In a world that, frankly, sucks right now, the film industry has been hit as hard as any mom-and-pop shop, three-star hotel chain or corner cafe. Gone are the halcyon days of buttered popcorn and ludicrously priced 32-oz Coca-Colas, the days of casually tossing 3-D glasses in an oversized trash can, and the days of squabbling with maskless strangers about the volume and brightness settings on their phone. Movie theaters have closed their doors, another casualty of the relentless disease that has robbed us of much of what we used to call “fun.” As we all bid 2020 goodbye and good riddance, we can afford ourselves a certain measure of cautious optimism, can’t we? What follows is a comprehensive list of the most anticipated action films, and yes, I have taken extreme liberties with the definition of “action film.”
10. “No Man’s Land” (January 22, 2021)
Director: Conor Allyn
Starring: Jake Allyn, Frank Grillo, Jorge A. Jiménez, Andie MacDowell, George Lopez
Propping up the list at #10 is “No Man’s Land,” which is apparently a pretty popular movie title because there’s both a 2020 Hulu series and a 2001 movie of the same name. This iteration of “No Man’s Land” tells the story of a Texas family taking the law into their own hands, with devastating consequences. The crack squad of vigilantes kills a migrant who trespasses on their land and must face repercussions from both sides of the border. Likely more “Babel” than “Sicario” and more “The Mule” than “Traffic,” (the third iteration of) this film at least promises intrigue and the chance to see George Lopez act in a mainstream Tex-Mex drama.
9. “Chaos Walking” (March 5, 2021)
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo
She’s a beauty, that number nine. Adapted from a British young-adult science-fiction novel (say that five times fast), “Chaos Walking” stars Tom Holland and a blindingly blonde Daisy Ridley as the pair try to navigate a post-apocalyptic world where all of the women have died. The catch: Ridley’s character can hear the thoughts of all the male characters, but none of the male characters can hear her thoughts. I’m really hoping that this film’s ceiling tends more towards “The Hunger Games” than the automobile accident that was “After Earth,” but if nothing else, a star-studded cast of Holland, Ridley and the perennially unsettling Mads Mikkelsen will hopefully make the film entertaining enough to watch all the way through.
8. “The Marksman” (January 15, 2021)
Director: Robert Lorenz
Starring: Liam Neeson, Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba
Finally, the “Taken” and “No Country For Old Men” crossover that we never asked for but always knew we wouldn’t be able to not watch. In “The Marksman,” Liam Neeson is a disgruntled yet ultimately good-hearted ex-military officer whose wife has died (stop me if you have heard this before), who saves a young Mexican immigrant boy from being murdered by a cartel operative. His apparent transgression incurs the wrath of said cartel, and what follows is a mad dash to deliver the boy to his relatives in Chicago before the cartel can seal the deal. Clearly, somebody thought they were really clever by making Liam Neeson the one who “takes” the child this time, but Neeson’s status on the Mount Rushmore of action heroes elevates this film to the No. 8 spot.
7. “Nomadland” (February 19, 2021)
Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
This is technically not an action film (I did warn you), but “Nomadland” certainly doesn’t appear boring by any stretch. After losing everything in the recession, a woman (the august Frances McDormand) decides to travel to America as a wandering nomad. In a film that I sincerely hope will be Chloé Zhao’s mainstream coming-out party, “Nomadland” purports itself as an intensely sentimental study of poverty, Americana and the purpose of life.
6. “Nobody” (February 26, 2021)
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Aleksei Serebryakov, Christopher Lloyd
At No. 6 is “Nobody,” a “John Wick” and “Rabbit, Run” mashup that stars the almost impossibly diverse Bob Odenkirk as a disgruntled middle-aged head of household whose intervention in the attempted sexual assault of a woman incurs the wrath of a local drug lord. But uh-oh! It turns out that Odenkirk has a murky past as a contract killer, and what follows (I hope) is a 90-minute long “Home Alone”-type standoff with lethal overtones, replete with booby traps and the incorporation of a dumbwaiter. If nothing else, it’s a chance to see Odenkirk shine as a brooding, uncertain and troubled protagonist, whether he ultimately defeats the drug lord and his goons or not.
5. “The King’s Man” (March 12, 2021)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance
The third installment of the “Kingsmen” trilogy is a prequel that takes place during World War I. If the first two Kingsman films are any indication, it should be a rollicking if vapid romp punctuated by proper British humor. Ralph Fiennes is once again the driving force of the film, and the most intriguing aspect of the film is up for debate. Is it the incorporation of Rasputin as the film’s antagonist? Is it (finally) casting Djimon Hounsou as something other than a bloodthirsty but simplistic villain? There’s only one way to find out.
4. “Minamata” (February 5, 2021)
Director: Andrew Levitas
Starring: Johnny Depp, Hiroyuki Sanada, Minami, Jun Kunimura, Tadanobu Asano, Ryo Kase, Akiko Iwase, Bill Nighy
Okay, technically, this film has already been released in Russia of all places, but I’m including it in this list anyway. Based on a true story, it follows war photographer W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) as he journeys to Japan to uncover the shocking story of one company’s transgression of dumping millions of gallons of poisonous mercury into the local town’s water supply. It’s been hailed by critics as Johnny Depp’s best performance, which throws into question whether or not “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is available in Russia.
3. “The Mauritanian” (February 12, 2021)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Zachary Levi, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch
A legal-crime thriller about the man who allegedly organized the 9/11 attacks and his subsequent incarceration (without a fair trial) in Guantanamo Bay, “The Mauritanian” stars Jodie Foster as his defense attorney and Shailene Woodley as her assistant. It’s full of impossible questions: What are the limits of public safety? How do we conceptualize and legislate “treason”? Is the Mauritanian (played sparklingly by French-born Algerian actor Tahar Rahim) innocent? If nothing else, it should teach us one thing. America isn’t a superhero. It’s a supervillain.
2. “Judas and the Black Messiah” (February 12, 2021)
Director: Shaka King
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Martin Sheen
Led by the fantastic tandem of Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a true story about one man, William O’Neal (Stanfield), who is offered a plea deal by the FBI in exchange for information about the Illinois Black Panther Party and its enigmatic chairman, Fred Hampton (Kaluuya). Equal parts mystery and thriller, high drama and historical documentary, it’s an action-packed film and a serious contender for this year’s Oscars.
1. “The Little Things” (January 29, 2021)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales
When the two lead actors of a film have a combined 10 Oscar nominations between them (okay, okay, okay, yes, Rami Malek only contributes one), it’s a surefire bet that there will be sufficient hype around it. “The Little Things” stars one rural sheriff (Denzel Washington) and one urban detective (Rami Malek) as they put aside their differences to track down a serial killer —Jared Leto, maybe? That’s the fun part — that has been terrorizing their state. If Washington delivers one-tenth of the performance he submitted in his previous role as a cop when he played Detective Alonzo Harris in 2001’s “Training Day,” the rest of the list “ain’t got s**t” on him. “The Little Things” is the most hyped action movie of early 2021.