From ''The Hunger Games'' to ''The Dark Knight Rises,'' next year is shaping up to be a game-changer

It has been predicted by ancient mystics — or just catastrophe auteur Roland Emmerich — that the world will end in 2012. But if Armageddon can wait until at least the end of the calendar year, the denizens of Planet Comic-Con would be eternally grateful, for 2012 is shaping up to be the most geektastic movie year ever. Christopher Nolan will bring his Batman trilogy to a close with The Dark Knight Rises. Peter Jackson will head back to Middle-earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Marvel Studios will assemble all of its big-screen do-gooders in one film for The Avengers. The Amazing Spider-Man will introduce a younger, grittier wall crawler, while Man of Steel will introduce an older, seasoned Superman. Combined with Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to science fiction with Prometheus, Daniel Craig’s long-delayed next James Bond mission, plus the franchise launches of The Lone Ranger, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and The Hunger Games, Hollywood’s geek output in 2012 could yield the highest-grossing year in movie history and shape the face of pop culture for the next decade.

Yet amid the gold rush, there are fears of a bust — at least in the superhero sector. Several prominent comic-book-savvy filmmakers tell EW that trend-chasing execs still don’t understand the genre well enough to know the marketplace potential of some properties (see: Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) or unlock the creative potential in truly promising material (see: The Green Hornet and Green Lantern). And given how many superhero stories since 9/11 have mined the war-on-terror horror and politics for inspiration, Hollywood will need to find new sources of real-world relevancy for its caped crusaders. On the flip side, there’s one big reason to hope, and he wields a mighty hammer. The surprise success of Thor refutes the notion that moviegoers won’t go for anything but iconic properties like Batman and Spider-Man. It also introduced a new perspective on the superhero, one marked by hubris and repentance, not tragedy and vengeance.

Nonetheless, the industry is beginning to look beyond comic books for new reserves of amazing heroes and astonishing tales. Perhaps the biggest trend (also presaged by Thor) is a shift toward mythic and fairy-tale fantasy. Besides The Hobbit, 2012 will bring Clash of the Titans 2, Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Killer, two Snow White movies, and the deliciously titled Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. For fans of Comic-Con culture, the watershed year to come is exciting not just for its gamut of momentous movies, but because of provocative renewal and refreshing change. Please, apocalypse: not now.

The Hunger Games
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