Any preview of movies that Hollywood has slated for 2009 is going to inspire a certain sense of deja vu. And for good reason. Many of the movies in question are making a second go-round after appearing on the same lists last year.
Among other things, 2008 was the Year of the Scrapped Release Date in Hollywood. First, J.J. Abrams pushed his “Star Trek” reboot (originally scheduled for the 2008 holiday season) to summer. Then the Warner Bros. brain trust did the same with “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Two films that figured to play well to Oscar-season audiences, “The Road” and “The Soloist,” were similarly de-2008-ed.
So read the following, subjective list of the Top 15 Most Anticipated Movies with a grain of salt — if the past year was any indication, you could see some of them in the 2010 preview, too.
1) “Avatar”: Over a decade has passed since James Cameron made box office history with “Titanic.” What has the notorious technophile been doing in the meantime? Well, playing with submarines, mostly. But he also found time to conceive and shoot this $200 million 3-D sci-fi epic about a crippled Marine (Sam Worthington) who fights a war on a distant planet using a robotic proxy. Little else is known about the super-secretive project, but since this is Cameron’s baby, one assumes it will wail. Could we expect anything less from the king of the world?
2) “Watchmen” (March 6): Already a full-blown fanboy fetish object, this stylishly deconstructed superhero saga from director Zack Snyder (“300”) achieved widespread buzz after the first theatrical trailer hit the Internet six months ago. Now the only thing separating fans of Alan Moore’s celebrated graphic novel from a synchronous, worldwide geekasm is a royalty dispute between Warner Brothers and Fox, which some pundits fear will scuttle the early March release date. It could be this year’s “The Dark Knight.”
3) “Inglourious Basterds” (Aug. 21): Quentin Tarantino filters his love of World War II caper flicks (“The Dirty Dozen,” The Great Escape”) through the exquisitely daft fiction of a Jewish-American death squad (led by Brad Pitt, naturally) who strike fear in the heart of France’s Nazi occupation. Just the thing to spruce up the late-summer movie blahs.
4) “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (July 17): The “Potter” franchise begins the final leg of its record-breaking box office run, reuniting Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) for their sixth year at Hogwarts. Progressively darker and more rewarding with each new movie, the “Harry” canon could peak with this installment, in which Harry learns the tragic, chilling truth about Voldemort’s origins.
5) “Public Enemies” (July 1): One would need to harbor a cold cinematic heart indeed not to be jazzed by this gangster epic from “Heat” director Michael Mann. Set during the legendary crime wave of the early 1930s, the movie stars Christian Bale as seminal lawman Melvin Purvis and Johnny Depp as his scofflaw nemesis, John Dillinger.
6) “The Road” (Spring TBA): Based on the terrifying post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men”), this on-again, off-again drama from director John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”) could be the most talked-about movie of 2009 — if and when it gets released. For reasons known only to the sprites of studio distribution, it keeps missing its release dates. Viggo Mortensen plays a desperate father who guides his young son through a pitiless American wasteland.
7) “Up” (May 29): Not to be confused with “Up!” (the 1976 romp from soft-core legend Russ Meyer), this fanciful animated adventure looks like another winner for Pixar (“Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E”). Ed Asner supplies the voice of Carl Fredricksen, a crusty shut-in who realizes his dream of visiting South America by tying hundreds of helium balloons to his house.
8) “Angels and Demons” (May 15): True, the buzz on Ron Howard’s follow-up to “The Da Vinci Code” has been muted somewhat (due, one would imagine, to the awesome mediocrity of the aforementioned), but there’s good evidence to suggest that the sequel will be better. For one, the source novel (also by Dan Brown) is more cinematic — less coding, more boom. There’s also the timely subplot involving CERN, the European research lab currently sitting atop the world’s biggest atom smasher. And, as always, there’s Tom Hanks.
9) “Sherlock Holmes” (Nov. 20): Discarded Madonna-bauble Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) puts a fresh spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic 19th-century sleuth, turning Holmes into a chiseled, brawling enigma played by the resurgent Robert Downey Jr. Jude Law and Rachel McAdams also star.
10) “The Lovely Bones” (Dec. 11): His coffers stuffed with the gains of “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong,” director Peter Jackson turns his attention to more intimate, character-driven fare — an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel about a young murder victim (Saoirse Ronan) who observes her bereaved parents (Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg) from the afterlife.
11) “Nine” (Dec. 11): Any Daniel Day-Lewis project warrants excitement — especially one that matches the “There Will Be Blood” thespian with “Chicago” director Rob Marshall and a gaudy female cast (Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench and more) in a wild masculine reverie based on Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2.” Did we mention that it’s a musical?
12) “Star Trek” (May 8): J.J. Abrams’ long-awaited reboot of the cultish sci-fi franchise features an intriguing young cast (including “Hot Fuzz” funny-dude Simon Pegg as Scotty and “Troy” star Eric Bana as the alien villain) and markedly more lavish special effects than the last few “Star Trek” films. The potential result: a crossover geek-fest that even the “O.C.” generation might love.
13) “Shutter Island” (Oct. 2): Pedigree alone gets this one on the list: Martin Scorsese directs man-muse Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Departed,” “The Aviator,” et al) in a mystery-thriller based on a novel by “Mystic River” author Dennis Lehane. Quality stuff, no? DiCaprio plays a 1950s federal agent who tracks a convicted female killer to a remote island.
14) “Duplicity” (TBA): Julia Roberts’ first effort as a romantic lead since “America’s Sweethearts” (I wouldn’t count “Closer” — would you?) will be telling. Can she still mobilize the masses? Or has she surrendered the box-office-queen mantle to the likes of Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon? The “Pretty Woman” star plays a corporate spy who hatches a daring scam with a handsome rival (Clive Owen).
15) “The Hurt Locker” (TBA) and “The Green Zone” (TBA): The Iraq War is box-office poison. Could one or both of these thrillers supply the antidote? The former is a Katherine Bigalow-directed (“Point Break”) nail-biter about an elite U.S. Army bomb squad. The latter is a weapons of mass destruction snipe hunt pairing director Paul Greengrass (“United 93”) with star Matt Damon. Both look like surer audience-pleasers than “Stop-Loss.”