January and February movies give the wrong impression.
An awkward amalgamation of Mark Wahlberg's muscles, Kate Beckinsale's vampire teeth and Glenn Close's bowler hat, these films do not represent the rest of the 2012 movie year.
Beyond the post-holiday B-grade action and horror films, and the 2011 Oscar contenders just making their way to Sacramento, lie genuine blockbusters of summer and fall: The kind that come with nine-figure budgets and collectible cups that will grow in value.
The conflicted, pointy-eared daddy of 2012 blockbusters is July's "The Dark Knight Rises," the final entry in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel "The Hobbit," opening late this year, also promises a huge built-in audience.
"Spider-Man" gets a reboot in 2012, and familiar titles extend to "Twilight," "Men in Black," "Bourne" and James Bond films as well.
Unless most people wait for Netflix on "Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hobbit," the tent-pole films of 2012 should help the movie industry counter a 4 percent decline in domestic box office last year and a more gradual decline over the past several years.
The 2011 drop-off has been variously attributed to high 3-D ticket prices, competition from streaming video and video on demand, and to a spate of mediocre movies killed by negative word of mouth after their opening weekends.
"It does seem like this year, it is almost preordained it is going to be a bigger year," said film critic Richard Roeper (see Q&A, Page 15). "Some of that is just cyclical. Last year, there were franchise movies, but they weren't necessarily the hugest ones."
Last year offered the "Harry Potter" finale and "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Transformers" sequels. All were high grossers but lacked the must-see quality of a "Dark Knight Rises"-"Spider-Man"-"Hobbit" slate, or the artistic weight of a Nolan or Peter Jackson film.
Widespread reports of 3-D's death also might be premature. The format still is big overseas, and studios remain eager to revisit previous hits, à la "Beauty and the Beast," in a new format. "The Phantom Menace," "Titanic" and "Finding Nemo" will be rereleased in 3-D in 2012.
"For the revivalist camp, (3-D) is like a theme-park ride," said Sara Maria Vizcarrondo, an editor for Rottentomatoes.com and Box Office Magazine, a National Theater Owners of America trade publication. "They are not just showing the movies you've got conceivable personal attachments to, but they are amping it up."
Why people go or don't go to specific movies is hard to quantify, Vizcarrondo said, since "you have as many bad movies as good movies at any given time."
Easier to predict is that people will see a tent-pole movie like "Dark Knight Rises" regardless of advance buzz.
"All you need to know is 'The Dark Knight Rises' exists, and you know already if you want to go or you don't," Vizcarrondo said. "Some people will just be there by inertia."
Here's a look at the biggest films of 2012, plus a few intriguing wild cards. (Release dates are subject to change).
"John Carter": Taylor Kitsch's ripped torso and long hair suggest he's one of the stoic young Aussies starring in so many of today's action films. But Kitsch is a Canadian who beautifully played a Texas high school football player and lovable screw-up in the great TV series "Friday Night Lights."
A sci-fi action movie about a Civil War vet transported to Mars, "John Carter" will arrive in theaters with an impressive pedigree. Pulitzer Prize- winning Berkeley novelist Michael Chabon helped adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs' ("Tarzan") novel, and Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") directed. (March 9).
A fairest fight: As two films about Truman Capote from 2005-06 and the dueling 1998 meteor movies "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" attest, screenwriters clearly get (or steal) the same idea at the same time. This year, revisionist Snow Whites are the rage.
In "Mirror Mirror" (March 30), evil queen Julia Roberts wears a big Elizabethan collar and offers quips while a forest-dwelling Snow White (Lily Collins) takes up a sword.
In "Snow White and the Huntsman," (June 1), Kristen Stewart's Snow-White-as-warrior wears full armor. She needs it, judging by the movie's trailer. The evil queen played by Charlize Theron doesn't quip. She eats souls.
"The Hunger Games": In the "Twilight" corner based on Suzanne Collins' immensely popular young-adult novel, this movie follows teens picked by a postapocalyptic government to participate in a televised fight to the death. Jennifer Lawrence, an Oscar nominee last year for for "Winter's Bone," and Josh Hutcherson ("The Kids Are All Right") star. Elizabeth Banks (the rich man's Chelsea Handler, a.k.a. Jack's wife on "30 Rock") plays a government representative and Lawrence's mentor in the contest. "Hunger Games" will be huge with tweens, teens and adults who savor Scholastic books (no judgment here). (March 23).
"The Avengers": Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and other Marvel Comics heroes join. The trailer focuses mostly on Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Probably because Downey is so likable, and because his "Iron Man" films make more money than last summer's "Thor" or "Captain America." (May 4).
"Men in Black 3": Agent J (Will Smith) jumps back in time to find the missing Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). In a stroke of inspired casting, Josh Brolin, ruggedly handsome like Jones but still working on the grizzle, plays the younger Agent K. (May 25).
"Prometheus": Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace the Swedish "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" star in this sci-fi adventure delving into an alien civilization. The most exciting name attached to the movie is director Ridley Scott. The film's mysterious, intriguing trailer evokes Scott's "Alien" and "Blade Runner." (June 8).
"The Amazing Spider-Man": Tobey Maguire debuted as Spider-Man just 10 years ago, yet there's already a reboot showing Peter Parker's transformation from shy guy to web-shooting crusader. The new film is in 3-D, and if its Spidey-P.O.V. trailer is an indication, heavily influenced by video games. Known pluses: Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network") naturally exudes the vulnerability needed for Peter Parker, and old-soul co-star Emma Stone always delivers. (July 3).
"The Dark Knight Rises": Anticipation has been stoked by a breathtaking, eight-minute Imax preview running before "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol." Speaking of breathtaking, the mask covering the villain Bane's (Tom Hardy) nose and mouth muffled his speech in the preview. But no one really has objected to Christian Bale's sand-in-a-tin-can vocal delivery as Batman, so it should be no problem. And Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is delicious casting against type. (July 20).
"The Bourne Legacy": Matt Damon bowed out as Bourne. Jeremy Renner plays a different character in a film set within the same CIA world as the first three films.
Renner did a nifty job as a CIA agent in "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol," but the jury's out on a Damon-free "Bourne." (Aug. 3).
"Skyfall": Daniel Craig is back in this 23rd Bond film, in which Bond's relationship with M (Judi Dench) is threatened. Javier Bardem plays a villain. Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") directs. (Nov. 9).
"Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2": Shimmery vampires live forever, but Stephenie Meyer only wrote four "Twilight" books, and the studio could only stretch them into five movies. (Nov. 16).
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey": Based on a separate book by "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit" follows young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, from the British "The Office") on a quest that incorporates Gandalf (Ian McKellen), dwarves and a piece of jewelry very dear to the heart of a certain CGI creature. (Dec. 14).
3-D redux: Get an extra-close look at Jar-Jar Binks Feb. 10 when the already busy "Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace" gets the 3-D treatment. "Titanic" will sink in 3-D April 6, and that might be enough time to get the images of the real-life, capsized Italian cruise ship out of your head. Everybody's favorite clown fish will take in the 3-D sights Sept. 14 in "Finding Nemo."
Watch trailers for several of these films at www.sacbee.com/thingstodo