Few industries enjoy taking really, really long extended holiday vacations quite like Hollywood, and when we get to this time of the year, there’s rarely much in the realm of “movie development news” to discuss. So, this week and next, we’re going to review 12 of the year’s top stories, presented to you in monthly chronology. The year-in-review begins with the “Fresh Developments” of the year.
There are lots of long-running movie franchises, but in many of them, the cast changes over time (the MCU and the Rocky/Creed franchises being two exceptions to the rule). In January, we first learned that, in 2022, Tom Cruise will hit movie #8 in the Mission: Impossible franchise, as Mission: Impossible 7 and Mission: Impossible 8 are being developed for release in the summers of 2021 and 2022, respectively. The two movies will be shot back-to-back to ensure their releases within a year of each other, and also to make it easier to secure not just Tom Cruise, but also his supporting cast, which may include Fallout cast like Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, etc. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie will work on these sequels, hoping to match what he’s achieved with the last two films, 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Certified Fresh at 93%), and last year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Certified Fresh at 97%). Mission: Impossible 7 is now scheduled for July 23, 2021 (the week after LeBron James’ Space Jam 2), and Mission: Impossible 8 is scheduled for August 5, 2022. The first new franchise cast member to be announced for Mission: Impossible 7 was British actress Hayley Atwell, who probably remains best known for playing Marvel’s Peggy Carter, as seen in both Captain America: The First Avenger, and in the much-missed ABC series, Agent Carter. There are no details yet as to where the Mission: Impossible franchise might go after 2022, but Tom Cruise will turn 60 on July 3 of that year, so Mission: Impossible 8 might be his last opportunity to hang off the sides of airplaines and jump off of skyscrapers.
With over $1.14 billion earned at the global box office, Aquaman became the highest-grossing DC Comics movie (worldwide) ever in early 2019, even above The Dark Knight (though Joker came close to beating Aquaman at $1.063 billion). That was quite an achievement for a character long considered a joke (including a long-running story arc on HBO’s Entourage). Those numbers also made it super obvious that Aquaman would get a sequel and that’s exactly what’s happening, with one of the first film’s screenwriters now working on the sequel. Aquaman director James Wan is on board as producer, but it’s unclear as to whether he will also direct the sequel. Warner Bros didn’t stop there, though, as they also hired two “newbie” screenwriters to work on a horror movie spinoff for The Trench, about the ” deadly amphibious creatures seen attacking the hero and his love, Mera” in Aquaman. The main characters from Aquaman are not expected to appear in The Trench, which suggests that the “horror movie” may instead focus on surface dwellers who come into contact with the monsters separate from any involvement with Atlantis.
Although we obviously knew what Dunkirk was about way before release (the title gives it away), director Christopher Nolan also has a history of starting his movies with mystery premises (we’re thinking here of Inception and Interstellar in particular). In March, pretty much the only thing we knew about Nolan’s next film (revealed in May to be called Tenet) was that Warner Bros had scheduled it for release on July 17, 2020 (up against Bob’s Burgers: The Movie). In March, we learned that Nolan had cast John David Washington (Denzel’s son and the star of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman) as the film’s lead, as well as Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Since then, the cast has expanded to include Kenneth Branagh, Clémence Poésy (In Bruges), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron), and frequent Nolan collaborator Michael Caine. Most recently, the first trailer for Tenet debuted online just last week in a surprise move from Warner Bros., and it included a six-minute prologue preview attached to IMAX screenings of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
After this year’s Shazam! had only been in theaters for a week, Warner Bros. went ahead and announced that they were moving forward with plans for a sequel, even despite the film opening much lower ($53 million domestically) than similar movies like Captain Marvel ($153 million) and Aquaman ($67.8 million). We don’t know the premise of the sequel yet, but the mid-credits tease give a clue about the possible villain. A few weeks ago, we learned that Shazam! 2 is now scheduled for release on April 1st, 2022. This news came after Dwayne Johnson’s long-in-development Black Adam movie (based on the popular Shazam! villain) will start filming soon and is scheduled for release on December 22, 2021. The timing suggests that the Black Adam movie might directly lead to Dwayne Johnson also reprising the role in Shazam! 2. Warner Bros. is also directly positioning Shazam! 2 against Marvel movies, as Sony’s Spider-Verse sequel comes out a week later (4/8/2022) and Black Panther II comes out a month later (5/6/2022), followed by DC Super Pets on 5/20/2022.
Although some superhero movies are “slow burns” when it comes to news, others, especially the biggest movies (Avengers, or in this case, Batman) can happen in what feels like a relatively brief amount of time. Specifically, just eight months ago, we knew nothing about who would be in the 2021 reboot The Batman (6/25/2021). That all started to change in mid-May, beginning with the news that the shortlist included Nicholas Hoult and Robert Pattinson, the latter of whom secured the role two weeks later. In the meantime, details started to trickle forth about who the villains in The Batman would be. In September, as the Joker hype express was well under way, it was confirmed that there were no plans for Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker to crossover with Robert Pattinson’s Batman (which is not to say that the Joker won’t be in Batman movies, just not Phoenix’s specific version). Two weeks later, there was talk about Jonah Hill possibly taking on a villain role, which ultimately didn’t work out, as both the Penguin and Riddler went to other actors. In October, Paul Dano (Love and Mercy) landed the role of the Riddler and Zoe Kravitz became the next actress to portray Selina Kyle, A.K.A. Catwoman. Last month, The Batman found two more of its ensemble cast members as Colin Farrell (who also played the villain Bullseye in Daredevil) was cast as the Penguin, and Andy Serkis was cast as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. And lastly, there was also news last month suggesting that Warner Bros. might give villains like Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler their own Joker-style spinoff movies.
Walt Disney Pictures has yet to announce a release date (or even a release year) for its live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, but we can be fairly certain that it’s actually happening, because the studio made lots of “splashes” about it this year. Going into July, we had already known for a while that The Little Mermaid will be directed by Rob Marshall as his next Disney project after last year’s Mary Poppins Returns. The casting news started in late June with word that Melissa McCarthy was in early talks to play the evil, tentacled sea witch Ursula. (It’s not yet known if Ursula will be fully CGI, or possibly part live action with animated tentacles.) This was soon followed by the casting of Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight) and Jacob Tremblay (Room) as the voices of the animated animal characters Scuttle the seagull and Flounder (who’s not a flounder), respectively. Next up — and again, this was all basically in the same week — was the casting of Ariel herself, who will be played by R&B singer Halle Bailey, who, with her sister Chloe, makes up the singing group Chloe x Bailey. For a while, Harry Styles of One Direction was also in talks to play the romantic lead Prince Eric, but that role ultimately went to relatively unknown actor Jonah Hauer-King.
In recent years, Marvel Studios has sometimes stayed relatively quiet at San Diego Comic-Con, but that was definitely not the case in 2019, when they had arguably the biggest superhero movie news event of all time. Part of the reason for that has to do with the way that Phase Four will involve not just movies, but also various shows on the Disney+ streaming service as well. Without getting into every detail (since doing so would involve a column as long as this one for the entire year), we’ll just mention that the (movie) announcements included: Black Widow (5/1/2020), The Eternals (11/6/2020), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2/12/2021), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (5/7/2021), Thor: Love and Thunder (11/5/2021), Blade (presumably Phase Five), Fantastic Four (Phase 5), and X-Men (Phase 5). In August, we also found out that Kit Harrington will be joining The Eternals as long-time Avengers member Black Knight, and that Black Panther II is scheduled for May 6, 2022.
After years and years of attempts to get several different projects off the ground, director Guillermo del Toro is ultimately using his post-Shape of Water clout to get something completely different going, namely a remake of the 1947 carnival thriller Nightmare Alley (Fresh at 100%). By the time August rolled around, seven-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper had already been attached for the role originally played by Tyrone Power for some time, but that month, we finally saw the casting of two of his female co-stars. Cate Blanchett, who’s a seven time Academy Award nominee and two time winner (for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator) ultimately landed a key supporting role, while Toni Collette, who received an Academy Award nomination herself for The Sixth Sense, secured the female lead role of the psychiatrist and hypnotist who teams up with Cooper’s carnival con man. Later, in September, a key role also went to Rooney Mara. Fox Searchlight is expected to schedule Nightmare Alley sometime in prime “awards season” in late 2020.
You may remember that last summer, there was a big uproar about the fact that talks between Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures (and their Marvel Studios) had fallen apart over future Spider-Man movies starring Tom Holland within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Reportedly, Disney and Marvel had wanted a 50% cut of future Spider-Man movies in exchange for Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios working on the movies for Sony. After all of the attention and feedback from the fans, the relevant parties started up talks again, resulting in the big news in September that Sony and Marvel would indeed work together on a third solo Spider-Man film starring Tom Holland, to be released on July 16, 2021 and directed by Jon Watts, who directed the first two. The financial compromise calls for Disney to receive 25% of the film’s profits (leaving 75% for Sony), down from their original request of 50%. As part of the new deal, Tom Holland will also appear as Spider-Man in one more MCU movie, the title and premise of which hasn’t been revealed yet.
When John Wick was first released in 2014, it became something of a pop culture phenomenon that helped Keanu Reeves stage a mid-career comeback and led to two sequels (thus far) and continuing box office success. Lionsgate scheduled John Wick: Chapter 4 for release on May 21, 2021 a while ago, and in October, we learned that Lionsgate is not limiting their John Wick plans to just Keanu Reeves movies. Instead, the studio is moving forward with plans for a female-centric John Wick spinoff called Ballerina about “a young female assassin who seeks revenge against the people who killed her family.” Although the premise doesn’t specify a nationality for the Ballerina, there is something of a trope involving Russian ballerinas who become super spies or assassins (mainly we’re thinking here of both Red Sparrow and Marvel’s Black Widow). The Ballerina character was briefly seen in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, played by newcomer Unity Phelan, but it’s possible/likely that another actress will star in Ballerina. And then, earlier this month, Warner Bros. effectively did something huge that raised the profile of John Wick: Chapter 4 at the same time as it directly competed with it, announcing that they had scheduled their own Keanu Reeves sequel, The Matrix 4, for May 21, 2021, the same release date as John Wick: Chapter 4. Both Carrie-Anne Moss and Reeves are attached to return in their roles as Trinity and Neo in that film.
As mentioned above, Marvel Studios put on a big, big panel at San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, but the dates were only specific for 2020 and 2021. Since then, Marvel has also announced a release date of May 6, 2022 for Black Panther II, but November’s biggest news story painted an image of 2022 that promises an ambitious slate comparable to that of 2019. Sony Pictures has confirmed plans for a second animated movie starring the Miles Morales version of the web-crawler as seen in last year’s Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The Spider-Verse sequel is now scheduled for April 8, 2022, just shy of a month before Black Panther II on May 6, 2022. Although they’re not yet dated, two other Marvel movies that might be scheduled for 2022 are the Blade reboot starring Mahershala Ali and the Fantastic Four movie mentioned at Comic-Con that would finally bring Stan Lee’s original Marvel super team into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As for what we might see in Spider-Verse 2, the final scenes of the first movie did hint at both Spider-Man 2099 and the finger-pointing Spider-Man ’67.
Like any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie with pretty much an entirely new cast, next year’s The Eternals (11/6/2020) has been the focus of multiple casting news stories this year. Individually, we’re not sure any of them would have been enough to make our list of top stories for the year. And then, Kumail Nanjiani posted the images you can see on his Instagram account. When Nanjiani was first cast in The Eternals, it was probably safe to assume that he would basically look like the Kumail Nanjiani we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in other projects like The Big Sick, Stuber, and HBO’s Silicon Valley, so it was something of a shock to see him looking absolutely shredded. His co-stars in The Eternals include Angelina Jolie (Thena), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Gemma Chan (Sersi), and Game of Thrones stars Richard Madden (Ikaris) and Kit Harrington (The Black Knight), but we haven’t heard yet about whether they’re that buff yet. Also, yeah, this December has been kind of a slow news month.