With the 2016 summer season about to begin, the weekly release schedule is lined with tentpole pictures along the lines of Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Finding Dory and The Conjuring 2, which are all but guaranteed to bring studios the big bucks when they land in theaters. Along the way, there are some less surefire offerings that aren’t necessarily on most movie-goers radar.
Often having a film fly under the radar can be part of a studio’s marketing strategy to generate eventual buzz (see Ex Machina), a production company’s goal in setting up hype for a film festival acquisition (hello Dope) or, frankly, the result of the media not paying attention enough to what’s truly on the horizon (e.g. Room). With new distributors such as Broadgreen, Bleecker Street, STX Entertainment and Amazon Studios seemingly launching every month there is an even higher chance a great flick will pop up almost out of nowhere (In fact, STX has more films slated for release next year than most of their competitors even realize). You may think you know all the big movies coming out in 2016, but even your favorite movie writers will humbly admit we have a hard time tracking it all.
Keeping that in mind here are 13 flicks (in no particular order) expected to hit theaters this year that might not be on your radar, but should be.
In theaters: April 29
Directed by: Peter Atencio (Key and Peele)
Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long
Lowdown: Key and Peele play two “birds” (black nerds) that decide to infiltrate a drug operation to win back their adorable missing kitty, Keanu (a certain Collider Editor-in-Chief may already have this on his must-see list because of its feline component). You probably know this critically acclaimed comedy duo from their Comedy Central sketch TV series, but if Warner Bros. has their way, however, Key and Peele’s fan base will help turn “Keanu” into one of the sleeper hits of the summer.
The Coldest City
In theaters: TBD
Directed by: David Leitch (John Wick)
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Lowdown: Now this is arguably the most curious selection on the list. Based on Antony Johnston‘s well-received graphic novel, Coldest City is a Cold War era thriller that finds Theron playing an undercover MI6 agent on a mission to secure a missing list of double agents. Leitch is a longtime stuntman and stunt coordinator who co-directed the cult favorite John Wick alongside Chad Stahelski, but the Director’s Guild refused to give the film two director credits (he’s listed as a producer). Stahelski is now helping John Wick 2 on his own which makes everyone wonder if Leitch is the real deal or not. You can bet Theron, McAvoy and Goodman are counting on it.
There Are Monsters
In theaters: TBD
Directed by: Bryan Bertino (The Strangers)
Starring: Zoe Kazan, Scott Speedman
Lowdown: Remember The Strangers? That underrated 2008 hit thriller that reminded us all that Liv Tyler could be great in something that didn’t involve her playing an Elf? Well, the writer and director of that flick stumbled with his next picture, Mockingbird (yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either), but his latest endeavor sounds much more promising. The A24 release will find Kazan as a mother trying to protect her young daughter from what is only described as a “merciless” creature. What that creature actually is or how Speedman (who also starred in Strangers) fits into the picture remains to be seen.
In theaters: TBD
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Starring: Elle Fanning, Ruth Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Alex Sharp, A.J. Lewis, Matt Lucas
Lowdown: With Britain’s burgeoning late ’70s punk scene as a backdrop, this musical comedy finds two teenager boys (Sharp, Lewis) meeting a few girls at a local party who it turns out aren’t just exchange students, but actually aliens from another world. Cameron has jumped genres since Hedwig with Shortbus and Rabbit Hole, but How To Talk seems like it could be a slight return to his Hedwig aesthetic. Throw in a killer cast, an expected global film festival premiere (is that Cannes or Venice calling?) and this could turn into one of the must-see art house movies of the year.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
In theaters: June 3
Directed by: Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) and Jorma Taccone (MacGruber)
Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, Tim Meadows
Lowdown: Effectively the second Lonely Island film after Hot Rod, Popstar finds Samberg as a hip-hop artist forced to reunite with his old boy band. Is that enough of a premise for a feature length film? Maybe, maybe not, but we can’t wait for the soundtrack album.
In theaters: June 24
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop)
Starring: Blake Lively
Lowdown: In a scenario that sounds vaguely similar to 2003’s indie hit Open Water, Lively plays a woman clinging to a buoy as the only thing between her and the safety of shore is a great white shark. You can argue that Collet-Serra hasn’t made a good movie yet, but the movie (or its marketing materials) must test well because Sony Pictures is willing to throw it against Independence Day: Resurgence and a crowded July Fourth frame.
In theaters: TBD
Directed by: Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins)
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Judy Greer, Laura Dern
Lowdown: Daniel Clowes’ adaptation of his own graphic novel finds Harrelson as the cranky title character who just can’t stop himself from being too blunt with strangers. Buzz is strong on this Fox Searchlight release, but it’s still not dated yet. Is it alternative summer fare or a potential fall festival player? If it’s not announced as part of SXSW that probably means the later.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
In theaters: July 8
Directed by: Jake Szymanski (7 Days in Hell)
Starring: Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam DeVine
Lowdown: There are lots of candidates for the “sleeper” comedy hit of the summer (we already noted “Keanu”), but when you’ve got these four leads, the screenwriters of Neighbors and an up and coming talent like Szymanski in the director’s chair the chances of something that surprises is high. Then again this will be Kendrick’s second wedding themed movie set for release this year (Table 19 will likely hit theaters beforehand) and Efron has Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising at the end of May. Throw in Dirty Grandpa in January and you have to ask: how much gratuitously shirtless Efron can America endure over just six months? Wait, don’t answer that question.
Bye Bye Man
In theaters: December 9
Directed by: Stacy Title
Starring: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Faye Dunaway, Carrie-Anne Moss, Doug Jones
Lowdown: You can probably figure this one out before even seeing the trailer. Bye Bye is a horror film about three college students trying to avoid being killed by the title character (played by Jones). You know what’s much more interesting? The fact it’s the first movie Dunaway has appeared in since 2002’s Rules of Attraction that will be reeled by a legitimate distributor (in this case STX Entertainment). That might be scarier than the film itself.
In theaters: October 14
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor (Warrior)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow
Lowdown: The script was around for a while with Mel Gibson set to direct Will Smith in Affleck’s role at one time. This incarnation has Affleck as a government accountant who happens to be an assassin on the side. Warner Bros. originally dated this thriller for the end of January, but then moved it to a major weekend for prestige films in October. O’Connor isn’t necessarily one for comedy, so that date change and the fact Affleck’s Argo opened in the same timeframe means WB thinks they might have something special on their hands.
In theaters: December 25
Directed by: John Hamburg (I Love You, Man)
Starring: James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch
Lowdown: The concept sounds tiredly familiar: a protective dad (Cranston) isn’t thrilled with his daughter’s new boyfriend (Franco). Than you realize Ben Stiller is a full on producer and remember Hamburg showed he could surprise with I Love You, Man. Throw in the fact Cranston has never really been able to ever show his comedy skills on the big screen and, maybe, just maybe, this is more than it seems.
The Neon Demon
In theaters: June 2016
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote
Lowdown: Even with Ryan Gosling on board Refn’s last directorial effort, Only God Forgives, pretty much went straight to VOD. With Amazon Studios acquiring Neon Demon, that won’t be the case (see the current Chi-Raq release strategy). Refn’s latest film finds Fanning as a model trying to make it in LA only to find herself the target of a group of “beauty obsessed women” intent to steal her youth from her (literally). This is arguably as impressive cast as Refn’s signature work Drive had. Will the mercurial filmmaker deliver something as commercial as that hit thriller or continue his descent into a David Lynch inspired aesthetic that was on display in Only God Forgives?
20th Century Women
In theaters: TBD
Directed by: Mike Mills (Beginners)
Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup
Lowdown: Another movie not only featuring Fanning, but set in the late 1970’s (are we sensing a trend here?). Mills last film, Beginners, was inspired by his relationship with his own father. Women also appears to be semi-autobiographical as it focuses on a young man who learns life lessons from a number of women including his mother (Bening). There is no distributor yet, but the current barometer of good taste, Annapurna, financed it which means it’s pretty much a prestige player without even being seen.