2013 was a tale of two cinemas. Blockbusters like "The Lone Ranger" and "After Earth" flopped spectacularly while many in the industry (including Steven Spielberg) bemoaned the increasingly commercial trajectory of the studios. And yet by the end of the year, Hollywood had set a record with nearly $11 billion in revenue, while critics hailed the year's crop - from "Gravity" to "12 Years a Slave" to "Inside Llewyn Davis" - as one of the best in years.
The movie business remains, as ever, an incomprehensible Jekyll and Hyde act of up and down, hit and bomb.
How will 2014 unfold? The plot, at least, will be unchanged. However much some would like to see a new rhythm to Hollywood's seasonal cycle, the year will move to the familiar pattern of sketchy spring releases, summer superhero blockbusters and fall awards-contenders.
Here are 10 things to look for at the movies in 2014:
Anticipation runs especially high for "Interstellar" (Nov. 7), Christopher Nolan's deep space travel adventure starring Matthew McConaughey. Nolan, the director of "Inception" and "The Dark Knight," is one of few directors whose name alone makes fanboys salivate. His imprimatur promises a cinematic experience (he likes to shoot with IMAX cameras) that few today can match. Nolan's name also looms large in "Transcendence" (April 18), which he produced. The artificial intelligence tale, starring Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall, is the directorial debut of Nolan's longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister. Other science-fiction entries in 2014 include a reboot of "Robocop" (Feb. 12), a futuristic, time-traveling war film with Tom Cruise; "Edge of Tomorrow" (June 6), the Wachowskis' latest fantasy oddity, "Jupiter Ascending" (July 18); and Ryan Gosling's directorial debut "How to Catch a Monster" (no date yet), a less effect-heavy domestic drama that tunnels into an underwater realm.
HOLD-OVERS FROM 2013
This year will benefit from last year's unusually good leftovers. George Clooney's World War II art rescue tale "The Monuments Men" will open Feb. 7 after being delayed from December. James Grey's Ellis Island drama "The Immigrant" (undated), starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard, could emerge as an Oscar dark horse after earning acclaim on the festival circuit. Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," featuring a dark turn from Steve Carell, will bow sometime in 2014. "Grace of Monaco," with Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, opens March 14. The schedule for 2014 will doubtless contain its own shifts, too. The seventh "Fast & Furious" film, planned for July, was moved to 2015 following the death of star Paul Walker in November.
MARVEL's EXPANDING UNIVERSE
Marvel's world domination continues with "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (April 4), "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (May 2), "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (May 23) and "Guardians of the Galaxy" (Aug. 1). The last, the lone non-sequel, represents Marvel's reach for another ensemble team-up film, and, with a cast including Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper, perhaps something a little different than its usual output.
MUSICALS SING AGAIN
Though 2013 contained no major live-action musical, several are coming this year. Clint Eastwood, of all people, directs the screen adaptation of the hit production about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in "Jersey Boys" (June 20). "Annie" (Dec. 19), produced by Will Smith and Jay Z, will get a contemporary update with "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis as the titular orphan. Rob Marshall ("Chicago") will transfer James Lapine and Steven Sondheim's Grimm fable "Into the Woods" to the big screen (Dec. 25), with Meryl Streep as the Witch and Depp as the Big Bad Wolf. The Muppets, too, will be back in "Muppets Most Wanted" (March 21), a caper where Jim Henson's furry troupe travels to Europe. And not yet dated is John Carney's "Once" follow-up, "Can a Song Save Your Life?" a similarly naturalistic musical starring Keira Knightley as an aspiring singer and Mark Ruffalo as a record producer.
SURE BETS FROM VETERAN HANDS
Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood," ''The Master") releases have become the highlight of many a movie buff's year. His "Inherent Vice" (not yet dated), adapted from Thomas Pynchon's novel and starring Phoenix, continues the director's series of California-set films. Also hotly anticipated is David Fincher's version of Gillian Flynn's best-selling thriller, "Gone Girl" (Oct. 3), starring Ben Affleck. Other directors to watch in 2014 include Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel," March 7), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Birdman," undated), Woody Allen ("Magic in the Moonlight," undated) and Tim Burton ("Big Eyes," undated). Terrence Malick's latest is also expected this year, though little is ever certain with "The Tree of Life" director.
BEARDED MEN OF THE BIBLE
This year will boast not just a Noah, but also a Moses. First will come Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" (March 28), starring Russell Crowe and a very big boat. Ridley Scott will follow on Dec. 12 with "Exodus," starring Christian Bale as Moses. Greek mythology will also double up in 2014 with two Hercules movies. The demigod will be played by Dwayne Johnson in Brett Ratner's "Hercules" (July 25) and by Kellan Lutz in "The Legend of Hercules" (out Friday). More Greek warfare comes with the sequel "300: Rise of an Empire" (March 7).
SEQUELS, REMAKES AND, AT LAST, A FINAL HOBBIT
Naturally, 2014 boasts a boatload of sequels and remakes including "Godzilla" (May 16), "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" (Nov. 21), "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (June 27), "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (July 11), "22 Jump Street" (June 13), "The Expendables 3" (Aug. 15) and "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (June 13). Peter Jackson will finally close out his lifetime with J.R.R. Tolkien with his final "Hobbit" installment: "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" (Dec. 17). Other franchise expansions include "The Lego Movie" (Feb. 7), "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (Aug. 8) and "Veronica Mars" (March 14), the cult TV show propelled to the big screen by a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.
THAT WAS NOT THE END
Co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg will quickly follow up their 2013 hit "This Is the End" with "The Interview" (Oct. 10), a comedy starring James Franco as a talk-show host caught up in an assassination plot. Rogen also stars with Zac Efron in "Neighbors" (May 9), by "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" director Nicholas Stoller, about a young family living next to a frat house. The 2014 comedy lineup also includes "Dumb and Dumber To" (Nov. 14), with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels; the one-night-stand comedy "Walk of Shame" (April 25) with Elizabeth Banks; "Sex Tape" (Aug. 1) with Cameron Diaz; the spelling bee farce "Bad Words" (March 14), directed by and starring Jason Bateman; Seth MacFarlane's comic Western "A Million Ways to Die in the West" (May 30); and the road trip comedy "Tammy" (July 2) with Melissa McCarthy, directed by her husband, Ben Falcone.
Angelina Jolie hasn't starred in a live-action film since 2010's forgettable "The Tourist," but she'll be a large presence in 2014. She stars as the title villain in "Maleficent" (May 30), the twisted "Sleeping Beauty" tale. She also directs her second feature in "Unbroken" (Dec. 25), a World War II prisoner-of-war drama co-scripted by Joel and Ethan Coen. Jolie's famous companion, Brad Pitt, stars in a WWII story of his own, "Fury" (Nov. 14), about an American tank crew in Nazi Germany.
HUNTING THE HUNGER GAMES
The competition is thick for the next hit young-adult franchise. Among the films looking to draw teenage audiences with stories from popular young-adult novels are: the post-apocalyptic "Divergent" (March 21); the high-school vampire fantasy "Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters" (Feb. 14); and the sci-fi dystopia "The Maze Runner" (Sept. 19). May the odds be ever in your favor.
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