With ginormous budgets and grand ambitions, the stakes are high for these upcoming films

By Josh Rottenberg
Updated January 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
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The movie business isn’t for the faint of heart at the best of times — and these are not exactly the best of times. With domestic ticket sales down in 2011 to their lowest level in 16 years and DVD revenues continuing to sink, it would be understandable if studio executives wanted to play it safe in 2012. But movies have always been a high-risk/high-reward business, and there are still people willing to roll the dice. A look at this year’s riskiest bets…

John Carter

Based on a series of books by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, Disney’s sci-fi epic stars a loincloth-clad Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) as a Confederate captain who finds himself in the middle of a not-so-civil conflict between alien races on Mars. Though John Carter‘s budget is reported to have gone well north of $200 million, director Andrew Stanton — a Pixar veteran making his live-action debut — has insisted on keeping details of the film largely under wraps, which could pose a risk given that not many people are familiar with the source material. ”My goal is to hopefully protect the thrill you might get from not knowing everything before you go into a theater,” Stanton told EW last year. ”It’s the only reason to work this hard!” (March 9)

Men in Black 3

It’s been 10 long years since moviegoers have seen the sunglasses-wearing, alien-hunting duo of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and the latest installment in Sony’s hit sci-fi-comedy franchise has been dogged by stories of script rewrites and production delays. But director Barry Sonnenfeld shrugs off reports of difficulties: ”I’ve worked on some movies that were really contentious — and some of them were great. I’ve also worked on movies that were unbelievably easy to make — and they weren’t seen by anyone. So, for me, it’s much more about the end result than how you get there.” (May 25)

The Amazing Spider-Man

In an effort to blow the cobwebs off the blockbuster Spider-Man series, Sony is starting from scratch with a young star, Andrew Garfield, who’s never carried a big movie, and a filmmaker who’s new to the tentpole realm, (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb. ”We’re going to give you a completely different approach, another interpretation of the character,” says producer Matthew Tolmach. ”The movie is either going to give the fans what they want, or not. That’s our job.” (July 3)

The Great Gatsby

Translating a universally beloved literary classic to the big screen is never easy, but in the case of Gatsby, director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) is swinging for the fences with an ambitious adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio as millionaire Jay Gatsby. Did we mention that the drama will be in 3-D? (Dec. 25)


{C} We’ve seen toys become the basis for successful franchises before — Transformers, to name just one — but turning a board game that’s been around since 1931 into a big-budget summer popcorn flick about an alien invasion is something else entirely. Universal has poured a reported $200 million into Battleship, which has been described as Independence Day on the water and features no huge stars. Will it be seaworthy? ”It wasn’t about spending money on tried-and-true ‘stars.’ The movie is the star,” says Donna Langley, co-chair of Universal Pictures. ”And it has global appeal.” (May 18)

Rock of Ages

Adapted from the hit Broadway musical, Rock of Ages features an odd mix of big stars (including Tom Cruise as a hair-metal singer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as an antirock crusader) and 1980s anthems from bands like Bon Jovi and Journey. For director Adam Shankman, who directed the 2007 hit Hairspray, finding the right tone won’t be easy. ”Hairspray was like a bowl of jelly beans,” he says. ”This is not. This movie gets very dark.” (June 15)

The Bourne Legacy

Since the inception of the franchise, the name Bourne has been synonymous with star Matt Damon. Now Universal is trying to spin off the series in a new direction with a largely untested box office draw, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol costar Jeremy Renner, playing a different character under the same Bourne banner. Confused? ”The [trademarks of] the Bourne franchise are still very much in place — the car chases, the exotic locales, the hand-to-hand combat,” says Universal’s Langley. ”We really love Jeremy, and are willing to bet on him — the same way the studio bet on Matt at the start of his career.” (Aug. 3)

Mirror Mirror/Snow White & the Huntsman

In a strange game of fairy-tale chicken, two movies based on the Snow White story are hitting theaters within months of each other. Who will be the fairest of them all: the lighter, more comic Mirror Mirror, or the edgy, action-driven Snow White & the Huntsman? Mirror director Tarsem Singh, whose film will be out first, believes timing trumps everything — ”There really, truly is only room for the first one of these,” he told EW in December — but the trailer for Huntsman suggests an epic, Lord of the Rings-esque take on the classic tale that could draw in a wider audience. (Mirror, March 16; Huntsman, June 1)


More than 30 years after revolutionizing sci-fi with Alien, director Ridley Scott is going back to the future with a supersecret 3-D project (speculated to be a prequel) about scientists stranded on a perilous distant planet. Can Prometheus live up to the sky-high expectations? ”All you can do is make it as good as possible,” says Scott. ”So far I’m really, really happy with what I’m getting. But in movies, you can never be comfortable.” (June 8)

(With additional reporting by Anthony Breznican, Adam Markovitz, Chris Nashawaty, Keith Staskiewicz, Adam B. Young, and John Young)

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