2011 is almost upon us, and for many people, that means it's time to reflect on the year gone by. And for movies, 2010 certainly had its share of excitement, with unexpected hits like 'Inception' and 'The Social Network' joining surefire blockbusters like 'Toy Story 3' as the most talked about and debated films of the year. Yes, 2010 was pretty cool.
But frankly, we'd rather spend our time looking forward than looking backward, because as great as 2010 was, we have a feeling that 2011 is going to blow it out of the water. In fact, the hard part isn't identifying cool movies to look forward to; it's figuring out which of the dozens of awesome upcoming features we're most excited about.
But if you're overwhelmed by the array of sweet flicks on the horizon, fear not, because we've sifted through every preview, press release and backstage photo to boil it down to the films you're going to be talking about all year long. Without further ado, then, here's our list of 11 Movies to Watch in 2011:
'Thor' and 'Captain America: The First Avenger'
Okay, we know what you're thinking: two movies? That makes 12 total! You're cheating! But in this case, 'Thor' and 'Captain America' need to be considered as one big movie because, thanks to the shared universe Marvel Studios is trying to create, how they work together is almost more important than how they work separately. Can Marvel pull this off? Will the two films live up to 'Iron Man,' or will they flop and leave next year's 'Avengers' as an expensive afterthought? The discussion is only going to heat up from here. 'Thor' is scheduled to arrive in theaters on May 6; 'Captain America: The First Avenger' will follow on Jul. 22.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'
The fourth 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie is also the first that doesn't feature the uncommonly beautiful team of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley. But we think fans are going to find plenty to talk about, anyway, thanks to new pirates Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, not to mention a certain returning Captain by the name of Jack Sparrow. The stories may be getting stranger, but the buzz just gets bigger. (May 20)
'The Hangover: Part II'
Fans have already been talking about this film for months, thanks in large part to the pseudo-controversy that erupted when the cast refused to allow Mel Gibson to appear in the film. (He was quickly replaced by Liam Neeson.) Will that incident overshadow the movie itself? Based on how popular the original was, we're going to go with a no on that one, but it sure gives us something to talk about for the next five months. (May 26)
'X-Men: First Class'
In a summer of high-profile comic book gambles, 'X-Men: First Class' may be the biggest dice roll of all. Will fans of the original trilogy return for this prequel that features none of the original stars? Will critics turned off by Brett Ratner's handling of the third 'X-Men' film give this one a fair shake? Will it, to be frank, suck or not? Whatever the answer -- and we certainly hope it's awesome -- there's no question fans will be talking about this one all year. (Jun. 3)
'The Green Lantern'
Speaking of big-budget comic book franchises, DC Comics and Warner Bros. try their hand at replicating Marvel's 'Iron Man' success by trying to launch their own B-list hero into the stratosphere with 'Green Lantern.' Star Ryan Reynolds has the abs for the part, but can this frequent comic offender (see: 'Blade: Trinity' and 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine') finally pull off a starring role in tights? The fanboy world waits with bated breath. (Jun. 17)
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II'
People have been talking about this moment for over a decade, so we're pretty sure they're not going to stop now. After seven books and eight movies, the final installment of Pottermania arrives this summer. We may already know the ending thanks to the novels, but getting a chance to say goodbye to the actors we've seen grow up before our very eyes is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. (Jul. 15)
'Winnie the Pooh'
It's going to be hard for Disney/Pixar to equal the year they had in 2011, but thanks to 'Cars 2' and this hotly anticipated movie, they have a pretty good shot. The last 'Winnie the Pooh' came out more than three decades ago and has been a beloved classic ever since. Now, Disney hopes to recapture that magic and even add to it with updated, state of the art animation techniques. And that should be sweeter than any hunny. (Jul. 15)
'Cowboys and Aliens'
The premise is so simple that everything you need to know is right in the title. But there are a couple more things about 'Cowboys and Aliens' worth noting beyond it's fantastically simple (and awesome) concept -- things like 'Iron Man' director Jon Favreau behind the camera and superstars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in front of it. Giddyup. (Jul. 29)
'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1'
What more can possibly be said about 'Twilight' that hasn't already been said? Love it or hate it -- or, you know, love it -- 'The Twilight Saga' is one of the biggest film franchises in the world. And considering this installment is the beginning of the end of the series (at least for now), we have no doubt that this will also be one of the biggest movie events in recent memories. Start getting ready now, because the line forms here -- right behind us. (Nov. 18)
It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights. Yes, after an absence of several years, the Muppets are back in business as Jason Segel steps into the spotlight in an attempt to try and recapture some of the magic and wonder that has been absent since Jim Henson's untimely death two decades ago. Will this bold relaunch, featuring a slew of high profile cameos, bring the beloved franchise back to the top? We certainly hope so. (Nov. 23)
'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'
The hottest book series (for adults) in the world finally gets a big-screen Hollywood treatment in perhaps the most hotly anticipated film of the season. Hardcore fans of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, of course, are still on the fence over whether this new version -- which stars Daniel Craig and the relatively unknown Rooney Mara, who reteams with her 'Social Network' director David Fincher -- is really necessary considering the epic job turned in by Noomi Rapace in the acclaimed Swedish adaptations. Our answer? Good stories are always necessary in Hollywood. (Dec. 21)