Spring Movie Preview: The 20 Films to See Between Now and May
20 films — 10 big, 10 small — to catch before summer
We’ve survived Dolittle, a 15-year-too-late Bad Boys sequel and a horror film called The Turning that audiences gave the rare grade of “F.”
But Hollywood moving toward spring means we’re at the point where it’s not all sequels, prestige Oscar bait or studio castoffs. In other words, it’s the season where films tend to hit a sweet spot of being accessible but also interesting.
Or they’re just batshit insane, like Guns Akimbo — aka Daniel Radcliffe with guns bolted to his hands on a broadcasted revenge spree (“from the director of Deathgasm,” which, by the way, is a great film).
So below, our guide to the 20 films we’re most excited to see over the next three months. As is our tradition, we’ve got 10 studio-backed blockbusters and 10 more under-the-radar indies and foreign flicks.
Words by Kirk Miller and Walker Loetscher
Blockbuster: Birds of Prey
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was a great trailer disguising an incredibly forgettable film — save for Margot Robbie’s deliriously campy Harley Quinn, who now headlines this female antihero spinoff that looks purposely campy.
Blockbuster: Fantasy Island
ABC’s old TV fantasy/drama used its “be careful what you wish for” concept — on a beautiful island resort — to teach some rather bland life lessons. This remake via Blumhouse (The Purge, Halloween, Get Out) is all about the scares.
Indie: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The historical drama that competed for the Palme d’Or in 2019 and picked up accolades from nearly every Critics’ Association in America when they announced their year-end awards finally gets a wide release. The film portrays the secret romance between an 18th-century French noblewoman and the portrait artist her family has commissioned to paint her.
Blockbuster: The Call of the Wild
The classic Jack London novel gets it umpteenth adaptation with the help of some CGI (which, admittedly, looks a bit off-putting) and a cast including Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan and Dan Stevens. The story remains the same, however, as it follows a domesticated dog who gets uprooted to the Alaskan Yukon wild.
British auteur Michael Winterbottom reconnects with longtime muse Steve Coogan (The Trip trilogy) for another dry comedy, this time pillorying the lives of the extremely wealthy. Coogan stars as a billionaire playboy in the mold of Richard Branson as he prepares for an opulent birthday party in Mykonos.
Blockbuster: The Invisible Man
Leigh Whannell (Saw) directs this update on the iconic H.G. Wells novel, which looks legitimately creepy. Elisabeth Moss stars as a woman who escapes an abusive relationship, but soon thinks she’s being stalked by an unseen force.
Indie: A White, White Day
Scandinavian cinema is experiencing a bit of a golden age thanks to the contributions of visionary directors like Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31; Thelma) and Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure; The Square). The traits that all those films share — stark, striking photography and a general air of dark, biting satire — all appear to be on display in this feature from Iceland’s Hlynur Pálmason, which portrays the life of a widowed police officer who suspects a friend might have been having an affair with his dead wife.
Indie: Disappearance at Clifton Hill
A cold-case murder mystery set in a small town near Niagara Falls with psychedelic visuals starring David Cronenberg (yes, starring)? Sign us up.
Got kids? Is their spring break near? Dig Pixar films? Congratulations, you’ve got one afternoon with them covered via this surreal animated tale about two elf brothers who attempt to bring back their late father for 24 hours via a wizard staff … but only manage to resurrect his legs. Wacky, life-affirming quest follows. Voice talent includes Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer and Ali Wong, which would be an A-level cast for a live-action film.
Indie: First Cow
Kelly Reichardt has quietly become one of America’s most industrious filmmakers over the last 15 years with a series of elegiac portraits of life in the Pacific Northwest. First Cow is her second foray into period drama (after the western Meek’s Cutoff), depicting the friendship of two young fur trappers trying to forge a life for themselves in expansion-era Oregon.
Indie: The Jesus Rolls
John Turturro both directs and stars in this reprisal of Jesus Quintana, the impish bowler/sex offender (“Eight-year-olds, Dude”) he first played more than 20 years ago in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Early reviews are tepid; then, no one knew what to make of Lebowski when it first came out, either.
There’s a very good chance this RoboCop-like adventure with Vin Diesel — playing the titular soldier/killing machine who rememebers his tragic past — will be forgettable. On the other hand, it’s the first mainstream comic book adaptation that’s not based a Marvel/DC title we’ve seen in quite a while, and the trailer suggests there’s a twist or two waiting.
Indie: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman proved her considerable directing chops in 2017 with Beach Rats, a coming-of-age tale about a working-class teenager in Brooklyn who explores his sexuality through encounters with older men he meets online. Her next film looks similar in tone and setting, this time profiling the life of a Pennsylvania teenager who runs aways to New York with her cousin after learning of an unexpected pregnancy.
Blockbuster: A Quiet Place Part II
John Krasinski’s 2018 horror flick was a genuinely nerve-wracking surprise — and far superior to the similarly minded Bird Box. The sequel acknowledges the make-no-sound-or-die premise of the original, but has the surviving members of the Abbot family face new and very human dangers in the larger, decimated world outside their protective farm.
Indie: The Climb
This offbeat buddy comedy competed at Cannes in 2019 and finally has a distributor (Sony Pictures Classics). While the content doesn’t exactly look groundbreaking here — a down-on-his-luck middle-aged white dude with a drinking problem seeks out the help of an old friend to try to get his life back on track — writer/director Michael Angelo Corvino appears to have applied just the right mix of pathos and humor to make this a memorable addition to the genre.
Is there any reason (besides money) for all of these live-action remakes of Disney animated classics? No, but director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, The Zookeeper’s Wife) was an inspired choice to take on this story, which is now not a musical tale of a young woman who fights for China against the Huns. It looks like an action epic with a healthy dose of female empowerment … and bonus points for the casting of iconic action hero icons Donnie Yen and Jet Li.
Indie: Saint Maud
Pretty much everything that ubiquitous indie film distributor A24 has touched in the last three years has turned to gold, and that’s doubly true for horror (Midsommar, The Witch, Hereditary). Rose Glass’s Saint Maud is their latest foray into the genre, in which a hospice nurse with a supernatural streak becomes obsessed with a patient in her care.
Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star in a thriller in which a newlywed couple become imprisoned in a sprawling suburban development entirely devoid of human life. Think Weeds meets Castaway.
Blockbuster: The New Mutants
For a movie that’s been in limbo for three years, The New Mutants shows a lot of promise. Based off the X-Men spinoff comic, the film ignores the larger Marvel/mutant universe and tells the tale of five super-powered teenagers trapped in a secret facility. If it’s not quite the superhero/horror mashup we were promised, the film does feature a dark tone.
Blockbuster: No Time to Die
The behind-the-scenes drama for the latest James Bond flick seems more interesting than the plot of 007’s 25th film. Daniel Craig said he’d rather slash his wrists than come back — then he did return, for a reported $25 million. Trainspotting’s Danny Boyle was in as director, then out … to be replaced by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga (while the studio also flirted with the likes of Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve). Add in the surprising recruitment of Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a co-screenwriter, Billie Eilish as the theme song performer, Rami Malek as the film’s villain and a new, female “00” agent (played by Lashana Lynch) and … well, it’ll be a (pretty) mess, but it has to be better than Spectre.