Let us take a look into the future to see the kinds of films we may all be watching in 2022. Once again the landscape of Hollywood blockbusters is dominated by superhero stories. C’est la vie, it is what sells – and I am not going to deny being rather keen to see a lot of them. They’re not the only show in town, of course: here are the 15 big-budget studio films I am keeping an eye on.
(4 March, Warner Bros, d. Matt Reeves.)
On the one hand, this new Batman feature does feel rather like one reboot too far; the shadow of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy continues to loom large – so much, in fact, that it’s easy to forget Ben Affleck’s iteration of the character in the intervening years. Affleck’s not quite out of the building either, with an appearance in The Flash towards the end of the year alongside Michael Keaton replaying the role for the first time since 1992. While this is the year of “too many Batmen” (Batmans?), there is still much to anticipate about Matt Reeves’ take this March. The cast is great, and Reeves has consistently demonstrated he’s one of the great commercial filmmaking talents of the current generation.
(11 March, Disney, d. Domee Shi.)
Pixar Animation Studios have always held Japan’s Studio Ghibli in high regard; their next feature wears that influence very obviously, with the story of a girl who transforms into a giant red panda. Its writer/director Domee Shi makes her feature debut after previously helming the excellent short Bao. Shi is only the second woman to direct a Pixar feature, after Brenda Chapman’s turbulent experience directing – and then being dumped from – Brave (2012). Sadly any hopes of a smoother path to release seem dashed; once again Walt Disney has relegated this promising animated comedy to Disney+. That’s good news for kids and families, but not so great for anybody hoping to see Pixar films on a big screen. First Soul, then Luca, now this: it’s not a good look for Disney corporate.
(22 April, Focus Features/Regency, d. Robert Eggers.)
After impressing audiences with The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), Robert Eggers looks set to hit the big time with this stunning-looking viking epic based on the same legends that ultimately inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It does not lack for star power, with a cast including Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Claes Bang, and Bjork in her first acting role in more than 20 years. The question is whether or not a mass audience will warm to Eggers’ particularly artful approach. It is a good bet that critics will love it, but it represents a pretty big commercial risk for Focus Features and Regency.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
(6 May, Disney, d. Sam Raimi.)
The first of three Marvel Studios features for 2022, and riding on the back of last month’s mega-hit Spider-Man: No Way Home it promises to be a gargantuan success. The first Doctor Strange movie was arguably one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s weaker films, but the character gained a lot of traction in Avengers: Infinity War and is clearly a much bigger commercial proposition now. Rumours of unexpected cameos abound, and the film also may have a secret weapon in director Sam Raimi – who replaces Scott Derrickson for this second instalment. Raimi directed what is probably the best Marvel-related superhero movie ever in Spider-Man 2 (2004), and if Doctor Strange comes even close to capturing that kind of quality it’s going to be a hell of a thing.
Jurassic World: Dominion
(10 June, Universal Pictures, d. Colin Trevorrow.)
Jurassic World was an uneven sequel that captured pent-up demand for dinosaurs on screen, and its follow-up Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom seemed both better and worse depending on the scene in question. Combined with the original three Jurassic Park films it makes for one weirdly shaky yet commercially successful beast: effectively one movie masterpiece followed by four variously competent curate’s eggs. One selling point this time out is the return of the original cast: whether you like or dislike Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s performances in the last two films they are no match for the appeal of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. The other selling point? Regardless of plot, everybody loves a CGI dinosaur. Fingers crossed Colin Trevorrow – who directed World – doesn’t foul it up.
(17 June, Disney, d. Angus MacLane.)
I don’t think there is a bigger question mark hanging over a studio feature this year. The very idea of taking Buzz Lightyear out of the Toy Story franchise and re-developing him as a very human science fiction protagonist is either a genius move in transforming a character or one of the most cynical moves ever employed to keep intellectual property rolling at the cash register. It is, to be fair, probably both, but there is a real chance here for a less humorous and slightly older-skewing picture than Pixar usually produces. Based on its stylish but brief teaser trailer, it is currently impossible to tell. Disney is clearly very aware of its commercial prospects though: it’s the first theatrically released Pixar film since Onward (2020).
(24 June, Warner Bros, d. Baz Luhrmann.)
There are so many certainties about this upcoming musical biopic, yet they all add up to a bit of a mystery. One cannot exaggerate the size of the King’s fanbase, and if Warner Bros can get them into theatres for repeat viewings this could easily become one of the year’s biggest hits at the domestic box office. Then there is the Tom Hanks factor, here playing the young Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker. Hanks remains an immensely popular lead. On the other hand, it is directed by Australia’s Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann has always had a love/hate effect on his audiences due to his very distinctive and original style. With no trailer or poster available to date, who knows what style or tone he is bringing to the piece.
Thor: Love and Thunder
(8 July, Disney, d. Taika Waititi.)
Waititi’s last Thor movie revived a struggling Marvel franchise and transformed it into a popular comedic smash, and all it took was demolishing pretty much everything that had gone before it. Having been a fan of the MCU’s Thor since Kenneth Branagh’s 2010 film, I really did not enjoy Thor: Ragnarok at all. This new sequel marks the first time a solo Marvel hero scored a fourth film, and is drawing on some of the best Thor comic books ever written. There is so much potential to be had in bringing back Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, and introducing Christian Bale as the terrifying Gorr the God Butcher. There’s even a small role for Russell Crowe as Zeus, which implies the potential for Marvel’s Hercules to make a surprise debut. This film, like all of Marvel Studios’ 2022 releases, will be huge. I just hope I find it enjoyable.
(15 July, Columbia Pictures, d. David Leitch.)
David Leitch has already proven his action-directing skills in John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017), so things are already looking positive for Bullet Train – an action thriller in which multiple professional killers converge on a single Japanese passenger train. An impressive cast includes Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Zazie Beets, and Joey King. In terms of straight-up action flicks, and with the delay of John Wick 4 to 2023, this seems to be the studio film to beat. (Note that despite being an adaptation of a Japanese novel, it is unrelated to the 1970s Sonny Chiba flick The Bullet Train.)
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)
(7 October, Columbia Pictures, d. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson.)
Nothing expresses over-confidence more than a film that promotes itself as “part one”. Then again, Spider-Man is pretty much the surest bet at the American box office these days. The huge success for Into the Spider-Verse (2018) not only guaranteed that sequels would be on the way, it also ensured that Sony and Marvel Studios’ live-action Spider-Man also riffed on the ‘multiverse’ theme in December’s No Way Home. Given this will also come after Doctor Strange‘s multiversal sequel, are audiences going to be tired of alternative universe superhero stories?
(4 Nov, Warner Bros, d. Andy Muschietti.)
As I just wrote: are audiences going to be tired of alternative universe superhero stories by the end of 2022? This reality-swapping DC Comics adaptation has one mega-ace up its sleeve: the return of Michael Keaton to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. At the same time, The Flash seems to have been an interminable time coming, so long in development that it the shared DCEU universe of movies seems to have partially collapsed into an unholy mess. It also spins off from Justice League – hardly an auspicious success with audiences – with a character still playing out weekly on television, played by a different actor. My gut tells me this film, which releases precisely one week before Marvel’s second Black Panther, is facing an uphill battle.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
(11 Nov, Disney, d. Ryan Coogler.)
Four years ago Marvel’s Black Panther was not only a box office juggernaut; it was a genuinely transformational event for American pop culture. That its star Chadwick Boseman subsequently passed away from cancer was a tragedy, and one that will loom large over this long-awaited sequel. Kudos to Marvel Studios for refusing to play it safe. Rather than re-cast the role of T’challa, director Ryan Coogler has moved forward with the first film’s extensive and widely liked supporting cast. There are four Marvel features in total this year – five if you want to consider Sony’s almost-doomed-to-flop Morbius – but this is the one I think is going to be the most impressive.
(23 November, Warner Bros/MGM, d. Michael B. Jordan.)
Sticking with Ryan Coogler for the moment: in 2015 his unexpected Rocky spin-off Creed not only stood up as one of its year’s absolute best dramas it also revived Sylvester Stallone’s acting reputation and provided a continuation of sports cinema’s greatest success. A 2018 sequel embedded itself even further into the Rocky back story. Now star Michael B. Jordan is following in Stallone’s footsteps, directing this third and potentially final chapter: the ninth in the overall Rocky saga. Stallone is sitting this sequel out, which gives Jordan the chance to exclusively focus on his own powerful and complex character.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
(16 December, Warner Bros, d. James Wan.)
James Wan’s first Aquaman feature was a total surprise, with a lead character purposely designed to match star Jason Momoa’s strengths and a fantastic handle on action and humour. It was a bold superhero story in the most ludicrous of ways – who saw Julie Andrews as the voice of a giant Chthuloid sea monster coming? It has been a four-year wait for the sequel, but with any luck it will repeat the goofy, enormously fun appeal. All that in mind, I think there is a commercial risk for Warner Bros in releasing this on the exact same day as the 15th and final film on the list.
(16 December, 20th Century Studios, d. James Cameron.)
We have all heard the dismissive comments; some of us, including me, have even made them. Avatar came out more than 12 years ago, rode the wave of new-generation 3D cinema to record-breaking box office receipts, and then effectively vanished without a trace. It left no cultural footprint, and did not influence filmmaking in any meaningful way. But here’s the thing: never bet against James Cameron. Nobody would back The Terminator back in the day, and it became one of the most influential films of the 1980s. Everyone mocked Terminator 2 for being wildly expensive and unnecessary, and it became as iconic and influential as its predecessor. Everyone predicted disaster for Titanic, and it became the highest-grossing film of all time. From this side of its release, Avatar 2 and its three subsequent sequels may seem like folly. Even if each grosses half of what the original did, that’s still a near-six billion dollar success story coming up.