34 movies to watch in 2019
If you're anything like me, you're still busy catching up on 2018 movies ahead of Oscar season. But consider this your warning to hurry up, because 2019 is going to be a huge movie year — in all sorts of ways.
This year, superheroes are set to take over theaters once again, with Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame expected to be the first major hits this spring. But there will also be antiheroes and villains, like Jean in Dark Phoenix, or an aspiring comic named Arthur Fleck in Joker. New worlds will be explored in Alita: Battle Angel and Star Wars: Episode IX, and Disney is unleashing three different reboots of animated classics. Horror darlings like Ari Aster and Robert Eggers are set to scare us silly with their sophomore features. There is even a pair of creepy doppelgänger films on the horizon: Jordan Peele's Us and Ang Lee's Gemini Man.
And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Here's what to look forward to in 2019.
1. Glass (M. Night Shyamalan, Jan. 18)
January tends to be a dumping ground for studios to offload unwatchable movies, but every now and then you can find a diamond in the rough. It remains to be seen which is which in the case of Glass, but one thing's for sure — whatever it is, it's going to be wild. While director M. Night Shyamalan has fallen out of critical favor over the past decade, Glass is a mash-up between two of his more popular ventures, 2000's Unbreakable and 2017's Split, and in doing so it brings together Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and James McAvoy. All that seems very promising, as does the assurance of Shyamalan's refreshing "twist" on the superhero genre.
2. Alita: Battle Angel (Feb. 14)
One of James Cameron's various "passion projects," Alita: Battle Angel is the decades-in-the-making adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's 1990 manga Gunnm. Set in the 26th century, the story begins when the powerful cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) is rescued by a doctor (Christoph Waltz) after awakening with no memory of her past. Co-written by Cameron, the film is being directed by Sin City's Robert Rodriguez and has the distinction of being a sci-fi adaptation that is neither a sequel nor a reboot nor a comic book movie. While that's enough to get me through the doors of a theater, Cameron has always had an impressive eye for world-building and special effects, and Alita will certainly have both on full display.
3. & 4. Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, March 8) and Avengers: Endgame (Anthony and Joe Russo, April 26)
Strap in — 2019 is going to be a huge year for superhero movies. In March, Captain Marvel will hit theaters with Brie Larson starring as Carol Danvers in the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be centered singularly on a woman superhero. The movie is admittedly a bit of a set-up for Avengers: Endgame, which drops the next month. In it, Captain Marvel is described by Marvel Studio head Kevin Feige as being "by far the strongest character we've ever had." Good because, uh, after that ending to Avengers: Infinity War, we're going to need it.
5. Us (Jordan Peele, March 15)
The genius of turning "I Got 5 on It" into a horror theme aside, Jordan Peele's Get Out follow-up Us looks spine-tinglingly brilliant. While on vacation at the beach, the Wilson family is attacked by a family of scissor-wielding doppelgängers (the "Nosliws" — get it?) that look and think exactly like they do. Starring Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson, Winston Duke as her husband, and Elizabeth Moss as a family friend, Us makes literal the old adage that "you are your own worst enemy" in the most nightmarish way imaginable.
6. The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, March 15)
Not to be confused with the similarly-named 2015 Turkish foreign-language Oscar submission, The Mustang is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, which begins at the end of the month. Newcomer Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, the film's director and co-screenwriter, was the recipient of the prestigious Sundance Institute/NHK Award in 2015, an honor that previously went to Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), which makes the culmination of this four-year project pretty exciting. Sundance helped support her work on this debut, which follows a violent convict (Matthias Schoenaerts) through animal therapy at a prison in Nevada as he forms a special relationship with wild mustangs. Bruce Dern also stars.
7. The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine, March 22)
Okay, so The Beach Bum might not feature James Franco droning "spring break forever," but it doesn't exactly sound like a far cry from director Harmony Korine's last drug-fueled, chlorine-tinted, never-grow-old movie either. Starring Matthew McConaughey as the beach bum "Moondog," this stoner comedy also has Jimmy Buffett playing himself, Snoop Dogg playing someone named "Lingerie," and former Disney musical heartthrob Zac Efron playing an appallingly-shaven man named "Flicker." Based on the redband trailer above, if Korine is your thing, you're gonna love it. If not...
8. Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Richard Linklater, March 22)
Where'd You Go, Bernadette spent a year on The New York Times bestseller list, infuriating grammarians everywhere. Now it's being made into a film by Boyhood director Richard Linklater, with Cate Blanchett in the title role. The story follows young Bee Branch (Emma Nelson) on her quest to find her mother after Bernadette goes missing ahead of a family trip to Antarctica. Sure, it's a goofy bit of source material, but Linklater's been on a streak of lighter works after more dramatic features in the aughts, and it will be fun to see what he ends up doing with this zippy story.
9. High Life (Claire Denis, April 12)
Reinforcing my determination to never, ever get on a spaceship is High Life, a fall festival circuit darling and the English-language debut by acclaimed French director Claire Denis. The film stars Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche on an experimental mission to find an alternative energy source in outer space. High Life was deemed "extraordinary, difficult, hypnotic, and repulsive" by Variety, which applauded its reinvention of the sci-fi genre. As an enormous fan of Denis' foreign-language work and as someone begrudgingly warming up to Pattinson, I am intrigued.
10. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman, May 10)
Gone are the days of Ash Ketchum and adorable "pika-pika!" noises from cute animated electric mice. In fact, the first time I watched the trailer for the Pokémon universe's first live-action movie, I spent the whole time bracing for the scruffy-looking Pikachu to drop an F-bomb (voice work by Ryan Reynolds might have something to do with it). I look forward to setting aside my '90s-child reservations (this is not your precious childhood's Pokémon) and going into this with an open mind. Now if I could just unsee that sad, washed-out Jifflypuff.
11. Ad Astra (James Gray, May 24, no trailer available yet)
Brad Pitt is going to have a 2019 to remember. His first outing on the big screen will be in this science-fiction thriller directed by Lost City of Z's James Gray, in which Pitt plays a son on a mission to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones) on Neptune. While Ad Astra — which means "to the stars" — was originally slated for a January release this year, Gray admitted to Indiewire that he was unable to meet the deadline and is already worried about meeting his next one in May. It might be that this gets bumped back again to even later in the year.
12. Godzilla: King of Monsters (Michael Dougherty, May 31)
There is pretty much nothing I love more than gigantic big-budget monster movies (possibly gigantic big-budget natural disaster movies, but it's close), so you can guess how excited I am for the sequel to 2014's Godzilla. I mean, did you see that MOTHRA?! Starring Kyle Chandler, Sally Hawkins, and Eleven, the plot has something to do with Godzilla having a bone to pick with his fellow kaiju, including Rodan and the three-headed King Ghidorah. This is the third movie in the so-called "Legendary MonsterVerse," after 2014's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island, with a Godzilla vs. Kong movie in the works for next year. Hey, you know where I stand — long live the king.
13. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher, May 31)
The release of this film might still be months away at the time of publication, but Rocketman is the one movie random people won't stop talking to me about. My hairdresser. People sitting next to me in the theater. The president of the United States (oh wait, that's a different rocketman). A biopic about Elton John, Rocketman clearly has no adherence to reality over visual and narrative flair — just take it from the cheeky "based on a true fantasy" card at the end of the trailer. Its playfulness wedges Rocketman in my mind somewhere between Across the Universe and Bohemian Rhapsody, which makes sense, seeing as its director, Dexter Fletcher, finished the latter after Bryan Singer left the project. I quite like the assurance that Rocketman isn't going to pretend to be a representation of Elton John's real life, too, since that was part of what tripped up Bohemian Rhapsody.
14. Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg, June 7)
As a big fan of Sophie Turner on Game of Thrones, I'm super excited to see what she does with her own X-Men installment, Dark Phoenix, in which she reprises her X-Men: Apocalypse role as the telepathic mutant Jean Grey. In the film, which reportedly takes place about 10 years after the events in Apocalypse, Jean loses her ability to control her powers and falls prey to the influence of an alien played by Jessica Chasten. Unfortunately, the film has been plagued by multiple delays and major reshoots, which has made many fans apprehensive about the end result. I haven't lost hope just yet — I may be in the minority, but I think the trailer looks great.
15. Men in Black International (F. Gary Gray, June 14)
I've got five words for you: Tessa Thompson in a suit. In this fourth film in the MIB franchise, Thompson plays the globetrotting Agent M., who travels to London to solve a murder. Although sadly there is no Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones attached — the first in the MIB series without them — The Fate of the Furious director F. Gary Gray is set to helm, and I trust him to get the job done exceedingly well. Starring alongside Thompson is Chris Hemsworth, who plays her alien-crime-fighting partner, making the movie an accidental Thor: Ragnarok reunion as well, Indiewire points out.
16. Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley, June 21)
If you can get past the existential and possibly physical suffering of the spork in the trailer, Toy Story 4 looks like it'll be a great time. But that's a big if. In this movie out to ruin more childhoods (looking at you, Toy Story 3 incinerator scene), Woody and company go on a road trip with their new pal Sporky and learn "how big the world can be for a toy." Toy Story is about the only franchise out there from which I welcome sequels with enthusiasm, and I am delighted for what the team at Pixar Studios has put together this time.
17., 18. & 19. Dumbo (Tim Burton, March 29), Aladdin (Guy Ritchie, May 24), and The Lion King (Jon Favreau, July 19)
Disney is blazing into 2019 with three realistic remakes of its animated classic films, including Tim Burton's dark carnival take on Dumbo (starring Colin Farrell and Michael Keaton), Guy Ritchie's Aladdin (with Will Smith playing the genie), and Jon Favreau's CGI Lion King (which technically is not really "live action" at all). While I'm cautiously optimistic about all of them, the best bet seems to be The Lion King, if only because of the voice actors who have signed on — Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, John Oliver as Zazu, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, just to name a few. I've been a little mixed on CGI animal movies lately, but The Lion King is a childhood favorite and the new gloss on it looks beautiful.
20. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, July 26)
Quentin Tarantino is not exactly one to shy away from controversy, which makes it no surprise that his newest film centers on ... the Manson murders. Fronted by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie will play Sharon Tate and Damon Herriman will portray Charles Manson (oddly enough, he is playing the cult leader on Mindhunter this year, too). The ensemble cast also includes Lena Dunham, Dakota Fanning, and Al Pacino. Tarantino's cinematographer, Robert Richardson, told Collider that Hollywood "oscillates between humorous, serious, spooky; it's playful. It's not easily describable, but it's very Quentin. Very, very, very Quentin." That's pretty much all you need to know.
21. Midsommar (Ari Aster, Aug. 9)
There isn't a lot out there yet about Ari Aster's followup to his 2018 debut, Hereditary, but you can pretty much count on his next film scaring you to death when it comes out this summer. Reportedly set in Scandinavia on midsummer ("midsommar" is the Swedish spelling), Aster has described the film as being an "apocalyptic breakup movie" about an "increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult," the AV Club reports. Jack Raynor and Florence Pugh will reportedly play the unlucky couple. Eek. Sounds like another movie you might want to just read the Wikipedia entry for if horror isn't your thing.
22. Downton Abbey (Michael Engler, Sept. 20)
Four years after fans bid farewell to the Crawley family and their servants, PBS' wildly popular TV show Downton Abbey returns in movie-form this fall with the original cast. While some of Downton's stars were initially skeptical about following up the show's successful six seasons with a movie, it seems they've now come around: "I was very surprised about the angle that [screenwriter Julian Fellowes] went with," actor Allen Leech, who plays the former chauffeur Tom Branson, teased to Vanity Fair. "But then again, I was also amazed that he managed to get the entire 22-[member] cast to have their own story within the contained two-hour movie." The reunion can't come soon enough.
23. The Kitchen (Andrea Berloff, Sept. 20)
Deadline has proclaimed that "gangster movies return in a big way in 2019," although The Kitchen might not exactly be what that article had intended to mean. In a year with heavyweights like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino tackling crime dramas comes an ensemble comedy about the wives of Irish mobsters from first-time director Andrea Berloff. But, oh, does it sound great, with Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss playing the three women who take over their husbands' organized crime operation in Hell's Kitchen. This one is for fans of Widows who found Steve McQueen's film just a little too straight-faced.
24. Gemini Man (Ang Lee, Oct. 4)
Director Ang Lee has had a marvelously diverse career, from directing the wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to the quiet family drama The Ice Storm to the superhero adaptation of Hulk to the sizzling and tragic Brokeback Mountain. In 2019, we will see him break into science-fiction with Gemini Man, a Will Smith-fronted joint about an assassin who has to face off against a much-younger clone of himself. The film uses cutting-edge CG to create the 23-year-old "clone" of 50-year-old Smith, although without footage from the movie being out yet, it's unclear if the efforts will look eerily realistic, or rest somewhere in the uncanny valley. If it's the former, though, Lee's film will be a glimpse of an impressive visual de-aging feat that we will likely only see much, much more of in the future.
25. Joker (Todd Phillips, Oct. 4)
Navigating all the different extended universes in movies these days can sometimes feel like a daunting labyrinth you're assumed to be able to find your way through without a roadmap. But with Joker, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays the notorious Batman villain, DC Comics has decided to "de-emphasize" the connection to its other comic book franchises. With Robert De Niro also attached, and You Were Never Really Here's Dante Pereira-Olson playing an adolescent Bruce Wayne, this adaptation follows the origins of the Joker, from his attempt at becoming a comedian to his descent into crime. The first glimpses of the make-up and costumes, shared by director Todd Phillips on Instagram, have looked great so far (unless, of course, you're afraid of clowns).
26. The Goldfinch (John Crowley, Oct. 11)
Based on Donna Tartt's 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning door-stopper, The Goldfinch is the art-centric story about a young boy named Theo (Ansel Elgort, of Baby Driver acclaim) who bounces from home to home after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tartt has an enormous cult following, and while reviews of The Goldfinch were mixed when the book came out, it's safe to say this is one of the most anticipated literary adaptations of the year (with the possible exception of a much-older book, which this list will get to down in December). In my opinion, though, The Goldfinch is in the best hands it could be in, with Brooklyn's John Crowley directing. Now do The Secret History next.
27. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, Oct. 18)
Tom Hanks' Mr. Rogers biopic finally has a title: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'. pic.twitter.com/JBWCQDivcQ
— Complex Pop Culture (@ComplexPop) December 27, 2018
Mister Rogers seems like the role Tom Hanks was born to play, and I couldn't be more excited about Marielle Heller directing this biopic about the widely-adored children's show host. Coming on the heels of the hugely successful documentary about Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor, A Beautiful Day is about "a cynical journalist [that] begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed." How utterly delightful.
28. Frozen 2 (Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, Nov. 22)
IMDb's most anticipated movie of 2019 is Captain Marvel, but clearly no one surveyed the 5-to-14-year-old crowd. Yes, Frozen 2 (the title hasn't been announced yet) is coming this fall and no, we don't really know much about it yet. But fans of the chilly Disney musical are clinging to every single potential clue, with the latest obsession being a Russian calendar purporting to show the concept art for the new movie. Patience, patience — November will be here soon enough, and with it lots of elementary school students dressed as Elsa. The question will be: Can Disney repeat the magic of 2013's Frozen?
29. Star Wars: Episode IX (J.J. Abrams, Dec. 20)
After only an, ahem, solo film release in 2018, we are at last back to the meat of the Star Wars story in 2019 with J.J. Abrams' sequel to The Last Jedi, and the final film in the new trilogy. Most of the 2017 cast are returning for the yet-untitled Episode IX, with the sad exception of Carrie Fisher, who died in late 2016 — Fisher is set to apparently posthumously portray General Leia by means of unreleased footage from the first two movies. This film is expected to put closure on the battle between light and dark and Rey and Kylo Ren — but don't expect too much closure. Another trilogy is already rumored to be in the works.
30. Little Women (Greta Gerwig, Dec. 25)
— goodreads (@goodreads) November 7, 2018
Greta Gerwig will follow up the enormous success of her directorial debut, Lady Bird, with the latest in a long line of Little Women adaptations. The cast is eye-popping, with Saoirse Ronan playing Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy, Eliza Scanlen as Beth, and Emma Watson as Meg. Timothée Chalamet and Laura Dern also star, with Meryl Streep cast as Aunt March. Rather than tackling all 500-plus pages of Louisa May Alcott's novel, Gerwig is reportedly focusing on the March sisters after Meg, Jo, and Amy have left home, The Cut reports. Gerwig's Little Women is "really taking a look at what it is for a young woman to enter the adult world," producer Robin Swicord told the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, some stories truly never get old.
31. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, date TBD)
You know Netflix means business when they snap up a Martin Scorsese film. After being boxed out of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival over a rule change banning films without theatrical distribution last year, Netflix brought out the heavy guns with the acquisition of Scorsese's return-to-form gangster film, about an accused hitman (Robert De Niro!) who reflects on his possible role in the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino!). There will be quite a bit of movie magic involved — Pacino, 78, will be playing a 39-year-old mobster — but with a $200 million price tag, you can expect the effects will be the best that money can buy. It'll be particularly great to see Scorsese return to familiar soil, even after his terrific Japan-set Silence in 2016.
32. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, date TBD)
Robert Eggers' 2015 debut The Witch was the announcement of a brilliant new horror director on the scene. Naturally I can't wait for his follow-up, which is supposed to get a release this year. We don't really know much of anything about the movie, other than that it's being shot on 35mm black and white stock and is set in the 1890s and that it stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. As for a plot? Well, The Lighthouse is being described as "a fantasy horror story set in the world of old sea-faring myths," Indiewire reports, and while I have no idea what that means, I can't wait to get on board.
33. The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch, date TBD)
Jim Jarmusch is one of my favorite living American directors, and his forthcoming zombie comedy (!!!) is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Reuniting with Bill Murray (Broken Flowers) and Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Jarmusch has also cast Adam Driver, Selena Gomez, and Steve Buscemi in this film, his first since 2013. There are no details on the plot yet, but it's practically guaranteed to be a hoot.
34. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, date TBD)
Space is cool, but what's even cooler is that this year is the 50th anniversary of man walking on the moon. This 90-minute film, which will have its premiere at Sundance, uses never-before-seen footage that was discovered at NASA, all shot on beautiful large-format 65mm Panavision. As Vanity Fair explains, "The specific 70mm format in which the footage had been printed was the Todd-AO process, the one used for such '50s and '60s cinematic extravaganzas as Around the World in 80 Days and The Sound of Music, back when the movie industry was going ever bigger and wider to compete with the threat of television." Hooray for all of us — the audience that gets to enjoy the beauty of the moon landing 50 years later like it was new. Expect Apollo 11 in theaters and museums this summer, likely to correspond with the anniversary.