30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Is this the greatest time to be a fan of science fiction movies? No fewer than 30 SF films are hitting theaters, and at least a dozen could be great. Here's our 2009 movie forecast.

Note: As always, this includes a few fantasy movies that are set in the present day, involve technology, or feature an urban setting. Feel free to let us know what we missed!

January:

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Outlander (Jan. 23)

What's it about? An alien (Jim Caviezel) crashlands in the middle ages, and has to rally a bunch of Viking warriors to fight an escaped alien monster. Dude.

Early indications: The long, long delay in its U.S. release may not be the best sign for this film, or it may just mean the Weinsteins don't know what they have on their hands. Early reviews have been sort of lukewarm. Clips look fun and cheesy, mostly in a good way. My guess is, it's either a fun ride, or it's this year's Doomsday. Either way, I'll be there on opening day.

February:

Coraline (Feb. 6)

What's it about? Based on the Neil Gaiman book, this stop-motion animated movie follows a girl (Dakota Fanning) who finds a secret door to an alternate version of her real life.

Early indications: Meredith just saw it and said it was amazingly beautiful and cool. John Hodgman seems to be having a blast as both versions of Coraline's dad. Check out this trailer:

Push (Feb. 6)

What's it about? Teens with mental superpowers (like telekinesis and clairvoyance) flee from a secret organization that wants to exploit them. Luckily, they wind up in Hong Kong, where cool fight scenes just naturally happen. (It's true. I used to live there.)

Early indications: At first it looked like Jumper meets Heroes, but everything I hear about this film's weird use of mental powers (false memories, spontaneous embolisms, telekinetic gunfights) sounds more and more fun.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li (Feb. 27)

What's it about? It's a Street Fighter spinoff, focusing on the kicky young fighter (Kristin Kreuk).

Early indications: Well, we just posted the trailer at last. And apparently, there's a whole coming-of-age story about Chun-Li overcoming her thirst for revenge. Best case scenario: it could be a fun-but-dumb action movie. You don't really want to know what the worst case scenario is.

March:

Watchmen (March 6)

What's it about? Like you don't know. The graphic novel, by Dave Gibbons and that guy who wants nothing to do with it, gets an adaptation by Zack (300) Snyder. In an alternate 1985 where Nixon is still president, someone is killing current and former superheroes, and it turns out to be part of a bigger coverup.

Early indications: The footage looks very, very pretty. Snyder, and all the actors, are totally committed to presenting the story and characters as they are in the graphic novel (with one important change.) The only question, really, is will all of those random pieces of brilliance build up to a shining mosaic, like they do in the comic, or will they remain just random pieces of brilliance? (Oh, and will Fox let the movie come out on time?)

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Race To Witch Mountain (March 13)

What's it about? A reboot of the classic old series, where a cab-driver (The Rock) picks up two telekinetic kids who have to get back to their spaceship before the government (and a Master Chief-looking guy) hunt them down.

Early indications: The trailer is cute, with the requisite robo-talking kids. It's a Disney movie starring The Rock. What do you want?

Knowing (March 20)

What's it about? Nic Cage is a guy whose son digs up a time capsule that includes some mysterious numbers which some kid wrote down in the 1950s. They predict every disaster that's ever happened - including some doozies that are on the way.

Early indications: The trailer hasn't wowed me; it looks a lot like National Disaster. On the other hand it's Alex (Dark City) Proyas.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Monsters Versus Aliens (March 27)

What's it about? A 3-D animated adaptation of the comic book Rex Havoc And The Ass-Kickers Of The Fantastic, this film follows a group of monsters (including Hugh Laurie's Dr. Cockroach PhD) who have to defeat an invading alien (Rainn Wilson).

Early indications: We couldn't possibly be more excited about this one, based on the trailer and featurette we've seen.

April:

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Dragonball (April 8)

What's it about? Goku (Justin Chatwin) has to hunt down seven Dragonballs before the evil Lord Piccolo (the weirdly made up James Marsters) gets them. They fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight.

Early indications: Every time we post about this movie, the collective eye-rolling sounds like a million Dragonballs rolling toward a bottomless money pit.

Crank: High Voltage (April 17)

What's it about? Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) didn't die at the end of Crank, all indications to the contrary. Instead, he had his superpowered heart stolen by an elderly Chinese gangster, and replaced with a car battery or something. Chev has to keep jolting himself with electricity to stay alive, but he still finds time to hang out with strippers.

Early indications: This movie is the reason Jason Statham exists. Forget dross like Death Transporter - he should be shocking us and his battery heart at the same time. If this film isn't a disgusting, bizarre mess that I want to see three times, I'll be terribly disappointed.

May:

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year





X-Men: Origins: Wolverine (May 1)

What's it about? What it sounds like - the origin of Marvel's stabbiest mutant, whose skeleton (and claws) get replaced with super-hard adamantium in a military project. And then he goes rogue. Of course.

Early indications: Well, it has a Wolvie jumping from a burning truck onto a helicopter. And merc-with-a-mouth Deadpool shows up. My guess is, it'll be slightly better than X-Men 3.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Star Trek (May 8)

What's it about? We get to see James Kirk (Christopher Pine) evolve from arrogant flakewad to suave leader of men and women. Plus, Leonard Nimoy's elderly version of Spock shows up to help out the younger, prettier version played by Zachary Quinto.

Early indications: You already know if you're excited for this shiny, retro-looking Trek, complete with an "Apple Store" bridge. On the one hand, some of the comedy sounds pretty broad and Pine's Kirk may actually be too immature for his own good. On the other hand, the space battles look better than any we've seen in years, and Quinto actually seems to work better as Spock than he does as Sylar these days.

Terminator Salvation (May 22)

What's it about? It's 2018, and John Connor is stepping up to lead the fight against Skynet. But the presence of another time traveler named Marcus (Sam Worthington) throws all of Connor's convictions into doubt.

Early indications: Lots of skeptics seem to have been converted by the early footage, and our first glimpses at the Harvester, the Moto-Terminators and the Hydrobots. At the very least, there will be cool robot attacks in a ruined wasteland, and there may actually be a meaty story about John Connor struggling with his destiny amidst alternate timelines.

June:

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Land Of The Lost (June 5)

What's it about? A remake of the Krofft Superstore show about explorers who find of dinosaurs and reptilian Sleestaks.

Early indications: We read some of the script, and it read like a standard Will Ferrell buddy comedy, with Anna Friel along for the ride. The Sleestaks look cute, at least.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (June 26)

What's it about? A sequel to the Shia LaBoeuf vehicle about big robots that turn into cars, among other things.

Early indications: If you disliked the first Transformers, you'll probably hate this one like eye cancer. I kind of liked the first movie, but this one may or may not deliver. On the one hand, it has more robots and bigger robots, plus more delving into Transformer mythology. On the other hand, Jonah (Superbad) Hill took one look at the script and bailed out of the film.

2012 (July 10)

What's it about? John Cusack is a cab driver/aspiring writer who discovers the world is ending, in this movie by Roland (Day After Tomorrow) Emmerich.

Early indications: Well, the trailer looks kind of silly, but the early script reviews are totally damning. At this point, an Emmerich film would need glowing early buzz to get me excited anyway.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (July 17)

What's it about? The latest film (delayed from last December) in the Harry Potter series follows the young wizard as he finally learns the secrets of the virtually unkillable Voldemort.

Early indications: It's directed by David Yates, also helmer of 2007's Order Of The Phoenix and next year's Deathly Hallows. The featurettes and trailer look pretty great.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

They Came From Upstairs (July 31)

What's it about? A group of teens on vacation (including High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale) discover an alien invasion is happening, and they're the only ones who can stop it. Because everyone else is under alien mind control. Or something.

Early indications: Well, it's got a cute chick, and a cute CG alien (right). If you like HSM and alien invasions, it might be pretty good.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (August 7)

What's it about? An elite squad of soldiers (wearing power armor) face off with the terrorist organization Cobra, which wants to unleash a nano-bomb full of nanites that will eat everything in their path. And there are ninjas. And a Baroness.

Early indications: It has silly costumes. It has Marlon Wayans as Ripcord, in a comedy subplot. It has Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt acting their little hearts out as the villains. The only person who's seen a trailer so far called it "horrible."

September:

Game (Sept. 4)

What's it about? This delayed film follows Gerard Butler (300) as a convict forced to take place in a real-life video game, where he's controlled by viewers thanks to a chip in his head. But there's an underground movement, led by Ludacris, fighting to end this injustice and close Thunderdome or whatever.

Early indications: Early reviews say the film is beyond boring.

9 (Sept. 9)

What's it about? A group of rag dolls struggle to survive under attack from deadly robots, in a world where humans have died off. It's an expanded version of an acclaimed short film, produced by Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton.

Early indications: Few people had even heard of this film a month ago, but since the trailer came out, it's suddenly become a hotly anticipated film. Weirdly, it does look like the sort of thing both Bekmabetov and Burton would love.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

The Surrogates (Sept. 25)

What's it about? Based on a little-known graphic novel, this movie takes place in a future world where nobody goes out — instead they use robotic "surrogate" to interact with the world. A cop (Bruce Willis) is forced to venture outside himself, for the first time in years. Complete with horrible wig.

Early indications: The first images look intriguing, and our exclusive first look at the robots was intriguing. Producer Elizabeth Banks (star of Zack And Miri) says it's Blade Runner-ish. On the other hand, director Jonathan Mostow is best known for Terminator 3.

October:

Zombieland (Oct. 9)

What's it about? Weirdly, there are two movies called Zombieland in production. This isn't the zany Woody Harrelson movie, which comes out in 2010. Instead, this one stars Brad Dourif (the psycho from Star Trek: Voyager and many horror movies) as someone who turns a funeral home into a zombie tourist attraction.

Early indications: No clue. Brad Dourif gives good psycho though.

Astro Boy (Oct. 23)

What's it about? A CG animated movie based on the anime classic about a Pinnochio-bot who gets turned out of his home and goes on wacky adventures.

Early indications: The super-brief teaser trailer looked fun, and the concept art promises some demented-looking robots and painterly vistas.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

November:

The Box (Nov. 6)

What's it about? Based on a Richard Matheson story (and a Twilight Zone episode), this film follows a young couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) who get a box with a button. If they press the button, they get a jillion dollars — and someone they don't know dies.

Early indications: It's directed by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko). Maybe having to stick somewhat more closely to a Matheson short story will lift Kelly out of his Southland Tales delirium. We can hope.

The Wolfman (Nov. 6)

What's it about? Benicio Del Toro is a wolfman. Grrr.

Early indications: Yet another movie hit with delays, this time due to post-production problems with the transformation effects. Judging from the quotes on IMDB, it sounds like Anthony Hopkins and Del Toro get to gnaw scenery, with lines like "I am what I say I am. A monster," and "The prodigal son returns," and "I will kill all of you!"

New Moon (Nov. 20)

What's it about? The second movie in the uber-successful Twilight series, based on Stephenie Meyer's mega-selling books.

Early indications: Well, director Catherine Hardwicke got dropped, supposedly because she wanted to spend more than 50 cents and a few minutes on special effects. I honestly don't know how they can have this film in theaters by November.

Planet 51 (Nov. 20)

What's it about? Another animated film. The Rock is an astronaut who lands on an alien planet where it's the 1950s and everybody's xenophobic. Everybody thinks he's an invader. So he has to befriend a little alien boy.

Early indications: Well, it might be better than Space Chimps. The early stills look sort of cheap but cute. See above: it's a kids' movie with The Rock.

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

December:

Avatar (Dec. 18)

What's it about? The film James Cameron has been working on for the past ten years, where a disabled ex-marine (Sam Worthington) takes on an "avatar," or alien shape, that lets him walk among the aliens on a distant planet. Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana co-star.

Early indications: Cameron has been talking up the enormous technical breakthrough in 3-D filming and motion capture his film will involve. Weaver sounds jazzed about her character and the overall storyline. But even Cameron himself warns: "I don't know whether it will be a great film from a narrative and critical standpoint. The experience of Avatar will be an experience unlike any other movies." My guess is, it won't be as great as Aliens or Terminator 2, but it could still be the best film of the year.

No release date:

30 Fantastic Movies To Watch (Or Avoid) This Year

The Road (??)

What's it about? The adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel about a father and son struggling to survive in a world where everything's fallen apart.

Early indications: Yet another delayed film, because of post-production issues. It looks like the film will really push the bleak setting and dissheveled protagonists to the limit. Early script reviews say it could be the most important post-apocalyptic film — and the darkest — of all time. If they don't ruin it in the editing room.