdalene,” the biblical drama from “Lion” director Garth Davis. She’ll star opposite the conveniently hirsute Joaquin Phoenix, who will play Jesus, for a release that’s scheduled to hit theaters in late March — just in time for Easter. “Ophelia” is another familiar story told from a female perspective. Daisy Ridley takes a break from her “Star Wars” duties to play the ill-fated Shakespearean character opposite George MacKay’s Hamlet.
Wasting no time after the success of “Call Me By Your Name,” director Luca Guadagnino will release “Rio” — no, not the animated, talking-bird movie — from a script by Oscar nominee Steven Knight. The drama stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Benedict Cumberbatch and Michelle Williams in a story about a journalist who travels to Brazil and gets sucked into a criminal plot. Gyllenhaal also stars in “The Sisters Brothers,” the English-language feature debut for Jacques Audiard (the French director of “Rust and Bone” and “A Prophet”). The movie, based on a novel by Patrick deWitt, takes audiences to the American West of the 1850s. It’s really more of a dark comedy, but some of the humor is so pitch-black we’re just going to leave it here and back slowly away.
Natalie Portman is a biologist-turned-warrior in the adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation” from writer-director Alex Garland, who’s best known for blowing our minds with “Ex Machina.” In the movie, Portman has to enter a dangerous parallel universe populated by shark-alligators and other toothy beasts to save her husband’s life.
For his first feature since winning best picture for “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen is teaming up with “Gone Girl” novelist Gillian Flynn on the script for “Widows.” The star-studded movie, which features Viola Davis, Colin Farrell and Daniel Kaluuya, follows a group of women who decide to pull off a heist after their husbands are killed trying to do the same job. “Rampage” will be decidedly less serious: A somewhat typical Dwayne Johnson popcorn flick from the director of “San Andreas,” the movie is an adaptation of the 1980s video game, featuring massive apes and wolves that start attacking the world’s cities. Naturally, Johnson’s primatologist protagonist is the man to save the day.
Speaking of persistent heroes, Liam Neeson has taken on bad guys on land, by sea and in the air, but never have villains dared to encroach on the tranquility of his daily trip to work. That all changes with “The Commuter,” a movie that finds him forced to participate in a crime to save his family.
A few laughs
After making moviegoers snort with laughter in a scene-stealing turn in “Girls Trip,” Tiffany Haddish is bringing us more joy in 2018 with “Night School,” which has a few things going for it: It’s directed by Malcolm D. Lee, who also worked on “Girls Trip,” and the screenplay was co-written by funnyman Kevin Hart, who also stars in the movie, about a group of people trying to earn their GEDs. Meanwhile, details are scarce on “Life of the Party,” but it has all the ingredients to be a box office success, starring Melissa McCarthy and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone. Better yet, the supporting cast includes comedic heavyweights such as Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell, Gillian Jacobs and — Christina Aguilera? This one should be interesting.
Netflix continues its pursuit to break into the film game with “A Futile and Stupid Gesture,” which tracks the real-life rise of the National Lampoon media empire. The movie stars Will Forte and Domhnall Gleeson as irreverent co-founders Doug Kenney and Henry Beard.
A dose of dystopia
One of the most hotly anticipated titles of 2018 is “Ready Player One,” Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel about a future society that spends most of its time in an alternative reality. When the inventor of that world dies, he promises his fortune to the first person who can find an Easter egg in the universe. A clever kid named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) goes on the hunt but quickly realizes it could be a dangerous mission. Also based on a novel, “Mortal Engines” takes place on an Earth that’s a desolate wasteland, where “cities” have turned into massive transport vehicles always on a desperate hunt for resources.
Then there’s “Alita: Battle Angel,” Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of the popular manga series. Rosa Salazar plays the lead, a massive-eyed cyborg who’s discovered on a scrap heap and learns she has incredible fighting skills though no memory of her past.
A handful of history lessons (with the usual poetic license)
The Internet was ablaze last month when photos of Christian Bale looking frumpy and uncharacteristically stout started pinballing around social media. The paunch was for a role, of course. He’ll be playing Richard B. Cheney in the upcoming “Backseat,” written and directed by Adam McKay of “The Big Short.” The movie, which also stars Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell as W., revisits Cheney’s role as VP and the lasting impact his policies had on the country. You’ll have to rewind a little further to get to director Josie Rourke’s next project, “Mary Queen of Scots,” based on a screenplay by Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”). Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star as warring cousins Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I.
There’s a lot less music in Damien Chazelle’s next movie. After the back-to-back successes of “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” for which he won an Oscar, the director is going the biopic route with “First Man.” The drama reunites Chazelle with “La La Land” star Ryan Gosling, who plays Neil Armstrong during the space race.
“Chappaquiddick” has already debuted at a few film festivals, but it won’t get a wider release until 2018. Although early word is mixed, it should nevertheless make a splash with younger generations who may not be aware of Ted Kennedy’s role in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Jason Clarke of “Mudbound” plays the senator.
Things that go bump in the night
Chance the Rapper is ready to conquer a new corner of entertainment. He’s starring in A24’s horror movie “Slice.” Details have been kept firmly under wraps, but we know this much: Both murder and pizza are involved. John Krasinski is back in the director’s chair for the nearly silent “A Quiet Place,” in which he’ll star opposite his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. The creepy trailer reveals a family living as noiselessly as possible, lest they awaken whatever beasts apparently have amazing auditory senses.
After getting an Oscar nomination for “Room” — not to be confused with the entertainingly awful “The Room” — Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is sticking with dark material for “The Little Stranger.” Gleeson stars as a country doctor whose new patients are a creepy family (Charlotte Rampling, Ruth Wilson and Will Poulter) haunted by something.
Fun for the whole family
With each new teaser and set photo, excitement for “A Wrinkle in Time” has officially reached a fever pitch. Ava DuVernay directs a too-good-to-be-true cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine, plus pint-size Storm Reid as the lead character, in Madeline L’Engle’s story about a little girl who traverses the universe in search of her father.
Yes, there was just a “Jungle Book” adaptation, and it was very good. But there’s another one coming, and you know what? It looks pretty excellent, too. Andy Serkis, the go-to actor for motion-capture performances, directs “Mowgli” with a stellar cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Naomie Harris.
The Stone Age sure looks adorable given the stop-motion animation treatment in “Early Man.” Nick Park, creator of “Wallace and Gromit,” directs the kid-friendly comedy about cave men trying to adapt to (slightly more) modern life.