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The 19 Biggest Movies of the Year

Barring setbacks, 2022 promises a return to Wakanda and Gotham, and new entries from directors like Jordan Peele, David Cronenberg, and Martin Scorsese

Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros/Disney/Marvel/Ringer illustration

One year from now we’ll know how many of the movies listed below actually hit their prospective or hypothetical release dates. We’ll also know whether they were worth getting excited about in the first place. Sometimes, the films that look the most promising are the most disappointing, and part of the pleasure of being a moviegoer is how often something comes out of nowhere to reroute the conversation completely: How many Most Anticipated Movies of 2021 lists had Ryusuke Hamaguchi in pole position? But it’s always good to at least have some sense of what’s coming, and as of now 2022 looks like a healthy mix of populist and auteur-driven fare. To mix things up a bit, we’ve organized the most exciting titles of the oncoming year as thematic double bills—with one exception at the end for a movie by a director who stands alone.

The Batman (March 4) and The Northman (April 8)

These release dates are set in stone and the trailers are out in the world, so there’s at least some sort of empirical way to measure our excitement about 2022’s competing “man” movies. Call it a draw: Both The Batman’s Matt Reeves and The Northman’s Robert Eggers are solid genre directors plausibly positioned for mainstream breakthroughs. Eggers is more of a critics’ darling thanks to his beguilingly styled elevated-horror efforts The Witch and The Lighthouse, and Reeves a capable industry hand who made a nicely atmospheric Cloverfield sequel and stuck the landing on the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Reeves, of course, is working with the bigger-ticket source material, but he’s also battling the very real possibility of Dark Knight fatigue; the preview’s suggestion of a smaller-scaled, less apocalyptic Batman story than the ones we saw from Christopher Nolan or Zack Snyder is promising, as is the spectacle of a heavyset, pockmarked Colin Farrell as the Penguin. As for Eggers, his horror movies have, to this point, striven for historical and linguistic authenticity, so I can’t wait to find out which dusty volume of Icelandic anthropology gave him the idea to have Alexander Skarsgard catch a spear with his bare hands. The Northman already has the year’s best catchphrase— “Avenge Father. Save Mother. Kill Fjölnir,” which has a nice, Princess Bride–ish ring to it—but to transcend Nicolas Winding Refn’s surreal 2009 Viking saga Valhalla Rising, it will have to be incredibly gory. I’m talking axes in skulls, dripping intestines, et cetera.

Turning Red (March 11) and Crimes of the Future (TBA)

Forgive your humble Toronto correspondent for this locally themed pairing. With the Raptors flailing around the lower half of the Eastern Conference standings, I need something to look forward to. As the first Pixar movie set in Canada, Turning Red—about a teenage girl with an unfortunate habit of transforming into a giant red panda—has the potential to show the country’s audiences how they look to Americans. The good news is that the first trailer does pretty well by its host city, showcasing Toronto’s majestic skyline in addition to vivid, ground-level evocations of its Chinatown district—all topped with a visibly diverse cast of animated characters and a few strategically placed maple leaves. Odds on a Drake and/or Weeknd joke are 5-to-1.

As for Crimes of the Future, which was shot in Greece and is set in a bizarre future where internal organs are made to order and worn on the outside as designer items, it represents the welcome return of Canada’s greatest living filmmaker. Since 2014’s Maps to the Stars, David Cronenberg has been sadly marginalized; after dramatizing his own death last year in an exclusive NFT, the time is right for our man to show he’s still alive and well. The cast for Crimes is killer—Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart, Léa Seydoux—and by hearkening back to the title of one of the director’s original lo-fi Toronto productions, Crimes of the Future is already leveraging nostalgia against the shock that inflects (or infects) every new Cronenberg effort. (Honorable mention in this category goes to August’s Kevin Hart vehicle The Man From Toronto costarring Woody Harrelson, who once narrated a movie about the history of marijuana by Toronto documentarian Ron Mann and should be receiving a key to the city any day now.)

Jackass Forever (February 4) and Avatar 2 (December 16)

Behold: two paradigm-shifting franchises, one resolutely analogue in defiance of the digital revolution. Even if given the chance to live in 9-foot-tall blue bodies, you get the feeling that Johnny Knoxville et al. would turn down the invitation. After all, it’s only fun and games once somebody gets hurt. For red-blooded fans of a certain vintage, the return of Jackass and its idiotic, innovative approach to balls-out slapstick will represent the ultimate middle-aged victory lap—the subtext of the trailer is that these guys really are too old for this shit, which gives the inevitable bruises and fractures a poignant, existential dimension. Whether James Cameron and his army of CGI artisans can come up with anything as spectacular as a man being fired out of a cannon is uncertain, as are the commercial fortunes of a sequel to a movie that everybody in the world saw but exponentially fewer seemed to love. As cultural phenomena go, Avatar feels weirdly forgotten. On the other hand, anyone willing to bet against Cameron at this point is a brave soul.

Mission: Impossible 7 (September 30) and Top Gun: Maverick (May 27)

In 2020, Tom Cruise snuck into a screening of Tenet in London to declare that the Movies Were Back—only to then encounter COVID outbreaks on the set of Mission: Impossible 7. Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick has seen its release date moved back on multiple occasions. As one of the few remaining box-office draws to not throw his lot in with a streamer—thus upholding the “Big Movie. Big Screen. Loved it.” rhetoric of his Tenet tweet—Cruise is a potentially game-changing figure. Both M:I 7 and Maverick will be test cases in the continued viability of old-fashioned star power.

As for the movies themselves, the Mission: Impossible series occupies the sort of glossy, quality-controlled space you’d expect from a stickler like Cruise, whose commitment to nearly getting himself killed every time out has become part of his greatest showman legend; it’s a good bet that M:I 7 will be good. Maverick is a chancier proposition, since it’s betting on the 36-year-old iconography of Top Gun, a movie that was a punch line back in the days of Hot Shots! and is best appreciated (including by its stars) as a semi-accidental camp classic. The idea of cocky cockpit jockey Pete Mitchell grown into a mentor figure, though, does have some of the pleasing cheesiness of Sylvester Stallone’s shtick in Creed. And Kenny Loggins is indeed on board, so at least there’s that. But if you’ve yet to bet on one of Cruise’s 2021 releases crashing and burning, well, this is it.


Black Glasses (TBA) and Nope (July 22)

After a year in which filmmakers as dissimilar as Edgar Wright and Dasha Nekrasova took stabs at the giallo format—and only a couple of years removed from a pointless remake desecrating his great Suspiria—here comes the OG to take back what’s rightfully his. Dario Argento’s new Black Glasses is purportedly about a blind sex worker trying to protect a young Chinese boy from the serial killer who took her sight; the director has said that his goal is to mix horror with a portrait of Rome’s underrepresented Asian community. Like Cronenberg, Paul Verhoeven, and Brian De Palma, Argento is a genre master who’s been pushed to the margins in a moment of hipster horror cinema—hopefully, like those guys, he’s got one more banger in him.

Meanwhile, we know hardly anything about Nope, which comes signed by hipster-horror figurehead Jordan Peele, but the poster imagery looks apocalyptic. Peele worked hard to live up to the success of Get Out with Us, a flawed and overbearing exercise in zeitgeist-surfing. It’d be great if, starting with its goofy title, Nope leaned back into Peele’s sketch-comedy expertise.

Deep Water (TBA) and Blonde (TBA)

If the Oscars were a better institution, there’d be a nomination coming Ana de Armas’s way for No Time to Die—in a draggy, overlong Bond movie, she was a high-kicking bright spot. Which is why it’s so unfair that the universe is trying to keep us from seeing her in stuff. First, director Andrew Dominik reportedly so alienated the executives at Netflix with Blonde, his graphic, tragic biopic of Marilyn Monroe with de Armas in the lead role, that the streamer is having second thoughts about releasing it. As Hollywood movies get blander and more innocuous, something as aggressive and provocative as what Dominik’s got coming is, theoretically, a good thing. Exhibit B: old-school erotic thriller Deep Water, by old-school erotic thriller specialist Adrian Lyne, adapted from a novel by the great Patricia Highsmith, which is currently being held hostage by its parent company, Walt Disney, for reasons no one really knows. Originally slated for January, it’s been taken off the release schedule entirely. Did exes de Armas and Ben Affleck not want to promote a sexually explicit movie made at the height of their coupling? Were test screenings that rough? Is this karmic punishment for something one of you did, and if so, can you apologize so I can shoot this movie into my veins?

Armageddon Time (TBA) and The Fabelmans (November 23)

2021 was a strong year for auto-fictional dramas, with Mia Hansen-Love (Bergman Island), Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir, Part II), and Kenneth Branagh (Belfast) all self-reflecting in one way or another. 2022 promises two high-profile examples of this tendency with James Gray’s Armageddon Time—a drama based closely on the director’s upbringing in Queens—and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, about a family based in Arizona. While Spielberg’s biography is already part of cinematic legend (backyard movie shoots on Super 8 cameras), he’s never been one to showcase his private life, and the fact that he cowrote the screenplay (his first feature-length writing credit since A.I.) suggests a passion project. Gray, meanwhile, has been inserting aspects of his neighborhood and family life into thrillers like The Yards and We Own the Night for decades. Originally, the cast included Oscar Isaac, Robert De Niro, and Cate Blanchett (playing Donald Trump’s sister!). Now the lead role is being played by Jeremy Strong, who, based on comments in that recent New Yorker profile, seems perfectly suited to Gray’s severe directorial style.

Creed III (November 22) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (November 11)

It’s always fascinating when a behemoth is in panic mode. In short, what the hell is going to happen with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther sequel? The film has a November 11 release date despite enough behind-the-scenes turmoil to rival any big-budget movie ever made. First, there was the unexpected death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020, which led to conceptual chaos and multiple rewrites as the filmmakers scrambled to reimagine the sequel without its title character. Then this past August, Letitia Wright suffered injuries while filming. Wright’s medical status became a news story in its own right after claims that the actress wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19; after quitting social media in the wake of incendiary posts about climate change and trans people, rumors spread that Wright had been continuing her anti-vax sentiments on set. (The actress has denied the accounts.) There was a time when many were calling for Wright’s Shuri to take up the Black Panther mantle. That time has definitively passed.

Compared to that mess, Coogler’s contributions to the upcoming Creed III—slated to be directed by Michael B. Jordan, who may or may not be coming back for Wakanda Forever—seem like a piece of cake. The second Creed film wasn’t terrible, but it felt like a letdown after the popular and critical breakthrough of its predecessor, which remains one of the most enjoyable Hollywood movies of the 21st century—and which should have won Stallone an Oscar. Sly has bowed out this time around, which opens up an opportunity for Jordan to reroute the franchise once and for all.

Don’t Worry Darling (September 23) and Women Talking (TBA)

The amazing cast assembled by Sarah Polley for her first fictional feature since 2011’s Take This Waltz includes Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, and Claire Foy, all as members of a Mennonite community harboring a disturbing secret; the novel by Miriam Toews is considered a modern Canadian classic. A different kind of outlying, experimental community figures into Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, a period thriller set in the California desert. Talking to Vogue, Wilde described the film as being “The Feminine Mystique on acid”; in the same interview, the director-slash-actress lamented the disappearance of sexuality in American cinema and promised that the love scenes between stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles would make audiences “realize how rarely they see female hunger, and specifically… female pleasure.” So, basically, if one out of every 10 people who downloaded “Watermelon Sugar” buys a ticket, the film will make more money than Spider-Man: No Way Home.

The Killers of the Flower Moon (TBA)

David Grann’s 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon details the birth of the FBI and the fledgling institution’s inquiries into the financially motivated murders of over 100 Osage American Indians in Oklahoma in the early 1920s and doubles as a case study of American capitalism and genocide. Directed by Martin Scorsese, rumored to be budgeted at $200 million, and featuring Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jesse Plemons opposite wonderful Native American actress Lily Gladstone—the scene-stealer from Certain Women—the film has to be the most anticipated drama of 2022. But it also promises to be a discourse magnet, both for its loaded sociopolitical content and Scorsese’s somehow-ongoing (and absurd) vilification by superhero-movie fans disappointed that he likened their favorites to theme park rides. For those who see the director as holding it down for a certain kind of serious, literate popular cinema, Killers of the Flower Moon can’t arrive quickly enough.

Adam Nayman is a film critic, teacher, and author based in Toronto; his book The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together is available now from Abrams.