With reshuffled release dates and conflicting mask protocols across the UK, this past year was another abnormal one for cinemagoers. But cinema chains could be forgiven for feeling optimistic. Thanks to Daniel Craig’s beefy Bond heroics (and multiplex-only blockbusters such as Fast & Furious 9, Free Guy and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings) it felt like a semi-return to something like popcorn-scoffing normality.
Yet as 2022 looms you can almost hear the bombastic voiceover of a 1980s trailer: “They thought the worst was over… but things were never going to be the same again.” So what will this year in film be like?
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The start of 2022 was supposed to resemble something like business as usual. Most major film awards still require movies to have a proper cinema run for them to be eligible, so January will hopefully see a last raft of contenders hoping to generate Bafta buzz.
They include Licorice Pizza (released January 1), a coming-of-age tale from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson set in ’70s Los Angeles (that offbeat title is slang for a vinyl record). It’s a shaggy, soulful showcase for relative screen newcomers Alana Haim – from the band Haim – and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Guillermo del Toro follows up his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water with another atmospheric period piece. Nightmare Alley (January 21) stars Bradley Cooper as a sketchy grifter who gets into the lucrative fake-psychic game.
The autobiographical Belfast (January 21) – directed by Kenneth Branagh and shot in luminous black-and-white – dramatises the actor’s early childhood in the city, where trips to the cinema offered escape during turbulent political times.
And the month will close out with a burst of colour: Parallel Mothers (January 28) is another fruitful collaboration between writer/director Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz, an emotionally charged story about two pregnant women that also explores Spain’s painful past.
If superhero movies are contemporary cinema’s commercial battleground, the pause in production triggered by Covid seems to have given Warner Bros – caretakers of DC comics characters such as Superman – a chance to regroup. After lagging behind Marvel and their all-conquering Avengers, Warner will be first out of the spandex gates in 2022 with The Batman (March 4), a notably gothic take on The Dark Knight mythos starring Robert Pattinson. With three other DC movies due in 2022 – including the Dwayne Johnson-starring Black Adam, Justice League spin-off The Flash and Aquaman 2, a sequel to the splashy, well-liked original – Warner seem to have finally matched Marvel’s quicksilver pace of production. But will these efforts be any good?
After a mild response to epoch-spanning epic The Eternals, Marvel will be looking to reassert their dominance. Benedict Cumberbatch’s considerable supporting role in the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home should have prepared the ground for more alternate-universe high jinks in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6). After that, Marvel only have two movies scheduled for the rest of the year but since they are sequels to the adored Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther the studio probably still feels comfortably mighty.
Away from tights and flights, the tentpole films hoping to boost cinemagoing back to its pre-pandemic peak mostly consist of sequels such as Avatar 2, Fantastic Beasts 3 and John Wick 4. The much-delayed Top Gun: Maverick (May 27) should be finally cleared for take-off but even if it nosedives it will barely slow Tom Cruise down; the daredevil star has two more Mission: Impossible movies ready to roll before we even get a whiff of another Bond. But summer will likely be ruled by Jurassic World: Dominion (June 10), the third modern instalment in the slick – if rather soulless – continuation of the dinosaurs-amok franchise.
Will audiences flock to these would-be event movies? Or will they hold off, knowing that even the biggest blockbuster now routinely arrives on streaming rental in weeks rather than six months? (Ridley Scott’s medieval epic The Last Duel may be an outlier but it went from UK cinemas to free on Disney+ in the space of six weeks.) The future still looks uncertain but I take comfort from the looming release of Uncharted (February 11). This long-in-the-works adaptation of a huge PlayStation game franchise has been retooled as a starring vehicle for Spider-Man’s Tom Holland. The worryingly generic trailer makes it look like a bland, commercially minded muddle being given a big marketing push to make a quick buck in cinemas before the first reviews hit. In other words: Hollywood’s back, baby!
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