(Photo: Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, New Line Cinema)
The year's not over yet.
Following some middling box-office fare the year before, 2012 was supposed to be our cinematic salvation with superhero spectaculars aplenty, an "Aliens" prequel, and remakes that promised to exceed the originals. Well, for every "Avengers" win there was a "John Carter" letdown, and mega-projects like "Prometheus" and "Total Recall" received mixed reception while comedies like "Magic Mike" perked up audiences with unexpected delights.
And now, as Hollywood has done in recent years, all the juicy Oscar bait and movie extravaganzas get thrown into the waters about now, timed with those familial holiday get-togethers. With two months left to go, there's plenty for audiences to be excited about — and they're giving a sneak peek of what they're keen on, via their online searches. Here now, a countdown to the season's most anticipated films, based on Yahoo! user searches.
10. "Rise of the Guardians" (Nov. 21). Based on the book series "The Guardians of Childhood," this DreamWorks computer-animation flick pulls together the original Justice League — namely a blithe Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a tattooed Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), a frenetic Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), a perky Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and a silent Sandman. The icons unite against villain Pitch the Boogeyman (Jude Law), who's intent on realizing his G-rated Freddy Krueger ambitions to dominate the world through bad dreams. Don't expect a faithful reproduction of the books' vintage style, but do expect a strong family turnout — kids make up 42% of "Guardians" queries.
9. "The Man With the Iron Fists" (Nov. 2). When kung fu films made their way to American shores in the 1970s, they were usually screened in Chinatowns and urban neighborhoods (read: areas dominated by a black population). That cultural crosscurrent also manifested itself in Western films directed at an urban audience (read: black exploitation films). Take a great leap forward, where grindhouse nostalgia meets A-list (well, maybe B average) creds. Grammy Award-winning hip-hop producer RZA, the man behind the Wu Tang Clan, co-wrote, directed, and stars in this martial-arts action flick about a weapon-making blacksmith (named Blacksmith) who joins up with a rainbow coalition to protect his 19th-century Chinese village. Throw in Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, champion mixed-martial artist Cung Le, and some very storied names from Hong Kong action cinema (do we really need to mention Quentin Tarantino is in this mix?), and you have a bizarre mash-up resonating in regions like L.A., D.C., NYC, SF, and Dallas. Expect this to be the male-bonding movie of the season.
[Related: How RZA got his name]
8. "Life of Pi" (Nov. 21). Who else but director Ang Lee, who has successfully adapted works like "Sense and Sensibility" and "Brokeback Mountain" (and perhaps not so successfully with the "Hulk"), would tackle the tale of an Indian zoo owner's son, trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger? The book itself faced hurdles, rejected by several publishing houses before going on to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Lee himself has described his four-year filmmaking journey as "stressful" and "the hardest movie that I have made so far." Will that pay off in Oscar trophies? Meanwhile, that rare PG-rating may work to its advantage: Interest in "Life of Pi" spreads pretty evenly throughout ages 13-54 and across gender (52% female, 48% male), making this the season's thinking family movie.
7. "Red Dawn" (Nov. 21). One of the most unlikely Gen X films to show pop-culture stamina, the remake has been tracked online ever since it was announced back in 2008, but it was delayed by MGM's debt issues. The original (the first release to have a PG-13 rating, incidentally, for trivia-minded folks) starred Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey. The current crew is Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, and Isabel Lucas, all of whom (except Hemsworth) were born after original's 1984 release. In a post-9/11 landscape, the villains have switched from the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua, but communism is still the greatest threat, this time coming from China North Korea (Chinese aggression was digitally erased, thanks to capitalist concerns over the overseas box office market). Despite its basic premise being debunked as plain ol' "absurd," the idea of teen boys fighting to defend life and liberty is strong indeed — especially among teen boys (and teen boys at heart).
6. "Les Miserables" (Dec. 25). The Victor Hugo novel vanquished Broadway, but the 19th-century epic has also been adapted into film dozens of times — including in France, Korea, Japan, and India. Hollywood has had a go at it six times, including twice for TV, but this British version is the first musical adaptation. The celebrity-heavy cast who can carry a tune includes Hugh Jackman as the bread-stealing Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as the relentless by-the-books Inspector Javert, a notably thinner Anne Hathaway as the tragic Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as daughter Cosette, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the abusive innkeepers, the Thenardiers. The musical's pedigree, cast, and director Tom Hooper, who helmed 2010's Academy dark-horse favorite "The King's Speech," add up to a mighty Oscar contender. As for who will sit through a potentially three-hour running time, 62% of look-ups come from females ages 11-44. Dub this the mother-daughter bonding tearjerker for the holidays.
5. "Wreck-It Ralph" (Nov. 2). Do electric sheep dream, and do video game villains crave a better, if not three-dimensional life? The Walt Disney film — in bubblegum-bright 3D of course — takes a nostalgic jaunt through arcade history with Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly, who has made hapless yearning an art). Cast as a video game's perpetual brute who smashes buildings, the big lug goes on a hero quest to get redemption and respect. The animated pic's aim at its target audience is true: About 28% of searches on Yahoo! are from the under-12 set. Another thing the movie's fueling besides tickets: a clamor for the game, toys, and party supplies.
[Weekend Picks: Who will dig 'Flight,' 'Iron Fists' and 'Wreck-It Ralph']
4. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Dec. 14). Director Peter Jackson is wringing three films out of J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 book — which amounts to a movie per 100 pages (and whatever Jackson seized upon in other Tolkien works). The prequel to "Lord of the Rings," out just in time for the book's 75th anniversary, stars Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson in BBC "Sherlock") as Bilbo Baggins who leads a band of 13 dwarves and the wizard Gandolf (Ian McKellen) towards a treasure in the illegal keeping of a dragon named Smaug. The next two installments will come out December 2013 and July 2014. Texas, Virginia, and California have been leading the look-ups; intriguingly, east of the Mississippi looks to be more like hobbit country than the west.
3. "Lincoln" (Nov. 9, expands Nov. 16). No political fatigue
here: President No. 16 has been enjoying a cultural resurgence, thanks
to the current president's constant invocation of his idol, several new
biographies, an election year, and this year's earlier cinematic of the
log-cabin Republican as a vampire hunter. Steven Spielberg is sticking
to a more conservative script, based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's famed biography: The director bought the film rights before she barely started the book. (Kearns Goodwin, for her part, praised the movie set.) British-born Daniel Day-Lewis plays the president — a replacement for Irish-born Liam Neeson, who considered himself
too old (although at 60, he's only four years older than when Lincoln
died, but maybe audiences would've expected a "Taken" reversal in the
assassination scene). The biopic also features Sally Fields, the
ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, and Tommy Lee Jones.
Although Lincoln was a man of Kentucky and Illinois, it's Montgomery,
Alabama, that leads the regions in tracking the movie online.
(Considering the anti-slavery Lincoln wasn't even on the ballot in
Alabama, we've come a long way, indeed.) The movie's also prompting
online searches for "abraham lincoln quotes," "mary todd lincoln
"how tall was abraham lincoln," "abraham lincoln gettysburg address," "robert todd lincoln," and "was abraham lincoln a vampire hunter."
2. "Skyfall" (Nov. 8). There's something about James Bond that holds cross-generational appeal. In a recent Most Admired Men poll — timed for the icon's 50th anniversary — Ask Men readers ranked this fictional spy above the likes of Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton, and the equally fictional Christian Grey. "Skyfall" may feel overdue for aficionados who had to wait four years for this latest Bond installment, thanks to MGM debt issues. That's not quite as long a wait as the six-year period between the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan eras, and the same amount of time they had to wait for Daniel Craig's. American audiences do have to wait longer than their overseas counterparts for the opening date: The movie cashed in $100 million in its first week, and searches for the Adele theme song (which rocketed up to No. 1 on iTunes) have been bonkers. Burning search questions about "Skyfall": "What pistol does james bond carry in skyfall" (there's a list here) "skyfall bond girl" (Berenice Marlohe and Naomie Harris), and "skyfall shower scene" (you have Marlohe to thank for convincing Craig to drop his swim trunks)
1. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2" (Nov. 15). This last installment should have been a triumphant, swooning femme epic, presenting Bella, Edward, and little Renesmee as a tight nuclear vampire family, backed up by the gathering of the clans and wolf packs to defend themselves against the Volturi coven. The online romantic fantasy however was threatened by off-screen two-timing: In July, Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson, her co-star and beau of four years, with a married man — namely, the director of her other big epic, "Snow White and the Huntsman." Craven! But, Stewart reportedly wooed her brokenhearted man back with a video montage of their greatest hits, just weeks before their red-carpet premiere. Are Twi-hards satisfied? Maybe, maybe not: Film-related searches for "Breaking Dawn" are down by a third, compared to this same time period before the "Breaking Dawn, Part 1" premiere. (Oddly Utah — which used to lead those queries, has dropped off the search map, with Tennessee, Texas, and the lower Midwest now in the lead). Still, score one for the faithful female audience, which makes this by far the most anticipated film of the season.
Honorable mention: "Zero Dark Thirty" (Dec. 19). Previously dubbed the Untitled Kathryn Bigelow Project, the movie about the death of Osama bin Laden at last has a name. Bigelow holds the title of first (and only) female director to win an Oscar ("Hurt Locker"), and she's back to tackling military triumphs. It'll be opening only in New York and Los Angeles, just enough time for Oscar contention, and will open wide in January. Overall buzz is small, but searches have accelerated 11,219% in the past month, which means word's spreading fast.