More of the same superheroes, some major sequels, a return to the Old Testament and a few innovations and fresh faces: That is the year in movies awaiting us in 2014. Here are the Top 10 titles to get excited about. Actually, there are 11 movies here because I rolled Noah and Exodus into one big exploration of familiar stories from The Bible.
DIVERGENT (March 21)
The first of Veronica Roth's dystopian novels for young adults makes it to the screen, with Neil Burger (The Illusionist) directing and Shailene Woodley in the lead role of Beatrice (Tris) Prior. Like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series, Tris is a mindful, capable and empowered young woman who fights for survival against authoritarian forces. She holds a secret that makes her refuse to conform. Co-stars include Theo James as the character Four. Novelist Roth followed Divergent with Insurgent and then completed her trilogy with Allegiant on Oct. 22. The success (or not) of the first movie will determine the fate of the possible sequels, although Insurgent is already in the planning stages for a 2015 release.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED (March 21)
There is no such thing as too many Muppets. Bring 'em on again in another comedy adventure. In this outing, which is directed by James Bobin, a Kermit imposter drags our fuzzy friends into a crime caper. Human co-stars include Lady Gaga, Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Tina Fey, goofy Zach Galifianakis as Hobo Joe and the irrepressible trickster Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy.
NOAH (March 28) and EXODUS (Dec. 12)
Thump your Bibles, the Old Testament is back in vogue on movie screens. First up is Darren Aronofsky's epic tale of Noah, with fearless Russell Crowe in the title role, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly as key characters and tireless veteran Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah. Aronofsky re-creates the apocalyptic deluge and retells the tale of Noah's Ark. As for Exodus, Ridley Scott takes a fresh perspective on the story of Moses, who leads the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt after God unleashes plagues upon the land. Christian Bale plays Moses, a role Charlton Heston once owned in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1954).
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (April 4)
With Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, this Marvel superhero franchise has yet to take off into the boxoffice stratosphere occupied by the Iron Man and Avengers movies. But the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joe, are giving it a whirl with this sequel. The origins story has already been told in The First Avenger, so the Russos are free to amp up the volume on the Captain's next big adventure. Struggling for a place in the modern world, our retro protagonist must deal with another relic from the past, the Soviet agent known as The Winter Soldier. Sexy Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow.
GODZILLA (May 16)
Japan's favourite monster is re-born, re-invented and (hopefully) re-invigorated by Hollywood. This "kaiju" -- Japanese for strange creature -- first appeared on screen in 1954 in Ishiro Honda's 1954 movie Godzilla. Those days of quaint but amateurish special effects are long gone so we are expecting big, slick and spectacular from director Gareth Edwards, who is a visual effects specialist. Of course, the nostalgia factor may also go AWOL. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Olsen co-stars, along with Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston. Most of the new Godzilla was filmed in British Columbia, with a few scenes shot in Hawaii.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (May 24)
Bryan Singer's latest X-Men opus borrows its subtitle from the legendary Moody Blues album (with a slight change of spelling). But the time-travel concept is all Hollywood as some mutant characters from the original X-Men film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class in an epic battle. Led by The Wolverine, they must change the past to save the future of both mutants and humans. We get both James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, both Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence returns as Raven/Mystique, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat, Anna Paquin as Marie/Rogue and Hugh Jackman as the moody Canuck superhero, Logan/The Wolverine. Days of Future Past was shot entirely in Quebec.
JUPITER ASCENDING (July 18)
Potential disaster? Visionary spectacle? The Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana, are back in action as a duo after teaming with Tom Tykwer on the sprawling, confusing yet gorgeous Cloud Atlas. Again they indulge in science fiction fantasy, with Mila Kunis (who replaced Natalie Portman) starring. Kunis plays a destitute woman in a future world where humans are at the bottom the evolutionary ladder. She is cleaning toilets on Planet Earth when a genetically engineered super-soldier (Channing Tatum) arrives, looking to track her down for the secret inheritance she holds in her DNA.
INTERSTELLAR (Nov. 7)
I am not calling Christopher Nolan the next Stanley Kubrick. But he is exploring some of the same territory that so fascinated the late genius who created 2001: A Space Odyssey. Shrouded in mystery, Nolan's film chronicles how astronauts use a wormhole to bypass the limitations of human space travel. Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway co-star. Whether in his Dark Knight trilogy, or in singular films such as Memento, Insomnia and Inception, Nolan explores the human experience with a keen intelligence that transcends the genre he operates in.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY -- PART 1 (Nov. 21)
With Jennifer Lawrence emerging as one of the finest actors of her generation, it is impossible to ignore the sophistication of her performance as Katniss Everdeen. This is not just another young adult romantic fantasy. This is not just another boxoffice money-grab. Instead, the franchise is emerging as an epic and spectacular rumination on life in the midst of violence in a post-apocalyptic world. Suzanne Collins' novels are being well-served by Hollywood. Part 2 is set for Nov. 20, 2015.
THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN (Dec. 17)
A year from now, Peter Jackson completes the theatrical side of his Hobbit trilogy (with only the extended version on Blu-ray to arrive some time in 2015). Folding this trilogy in with his Lord of the Rings trilogy results in a body of work that will run more than 21 hours in the extended versions. Taken together, the six films represent a monumental cinematic immersion into the cerebral fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. As for There and Back Again specifically, it will reveal all and satisfy audiences who are frustrated with the cliffhanger ending of The Desolation of Smaug.