Congratulations: You’ve just survived the worst month of the moviegoing year. January is where studios usually dump their duds, knowing full well that audiences are too busy catching up on Christmas releases (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Oscar nominees (The Post, Phantom Thread) to care about shit like 12 Strong.
But starting in February, the movies get a lot better, which is when you might want a guide to 2018’s most highly anticipated films. You can find those all over the internet, though: What I’m interested in is figuring out a list of upcoming movies that don’t feature any franchises, sequels, spinoffs, adaptations or remakes. Or better put, we all know that Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time and The Incredibles 2 are heading our way soon. What about movies that aren’t based on anything?
Below is my list of 10 completely original films arriving in theaters this year. And because enough readers complained about last year’s list, I’ve tightened the criteria so that films inspired by historical events also aren’t allowed.
If a lot of these titles don’t ring a bell, that’s the idea. We’ve become so programmed to gravitate toward movies that we already know everything about before we even see them. (Seriously, do you need to know a thing about Avengers: Infinity War before you plunk down your money?) By comparison, this list is a leap of faith — one in which the surprises and rewards might be greater simply because they’re all a little more under-the-radar than the latest superhero film.
‘Game Night’ (February 23)
What It’s About: A group of friends get together for a game night, only to discover that something has gone terribly wrong and they’re now trapped in the middle of a real-life standoff between criminals and the FBI.
Why You Should Care: Game Night could be the sort of smart, funny R-rated studio comedy that’s been in short supply of late. The excellent cast includes Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jeffrey Wright and Jesse Plemons, and the TV commercials actually feature a couple laughs, which is always an encouraging sign. But the hope is that Game Night won’t just be a wacky action-comedy, but also, a sharp smackdown of the competitiveness that can turn a seemingly harmless game night into a cutthroat bloodsport.
‘Isle of Dogs’ (March 23)
What It’s About: In this stop-motion animated film, a boy goes looking for his missing dog.
Why You Should Care: You could argue that Wes Anderson’s best film is Fantastic Mr. Fox. In fact, I will argue that: That movie (with its stop-motion style) was a perfect distillation of his handmade, quirky, sneakily emotional aesthetic. His worlds always feel a little artificial, so animation is the perfect setting for his peculiar vision. Isle of Dogs is his first animated movie since then, and it looks just as funny and warm as Fantastic Mr. Fox — with the added bonus that it takes place in a dystopian Japan. Anderson has been on a hot streak of late — 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel won four Oscars — so here’s hoping he continues that roll.
‘Unsane’ (March 23)
What It’s About: From the official plot description, “A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution where she is confronted by her greatest fear — but is it real or is it a product of her delusion?”
Why You Should Care: That above plot description is almost all we know about Unsane, except for the fact that it was directed by Steven Soderbergh on an iPhone and stars Claire Foy. This is now the second feature Soderbergh has made since famously insisting that he was retiring after 2013’s Side Effects. Thank God, he’s a man who doesn’t stick to his word: Movies are better with his chilly, exciting intelligence around.
‘Tully’ (April 20)
What It’s About: Charlize Theron plays an overwhelmed mother of three who forms a friendship with her babysitter (Mackenzie Davis).
Why You Should Care: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Jason Reitman has had his best success teaming up with screenwriter Diablo Cody, who wrote the Academy Award-winning Juno and the underrated Young Adult. The two reteam with their Young Adult star for this comedy-drama, which got good reviews out of Sundance — especially for Theron’s performance as a mother and wife who’s at her breaking point. Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde demonstrated that Theron could acquit herself as an action star, but the brilliantly frayed performance she gave in Young Adult suggested that her raw turn in Monster was no fluke. Hopefully, Tully is more proof of her greatness.
‘Hereditary’ (June 8)
What It’s About: After the death of her elderly mother, an artist (Toni Collette) begins to suspect that her mom’s spirit is haunting her family’s house.
Why You Should Care: One of the sensations of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this terrifically old-school horror movie is being put out through A24, which beyond releasing Oscar-worthy films like Moonlight and Lady Bird has become the go-to distributor for cool, low-budget thrillers (The Witch, It Comes at Night). Hereditary ignores all the cheap tricks that are popular in modern horror — there are no jump scares or found-footage gimmicks — and just tells a completely absorbing (and deeply creepy) story about a woman struggling with guilt and grief. Hereditary could be this year’s The Conjuring.
‘The Happytime Murders’ (August 17)
What It’s About: The puppet cast of a 1980s TV series is being killed one at a time. And the only person who can catch the killer is an alcoholic puppet detective.
Why You Should Care: Almost 30 years ago, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? cleverly suggested a reality in which humans and cartoons coexisted. In the tradition of the Muppet movies, The Happytime Murders introduces us to a world where puppets and humans hang out. The film is directed by Jim Henson’s son Brian, and it costars Elizabeth Banks, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph and Joel McHale. Supposedly, The Happytime Murders will be a dark-ish noir, so it may not be suitable for kids. For the rest of us, though, it sounds like a cool mix of Muppet nostalgia and meta pop-culture riffing.
‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ (October 5)
What It’s About: A group of shady folks all meet at a Lake Tahoe hotel in the 1960s.
Why You Should Care: 20th Century Fox is keeping the story of Bad Times under wraps, but it sounds like a Hateful Eight-style showdown between a bunch of bad men. The film is written and directed by Drew Goddard, who previously made the divisive Cabin in the Woods. (I thought it was really funny, smart and scary; others didn’t dig its mixture of horror, parody and comedy.) But you can’t argue with the cast, which includes Chris Hemsworth (who was in Cabin in the Woods), Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges and Russell Crowe.
‘The Nightingale’ (TBD)
What It’s About: In the 1850s in Tasmania, a young convict goes on a quest for vengeance against the men who killed her husband and child.
Why You Should Care: The Babadook was one of the best indie horror films of recent years, and now its creator, writer-director Jennifer Kent, is returning with her latest effort. Plus, it stars Aisling Franciosi, who’s appeared on Game of Thrones, and Sam Claflin, who’s been in Hunger Games movies and last year’s Their Finest. Neither actor, though, has had a real breakthrough role — until potentially now. The Nightingale doesn’t have a release date yet, but the expectation is it’ll be out by the end of the year.
Untitled Chris Morris Project (TBD)
What It’s About: Honestly, nobody knows. The movie was shot in secret last year.
Why You Should Care: This is the follow-up to Four Lions, the funny, dark terrorist satire that helped make Riz Ahmed a star. That movie was the brainchild of filmmaker Christopher Morris, who created Brass Eye, worked with Armando Iannucci and directed a few episodes of Veep. There are almost no details available about this new film, except for the fact that Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks and Denis O’Hare are in it. But Four Lions fans have been waiting for what Morris would do next. That wait is nearly over.
‘The Beach Bum’ (TBD)
What It’s About: IMDb says only, “A rebellious stoner named Moondog lives life by his own rules.”
Why You Should Care: The Beach Bum doesn’t sound very interesting from that plot description, until you realize that it’s the new movie from gonzo writer-director Harmony Korine, who had his biggest hit with 2013’s Spring Breakers. That film provided James Franco with one of his finest, wildest roles, and the hope is that The Beach Bum does the same for Matthew McConaughey, who’s playing the wild-and-crazy Moondog. The Beach Bum — which also stars Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron, Jimmy Buffett and Bria Vinaite (who was one of the big discoveries of last year’s The Florida Project) — is supposedly going for a major contact high. Korine has claimed he wants marijuana smoke to be pumped into theaters that show his film.
In that case, be sure to bring some Visine.