— Feel like taking a look at the big movies that await in 2011? You can start by looking at the big movies of 2010 ... and 2009, 2007, 2003, 1996, and further back. We're living in a sequel-crazed culture, and the upcoming roster of movies is as packed with them as ever.
There's a natural snobbery against sequels, claiming they're never as good as the original film. But after a year where "Toy Story 3" is on almost every Top 10 list, it's time to get over the sequel stigma and take a look at what's coming.
Two major film franchises are heading into the home stretch. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" (opens July 15) marks the end of the magically popular wizarding saga. The very end. At least until George Lucas creates special editions of the films in 20 years, replacing Michael Gambon's Dumbledore with a hologram of a resurrected Richard Harris. After the relatively ponderous "Part 1," fans will be expecting a steady stream of action climaxes, and anyone who's read the books knows that's exactly what they'll be getting.
Similarly, fans of the "Twilight" series know what they're in for in "Breaking Dawn," and the decision to follow the "Harry Potter" lead and divide it into two parts pretty much ensures those fans will be getting all they ask for. ("Part 1" comes out Nov. 18; "Part 2" in 2012)Director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") takes over the reins for these final two installments, where Edward and Bella finally get that teen marriage he's been clamoring for. Then Bella ends up pregnant and there's a perilous childbirth and a war with the Volturi and ... a lot goes down. Maybe two movies wasn't such a bad idea.
Of course, not all sequels have wildly successful novels upon which to base their continuing stories. Which means the pressure is on to make these new films bigger, brighter, faster, and flashier than before. Mostly this just means one of two things: new characters or new locations.
Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible" films have been great at cycling in fresh casts of characters for Cruise to battle or befriend. In "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" (which opens Dec. 16 and which we swear to God is not a video game title), Cruise's Ethan Hunt will partner with a character played by Jeremy Renner, a possible passing-the-baton moment both for the movie series and for Renner's burgeoning A-list career.
The sequel to "Sherlock Holmes" (Dec. 16) isn't looking to beef up its hero credentials, but rather introduce one of the most sinister villains of them all. In between bouts of bickering and carousing, Holmes and Watson (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) will finally meet the dastardly Professor Moriarty, to be played by Jared Harris (Lane Pryce from "Mad Men"). In addition to Moriarty, look out for a character played by "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" star Noomi Rapace.
For the fifth installment of the "Fast and the Furious" series, the strategy seems to be to throw everything back into the mix and then some. Like some kind of rock supergroup, "Fast Five" (April 29) brings back the stars of all four previous films, including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, AND Tyrese Gibson. But just in case that's not enough star wattage, the cherry on top is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a federal agent tracking the crew all the way down to Brazil.
A change of scenery is a popular tactic with sequels looking to shake things up. That's a challenge for a movie like "The Hangover Part II" (May 26) since the original depended so much on the anything-goes, debauchery-on-tap setting of Las Vegas. So for "Part II," Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifanakis, and company are headed overseas to Thailand. Look for reported cameos by Bill Clinton (!), Tyson once again, and Liam Neeson, who took over for Mel Gibson as an oddball tattoo artist.
Overseas adventures are also in store for the anthropomorphic automobile set. Yes, "Cars 2" (June 24) will be taking its down-home racers across the pond to compete against the fastest four-wheeled folks from Europe and Japan. This is the first non-"Toy Story" property from Pixar to be afforded a sequel ("Monsters Inc. 2" is set for 2012), and it offers a chance for redemption of sorts for the original. It's tough to say that a film that took in over $460 million worldwide has anything to be redeemed, but "Cars" is one of only two Pixar films ("Monsters Inc." is the other) to lose the best animated feature Oscar. Perhaps a dash of Euro prestige will do the trick?
For the third film in the "Transformers" series, going off-continent is clearly not enough It's time to go off-planet. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (July 1) sees the Autobots and Decepticons race to the moon in order to gain control of a Cybertronian spacecraft. Somehow, this will involve series star Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky, though not Megan Fox, who won't be back. Not to worry, fans of aesthetically pleasing actresses: Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely has been signed to pout dutifully as Sam's love interest.
2011 also sees the return of two film franchises which had previously seemed wrapped up. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (May 20) brings back Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, but apart from the presence of Geoffrey Rush as frenemy pirate Barbossa, everything for this franchise is new. Out are Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as moon-eyed lovers Elizabeth and Will. In are Penelope Cruz, as a feisty woman from Jack's past (aren't they all?), and Ian McShane as the legendary Blackbeard. Also out is director Gore Verbinski. In is director Rob Marshall, who's previously been known for star-studded musicals like "Chicago" and "Nine". It might seem like an odd fit, but be honest: Captain Jack Sparrow breaking into some Fosse-style choreography wouldn't even come close to being the weirdest thing he's done in this series.
It's been more than 10 years since the last time the ghost-faced killer in "Scream" haunted anyone. But director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson are bringing him (or her ... or them) back, along with original series stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette, for "Scream 4" (April 15). And, of course, they're joined by a slew of potential victims/suspects, including Adam Brody, Anna Paquin, Emma Roberts, Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere, and "Community" star Allison Brie. Start your "Who's the Killer?" betting pools now.