Sure, everyone knows that Batman V. Superman and the next Star Wars movie are coming to theaters later this year, but what about the films that don’t have marketing budgets the size of some countries’ gross domestic product?
The 2016 movie slate is filled with big-budget projects that we’ve heard about for a while now and will continue to hear about right up until they arrive in theaters (and in some cases, a long time after). But they’re not the only movies you’ll want to keep on your radar this year.
In the interest of making sure you don’t miss out on some of 2016’s lower-profile projects with a lot of potential, here are 20 films you’ll want to look out for in theaters this year.
The second film in Kevin Smith’s “True North” trilogy follows a pair of Canadian teenagers (played by the daughters of Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp) who are forced to battle an ancient evil in order to attend a high-school party. The film reunites much of the cast of Smith’s 2014 horror film Tusk, and will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival before getting a wider release.
When the first trailer for this film debuted back in August 2015, it was widely regarded as one of the scariest movie trailers in recent history and generated a lot of buzz for the film. The movie follows a Puritan family who moves out of their village and into the wilderness, only to have their lives spiral into darkness when a missing baby leads to a literal witch hunt.
This film was originally expected to premiere in 2015, but the delayed release hasn’t diminished anticipation for it. It follows a father and son who go on the run after discovering that the boy has powerful psychic abilities, and the pair finds themselves being chased by a cult of religious zealots and a shadowy government agency who will both stop at nothing to get their hands on the boy. The cast includes Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Sam Shepard.
Don Cheadle makes his directorial debut with this biopic of jazz musician Miles Davis. The Iron Man 3 actor portrays Davis in the film, which he also co-wrote. Honestly, it’s a little surprising that it’s taken this long for a Miles Davis biopic to happen, but the film has already earned rave reviews from early screenings, so fans of Davis’ music will certainly want to mark their calendars.
A punk band witnesses a murder at a remote venue they’re playing, only to learn that the club is run by vicious Neo Nazis who will do anything to keep the band’s members from escaping alive. While that premise alone makes for a compelling storyline, here’s the kicker: Patrick Stewart plays the leader of the skinheads. Yeah, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Everybody Wants Some
Described by director Richard Linklater as a “spiritual sequel” to his films Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some follows a freshman at a Texas university enjoying the newfound freedom of college life in the ’80s. It’s been said that the film will do for the ’80s what Dazed and Confused did for the ’70s, so the bar is set pretty high for this one.
The Free State of Jones
Matthew McConaughey plays a Mississippi farmer who opts to fight against the Confederacy in this Civil War drama based on a true story. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) directs the film, which isn’t getting a lot of attention now, but is likely to be the focus of quite a bit of debate as we get closer to its premiere.
Jodie Foster directs this drama about an average Joe who loses his family’s entire savings due to a bad tip from a television investing guru and decides to take everyone on the show hostage in an attempt to raise the stock’s price. Along with Foster behind the camera, the film features a stellar cast that includes George Clooney (as the investing guru), Julia Roberts, and Dominic West.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Neighbors generated a lot of great buzz when it first hit theaters in 2014, and the raunchy film about a young couple that goes to war with the fraternity house that moved in next door ended up being one of the year’s unexpected hits. A sequel became inevitable, and the follow-up film brings back core cast members Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, and Dave Franco, while also adding Chloe Grace Moretz and Selena Gomez to the cast. We already know that Moretz can hold her own when it comes to bawdy shock-and-awe performances (just watch Kick-Ass for proof), and the whole project is shaping up to be an even raunchier affair than the first film.
The Nice Guys
The Internet practically exploded when the first trailer for this dark comedy was released in December, as it’s exactly the sort of film director/co-writer Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) excels at bringing to the screen, and features what seems to be some fantastic, pitch-perfect casting all around. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, the film follows a hapless private investigator played by Ryan Gosling who must team up with an intimidating leg-breaker (Russell Crowe) to solve a missing person case that goes deeper than either of them expected. Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential), Matt Bomer (White Collar), Keith David (They Live), and Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) play supporting roles in the film, which may have one of the year’s best trailers if online buzz is the measure.
Next page: 10 more movies you should know about
Steven Spielberg’s first, official movie for Disney, The BFG is an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story about a young girl who befriends a massive giant. If that isn’t enough to make it an intriguing project, it’s also the first time Spielberg has teamed with screenwriter Melissa Mathison since she penned the script for ET: The Extra-Terrestrial — and we all know how that collaboration turned out. Mathison passed away on Nov. 4, 2015.
You might have seen that nightmare-inducing short film Lights Out that was making the online rounds a while back, in which a woman is stalked by a terrifying creature that seems to get a little closer every time she shuts off the lights. Well, that three-minute film earned enough attention that it’s being turned into a full-length feature by its director, David Sandberg, under the guidance of modern horror maestro James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring). You can watch the original short film above, but be warned: you’ll probably want to sleep with the lights on afterward.
The Space Between Us
One of the more intriguing upcoming films aimed at the young-adult audience is this science fiction film that follows a teenage boy raised by scientists on Mars who undertakes a voyage to Earth to meet the girl he’s been communicating with across the cosmos. Ender’s Game star Asa Butterfield plays the lead role, with Tomorrowland actress Britt Robertson portraying the object of the Martian boy’s affections. They’re joined by Gary Oldman and Carla Gugino, which makes an interesting project even more fascinating.
It would be an understatement to call the cast of this thriller from Warrior director Gavin O’Connor impressive, as it boasts a lineup that includes Ben Affleck in the lead role along with Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), JK Simmons (Whiplash), Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), John Lithgow (Interstellar), and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow). That’s three Academy Award wins and another three nominations between them all, united in a film about a mild-mannered government accountant who moonlights as deadly assassin.
The Girl on the Train
The Help filmmaker Tate Taylor directs this murder mystery based on Paula Hawkins’ novel about a woman who witnesses a killing on a train during her daily commute. It’s the sort of suspense-fueled story that Alfred Hitchcock fans will almost certainly embrace, with Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, and Rebecca Ferguson just a few of its most notable cast members.
The Great Wall
This Sci-Fi fantasy film from acclaimed director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero) promises to offer an alternative origin for the Great Wall of China that remains steeped in mystery, but features a cast that includes Matt Damon (The Martian), Willem Dafoe (The Boondock Saints), and Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones). Yimou’s first English-language film is expected to be a massive, 3D feature for Universal Pictures that the studio clearly has a lot of faith in, judging by its Thanksgiving weekend premiere.
The script for this Sci-Fi film penned by Prometheus writer Jon Spaihts is widely regarded as one of the best screenplays of the last few years that hasn’t been made into a movie. That changes this year with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in the lead roles and Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game director Marten Tyldum behind the camera. The film follows a passenger (Pratt) aboard a colony transport ship who’s accidentally awakened 60 years before arrival and — faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone on the ship — decides to wake up one of his fellow passengers (Lawrence).
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Norwegian director André Øvredal earned widespread acclaim for his 2010 fantasy film Trollhunter (regarded by some as one of the best under-the-radar movies of the year) but he hasn’t made a film since that one — until now, that is. The Autopsy of Jane Doe reportedly follows father and son coroners who discover something amiss while investigating an unknown woman’s death, and the film is set to star Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Hedwig and the Angry Inch filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell directs this big-screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2006 short story of the same name about a pair of teenage boys who crash a party attended by what they believe to be exchange students. They soon discover that the girls they’ve been flirting with hail from a far more distant place than they expected — all the way from another planet, in fact. Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, and Matt Lucas all have featured roles in the film, which began shooting late in 2015 and is expected to hit theaters sometime this year.
John Wick 2
The 2014 action film John Wick was one of the year’s biggest surprises, winning over critics and general audiences alike with a relatively simple revenge story about a former hitman who comes out of retirement to track down the thugs who killed his dog and stole his car. Keanu Reeves played the title role to perfection, and along with some fantastic fight choreography, turned this little film into a big hit. A sequel went into production quickly, and is expected to premiere later this year with Reeves’ reprising his role as the deadly, black-suited killer.
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