10 Non-Franchise Films To Look Out For This Year

Despite Hollywood’s best attempts, there are still films made each year that are not sequels, reboots, prequels, or spinoffs. Indeed, years ago there were films known as”exciting” and “new.” The mind boggles. This is a tally of films that aren’t based on anything (mostly)* that are coming out this year (probably).


Run All Night (March 13, 2015)

Another entry in the Liam-Neeson-kills-everyone series (I’m an avid fan), this one in particular stands out due to its quality cast, emotionally-charged story, and, of course, Neeson going apeshit on everybody.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a hitman for the Irish mob in Boston who kills his old friend/boss’s (Ed Harris) son to prevent his own son’s (RoboCop‘s Joel Kinnaman) murder. Now estranged father and son have to survive the night against Harris’ character’s wrath. Frequent Neeson director Jaume-Collet Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) is behind the camera, which will at least save us from a Taken 3-level filmmaking debacle.

The story’s simple, the conflict is right there, it has all the ingredients to be a good time at the movies. Seriously, that’s all I ask. Movies nowadays are obsessed with complexity and clean-energy bombs and quirky characters and out-thinking the audience in outrageous ways. I don’t usually say this, but 80s the shit out this motherfucker. Liam Neeson won’t kick ass forever; let us have one last good ride with his fists (ha!).


 Child 44 (April 17, 2015)

Tom Fucking Hardy.


 Straight Outta Compton (August 14, 2015)

This film gained a ton of heat in the wake of last Thursday’s fatal hit-and-run by Suge Knight on the set led to the death of one man and the injury of another. Knight is facing murder and attempted murder charges.

This will hang over the film, but probably not overshadow it. N.W.A. was such an influential group that to see their story told is riveting, with black voices finally gaining ground after a wave of racial and class tension. This is really a film to watch out for. But what film will we get?

There’s an interesting conversation about whether or not the film will accurately portray the origins of the iconic rap group. The group’s split was not what you might call amicable. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are heavily involved as producers but with central member Eazy-E long deceased and no mention of MC Ren or DJ Yella in the credits, it’s questionable we’ll get the full story on what went on with this group. Still, this film languished in hell for years before finally settling on a cast last year (including Ice Cube’s son O’ Shea Jackson playing his father) and it certainly feels like the right time for culturally relevant hip hop (see Empire).


 Black Mass (September 18, 2015)

This was not a good week for Johnny Depp, insomuch as a man who owns a fucking island can have a bad week. His action/comedy/we-have-no-idea-what-they-were-thinking film Mortdecai bombed abysmally, grossing only $4 million last weekend. Perhaps a dip into real life is what he needs by playing infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, who ruled the Boston underworld while acting as an FBI informant. Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed is loosely-based on Whitey Bulger.

Mortdecai is just the latest in a series of duds (the last two, Transcendence and The Lone Ranger, being the biggest, though some say his slump goes all the way back to the last Pirates film in 2011 which grossed $1 billion worldwide; ironically, he begins filming the fifth one in 2 weeks) that seem to point to American audiences being dulled by Depp’s inanity.

Depp is so obsessed with putting distance between himself and his characters, as if he is afraid if he is too sincere on screen, he might get his feelings hurt if he doesn’t actually, you know, act. So instead we get cake-faced versions of Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow for the last decade.

Here, he’ll still have his beloved makeup, but he’ll have a real story, a great supporting cast, and a demanding director (Scott Cooper) who Johnny allows to draw some of the old magic out of. Cause Alice in Wonderland 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 are already being made, this might be the last chance for Depp to prove he’s more than a dancing (albeit very rich) clown.


Everest (September 25, 2015)

I’m a sucker for survival stories. This one, about a disastrous 1995 Mount Everest expedition, boasts an all-star ensemble including Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, and Robin Wright among others.

I first heard of this story after reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which led me to his earlier work Into Thin Air detailing his account of this trip. Here, he is played by House of Card’s Michael Kelly in a supporting role. The book is excellent so much of my excitement comes from the promise of honoring a true story of man vs. nature.


 In the Heart of the Sea (December 11, 2015)

Speaking of man vs. nature, this true story was the inspiration for the classic novel “Moby Dick.” Chris Hemsworth (Thor) stars in Ron Howard’s tale of a whaling ship sank by a massive whale, forcing the survivors to fight for their lives on the sea. Its cast includes Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson.

A recent move from March to December (coincidentally allowing Run All Night to open earlier) displays confidence by the studio in their product’s box office and award chances. December is square in the middle of award season and even with the sure-to-be juggernaut of Star Wars on Dec. 18, they believe it will appeal across quadrants prior to that film’s premiere.


 The Revenant (December 25, 2015)

Tom Fucking Hardy.

Ok fine, and it’s about the pictured-Leo hunting down his former compatriots (Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter) who leave him for dead after he is mauled by a bear. It’s directed by current Best Director nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, who’s Birdman earned raves and rejuvenanted Michael Keaton’s career. Leo’s quite choosy so this will at least be worthwhile, with the possibility of true greatness.

Also, Tom Fucking Hardy.


 Spotlight (Late 2015)

No official image. Bastards.

Like survival stories, I love a good journalism film (surprise). They’re few and far between (the last one I can really even remember was 2009’s State of Play) and all stand in the shadow of the masterpiece All the President’s Men.

But, like in a lot of cases on this list I realize, it uses real life as a well of drama to draw from, focusing on the Boston Globe’s journalists’ Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Massachusetts  Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams (who also played a journalist in the aforementioned State of Play) lead a cast including the resurgent Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and John Slattery.

This film screams a Toronto Film Festival premiere so expect to hear more about its chances of release this year in August and September.


The Hateful Eight (Late 2015)

Quentin Tarantino is synonymous with movies, so any year he has a film being released, it is by its very nature required to be on a list such as this. He is the definition of a non-franchise filmmaker, turning out gumbo stews of his favorite films, mixing Spaghetti westerns, French New Wave, early Kurosawa together in something that can never not be called original.

In this case, his film is the western The Hateful Eight about strangers thrown together at a haberdashery in a Colorado blizzard post-Civil War where violence ensues. The titular eight are Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, and Michael Madsen, with Channing Tatum (following the tradition of friend Jonah Hill) in a cameo for good measure.

I happen to love dwindling party movies; you know, the ones where the group of characters get picked off one by one. With the Agatha Christie-approved setup and some Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven-flavoring, I’m hoping for a ripping good yarn that doesn’t get bogged down in dressing and excess, Tarantino’s only real flaw. And feet. Cut the bare feet shots, Quentin. For me.


 The Sea of Trees (Late 2015)

This unscheduled Gus Van Sant drama is likely looking at a festival debut, most likely Cannes in May or Toronto in September. Either case, you can be sure this film will be looked at as fruit ripe for an awards’ run. It is about an American widower who travels to Fiji’s “Suicide Forest” to, well, commit suicide. There, he meets another lost soul (Ken Watanabe) and their relationship changes their paths.

I’m a firm believer in the McConaissance. Just like Robert Downey, Jr., there was never a doubt that charisma and talent laid dormant in Matthew McConaughey. It was just hidden under piles of drugs and bad decisions (we’ve all been there).

For too long his unique energy was instead used to fuel a series of miserable romantic comedies where he walked around baked and shirtless (the low point being making a movie literally called Surfer, Dude). Until the guy decided, “Hey, I’m better than this.”  Gotta admire a guy who, even with success, seeks creative fulfillment over the rote, easy paychecks.


About Sam Flynn

Wasting oxygen since 1992, Sam thanks the gods he doesn't believe in everyday his parents didn't discard him as an infant. It would have been the sensible thing to do.
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