Did you miss Part 1 of our 2011 Movie Preview? Go there first to read about the upcoming year's sequels and remakes, and films from notable directors.
The year's biggest genre films
The phrase "genre film" was once a way of dismissing movies as second-tier, unworthy of serious consideration. Of course, now that such films routinely clean up at the box office -- and even earn Academy Award nominations -- they are harder to overlook. In fact, many moviegoers look forward to action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and other genre films more than any drama or comedy.
This year, there are plenty of these films to look forward to. Superheroes are well represented again this year, with relative newcomers Green Lantern, Thor, and Captain America joining returning favorites like the X-Men (covered in Part 1 of our movie preview). But the action genre isn't all such well-known heroes; more original concepts like Sucker Punch could prove to be more interesting.
Though Scream 4 (also in Part 1) might be the most-anticipated horror film coming this year, another self-aware take on the genre, Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods, could prove to be even better. And Battle: Los Angeles, Source Code, and Super 8 have us optimistic about the state of sci-fi in 2011, while we are equally hopeful about a more humorous take on the genre, Paul.
On the following pages, we look at the major releases scheduled for 2011 in a variety of genres, beginning with action-adventure movies.
This samurai epic -- with a story that is somewhat reminiscent of Seven Samurai -- is set in 19th century Japan and is a remake of a 1963 Japanese film, itself based on true events.
Get excited: The film has been playing the festival circuit to very positive response. The last half of the film -- over 45 minutes -- consists of one massive and extremely well-executed battle scene.
Then again: It's nothing like director Takashi Miike's (Audition) best-known previous releases, which were mainly sadistic horror films; how will he do handling a large-scale action picture, and will his American fans stay with him?
Captain America: The First Avenger
The second big-screen attempt to tell the story of Marvel Comics’ patriotic superhuman stars Chris Evans as the star shield-wielding World War II hero who battles the Red Skull, played by bad guy regular Hugo Weaving.
Get excited: Evans has demonstrated that he can adequately play a superhero since he nailed his portrayal of The Human Torch aka Johnny Storm in the two otherwise execrable Fantastic Four movies.
Then again: Marvel, as evidenced by their handling of Iron Man 2, is really only interested in the bottom line. Director Joe Johnston is a better visual effects artist than director, and his last effort, The Wolfman, was one of the worst films of last year.
After her parents are brutally murdered, a young girl grows up to be an assassin, determined to use her skills to take revenge against the people who stole her childhood.
Get excited: Screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen know a thing or two about action movies, as demonstrated in their massive hit Taken. Rising star Zoe Saldana has already shown she can kick ass with her role in Avatar.
Then again: As convincing as Saldana can be on screen, she wasn't enough to make The Losers much more than an average success. Director Olivier Megaton's Transporter 3 was good, but not as great as Transporter 2.
A stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver finds himself on the run after a bank heist goes wrong.
Get excited: With a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Albert Brooks, and a director, Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, the Pusher trilogy) that indeed pushes the limits with each film, Drive has the potential to be a crazy, action-filled time at the cinema.
Then again: This is Refn’s first “Hollywood” production, and if Valhalla Rising (Refn’s last picture) tells us anything, it’s that you never know what you’re going to get out of the director; either way it should be interesting.
Drive Angry 3D
After he breaks out of Hell, a father (Nicholas Cage) seeks revenge against the men who murdered his daughter and abducted her baby. He also drives a bunch of old muscle cars. Angrily.
Get excited: William Fichtner plays the main villain. The movie could be so over-the-top that it's fun, especially if Cage is in top form. It looks like there will be plenty of explosions, thanks to a $75 million budget.
Then again: Director Patrick Lussier is also responsible for My Bloody Valentine 3D and Dracula 2000 (hint: that's not a good thing). There seems to be no compelling reason for this movie to be in 3D (or, for that matter, 2D).
Test pilot Hal Jordan is chosen to join the Green Lantern Corp, an intergalactic police force. Armed with his power ring, Jordan must learn how to overcome fear while battling deranged scientist Hector Hammond.
Get excited: Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) is no stranger to big-budget action movies that retain a deep sense of character. The first trailer is full of comic book easter eggs and suggests the movie will follow the original Green Lantern story pretty closely.
Then again: DC comic book adaptations have been much more hit (The Dark Knight) or miss (Superman Returns) than Marvel movies. Ryan Reynolds' shtick -- while amusing -- could come off as too much of him playing himself instead of embodying Hal Jordan.
A young girl, raised by her father -- a rogue CIA agent -- to become the perfect assassin, sets off on her first mission, but it doesn’t go as planned.
Get excited: Director Joe Wright (Atonement) tackles his first action movie with the help of a strong cast (Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Williams) and a soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. The script was good enough that several heavyweight directors, including Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuaron, expressed interest in the project.
Then again: Wright has described the film as having elements of fairy tale, action movie, and drama and the trailer represents that. Will the film be a messy amalgamation of too many disparate elements?
Hobo with a Shotgun
Rutger Hauer plays a homeless man turned vigilante when he arrives in a crime-infested city.
Then again: Can first-time helmer Jason Eisener handle the jump from trailer to full-length movie?
A team of underwater cave divers find themselves in peril after a tropical storm causes flooding in the cave system they are exploring.
Get excited: The film is executive produced by James Cameron and utilizes the same 3D techniques he used on Avatar.
Then again: The film is not directed by James Cameron. Instead Allister Grierson, who has directed only one feature (Kokoda), is at the helm. The cast is a collection of mainly B-list stars, and the trailer doesn’t inspire confidence.
Imprisoned in a bizarre mental institution, a young girl escapes into her own dream world, where she finds the will to fight back and inspire those around her to break free.
Get excited: Director Zack Snyder (300) has proven he's not afraid to push boundaries with his arresting visual style. The first trailer wowed audiences at Comic-Con with its epic scope and breathtaking action set pieces.
Then again: Audiences may find the film's real vs. imaginary plotline too convoluted. And, as we can see from the trailer, Snyder hasn't lost his love for overindulging in slow motion.
The Norse God of Thunder is exiled from Asgard and lands in the middle of what looks like contemporary New Mexico. Chris Hemsworth (Kirk’s dad in the recent Star Trek reboot) plays the hammer-wielding Marvel comic god who teams up with a nurse played by Natalie Portman.
Get excited: Director Kenneth Branagh’s best work is usually sourced from Shakespeare. He’s great at handling the extremely dramatic and that should extend to scenes involving Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Heimdall (Idris Elba).
Then again: Branagh seems like an odd choice to direct since the only film he’s directed that matches Thor in scale is his terrible adaptation of Frankenstein. And if you played a drinking game connected to the amount of Dutch angles in just the trailer, you’d be seriously brain-damaged or dead.
A doctor (Liam Neeson) is involved in a car accident while visiting Berlin and wakes up to find that not only does his wife (January Jones) not remember him, but she's married to another man. As the doctor works to solve the mystery of his identity, a bigger conspiracy unfolds.
Get excited: The trailer looks like Taken meets the Bourne Identity, only this time the main character has to rescue himself. Neeson is very watchable as a man determined to get to the bottom of things no matter how many people he was to hurt along the way.
Then again: Unknown could be more mystery than action, resulting in too many twists and turns that could push audiences away rather than drawing them in.