Back in the day, January and February were the traditional dumping grounds for Hollywood. Got a cinematic stench you want out of the house? Push it under the February rug! Maybe you’ll even make some money back since it’s either these non-starters or emotionally exhausting Oscar movies to see in theaters!
Over the past decade, however, studios have discovered that you can find success in early-year releases, both with critics and the box office. "The LEGO Movie" made everything awesome in February three years ago, "Deadpool" became an immediate icon in a supposedly dead month and "Get Out" rode its incredible February release into Oscar nominations a whole year later. While blandly broad blockbusters barely scrape up their budgets in the summer, with only one weekend to make money before the next wannabe behemoth hits, the first few months have turned into prime season for off-kilter or original genre fare to spread its wings and find an audience.
So what will be the early-year standouts (and stinkers because, hey, things haven’t changed THAT much) for 2018? Here’s what you’ll be watching – from horror to heroes and hot sex – on the big screen in February.
Mainstream horror movies in the early months of the year are typically scary for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes you get something like last year’s "Get Out," but more often you’ll get "The Bye Bye Man" (real title of a real movie) or "The Devil Inside," wannabe shockers that somehow got landed in actual theaters on their way to the direct-to-DVD bin.
But "Winchester" might be one of the rare exceptions. The setting is inspired, taking place in the infamous real-life Winchester mansion, seven stories of maze-like corridors and logic-defying rooms requiring a Garmin just to get to the bathroom. But most intriguingly, it stars Oscar winner Helen God Damn Mirren as the supposedly haunted heir of the Winchester rifle fortune. There has to be more here than meets the eye to snag Hollywood royalty like Mirren. Then again, you could've said the same thing about "Collateral Beauty."
"The 15:17 to Paris"
Get excited: Your dad’s favorite movie of the year comes early! "The 15:17 to Paris" retells the true story of how three American soldiers stopped a terrorist attack aboard a train three years ago – complete with the heroes replaying their real-life roles.
The biggest star, however, sits behind the camera: Clint Eastwood, taking another stab at a tale of everyday heroes after the lukewarm splash of "Sully." I’ve been hard on Clint’s recent work (still not sure what he was doing directing "Jersey Boys") but I still believe he’s got at least one more good movie in him – and perhaps this is it. Maybe this story of sudden selfless bravery, combined with the challenge of molding untrained acting talent, will motivate him beyond the unrefined one-take-and-done process that’s hindered his latest output. The man still made "Million Dollar Baby" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" this side of the millennium. That director is hopefully still in there.
"Fifty Shades Freed"
I’ll admit it: "Fifty Shades of Grey" wasn’t all that bad. OK, it wasn’t good – but you could do far worse. Case in point: its sequel "Fifty Shades Darker," which was more comedic than kinky. And after that killed the mood, the "Fifty Shades" blehnage a trois will finally reach its limp climax with "Fifty Shades Freed," wrapping up Anatastia Steele’s runaway romance with Christian Grey with a wedding, a predator on the loose in Jack Hyde and, I don’t know, maybe another random helicopter crash.
Honestly, I’m mostly looking forward to this movie because it’ll end the series, meaning star and saving grace Dakota Johnson can finally go off and hopefully have a Kristen Stewart-esque career of making actually good and interesting movies worthy of her talent. Or maybe "Fifty Shades Freed" will close out the series with a bang.
When I was a child, I watched these VHS tapes of Beatrix Potter’s books, gently illustrated adventures about a rabbit eating a gardener’s veggies, then losing his shoes and jacket in the ensuing low-speed chase. It was sweet, soothing and articulate childhood entertainment, the sounds of the warm British voiceover, the mix of mischief and mild menace, and the lightly animated images all guiding me toward books, nature and the beauty of storytelling.
So, of course, it’s been remade by Hollywood with an IV drip of Pixi Stix, turning it into a loud, frantic, slapstick kids comedy featuring James Corden’s voice singing, dancing and mugging into your earholes while talking that cool hip millennial slang as written by a 50-year-old dad. There’s almost certain to be a fart joke, and I’m sure a producer somewhere tried to wedge in a "Carrot Karaoke" scene.
Kids movies always sell harder to its youngest audience members as opposed to the oldest (that’s why Pixar movies never have great trailers, selling their most obvious jokes), so maybe this will actually be a dose of "Paddington"-style warmth and whimsy. But from what we’ve seen, it looks like adapting Peter Rabbit into Hasenpfeffer would’ve been better.
"Black Panther" is far from the first black solo superhero movie – hat tip to "Blade," "Spawn," "Hancock," "The Meteor Man," "Blankman" and begrudgingly "Steel" – but it’s certainly primed to be the biggest, blowing past similar movies' presale numbers and wowing with its previews. Judging by its creative team, however, it’s also primed to be one of the best – not just amongst that unfortunately limited company but of the entire comic book cinematic catalogue.
The cast is aces, top to bottom, from stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan to past Oscar winners like Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker to newly announced "Get Out" nominee Daniel Kaluuya – and that’s just scratching the surface. Meanwhile, Ryan Coogler is one of Hollywood’s elite new directors, previously breathing new life, humanity and perspective into the "Rocky" franchise with "Creed."
As entertaining as they are, Marvel movies tend to be high floor/low ceiling endeavors. But with all of these terrific pieces working with what appears to be notable creative freedom, much like last year’s "Wonder Woman," "Black Panther" has a strong chance at being not only a very important blockbuster, marking another jump for representation in mainstream cinema, but a really good one too.
In this world of computer animation, it’s insane that Aardman continues to crank out laborious but lovingly crafted stop-motion stories – including its latest venture, "Early Man," the story of a prehistoric cavemen who collide face-first into the Bronze Age. The company’s kids movies look like nothing else out there (especially since "Coraline" creators Laika are rumored to be on the outs) and have a smart sense of humor that’s witty and charming for all ages – and hopefully "Early Man" pulls off the same. And hopefully enough people check it out so it doesn’t get completely squashed at the box office by "Black Panther." More original animated movies, please!
As I’ve said numerous times, I’ve yet to see a decent faith-based feature film (not including the barely biblical "Noah," "Risen" is probably the closest, and it’s still a snore). But clearly what they’ve been lacking is HARDCORE CHRISTIAN ACTION! At least, that’s what "Samson" is hoping, telling the story of the legendary long-haired avenger complete with "300"-esque sword-and-sandal bloodshed (PG-13 though; this isn’t a Mel Gibson bible adventure), lion fights and BILLY ZANE! The trailer sells a movie that’ll be more scintillating action than sermonizing, so maybe this will live up to the legend of Samson and be the movie that breaks the streak of faith-based busts. Or maybe it’ll live down to being a February release whose biggest star is Jackson Rathbone of "Twilight" and "The Last Airbender" infamy.
After previously exploring the sci-fi worlds of space ("Sunshine") and artificial intelligence ("Ex Machina"), writer-director Alex Garland's "Annihilation" takes his coolly smart, chilly indie thrills into all-new, completely horrific alien territory: working with a major Hollywood studio.
Scared off by test screenings that called the thriller "too intellectual," Paramount sold the film's international rights off to Netflix. But when a studio – especially the one behind "Transformers" – is worried a movie’s too smart for audiences, that should only make viewers more excited. Not that they shouldn’t be already, as Garland’s latest looks visually fascinating with a plot that sounds like a classic sci-fi set-up for intrigue and excitement – a crew of biological explorers finds an eerie sentient wall hiding a world of mutating frights. Add in the A-list actors headed into the unknown – Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Thor: Ragnarok" scene-stealer Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez – and you should be eager to follow them beyond the ominous "Shimmer" … and hopefully prove Paramount wrong.
Hoping to fill that Sparks-shaped hole in your February is "Every Day," a swoony YA romance about a teen girl ("The Nice Guys" scene-stealer Angourie Rice) who falls in love with a new person every day – or actually the same person who transforms into a new body every day. Wait, so she turns into a new person every 24 hours or just takes over an already existing body? If it’s the latter, what happens to the souls of the people she’s inhabiting? They just have to sit out life for a day? Is this going to be a nicely accepting woke love story or just a really confused body-switch concept that’s more baffling sci-fi than beautifully sweet? I have so many questions.
Remember "Date Night"? The Tina Fey-Steve Carell comedy? It made almost $100 million back in 2010, so I imagine somebody does somewhere? "Game Night" reminds me of that – and not just because they have 50 percent of their names in common.
Both star decently popular actors (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, in this case). Both have similar premises of bored middle-class folks suddenly launched hilariously into a night of bullets and bloodshed. And like "Date Night," it will probably make a respectable amount of money off middling reviews before getting immediately lost to pop culture’s memory. There are worse things in the world (points at "Peter Rabbit").
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.