While sequels, remakes, comic book adaptations and animated movies will inevitably dominate 2011's box office, there will still be a few hits that don't fall in to any of these categories. In 2009, there was Avatar, The Hangover and The Blind Side, and in 2010 there was Inception. Here's a look at ten of the contenders, including three high-profile book adaptations, a few alien invasion movies, a potential Twilight successor or two and some wholly original wild cards.
I Am Number Four (Feb. 18): Based off a recently published young adult novel and featuring an alien in a high school-set romance (like a movie version of television's Roswell), I Am Number Four fits in to a handful of the above-mentioned categories. While the book is too new to have built much of a fan base, and the Twilight association is tangential at best, alien-related movies tend to draw large crowds. If Disney's marketing clearly illuminates a high-stakes sci-fi story, this could turn in to a serious event movie in an otherwise quiet February.
Battle: Los Angeles (March 11): For a completely different alien invasion story, there's Battle: Los Angeles in March. The attention-grabbing trailers portray the movie as Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down, which should make it a huge draw for men of almost any age. If Michelle Rodriguez and Bridget Moynihan's characters are properly incorporated in to the marketing, there may even be some interest from women as well.
Red Riding Hood (March 11): With a plot that appears to involve a forbidden romance, one or more werewolves and a whole lot of trees, it's hardly surprising that the trailer for Red Riding Hood emphasizes that it's from the director of Twilight. Another apt comparison is last March's Alice in Wonderland, which also featured an appealing female lead in a retelling of a classic story. Amanda Seyfried had some success in 2010 with Dear John and Letters to Juliet but still isn't a guaranteed draw, though neither was Alice's Mia Wasikowska. There's a lot working in this Red Riding Hood's favor, and it should be very well-positioned as long as distributor Warner Bros. opts to flex its full marketing muscle.
Sucker Punch (March 25): Zach Snyder's most top-grossing works to date have been visually-impressive comic book adaptations 300 and Watchmen. Snyder is back at it again, this time with an original idea in Sucker Punch. While it does look completely incoherent, its stylish, sexy, action-packed trailer has fanboys salivating at the mouth. If its girl power message is translated properly, this might be another hit for Snyder and Warner Bros.
Super 8 (June 10): While little is known about J.J. Abrams' Super 8 at this point, its teaser trailer indicates that Area 51 plays a role, and therefore it's fair to extrapolate that aliens will likely be involved somehow. The mystery surrounding the project calls to mind the marketing behind Cloverfield, which opened strongly in January 2008 before closing with a solid-but-unspectacular $80 million. Expect Super 8 to do better, though how high it goes will depend on whether Abrams is able to create something as crowd-pleasing as the 1970s Spielberg movies he reportedly used as inspiration.
Moneyball (Sept. 23): As baseball movies generally don't knock 'em out of the box office park, the aptly-titled Moneyball may seem like an odd selection here. However, it's a true story directed by an acclaimed director (Capote's Bennett Miller) scheduled for release at the beginning of Fall, which calls to mind The Social Network from 2010. Add in Brad Pitt to the mix, and it seems like this project's under-the-radar status will be short-lived. Update:Aaron Sorkin has officially been added as co-writer with Steve Zaillian, further validating comparisons to The Social Network.
Real Steel (Oct. 7): Disney is clearly high on Real Steel—a full-length teaser trailer was released nearly a year ahead of the movie's scheduled opening. And why shouldn't they be enthusiastic? Its Rock'em Sock'em style robot action directed by perennial hitmaker Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen). As long as audiences aren't turned off by the similarities to Transformers, Real Steel seems to be in good shape this Fall.
Hugo Cabret (Dec. 9): Known primarily for directing brutally violent movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York and The Departed, director Martin Scorsese tries his hand at a family adventure with children's book adaptation Hugo Cabret. While none of its cast has much box office draw (the actor playing the title role is an unknown), and the book's popularity is unclear, the movie is currently positioned very well, as it's set to open before the unusually packed pre-Christmas rush begins.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21): The late Steig Larrson's Millennium book series has sold 50 million copies worldwide and the Swedish language movie adaptations have collectively earned over $200 million worldwide. An English language version was inevitable, and Sony Pictures has fast-tracked this movie for a Christmas 2011 opening. While the apparent decision to have stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara speak with a Swedish accent may seem questionable, director David Fincher has proven time and time again that he can masterfully handle adult-leaning thrillers (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac). His vision combined with the book's overwhelming popularity makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a nearly surefire hit.
War Horse (Dec. 28): Excluding Munich (which was more of an espionage thriller), War Horse is director Steven Spielberg's first war movie since Saving Private Ryan made $216.5 million (over $360 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) in 1998. It also is set to open just five days after Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which leads one to believe a date change may be in order. Regardless, the pedigree alone signals that this is definitely a project to keep an eye on.