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Entries in Steven Spielberg (6)



Steven Spielberg’s reimagining of West Side Story carries with it a degree of expectation few films ever experience. The 1961 adaptation of lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway smash, co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, is cinematic perfection; winner of 11 Academy Awards (including an honorary trophy for Robbins’ ‘brilliant achievement in the art of choreography’), it was a box office blockbuster and remains arguably the greatest musical ever made. Spielberg has sought the rights to the original stage production for close to two decades; scripting is Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize (Drama) winner for Angels in America and past Spielberg collaborator on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012). Of course, that’s all grist for the critical mill if those before the camera fail to spark like the iconic stars of the original…

MARIA: In her late teens, Maria has immigrated to New York hoping to start a new life with her brother, Sharks gang leader Bernardo. She soon meets and falls for Tony, a boy from a rival gang, setting in motion an increasingly desperate and dangerous romance…
1961: One of the most sought after roles at the time, the original stage ‘Maria’, Carol Lawrence, as well as actresses as diverse as Jill St John, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda and Suzanne Pleshette, all tested for the part. The producers sought Warren Beatty for the lead role of ‘Tony’ and requested a show reel from his latest production, Splendour in The Grass, but it would be Beatty’s co-star, Natalie Wood, who impressed. Broadway star Marni Nixon would be used to redub Wood’s singing voice (a task she reprised, uncredited, for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady).
2019: Chosen from a casting call that saw 30,000 hopefuls tested across the U.S., 17 year-old Rachel Zegler is a singer/songwriter of Colombian descent hailing from New Jersey. Maria will be her debut film role. Zegler submitted a recording of her singing ‘Tonight and ‘Me Siento Hermosa’ before being screentested in July 2018. She is an experienced stage actress, having played ‘Maria’ in a production at the Bergen Performing Arts Centre in her home state. A YouTube star with over 150,000 followers, Zegler’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ was a viral hit in 2018.

TONY: A former member of the Jets gang, Tony has moved on from the street tough’s life, though remains close to gang leader Riff. He is coerced into rejoining his former life by Riff for a clash with the Sharks, a decision that leads to a fateful meeting with Maria… 
1961: Former child actor Richard Beymer found breakout success in 1959, earning acclaim for his role in George Steven’s The Diary of Anne Frank opposite Millie Perkins and a comedic support turn in Blake Edwards’ High Time (1960). In addition to Beatty, many of Hollywood’s leading men were considered and tested for the part of ‘Tony’, including Tab Hunter, Robert Redford, Richard Chamberlain and Burt Reynolds before Beymer was cast. He remained under contract with 20th Century Fox but never found A-list stardom after West Side Story, despite working with such directors as Martin Ritt (Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, 1962) and Daniel Mann (Five Fingers Exercise, 1962). He has worked steadily for four decades, recently reprising his role as ‘Ben Horne’ for David Lynch in the revival of the TV series Twin Peaks.     
2019: One of the hottest young actors in Hollywood off the back of director Edgar Wright’s smash action film Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort is the sole box office name in Spielberg’s principal cast. Having debuted opposite Chloe Grace Moretz in Carrie (2013), he was teamed with Shailene Woodley to break hearts in The Fault in Our Stars (2014) and resist dystopian fascism in the YA-literary adaptions Divergent (2014), Insurgent (2015) and Allegiant (2016). He took on the prestige pic Billionaire Boys Club (2018) with fellow next-big-thing Taren Edgerton for director James Cox, only to have the film buried when the deeds of co-star Kevin Spacey became public.

RIFF: Leader of the Jets gang, Riff and Tony have been as close as brothers since Riff moved in with Tony’s family in tough times. A seasoned street brawler, having protected the Jet’s turf from the Emeralds and Hawks ahead of the threat posed by Bernardo’s Puerto Rican outfit, the Sharks…
1961: Russ Tamblyn was the most experienced of all the West Side Story cast members. A child actor since his debut as Rusty Tamblyn in The Kid from Cleveland in 1949 (with two uncredited roles already under his belt), Tamblyn would become one of Hollywood’s most likable screen actors in films like Gun Crazy (1950), Father of The Bride (1950), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), Peyton Place (1957, for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), High School Confidential! (1958) and Cimarron (1960). Post West Side Story, he eschewed stardom and embraced the counter-culture movement, starring in B-shockers with titles like War of the Gargantuas (1966) and Dennis Hopper’s infamous The Last Movie (1971).
2019: Bridging the worlds of live theatre and feature films largely sums up the short but spectacular career momentum of Mike Faist. Having earned a Tony nomination for his role as ‘Connor Murphy’ in the hit musical comedy Dear Evan Hansen, Faist solidified his stage rep with standout performances in Days of Rage, A Month in the Country, Appropriate and Newsies. His movie moments include such indie notables as Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act (2012), Patrick Wang’s The Grief of Others (2015), Marc Lucas’ Our Time (2016) and Fritz Bohm’s Wildling (2018), opposite Liv Tyler.

BERNARDO: Attacked by the Jets on his first day in his new homeland, Bernardo becomes resentful of Americans and surrounds himself with countrymen who feel the same. Embracing his role as protector of Maria, he is destined for soul-crushing realisation when he learns of his sister’s love for his sworn enemy…
1961: The journey of West Side Story from its stage roots to the bigscreen would not be complete without George Chakiris, for whom the musical became an all-consuming, career-defining odyssey. Arriving in New York a year into the Broadway run of the musical, director Jerome Robbins auditioned Chakiris and rewarded him with the role of Jets leader ‘Riff’ in the London leg of the production. By the time the film was in pre-production, Chakiris had convinced the producers that he was better suited to ‘Bernardo’; he was proven right when he earned the Best Supporting Acting Oscar.
2019: Born in Montreal, David Alvarez made a very high profile debut on Broadway when he was cast as one of three ‘Billys’ in the stage adaptation of the film, Billy Elliot; the role would earn him and co-stars Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish a rare joint Tony Award for Best Actor. The young patriot then put his career on hold in 2010 to serve with the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division. Graduating from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre having attained a full merit scholarship, Steven Spielberg’s film will be his feature debut. 

ANITA: Girlfriend of Sharks gang leader Bernardo, Anita is like a sister to Maria and loves her new life in America. When it becomes clear to her that Maria and Tony are in love, Anita hides her resentment towards the former Jet and is persuaded by Maria to help keep the secret from Bernardo…
1961: Emerging as the breakout star from the 1961 film’s huge success, Rita Moreno has since become an iconic figure in the American entertainment industry. Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico in 1931, she was five when her mother emigrated to New York City. By 11, she had found work dubbing American films into her native Spanish; by 13, she had been cast in her first Broadway production, Skydrift. From that point she would build a career that has led to her rare status as an ‘E.G.O.T Honouree’ – the winner of an Emmy (Variety and Music Performance, 1977; Guest Actress – Drama, 1978); Grammy (The Electric Company Album, 1972); Oscar (Supporting Actress for West Side Story); and, Tony (Best Actress for The Ritz, 1975). In 2004, she was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour for an American civilian, by President Bush. Spielberg has cast her in his remake as ‘Valentina’, a role created especially for the actress.
2019: To be asked to step into the shoes of Rita Moreno must be the most daunting task a young actress could face, so for Spielberg to anoint Ariana DeBose as his ‘Anita’ represents a seismic shift in the Tony-nominated actress’ career. Co-star of Broadway hit Summer and an original cast member of the phenomenon Hamilton, DeBose has scant film experience (a bit part in Lonny Price’s filmed stageplay Company, 2011; the lead in the little-seen indie, Seaside, 2018), but her stakes will soar if her ‘Anita’ is played with the same cinematic gusto as Ms Moreno.

Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY begins shooting in June 2019 for release via 20th Century Fox.

(PHOTO CREDITS: United Artists / Ilya S Savenok, Dia Dipasupil - Getty Images / Instagram)



It became the sensation of the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con; the daring and dazzling mosaic of iconic 80s and 90s properties in Warner Bros 123-second trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One the stuff of comic geek fantasy and nostalgist dream. The Greatest Living Director’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s VR tech-epic doesn’t drop until March 30 2018, but the challenge to spot all the ‘easter egg’ nuggets of pop culture gold became the convention’s favourite past time. So here they all are…

“I live here, in Columbus Ohio”
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) navigates ‘The Stacks’ (trailer homes piled on top of each other) on his way to his VR den, home to such pop culture touchstones as a Nintendo ‘Zapper’, iPod, Commodore 64 joystick and He-Man lunchbox, as well as iconic 80s ephemera from The Garbage Pail Kids, Gremlins, Watchmen, Q-Bert and Tim Burton’s Batman;

“It’s the only place I feel like I mean anything.”
When Watts (as his virtual avatar Parzival) enters the VR universe known as Oasis, characters adopted by the global online population are gathered. He is greeted by Harley Quinn and Deadshot (pictured, above); in the crowded room, Hagar the Horrible and Conan the Barbarian can be seen. To the strains of a reworked version of ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (a nod to the narrative similarities between Cline’s book and Raold Dahl’s family classic), Gandalf dances high above the din;

“A world where the limits of reality are your own imagination.”
The Iron Giant (pictured, above) from Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic plays a major role in helping Parzival and his egg-hunter offsiders Daito and Shoto hunt for the virtual prize that will give them control of the Oasis. The brown structure to the right of frame is The Temple of Syrinx, a reference to the 1976 album 2112 by Canadian band, Rush, the epic track forming the basis for one player’s quest in the novel. The soft-metal group’s discography is a source of inspiration for OASIS creator, the late James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance);

In his guise as ‘Napoleon’, Parzival rides a mecha-scorpion (perhaps a reference to a similar creature in the vid-game, Ultrabots) while fighting a battalion of warrior ostriches, lifted from the 1982 Atari arcade classic, Joust (pictured, above);

Wade’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), reimagined in Spielberg’s film as a Rings-like Orc warrior, comes under fire from Duke Nuk’em as he lays waste to Mortal Kombat’s Kitana and Nightmare on Elm Street’s villain Freddy Krueger (whose demise frees up an inventory of weapons from the game Borderland, including Sledge’s Shotgun and Krieg’s Buzz Axe). Aech’s weapon of choice is the MA5 assault rifle from Halo;

“A modern day warrior / Mean, mean stride / Today’s Tom Sawyer / Mean, mean pride”
Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer’ pulsates as we are introduced to a VR army of ‘Sixers’ (so named because their avatar numbers begin with 6, visible on the uniforms and car roofs). Gathered for a mammoth road race are the 1966 Batmobile, Mad Max’s modified Ford Falcon Interceptor, the Red F1 car from the Pole Position vidgame (the blue car is glimpsed later); right of frame, Lara Croft leans on the 1958 Plymouth Fury from Stephen King’s Christine, talking to Dizzy Wallin from Gears of War in front of the van from The A-Team (also in the mix is Ryu, the key protagonist from the Streetfighter franchise);

Legendary offroader Bigfoot, the first of the great monster cars since it debuted in 1979, lays to waste some sixer vehicles, including one with a QR code on its bonnet that, when scanned, leads to, the Innovative Online Industries recruitment site;

“No, his mind is not for rent / To any God or government”
As the road carnage unfolds on what is revealed to be a Hot Wheels track writ large, Kaneda’s light-cycle from the anime classic Akira emerges, driven by Parzival’s online ally Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and adorned with stickers for Hello Kitty, Atari, SEGA and Taito (original manufacturers of Space Invaders).

The ‘Parzival’ number plate confirms our hero is driving Doc Brown’s time machine from Back to The Future, which appears to have been modified with the in-car AI known as K.I.T.T, from Knight Rider. Inside the Delorean, the dashboard reads ‘Feb 11 1945’ – the day Wade/Parzival finds the copper key in the novel – as well as key dates from the B.T.T.F. trilogy;

The final and ultimate ‘easter egg’ is the Ready Player One logo itself. It is a maze, with the goal being an egg inside the ‘O’ of the word ‘One’. A masterful piece of marketing, the design reflects the essence of Cline’s plot and Spielberg’s adaptation.

Screen-Space acknowledges The Nerdist, Geekritique, VR Scout and Collider as sources in compiling this article.  



A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

When the dust settled on the greatest decade in Hollywood history, it was these three men who were at the forefront. They emerged from the 1970s with classic films to their names, works that defined and altered the ways movies were made and watched; they remained figgureheads of the American industry for four decades, delivering critical and/or commercial hits again and again. But something happened in 2016 that their legion of fans could not quite comprehend – they were proven to be fallible…

History says…: The most successful director in cinema history, Oscar nominated in every decade for the last 40 years. His astonishing back catalogue includes Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-terrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of The Sun, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich; as a producer, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to The Future, Men in Black and True Grit.  
And in 2016?: Cannes rolled out the red carpet for the World Premiere of The BFG…and no one cared. Spielberg spoke of his affinity for Roald Dahl’s source material, the beloved book he read nightly to his children; of how he has neared shoot dates on the project for decades (at one point, Robin Williams attached), but effects technology failed to match his vision; of his ‘bromance’ with Bridge of Spies star Mark Rylance, whose face peers out from behind the mo-cap/CGI titular character. But critics were divided (the post-screening mood in Cannes was chilly) and audiences couldn’t be wooed; it stumbled out of the gate in the midst of the US summer and crawled to an anaemic US$55million domestically, an underwhelming US$122million globally (against a budget of US$140million).
Can he bounce back…?; There have been some stumbles along the way – namely 1941, Hook and War Horse - but his natural storytelling prowess and commercial instincts tend to rebound strongly. He followed 1941 with Raiders of The Lost Ark; Hook with Jurassic Park; War Horse with Lincoln. He is deep into production on the adaptation of the pop-culture sci-fi phenomenon Ready Player One (due 2018), a seemingly perfect fit which see’s him back in Minority Report/A.I. territory.

History says…: After a series of timeless comedies (Take the Money and Run; Sleeper; Love and Death), he emerged as the quintessential ‘New York filmmaker’ of the 70s when he wrote and directed the Oscar-winning rom-com, Annie Hall. AMPAS is always looking to reward the prolific, often brilliant auteur; he has 19 nominations and four Oscars (most recently, for his Midnight in Paris screenplay in 2012). European cinephiles cite his period of Bergman-esque introspection (Interiors, 1978; September, 1987; Another Woman, 1988) as works of genius.
And in 2016…?: Was afforded Opening Night honours at the Cannes Film Festival for Café Society, his melancholy look at Hollywood’s golden years. General consensus was that it was Woody on auto-pilot; he had done this rose-coloured, bittersweet nostalgia trip before and better, most notably with Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway (Editor’s note: we liked it); it did US$11million in the U.S., bringing out the die-hard Allen fans but few others. A bad year turned worse when salacious accusations regarding his private life were dragged out again, this time by Mia Farrow’s son, Ronan. Attention turned to the premiere of his Amazon TV series, A Crisis in Six Parts, in which he co-starred opposite Miley Cyrus and comedy legend Elaine May. By the time Variety listed it as the 5th worst television show of the year (“It’s mind-boggling that anyone thought this was a good idea”), 2016 proved to be Allen’s annus horribilis.
Can he bounce back….?: He has an ‘Untitled Woody Allen Project’ due in 2017, with stars Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake and Juno Temple. Allen has stumbled before, including a period at the turn of the century in which his U.S. films had become so disposable, he fled to Europe (and really bounced back, with the superb Match Point and Oscar winning Vicki Christina Barcelona). At 81, time may be a factor, but his work ethic and on-set energy is faultless.

History says…: One of the greatest filmmakers ever to step behind a camera. Along with peers like Spielberg, De Palma, Coppola and Lucas, Scorsese was one of the original ‘Movie Brat’ directors, emerging in the 70s with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film history and a seemingly effortless talent for pulsating narratives. His classics include Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, The Departed (for which he scored his first Best Director Oscar) and The Wolf of Wall Street. 
And in 2016…?: Not included amongst those ‘classics’ is 1993’s The Age of Innocence, his bloated, self-important Oscar-bait period piece which sank under its own pretension despite some superb ensemble acting (Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer). To wit, Silence, Scorsese’s latest over-produced, history-lesson bore, in which an earnest, sobby Andrew Garfield plays a Jesuit missionary, searching for Liam Neeson’s turncoat padre while preaching what was a forbidden religion in 17th century Japan. A former seminary student, Scorsese had been obsessed with Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel for decades, only now having the cache to pull together the eight different independent financiers needed to cover costs. Not even Scorsese could wring studio backing for the production; sensing award season potential, a moribund Paramount finally picked it up for distribution. Critics will love it because ‘A Scorsese passion-project’ makes good copy, but audiences, even the burgeoning faith-based demo, will find it a turgid slog. Add to the mix the critical slaying and cancellation of his HBO production Vinyl, and 2016 has been a year to forget for the great director.
Can he bounce back….?: Already happening, with the buzzed-about casting of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in his next picture, The Irishman.



Screenwriter and author Melissa Mathison passed away on Wednesday, aged 65, at the UCLA Medical Centre, having fought neuroendocrine cancer for several months. Her Hollywood experience was legendary; the political-science graduate from Berkeley befriended Francis Ford Coppola (she would babysit his young children) and became his PA during the production of The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now. Over four decades, six of her screenplays would transition to the big-screen (including a co-writing credit with Stephen Zito on Caleb Deschanel’s 1992 drama, The Escape Artist); at the time of her passing, her adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (the third collaboration with Steven Spielberg; pictured together, below, on the set of ET) was in early post-production. Her work, filled with warmth, humour and honesty, will never be forgotten… 

THE BLACK STALLION (1979; Dir: Carroll Ballard)
Having worked as a TIME correspondent, Mathison was encouraged to tackle her first screenplay by Coppola, playing the mentor role. With fellow feature debutants William D Witliff and Jeanne Rosenberg, Mathison crafted the adaptation of Walter Farley’s novel into the first of her classic family storylines. Under the stewardship of director Carroll Ballard and visionary eye of DOP Caleb Deschanel, Mathison’s lean, spiritual tale of the desert-island friendship between Alec (Kelly Reno) and The Black Stallion has endured; in 2002, it was admitted into the National Film Registry by the US Film Preservation Board.
Classic line: “’Cause this Black, he can outbreak ya, y’know? He can outbreak ya. You’d just be sittin’ in mid air.” – Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney).
Says Mathison, “We all agreed the movie should be like a children's book, with just pictures. That's when I learned to take out the words, to tell the story visually, which is the best training there is." (LA Times; July 9, 1995).

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982; Dir: Steven Spielberg)
With John Sayles and Ron Cobb, Steven Spielberg had written a 99-page treatment called Night Skies, a sequel-of-sorts to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While in the midst of the action-movie mayhem that was the Raiders of the Lost Ark shoot, Spielberg met his leading man Harrison Ford’s girlfriend (and future ex-wife) Melissa Mathison. She took the script’s final scene, in which an alien is abandoned on Earth, and crafted a first draft, entitled ‘ET and Me’, in just eight weeks. ““It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day,” Spielberg said on the DVD commentary of the film’s 30th anniversary re-release. “It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.” The writer’s first sole screenwriting credit would become the most successful film of all time and earn her an Oscar nomination.
Classic line: “I'” – E.T.
Says Mathison, “In 1982, I was not yet a parent, but I was a stepmother, and had been a consummate babysitter and an older sister. The kids in E.T. can be directly linked to kids I knew. I even stole some of my little friends’ best lines: i.e. ‘penis breath.’ What adult woman could have thought of that?” (The New Yorker; October 3, 2012).

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, Segment 2: KICK THE CAN (1983; Dir: Steven Spielberg)
Working under the pseudonym ‘Josh Rogan’, Mathison adapted the original teleplay, ‘Kick the Can’ by George Clayton Johnson for the anthology reworking of Rod Serling’s cult TV series. Although it appears mid-film, it was the final segment shot during the troubled production. Following the on-set deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors while filming John Landis’ opening segment, Joe Dante and George Miller had shot their contribution; Spielberg, back behind the camera for the first time since ET, was tasked with delivering his special brand of magic in the tale of old folk literally rediscovering their youthful selves. Critics weren’t kind (the New York Times said the “rather ugly, sentimental comedy” was “inept in every way”), but retrospectively the narrative clearly captures Spielberg and Mathison at the most whimsical, least cynical juncture in their professional lives.
Classic line: “Fresh…young…minds…” – Mr Bloom (Scatman Crothers).

Mathison’s first ‘family film’ in over a decade was an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks beloved fantasy, in which 9 year-old Omri (Hal Scardino) finds a new friend in a tiny plastic Indian (played by native American actor Litefoot, of the Cherokee nation) that comes to life. It achieved middling box office upon its initial release but, like much of Mathison’s timeless work, has become a childhood staple for generations.
Classic line: “You are always a great people, but it is not always so good.” – Omri (Hal Scardino).
Says Mathison, “"If children are given some real content, they can feel powerful with their own understanding of it. I think a movie like 'Indian in the Cupboard' will instruct them how to proceed as people. They can think about whether they would have done something the way a character did, how they would have felt about an event in the story.” (The New Yorker; October 3, 2012)

KUNDUN (1997; Dir: Martin Scorsese)
Director Martin Scorsese’s interest was pique when his then-agent sent him Mathison’s original screenplay, chronicling the early life and ascendancy of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. “I read the script and liked its simplicity, the childlike nature of it,” Scorsese told Film Comment in 1998. “It wasn't a treatise on Buddhism or a historical epic in the usual sense.” A devout Buddhist, Mathison had spent time with The Dalai Lama at her home in Wyoming and worked through 16 drafts of her screenplay before the narrative became fully formed. Early screenings suggested it was an Oscar front-runner (it would earn 4 tech category nominations), but Disney allegedly stalled its marketing approach when Chinese officialdom attacked the film over their depiction.
Classic line: “I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.” – Dalai Lama (Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong).
Says Mathison, “I think it's kind of pretentious or presumptuous to think that you could actually affect anything with a movie. Certainly, I hoped that people would be moved by this truth and maybe want to get involved on some level. I think when you set out to make a political statement through a movie, you're in big trouble.” (Hollywood Bitchslap; May 23, 1999).



Just how crowded is the film marketplace in 2015? In compiling this feature, Meet the Filmmakers had to cull the latest from James Bond; new films from Michael Mann, Guillermo del Toro, Robert Zemeckis and Quentin Tarantino; Pixar’s first theatrical title in two years; the final instalment of The Hunger Games franchise; and, Ah-nold’s return as The Terminator. As 2014 winds up, here are the 2015 films (with US release dates included) that are piquing our interest…

10. ANT-MAN (July 17)
News of Marvel’s latest was all the Internet could handle when director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz; Shaun of the Dead) announced his new film would be the comic giant’s niche cult-hero, Ant-Man (pictured, above). But when ‘creative differences’ led to his departure well into pre-production, fans braced themselves. The replacement – Hollywood journeyman Peyton Reed, best known for the cheerleader romp Bring It On; the star – Paul Rudd, a solid if safe choice who’ll be playing darker than his on-screen persona has ever allowed; ace in the hole – Michael Douglas, who stuck with the project despite the departure of Wright.
HIT/MISS – Guardians of the Galaxy gave Marvel Films the creative shot-in-the-arm it needed and if Ant-Man finds its own, fresh voice, expect big things. If it proves to be a ‘boardroom’ film, pandering to shareholders needs and playing safe, fans may revolt given the missed opportunity Edgar Wright’s departure represents.

9. PEANUTS (November 6)
The estate of the late Charles Shultz must be licking their lips now that the cartoonist’s iconic group of friends is getting the Hollywood 3D animation makeover. Charged with making 1950’s suburban kids relevant today is Steve Martino (the colourful, if a bit one-note, Horton Hears a Hoo!; the uninspiring Ice Age: Continental Drift). The comic strip ended a 50-year run in 2000, so the key under-10 demo will have to rely on Mum and Dad to upsell the backstory. The animation (as seen in the teaser trailer) finds an intriguing balance between old and new, but is it too cutesy in the Pixar era?
HIT/MISS – The potential for merchandising profits is too huge for 20th Century Fox to drop the ball here. They will make sure it connects.

In the can for over a year (it was originally slated as a summer 2014 release), Tomorrowland is Brad Bird’s latest, a filmmaker who has yet to put a directorial foot wrong (The Iron Giant; The Incredibles; Ratatouille; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol). Despite its extended post-production period and high-profile leading man, George Clooney, the fact is very little is known about its plot; two teens create a device that can propel them through time and space in an instant, bringing them to the Utopian society of the title. Or something like that.
HIT/MISS – It’s Bird’s long-in-gestation passion project, and his instincts have been spot-on so far. Despite the difficulty Hollywood execs have selling a fresh idea and with the charming Clooney to woo the talk show circuit, it’s a hit.

7. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (May 15)
Dr George Miller’s reboot of his own iconic creation, the ‘Road Warrior’ lone cop Max Rockatansky, has travelled its own long, bumpy highway to its May 2015 release. Originally aiming for a 2014 slot, industry buzz suggested that the post-production period was going to be immense. Seems Miller (pictured, right; on location with star Tom Hardy) shot logistically daunting and wildly spectacular stunt sequences yet neglected that other crucial element – a plot. Allegedly, the mantra during the shoot was “We’ll fix it in post.” On-set tension was also cited; reports hinted at bitterness between stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
HIT/MISS - Which will all mean nothing when Mad Max Fury Road opens to huge figures. It is yet another reboot, sure, but Max is an iconic film figure that crosses generational demographics. He will rule the early US summer landscape.

Never underestimate Spielberg, the most commercially successful filmmaker of all time. His most recent film was 2011 Lincoln, a 2½ hour historical drama that would take an extraordinary US$182million domestically. Prior to that, he broke new technological ground with The Adventures of Tintin and survived the worst reviews of his career to turn Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull into a blockbuster; even the noble failure War Horse took US$180million globally. In 2015, he reteams with Tom Hanks, with whom he has crafted some of his best late-career work (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and, yes, even the unfairly-derided The Terminal) for a Cold War thriller that recalls arguably his best film of the last decade, Munich (pictured, left; the star and director on-set).
HIT/MISS – Hit, of course, but skewing older and dependent upon critical raves to breakout. With Joel and Ethan Coen supplying the screenplay and Hanks’ resurgence in full swing after Captain Phillips and Saving Mr Banks, the October release date pins it as an Oscar contender. 

Spielberg again, but wearing his producer’s hat for this fourth trip to an island of the coast of Costa Rica. Is it a sequel? Is it a reboot? Whatever; that kind pre-release analysis will count for nought when this drops June 12 and becomes one of the biggest films of the year. The unknown factor is director Colin Trevorrow, who showed great skill with character chemistry and gentle fantasy in Safety Not Guaranteed, but has no runs on the board in the blockbuster, effects-heavy, summer tentpole stakes. Trump card – Chris Pratt, in his first action hero role since Guardians of the Galaxy. And new-look dinosaurs. And Spielberg.
HIT/MISS – Come on, really?

4. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (February 13)
EL James’ literary phenomenon made the complexities of a BDSM relationship palatable and smoothly stylish to the masses. Converting that to the bigscreen will be a tricky task; no one is pretending these airport novels were Pulitzer-worthy, but they envisioned a world of intricate intimacies that built a big, passionate following. That could easily unravel when translated to a commercial film template (pictured, right; stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson). Perhaps fittingly, everything we’ve seen about the film to date – the young, pretty stars; the trailer; Beyonce’s contribution to the soundtrack – reeks of style over substance. Slotting the World Premiere for the prestige Berlinale suggests a high level of confidence in critic’s reaction, but that could backfire if the knives come out.
HIT/MISS – Will open huge, but word-of-mouth will be crucial. At best, it will set pulses racing and upscale audiences talking, ala 9½ Weeks or Fatal Attraction; at worst, it is this years Showgirls. Reports that multiplex audiences were giggling at the trailer is not a good sign; European filmgoers will probably wonder what all the fuss is about. Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho; The Canyons) pitched hard for the gig, but studio types found his take too raw (read; commercially risky).

3. THE MARTIAN (November 25)
His output has grown erratic, but news of a ‘Ridley Scott sci-fi adventure’ still quickens the pulse (pictured, left). This adaptation of Andy Weir’s cult novel posits Matt Damon alone and trying to survive all Mars can throw at him until his rescue craft arrive. Big plusses are co-stars Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara (in for quite a year, with her Fantastic Four reboot also pending). Next up for Scott will be the Blade Runner sequel, so here’s hoping The Martian will be a return to form.
HIT/MISS – Dunno. Scott is having a rough trot, with Prometheus, The Councillor and Exodus Gods and Kings all earning blah notices and mid-range box office; the last movie that took us to the red planet was the infamous John Carter; big, ambitious sci-fi films like Interstellar and Gravity divide opinion (though, admittedly, rake in the bucks).

All the gang are back, this time to take on James Spader’s bad guy Ultron in writer/director Joss Whedon’s follow-up to his own 2012 box-office behemoth. Expect more of the same city-wrecking, hulk-smashing entertainment, as only Marvel can deliver (over and over again, it would seem). New cast members Elizabeth Olsen (as Scarlet Witch) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as Quicksilver) were hot when cast, but their blah chemistry as husband-and-wife in Godzilla may see them pushed into the background in all key art (Johnson is nowhere to be found in the latest trailer).
HIT/MISS – Early footage feels a little too much like those clunky, grinding Transformer films and the wheels will fall off this whole Marvel superhero tentpole trend eventually. But not in 2015 - this is a certifiable blockbuster.

The teaser trailer broke the web, with 20million YouTube views on its day of release. Director JJ Abrams, a Star Wars devotee, further appeased fans by bringing in veteran scriptwriter Lawrence Kasdan, the man who penned The Empire Strikes Back. Casting news, whether new players (Daisy Ridley, Oscar nominee Oscar Isaacs, Adam Driver) or the return of old friends (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill), ran across all media, fan-based or not. Word is that the plot takes place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, but no details have been forthcoming.
HIT/MISS – Invincible against any and all outside influences. Critical reaction, box office competition, the unpredictability of the weather – The Force Awakens is the four-quadrant event film of 2015.