DC v Marvel
2016 is the year of the superhero smackdown. It’s right there in the title of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (25 March), which pits Ben Affleck’s armour-suited Batman against Henry Cavill’s god-like Superman in this sequel to director Zack Synder’s Man of Steel. It’s also present in Captain America: Civil War (29 April), which pits Robert Downey jnr’s armour-suited Iron Man against Chris Evans’s god-like Captain America in this sequel to directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The real smack-down, though, is between the comic book giants behind both sets of characters. DC is using Dawn of Justice to launch its own “shared universe” franchise (next up: the Joker-led super-villain team-up Suicide Squad, out 4 August), while the Marvel Cinematic Universe moves into “Phase 3” with Civil War and the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Doctor Strange (28 October).
Filmmakers v The Frontier
For some reason 2016 looks set to be full of filmmakers taking on frontier life in their movies. Kicking off in subversive style with Quentin Tarantino’s claustrophobic post-Civil War bloodbath The Hateful Eight (8 January), the theme is continued by Birdman-director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant (15 January), which pits Leonardo DiCaprio against a bear (and Tom Hardy) in an extreme true-life tale of survival in the wilderness of 1800s America. The Hateful Eight’s Kurt Russell also stars in gonzo western Bone Tomahawk (19 February) while Natalie Portman takes on a host of bad men (Ewan McGregor among them) in Jane Got a Gun (release tbc). Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, meanwhile, saddle up for a remake of The Magnificent Seven (23 September). It doesn’t stop with westerns, either. Pilgrim horror The Witch (11 March) puts an unsettling spin on the hardships of life in 1630s New England and on the sci-fi front the final frontier is once again revisited in the Simon Pegg-penned Star Trek Beyond (22 July).
Rocky v Time
It’s nearly 40 years since Rocky first slugged his way into the hearts of moviegoers and after multiple (mostly terrible) sequels, Sylvester Stallone’s most endearing creation is making an improbably well-received comeback, this time as a reluctant mentor to the son of his one-time nemesis, the late Apollo Creed. Written and directed by Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler, Creed (15 January) re-teams the indie filmmaker with Fruitvale’s Michael B Jordan, who reportedly delivers a star-making turn in the title role. With Stallone in his corner, expect him to go the distance.
Punks v Nazis
“I approached it as a war movie,” says Jeremy Saulnier of Green Room (13 May), his blistering follow-up to Blue Ruin. It’s easy to see why. Revolving around a hardcore punk band who find themselves under siege after inadvertently accepting a paying gig at the HQ of a Neo-Nazi hate group, the film’s relentless tension kicks into gear when the band witness a crime and find themselves locked in the titular green room by the club’s ruthlessly pragmatic owner, played against type by a menacing Patrick Stewart. “We wanted to make a villain who was extra sinister not because he’s trying to be, but because he’s a self-preservationist,” says Saulnier of Stewart’s willingness to go to the dark side. “The brutal indifference of the character was what disturbed so much,” he continues. “That was just terrifying for both of us.”
Ghostbusters v Misogyny
There was precisely nothing enticing about the long-rumoured Ghostbusters (15 July) reboot until director Paul Feig announced his all female cast. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and current Saturday Night Live stars Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones suddenly injected a concept destined to disappoint with a real shot at being as smart, funny and playful as the original. Knuckle-draggers on the internet disagreed, taking to social media to express their outrage at women headlining a new movie connected to something they once liked as children. But if Feig continues his current form with McCarthy – Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy – expect this to be a hoot.
Charlie Kaufman v Mediocrity
“I was struggling to get stuff made,” says Charlie Kaufman, “so the idea that this is the thing that happened first is surprising.” The “this” to which the man behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York is referring is Anomalisa (11 March), a typically mind-bending tale of a lonely man convinced that everyone he encounters is the same person. And the reason Kaufman – who co-directed the film with Duke Johnson – is surprised this got made? It’s a very adult-themed stop-motion animation, funded through Kickstarter, and based on a play he wrote. “I was going to studios to try to make things, I was talking to production companies, I was writing scripts, so the idea that we got this thing done, against all odds, with no help from any big entities, and that people are responding to it… it’s kind of a cool story.”
Bourne v Legacy
Let’s pretend The Bourne Legacy never happened, shall we? Come this summer memories of that woeful side sequel should be obliterated when Matt Damon and his Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass re-unite for an as-yet-untitled return for the CIA black ops asset, last seen swimming away in New York’s East River. The new film (out 29 July) picks up 12 years on and finds Bourne – identity and memory recovered – back on the grid in a world much changed by Edward Snowden, austerity and the war on terror. With Bond having once again jumped the shark, the timing’s perfect for some serious action again – although anyone seeking non-comic-book-related kicks can also get them via Shane Black’s violent buddy movie The Nice Guys (3 June) and from Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher 2 (21 October).
Roald Dahl v JK Rowling
No children’s book authors are more beloved than JK Rowling and the late Roald Dahl, so the prospect of two new blockbusters based on their work is reason enough to get excited. Dahl’s The BFG (22 July) boasts Steven Spielberg as its director (and a motion-captured Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant). Rowling, meanwhile, makes her screenwriting debut by adapting her Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (18 November), turning it into a new wizarding adventure about a nervy magician (Eddie Redmayne) in 1920s New York hunting the creatures of the title.