They'll be damn near 120 films opening between now and the end of the year. This preview doesn't cover all of them – rather, we just cut the fat and went right to the 30 movies with the best chance of not stinking up the multiplex. We're pretty sure that nothing will make more money – and be more of a blast – than Stars Wars: The Last Jedi. And then what? Questions remain:
— Is anything opening this spring/summer serious competition for summer's Dunkirk as Best Picture? Maybe The Post, Downsizing, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, Call Me by Your Name? Maybe not.
— Can Justice League somehow not suck?
— Will Meryl Streep (The Post) and a pre-retirement Daniel Day Lewis (starring in the currently untitled Paul Thomas Anderson movie about a London tailor) win their fourth acting awards and make Oscar history?
— Can Jackie Chan (The Foreigner) still kick ass at 63?
— Will James Franco (The Disaster Artist) move his career up a notch by playing a millennial version of Ed Wood?
— Is Call Me By Your Name's Timothée Chalamet the young acting find of the year?
— Can the breakthrough director this season actually not be a dude?
— What will happen when Pixar and Mexico get it on in Coco?
— Is #OscarsSoWhite making a disturbing comeback?
For answers to these questions and more surprises (Adam Sandler will have critics cheering – no, really), here are our picks for which spring/summer movies most likely to shake things up.
In cinemas now
The spring/summer movie season kicks off with a mesmerising mindbender from writer-director Darren Aronofsky, who wrote this cinematic provocation in a fever over a long weekend. The sizzle is still on it – and you've never seen Jennifer Lawrence like this. The Hunger Games star and Javier Bardem, both on fire, play a husband and wife involved in acts of creation (he's an author with a worshipful cult; she will bear his child) and desecration (Mother Earth is involved). Then another couple (Ed Harris and an Oscar-worthy Michelle Pfeiffer) invade their space. All hell breaks loose, and that's just for starters. Like Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, this psychological thriller plumbs the violence of the mind with hallucinatory brilliance. You won't know what hit you.
In cinemas now
Emma Stone and Steve Carell dive right into the awards race by bringing 1973 sports history to life. The Oscar-winning actress is Billie Jean King, the tennis star who takes on male chauvinism in the person of Wimbledon triple-winner Bobbie Riggs (Carell) – a clownish blowhard who thinks women belong in the kitchen or the bedroom. Their exhibition match drew a TV audience of 90 million. Working from a script by Simon Beaufoy, co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine) allow yesterday's sexism, i.e. women are paid less and bullied more, resonate powerfully for today.
In cinemas now
Who needs Bond when we have the Kingsman franchise? This hugely entertaining sequel to Matthew Vaughn‘s surprise 2015 smash reunites street-kid spy Eggsy (Taron Egerton) with Harry (Colin Firth), the Bond-ish mentor who only seemed to die in the first movie. (That's Hollywood for you, folks). Kingsman is the name of a swank tailoring shop on Saville Row that fronts for the British agents. Or at least, it was: When things go boom, the spies need to rely on Statesman, a spy group headed by Jeff Bridges. The evil Golden Circle, led by Julianne Moore as a psycho with a nonstop smile, aims to take both organisations down. Fat chance. And don't get us started on Channing Tatum as an electric-lasso wielding cowboy.
In cinemas now
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) directs this long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 classic that sci-fi fanatics never, ever tire of arguing about. Is Harrison Ford's former blade runner Rick Deckard a human or a replicant? We may find out for sure as Ryan Gosling joins the cast as LAPD Officer K, a new blade runner who meets up with the former cop in a future LA where, Villeneuve says, "the climate has gone berserk – the ocean, the rain, the snow is all toxic." Is that significant? Is the world at risk? As Deckard says in the trailer: "Too many questions."
In cinemas now
Martial-arts icon Jackie Chan is 63. Too old to kick ass? Like hell. In Martin Campbell's revenge thriller, Chan plays Quan, a father avenging the murder of his teen daughter in a London bombing organised by terrorists. The despairing dad, who has a secret past, demands payback, much to the annoyance of a government official (Pierce Brosnan) who underestimates Quan at his peril. Yes, Chan can't move quite the way he used to, but age has deepened his acting prowess, making this that rare action thriller that doesn't hide the face of pain.
October 13th (Netflix)
Who says Adam Sandler can't get respect? He can here. In Noah Baumbach's comedy-drama, Sandler plays the neglected son (Ben Stiller plays the favoured one) of a semi-famous New York sculptor (a fine, flinty Dustin Hoffman). In his best performance since Paul Thomas Anderson's 2002 Punch-Drunk Love, the comedian shows there's a real actor behind the clown act he's turned into a successful industry. So bravo to Sandler and a funny, touching and vital film that gets the details right.
If Todd Haynes isn't a sterling model for making art by following your heart as a filmmaker, we don't know who is. Based on the 2011 illustrated novel by Brian Selznick (who wrote the screenplay), Wonderstruck tells two like-minded stories: one about a young deaf girl, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), in 1927 New Jersey; the other about a young deaf boy, Ben (Oakes Fegley), in 1977 Minnesota. Delicate business is being transacted here and Haynes, the director of films as diverse as Far From Heaven and Carol, proves he's just the visual master to do it.
George Clooney directs and cowrites (with the Coen brothers) this stinging satire of suburban America in the 1950s, when folks looked white-bread friendly while raising hell with the black family that lives next door. Matt Damon stars as a dad who's victimised by home invasion. His wife (Julianne Moore) dies; her sister (Moore again) moves in to care his son. That's when an insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac, brilliant) starts turning over rocks and Clooney puts the screws to vintage social rot still alive and toxic in the Trump era. You'll laugh till it hurts.
Tired of the long blond hair and that damn hammer? You'll be pleased to know that star Chris Hemsworth is shorn of both in the third stand-alone Thor feature. Director Taika Waititi had a mission to put the fun back into the franchise with the Asgardian's fellow Avenger The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) back in the mix, along with bad guy/occasional ally/Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Their mission? Stop the new villain, Hela the Goddess of Death, from destroying the galaxy. With two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett in the role, they're going to have their hands full.
In 1974, Sidney Lumet directed a film version of Agatha Christie's 1934 mystery in which Albert Finney played famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who's trying to solve a murder on a long-distance train filled with all-star suspects. (How "all-star," you ask? How about Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for it). Now Kenneth Branagh steps in as director and dons the Poirot moustache to put his own spin on the classic whodunit. Among those looking guilty as hell on this express ride to homicide: Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Dame Judi Dench. Choose your poison.
If you hated Batman v Superman – we're told there are a few who didn't – you're probably thinking this sequel-cum-DC-superhero team-up will suck. Personally, we're reserving judgement, plus director Zack Snyder has apparently blown away a lot of gloom by easing up on the internal angst of the Caped Crusader (Ben Affleck). Not only that, he and his cowriters (including Joss Whedon) have beefed up roles for Ezra Miller as the Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and 2017's box-office miracle worker Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
November 17th (Netflix)
Director Dee Rees (Pariah) has crafted an extraordinary tale of racial disparity in the Mississippi Delta farm country before and after World War II. The story contrasts the intertwined lives of a white couple, the McAllans (Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke), with a family of black sharecroppers led by Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan and Straight Outta Compton's Jason Mitchell. Rees handles the complex material with finesse and fire (she's a consummate artist), especially the PTSD that afflicts soldiers on both sides of the color line. Mitchell is superb and R&B queen Blige is magnificent. It's a prodigious feat of filmmaking.
The 21st-century version of the globe's worst director is indisputably Tommy Wiseau, the Polish-American actor/ filmmaker who won his place in cinema infamy with The Room. Released in 2003, his magnum opus of incomprehensibility is so bad that it's formed of cult of love/hate watchers. Now find out how this modern midnight-movie staple was made, courtesy of director James Franco. He also plays Wiseau, bizarre accent and all, with the same kind of affection that Johnny Depp brought to Ed Wood. Costar Seth Rogen also says that Franco, who just kills it in the role, stayed in character during the shoot. The Disaster Artist is the shit – in the best sense of the word.
Woody Allen's latest, set in in the Coney Island of his youth, tees up Kate Winslet to delivers a tour de force performance as a 1950's housewife who cheats on her carousel-operator husband (Jim Belushi). The object of her affection: a stud lifeguard, played by Justin Timberlake. Conflict ensues when a stepdaughter (Juno Temple) shows up to see her dad and falls for the lifeguard herself. The film has laughs and the richly evocative atmosphere of the fabled amusement park, but it's the dramatic sparks you'll remember. And watching Winslet fall to pieces is a rollercoaster ride all by itself.
Remember Rey (Daisy Ridley) handing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lost lightsaber at the end of 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Want to find out what happens next? Duh! That alone would make The Last Jedi unbeatable for crowdpleasing fun and box office glory. But there's also tremendous curiosity to see how indie director Ryan Johnson (Looper) does at the control of a behemoth; how reformed Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) will show his heroism on the casino metropolis of Canto Bright; how the franchise will say goodbye to Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa (sniff, sniff); and how to interpret what the hell Luke meant when he said, "It's time for the Jedi to end."
Paddington turned out to be one of 2014’s biggest surprises. Director Paul King returns with a who’s who of Brit actors for the sequel, including Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters and Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington.
Hugh Jackman – so dynamite earlier this year deconstructing Wolverine in Logan – tackles his most ambitious role to date as P.T. Barnum, the 19th-century entertainment giant who founded a circus and felt he cheated audiences if he didn't leave them with their jaws dropping. Costarring Michelle Williams as Barnum's wife and Zac Efron as his business partner, this three-ring biopic has all the bells and whistles. Director Michael Gracey's film is also an original musical, complete with La La Land Oscar-winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul creating songs with the right-now sound of today. A gamble? You bet. Anything else would be an insult to the showman who lived to astonish.
Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendents, Nebraska) extends his reach as a filmmaker with this visionary masterwork. Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz and an OMG-she's-great newcomer Hong Chow, this fiercely touching human comedy posits a new world where we all get the option to shrink into six-inch versions of ourselves to live like kings and maybe save the environment. Is there a catch? Hell, yeah. But Payne, working at the top of his game, has some resonant shocks to deliver to a theater near you come December. Be on the lookout.
Expect Academy voters to lose their hearts to Luca Guadagnino's emotionally naked tale of first love set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983. An attraction grows between 17-year-old Elio (breakout star Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), a twentysomething intern for the teenager's professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Working from Andre Aciman's acclaimed 2007 novel, the director revels in the pleasures of the flesh without losing touch with thought and feeling. Hammer and Chalamet give award-caliber performances that radiate heat and unexpected humor, but it's the film's wisdom and nurturing compassion that sneak up on you. That's what makes this hot-blooded and haunting love story a new classic – and one of the very best movies of the year.
Set around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, the latest Pixar film film – directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) –focuses on Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old wannabe singer who finds himself in the land of dead. Don't even think you know what you'll expect to find there. Among the all-Latino voice cast is Benjamin Bratt as Miguel's dead musical hero and Gael Garcia Bernal as his friend Hector. But it's the visuals here that are built to astonish.
For those who believe Frances McDormand (Fargo, Olive Kitteridge) can do anything, here's more proof. Anglo-Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) wrote the lead role expressly for the Oscar-winning actress, who plays Mildred Hayes, the mother of a murdered teen daughter who takes action against the lazy police in her hometown. How, you ask? By using three billboards to advertise the local law-enforcement officers' incompetence. Expect fireworks.
After Ridley Scott left the Blade Runner sequel to another director (Denis Villeneuve), he focused his attention on this true-crime drama set in 1973. That's when tycoon J. Paul Getty (Kevin Spacey) first refused to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers of his teen grandson (Charlie Plummer). It was left to the boy's mother (Michelle Williams) and an ex-CIA agent (Mark Wahlberg) to work out a deal. Talk about family values! The moral quagmire at the core of this tale can be found in a Getty quote at the time: "I don't believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."
It's been a season of Winston Churchill lately: John Lithgow is considered an Emmy lock for portraying the late Prime Minister in The Crown; Brian Cox acted the venerable English leader hobbled by alcohol and depression in the recent biopic Churchill; and in Dunkirk, we hear the words of the man himself read by a common soldier. Now comes Joe Wright's addition to the canon, with the formidable Gary Oldman taking on the role of the cigar-chomping British bulldog as he refuses to negotiate a peace with Hitler ("We cannot reason with a tiger when our head is in its mouth"). The actor, almost unrecognizable behind makeup and prosthetics, is facing the biggest challenge of his career – but look for the sure-to-be Oscar nominee to to deliver a career-best performance beneath all that latex.
How will today's audiences, with notoriously short attention spans, react to a century-old battle between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) over whose electrical system was better? For those who think AC/DC is just an Australian rock band, this period piece will be an education – though not a dull one. As directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) from a script by playwright Michael Mitnick (Sex Lives of Our Parents), this drama bursts with cinematic energy and is fuelled by a plot as relevant as who's building the next and best smartphone app. As for Cumberbatch and Shannon – they're acting titans.
How can audiences and Oscar voters resist watching Steve Spielberg stick it to Trump? As the leader of the free world rants about fake news, Spielberg counters with a timely retelling of how Washington Post publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) defied Nixon and the feds in 1971 by publishing the Pentagon Papers. Those documents, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, exposed how the U.S. had long covered up its actions in Vietnam. The buzz says Streep may be line to tie Katharine Hepburn's record for winning four acting Oscars. But the heat behind The Post is in its current relevance to the threat against free speech.
Guillermo del Toro fans, rejoice – and welcome to the Mexican visionary's most sustained feat of creative imagination since 2006's Pan's Labyrinth. This dark fairy tale, set during the Cold War, concerns a mute janitor (the ever-wonderful Sally Hawkins) who falls for an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) being held in a secret government water tank. Also on hand are a sneaky scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a paranoid government agent (Michael Shannon). But it's romantic yearning that interests del Toro. His riveting riff on The Creature from the Black Lagoon is filled with movie love, musical interludes and an intuitive feeling for outsiders that marks his finest work.
After shooting his last indie sensation, Tangerine, on tricked-up iPhones, filmmaker Sean Baker goes widescreen 35mm for his follow-up – but his focus on outsiders stays thrillingly intimate. Set on the outskirts of Orlando's Disney World, this funny and fierce film follows two six-year-old girls, Moonie (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), as they find defiant joy amid the broken dreams of grownups. Moonie's mother (Bria Vinaite) is an ex-stripper who sells herself to pay the rent on their room at the ironically named Magic Castle Motel, run by put-upon manager named Bobby (Willem Dafoe, in a performance that deserves major award attention).
No male star has ever won four Oscars as Best Actor – and many are betting Daniel Day-Lewis can do it as a designer on the 1950's London fashion scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's latest. It's been filming in secret under the working title Phantom Thread, though who knows what it will eventually be called – an air of mystery is the usual MO for filmmaker Anderson, who directed Day-Lewis to Oscar No. 2 for 2007's There Will Be Blood. (No. 1 was for My Left Foot; No. 3 for Lincoln.) Recently, the 60-year-old actor announced his this would be his last project before retiring (say it isn't so), which would make this the last hurrah for an artist known for staying in character – whether he's onscreen or off – during productions. And for those who think a quartet of Oscars is too much, name one actor you think deserves it more?