Like Superman, or Loki, or Jean Grey, or any of the dozens of other characters who’ve cheated death, comic book movies are the trend that just won’t die. Two decades after Blade kicked off the cinematic superhero renaissance (don’t at me), comic adaptations still rule the box office.
Half of last year’s top 10 highest domestic grossing films were based on funny books (and another, The Incredibles 2, was reverentially indebted to them). Even critically panned romps like Aquaman and mediocre monstrosities like Venom broke bank despite subpar filmmaking.
That recent history means that, sure, we’re bound to end up with a share of overwrought, lackluster third act disasters in 2019, but we’re also virtually guaranteed some amazing caped adventures. That’s because not only is the superhero onslaught not slowing down, it’s actually getting better. The DC Extended Universe actually has some wins under its belt, someone finally nailed Spider-Man, and women and POC are no longer persona non grata as lead heroes.
This year will see Marvel debut their first female-fronted blockbuster with Captain Marvel. Warner Bros. will try to continue its entertaining DC turnaround with another playful entry, Shazam!. Fox’s pair of long-delayed X-films, Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants, will at last see release. We’ve even got a gritty, all-star character study coming with Joker.
So suit up and grab your popcorn, because here… we… go!
Release: January 18th via Universal
Why We’re Excited: While not technically a comic book series, M. Night Shyamalan’s Eastrail 177 Trilogy birthed interconnected superhero universes before Iron Man was a household name. That dozens of blockbusters have been released between the first entry (2000’s Unbreakable) and the midpoint (2017’s Split) takes nothing away from the fact that the auteur filmmaker envisioned a three-part story (hero, villain, confrontation) first. Having rather brilliantly snuck the second part into theaters over a decade-and-a-half after the first, we’ll finally get to witness Shyamalan’s vision fully realized when Bruce Willis’ David Dunn/The Overseer, Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price/Mr. Glass, and James McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Beast meet in Glass. Add in a returning Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey and newcomer Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellie Staple and the culmination of this superhero deconstruction is more anticipated than ever. –Ben Kaye
Alita: Battle Angel
Release: February 14th via 20th Century Fox
Why We’re Excited: Anybody who was a part of the Internet film community in the early, message board-driven days understands just how long Alita: Battle Angel has been in development. The manga adaptation is probably the most fevered non-Avatar fixation of James Cameron’s career, and finally (after no shortage of release changes and delays), Robert Rodriguez will bring the ambitious feature to fruition. Set in a dystopic future where a consciousness can be re-uploaded into machines, Alita follows a young cyborg (Rosa Salazar) whose particular set of skills makes her an immediate target to the corrupt forces running the film’s cyberpunk world. Get ready for the kind of ambitious, eye-popping sci-fi that’ll probably lose 20th Century Fox a pile of money and live forever in cold admiration. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Release: March 8th via Marvel
Why We’re Excited: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the driving force of the big screen superhero market, there’s no doubt. Over a decade into its existence, there’s also no doubt that Marvel Studios will consistently find ways to keep us entertained, but it’s still exciting to watch how. This time, they’re delivering a ’90s tale about the first powered individual in the Age of Heroes — a logical move considering the ashen state of most of the current Avengers. As Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson looks like the big budget lead actress we’ve long known her to be as she puts up her photon-blasting dukes alongside Jude Law (Mar-Vell), Ben Mendelsohn (a shapeshifting Skrull named Talos), and an impressively digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Though perhaps the gender politics of having a female action hero directed by a female filmmaker (Anna Boden, with Ryan Fleck) are less prominent in a post-Wonder Woman world, learning how such a character is going to redirect the biggest superhero franchise in the world certainly has us enticed. –Ben Kaye
Release: April 5th via Warner Bros.
Why We’re Excited: Suddenly the DC Extended Universe isn’t such a dumpster fire anymore. The Distinguished Competition now have a critical hit (Wonder Woman) and, soon, a billion dollar smash (Aquaman) to their name. Though the clearly inferior of the two, the latter’s greater financial windfall may have something to do with its lighthearted approach to herodom. A more innately playful property than the King of Atlantis, Shazam! has all the potential to build off that success. While Zachary Levi doesn’t strike as the prototypical muscled man in a cape, his irrepressible charm make him a perfect choice for the kid-in-a-superhero’s-body role of the title character. That boyishness should also make for a great foil against Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman, while talents like Mark Strong and Djimon Hounsou round out the cast. It’ll be interesting to see how the DCEU goes about introducing its first non-Justice Leaguer in a solo adventure, but so far it at least looks like it’ll be a fun ride. –Ben Kaye
Release: April 12th via Summit Entertainment
Why We’re Excited: It’s strange to see a Hellboy reboot when pop culture hasn’t even circled back around to fully embrace Guillermo Del Toro’s two weird, wonderful adaptations of the demonic comic. But as long as there’s an IP to be mined, there are reboots to be had. In that spirit, Neil Marshall will deliver a seemingly more humor-centric take on the reformed son of the devil, with beloved Stranger Things sheriff David Harbour taking Ron Perlman’s place under the pounds and pounds of prosthetic makeup. There are so many fun, strange adventures still left un-filmed in the Hellboy world that we’re hopeful this new entry will allow for more to come, this time around. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Release: April 26th via Marvel
Why We’re Excited: In a lot of ways, it almost feels superfluous to even write around 150 words on Avengers: Endgame. You’re going to see it. Everybody you know is going to see it. That guy on your Facebook feed making a show of how he’s the only one who won’t see it is probably going to see it like three or four times. Disney has made sure that you want to see it, that you are abundantly aware of it, and that there is no escaping it at any given point in time. Thanos snapped his fingers, everything went to hell, and now the brothers Russo are going to offer up another three hours of grand spectacle that’ll gross the GDP of a mid-sized nation. We’ll see you all there. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Release: June 7th via Twentieth Century Fox
Why We’re Excited: There’s actually not a lot riding on this latest entry in the X-Men franchise, what with the impending sale of Fox’s properties to Disney. Instead, Dark Phoenix is shaping up to be something of a last hurrah for the X-Universe as we know it — and it couldn’t be making a grander exit. First-time director Simon Kinberg has been given the chance to expiate for the hand he had in bungling one of the most classic X-Men storylines of all time when he penned the script for X-Men: The Last Stand, and he’s set himself up for major success. He’s gifted himself a stellar cast (Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan) through his years writing and producing the X-Films, and hopefully learned his mistakes from the disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse and his previous attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga. He even got Hans Zimmer to come out of superhero retirement to score the flick. We’ve never been more thrilled to witness the finale of a beloved superhero universe. –Ben Kaye
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Release: July 5th via Disney
Why We’re Excited: Who else heard that audible gasp of disbelief from theatergoers when Tom Holland uttered, “I don’t wanna go, sir, please…” at the end of Infinity War? Even though every sensible fan knew damn well Marvel wasn’t going to kill off Spider-Man just three movies into his reboot, those choked back tears were valid because audiences finally have a Peter Parker they love. Having so many incarnations of the same character shoved in front of us so fast should have warn him out, but it took three tries to reach the definitive take, so now we’re swinging from the ceilings for more. This time out, we get Jake Gyllenhaal as the fan-favorite villain Mysterio, a character dripping with cinematic potential. Toss in rumors that the MCU version of the Sinister Six will start taking shape with Hydro-Man and Chameleon appearances (as well as the return of Michael Keaton’s Vulture and Michael Mando’s Mac Gargan/Scorpion), and we may be more antsy for this than even Endgame. –Ben Kaye
The New Mutants
Release: August 2nd via Disney
Why We’re Excited: It’s increasingly starting to feel like The New Mutants is just an urban myth born of the movie-loving internet. Josh Boone’s horror-minded take on X-Men mythology has been pushed around the schedule, pushed around again, and surrounded by rumors of extensive reshoots for so long now that even featuring it in this year’s preview gives us pause. (Yeah, it was also featured in last year’s as well.) Even if the premise sounds more than a little like Chronicle, and even if that R rating the film was reportedly chasing is highly unlikely to stick at this point, there are far more ways to tell an X-Men story than the adaptations to date have typically allowed. We’re hoping Boone still found a way to pull it off. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Release: October 4th via Disney
Why We’re Excited: Imagine telling movie fans 10 years ago that the director of The Hangover would be helming a stand-alone Joker movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, who also wouldn’t be playing the only active Joker in a movie series at that moment in time. That’s where we are with Joker, however, and early footage has suggested that Phoenix has done what many would struggle to do and Jared Leto decidedly couldn’t: find a way to play the classic villain that doesn’t crib liberally from Heath Ledger’s iconic interpretation. Only time and a handful of trailers will tell for sure, but we hope that director Todd Phillips has what it takes to do the character justice. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer