By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 18, 2019 at 7:01 PM

After the typical slow start to the year, the year in movies finally gets its first blockbuster (offense very much intended to Keanu Reeves' "Replicas") with M. Night Shyamalan's "Glass." And things are only going to get more exciting from here. 

We've got superheroes ("Captain Marvel," "Spider-Man: Far From Home" and "Shazam") and spinoffs ("Hobbs and Shaw," "Men In Black: International"), TV adaptations ("Downton Abbey") and horror movie hits ("Pet Sematary," "Brightburn" and a "Grudge" remake). And if you're Disney, it's deja vu all over again with headed with "Aladdin," "Dumbo," another "Frozen" and another "Toy Story" all coming back to the big screen. There's a new Linklater, a new Ang Lee, a Sonic the Hedgehog movie for ... some reason, a "Cats" movie musical that I'm literally allergic to and a movie where Liam Neeson plays a revenge-seeking snowplow driver named Nels Coxman. 

And those are just the movies I left off this list. 

Here's the 19 movies you should already have your popcorn ready for in 2019.  

1. "Us" (March 22)

For Jordan Peele’s big-screen debut behind the camera, the "Key & Peele" star created a critically beloved horror/thriller that made absolute bank at the box office ($176 million domestic on a reported budget less than $5 million), became a cultural sensation inspiring thinkpieces and internet memes – the ultimate pop culture currency these days – and rode its undimming buzz and love for an entire year to the Oscars, where it was the rare horror movie to win over voters, nabbing a Best Picture nomination and a Best Original Screenplay win.

Not bad for a first go-around. But here comes the hard part: following all that up. 

No reason to lose faith, however, as his second feature looks just as good – and maybe even scarier. "Us" reteams "Black Panther" stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as parents taking their two kids on vacation when they’re menaced by some familiar intruders: themselves. And they brought scissors! Not great! 

The first preview plays like absolute gangbusters – whoever came up with the "I’ve Got 5 on It" musical motif deserves a raise and a vacation, though one preferably without a murder family down the block – showing just enough to feel different from the usual home invasion thriller while still hopefully withholding its best secrets. And while normally pushing back a release date is bad news, Universal’s recently announced delay from March 15 to March 22 shows they’ve got confidence "Us" will kill at its South By Southwest debut two weeks prior and wants to build the buzz that made "Get Out" a monster hit.


2. "Avengers: Endgame" (April 26)

It wouldn’t be a movie preview in the 21st century without mentioning Marvel – and the modern blockbuster behemoths will be back at it in 2019, between March’s "Captain Marvel" and July’s "Spider-Man: Far From Home." (By the way, Spidey seems to be feeling much better now, Mr. Stark!) But in the name of this list not being one-third comic book movies, we’ll narrow it down to just one MCU entry: the ultimate Marvel movie, "Avengers: Endgame."

Marvel already pulled off the seemingly impossible by making "Infinity War" worth the decade-long wait, balancing all of its star-studded pieces while also delivered an ending that truly shocked many watching. So how will "Endgame" follow that up? Who will be de-snapped along with Spidey and Nick Fury? And how much of the film will be just hanging with Thanos on his space farm, relaxing and basking in a job well done? I demand at least an hour. 

Anyways, after paying off ten years of blockbuster filmmaking, coming through on just 365 days of hype and anticipation should be nothing. 

3. "John Wick Chapter 3" (May 17)

In a world of epic superhero spectacle, gigantic extended universes of comic book characters and all-CGI world-saving exploits from living myths, it’s kind of wonderful that the best and most consistent action franchise to come from this era started with a guy and his dog. 

Now it comes to a (presumed) end with Baba Yaga running from an entire world of assassins – including the "Iron Chef America" guy! – battling gangsters with kitanas on motorcycles, murdering a henchman with a book, roaming around sand dunes and doling out his favorite party favor – headshots – on horseback. 

So that escalated. 

And I can’t wait to watch. No series in recent memory has mastered the combination of cool, clean action surrounded by a world effortlessly filled with fascinating character. They just better leave his dog alone. 

4. "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" (May 31)

What’s better than one monster? Well, if we’re talking reality, no monsters would be preferred. But if we’re talking Hollywood blockbusters, the more the merrier – and the messier. And I can’t wait to see what mess Godzilla and friends make in this monster mash, with the fire-breathing lizard king inviting all of his Toho friends – Rodan, Ghidorah, Mothra, #JusticeForMechagodzilla – to smash up the globe while an overqualified cast including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Millie Bobby Brown and the Verizon commercial guy look on in horror. The first trailer is some gorgeous chaos – and that’s just two minutes, so yes, give me two more hours, please. 

The last "Godzilla" romp withheld a lot of why we go to a Godzilla movie. Somehow, I get the impression this one won’t do the same. 

5. "The Lion King" (July 19)

Full disclosure: I only put this movie on this list because I had to. A preview of the year’s biggest movies missing "The Lion King" remake, which is guaranteed to make approximately (*punches numbers into calculator*) all the money, is just willful ignorance. 

But pardon me if I just don’t see the point of Disney remaking one of its best movies just with technically better animation (other than the aforementioned ocean of cash). It’s a movie about talking animals; I don’t need it to look "realistic." If anything, the photo-realistic look could harm the movie’s emotional impact; animals from reality don’t emote the way their animated versions could, meaning audiences will be left pondering blank lion stares during the big emotional crescendos of the royal drama rather than faces we can read. Plus does anybody really think the uber-detailed new trailer looks better than its bright, clean and lush 2-D predecessor? Did we learn nothing from the overdesigned mess of "Beauty and the Beast"? Considering that movie grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide, no, probably not.

In fairness, perhaps "The Lion King" will surprise me. The cast list, featuring Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen and the return of James Earl Jones, is great, and the post-trailer word is that it won’t be a shot-for-shot remake – which good. I’ve seen that movie already; it was 1994’s "The Lion King," and it was great as is. 

We won’t know anything until it comes out on July 19. All we know now is that people really need to stop calling this a live-action remake. Unless they trained an actual baboon to pick up an actual lion cub while actual elephants and actual zebras bow in unison, it’s not live action – and if that is the case, I’d much rather watch the behind-the-scenes footage of how they pulled off that miracle than "Lion King 2.0." 

6. "Detective Pikachu" (May 10)

Do I love "Detective Pikachu"? Or do I hate "Detective Pikachu"? These questions have haunted me more than this shot of a frighteningly furry Jigglypuff mean-mugging the camera. 

On one hand, a live-action Pokemon movie – featuring Ryan Reynolds voicing a furry electrocuted rodent who solves crimes, because obviously – seems like an awful, silly and cynical idea and that’s before I even I set eyes on that realistic Jigglypuff above. (Jigglypuff should obviously be a sentient marshmallow, not a hairy animal.) On the other hand … it doesn’t look bad? Like, at all. The neon noir visuals look gorgeous, the performers seem to be having a good time and dammit, Pikachu looks adorable – even with Deadpool’s voice coming out of him. Will it be a delight or a damnation? I’m not sure; all I know is that I’ll be there opening night to find out. 

7. "Ad Astra" (May 24)

When people ask me what my favorite film genre is, I always give the same answer: good. But in the rare occasions when I’m not being a smartass, the honest answer is probably original sci-fi. It’s a thrilling canvas for unearthly visuals and digging into current issues and philosophical ideas without sounding preachy or painfully obvious – plus, in today’s Hollywood, it’s always fun to see a studio and director take a big swing with a new (and probably expensive) concept. 

Enter "Ad Astra," one of those aforementioned big swings from writer-director James Gray, last seen taking his lush, thoughtful frames into the jungle with the critically lauded "Lost City of Z." He’ll now launch that beloved camerawork into space with Brad Pitt, playing an astronaut searching for his father and finding a threat to humanity in the process. They never find a planet of lollypops or a meteorite made of smiles in these movies, do they?

Along for the ride is Ruth Negga – so terrific in the underseen "Loving" – Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Kimberly Elise and … Jamie Kennedy? Jamie Kennedy of "Malibu’s Most Wanted" fame? Well, this just became an even bigger swing than expected. Godspeed, James Gray. 

8. "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (Oct. 18)

Mister Rogers isn’t quite done making you cry yet, as hot on the trail of Morgan Neville’s documentary "Won’t You Be My Neighbor?" comes "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," a drama about a journalist assigned to profile the beloved children’s show host – based on the real story of writer Tom Junod. 

It’s sure to be an inspiration story, but there’s some inspired choices involved already – like hiring Marielle Heller to direct, whose soon-to-be Oscar nominated "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" has a lovely bittersweet, melancholy tone that could help balance out any excessive saccharine sweetness. Then there’s the man playing Mr. Rogers: who but Tom Hanks. That’s right: America’s dad is going to play America’s other dad – and they’re both going to make you sob.

9. "Velvet Buzzsaw" (Feb. 1)

I have plenty of screenwriting pet peeves – ask me sometime about voiceover narration! – but few things test me like when a character says something like, "We’re going viral," etc. But those three seconds at the end of the "Velvet Buzzsaw" trailer can be easily ignored after the preview’s previous two minutes of absolutely bonkers-bananas art world horror shenanigans, led by Jake Gyllenhaal as a pretentious gallery owner who gets his hands on a dead man’s art that now wants to get its hands on his throat. Also there’s a robot homeless man that I shall here forward call HoboRoboCop.

Add in one of the best casts of the year – featuring John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs of "Hamilton" fame, "Hereditary" star Toni Collette and Natalie Dyer of "Stranger Things," plus Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo reteaming with their "Nightcrawler" writer-director Dan Gilroy – and this Netflix release looks to be a hoot with brains and blood. Just maybe turn the trailer off before those final three seconds.

10. "Little Women" (Dec. 25)

Jordan Peele’s not the only breakout star behind the camera in 2017 coming back to theaters this year, as Greta Gerwig will treat audiences to her follow-up to the buoyant, beautiful "Lady Bird." (For those who think a movie like this is easy to make, a personally felt yet emotionally universal coming-of-age dramedy that feels new, may I point you in the direction of Jonah Hill’s "Mid90s" from last year?) 

Her next project? An adaptation of the beloved book "Little Women," starring … well, listing everybody involved would take up another thousand words, so just know it stars pretty much anybody who’s every been good on a screen. Even remove the killer cast, Greta Gerwig and Louisa May Alcott’s novel seems like a match made in both literary and cinematic heaven. The only thing it’s missing is my eyeballs – and that’ll be fixed when it arrives on Christmas. 

11. "It: Chapter 2" (Sept. 6)

What do "Thor: Ragnarok," "Justice League" and "Logan" all have in common? Yes, they’re all comic book movies – but that’s boring. They also all made less money domestically than the first "It" movie. Thanks to great timing, a stellar cast of kids and the timeless creep-out factor of clowns, the Stephen King adaptation floated to the top of the fall box office in 2017 – and there’s still a whole other movie to go this fall.

Director Andy Muschietti is back, as well as the creepy-ass smile of Bill Skarsgard, but the kids are all grown up and played by Bill Hader, Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and the handsome horse-riding Old Spice commercials guy. While I certainly didn’t miss Pennywise (the nightmares were unappreciated, Mr. Skarsgard!), I’ll miss the great child performances, though most of them are on the IMDB cast list, so maybe we’ll get some flashbacks. And with Chastain, Hader, McAvoy and company picking up where they impressively left off – and Muschietti back behind the wheel – "It: Chapter 2" should scare up some serious money again come September. 

12. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (July 26)

Quentin Tarantino once said that he only wants to make 10 movies. If you believe that (he also said he was going to make a "Pulp Fiction" spin-off about the Vega brothers so *shrug emoji*), we’re nearing the end of our Tarantino output. But even if Tarantino pulled a Soderbergh and un-retired, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" would sound exciting, a drama about a TV star and his stuntman (Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio) clinging to fame during the Manson-haunted days of Hollywood – complete with Margot Robbie as the unfortunate Sharon Tate. 

In addition to the intriguing premise, as with all Tarantino pictures, he’s gathered an impressive lineup of stars old and new, including Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Damian Lewis, James Marsden, Tim Roth, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley and Lena Dunham. Hold on, Lena Dunham in a Tarantino movie? Here’s a live shot of the think pieces coming our way when the movie hits theaters in late July:

13. "The Irishman"

Love crime movies? Well, "The Irishman" – the story of a mob hitman and his, uh, handiwork involving Jimmy Hoffa – might just be the holy grail, not only reteaming Robert De Niro with his "Heat" co-star and fellow mafia movie legend Al Pacino, but also bringing De Niro and Joe Pesci back together under the eye of their "Goodfellas" captain, Martin Scorsese. That’s a lot of brilliant legacy packed into a single movie – all working for the future of the industry, Netflix. I’ll admit I have a hard time getting excited for a film, even one with this resume, that’ll be dumped on my television – but maybe the streaming service will pull a "Roma" and give it a theatrical release. Considering all the talent involved, likely making their last project together, "The Irishman" would certainly deserve it.  

14. "The Kitchen" (Sept. 20)

For whatever reason, Steve McQueen’s "Widows" didn’t click with audiences, despite being damn great. Maybe it was coming after the vaguely similar heroines-on-a-heist movie "Ocean’s 8." Maybe it was the marketing that made it seem like a Very Important and Serious Movie. Maybe we, movie audiences, suck. (As one who’s tried to shut down many a cell phone user in the theater, yeah, it’s probably that last one.) 

Well, if you missed "Widows" in theaters, at least you’ll have another chance to check out a bunch of boss ladies take over the crime genre in "The Kitchen," a thriller about gangster wives taking over for their husbands when they’re locked away. "But Matt," you say to your computer screen for some reason, "that sounds kind of familiar." Sure, but the cast it’s wrangled together sure isn’t, featuring Melissa McCarthy continuing to flex her dramatic muscles, Tiffany Haddish trying the genre out for size, Elizabeth Moss, Margo Martindale (TV’s "The Americans") and many more. From the cast to the premise, "The Kitchen" sounds like it’s serving up quite a meal this fall.  

15. "Joker" (Oct. 4)

The DCEU has mostly been a colossal mess-up so far. (You don’t make a "Justice League" movie in the hopes of finishing tenth at the box office.) But all of that failure earned the studio some welcome freedom, ditching the darkness and exhausting chains of an expanded universes to instead make oddballs like an Aquaman movie that feels unapologetically Aquaman – re: gloriously weird and dorky – and a goofy-looking, small-scale comic book comedy "Shazam!" in April.

But the oddest of DC’s upcoming slate is "Joker," ditching Jared Leto’s version (*throws confetti and tickertape out the window*) for a crime drama starring Joaquin Phoenix (!?) as the criminal clown during his downfall from stand-up comic to underworld mastermind. There’s so many bizarre choices going on here: Why is Joaquin Phoenix doing this? And Robert De Niro? (Well, he did "Dirty Grandpa" too, so not a real shock.) Why is the guy behind "The Hangover" directing it? A movie focused on a inhumane, enigmatic villain, one who’s most interesting when not explained, seems like a bad idea, right? 

I can’t tell if all of these choices are signs of inspiration or signs that somebody at Warner Bros. just threw up their hands and yelled, "Screw it, who cares?" But in an era of knowing everything about every formula-following comic book movie years in advance, it’s kind of fun and fascinating to see a question mark on the schedule big enough to make the Riddler proud. 

16. "The Laundromat"

Frankly, this spot could go to Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s other new release, Netflix’s business of basketball drama "High Flying Bird." (So much for that retirement a few years ago.) That looks pretty stellar as well, but let’s go with his other procedural-esque, nitty gritty behind-the-scenes drama "The Laundromat," which chronicles journalists uncovering millions of files linking millions of dollars in secret, tax-sheltered bank accounts. 

OK, that definitely doesn’t sound like the kind of premise that makes movie studios and film marketing experts see dollar signs, but it should make any film fan excited. Soderbergh is terrific at finding the meaning, politics and fascination behind a process. Something else Soderbergh’s great at? Gathering up outstanding, unexpected casts – including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, David Schwimmer, Jeffrey Wright and many more found here. If the movie’s as good as it sounds, "The Laundromat" could find itself cleaning up at the Oscars. (You see, because laundromats.)

17. "Midsommar" (Aug. 9)

Lessons I learned from this past summer’s horror hit "Herediary": Chocolate nut cake makes a bad party snack, never meet your mom’s friends and, most importantly, don’t miss whatever writer-director Ari Aster makes next. 

That final lesson will go into effect this summer as Aster already has his follow-up ready: "Midsommar," about two young lovebirds (Jack Reynor of "Sing Street" and Florence Pugh of "Outlaw King") who go on a summer vacation to Sweden only for their friend (Will Poulter of "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch") to introduce them to a weird cult up to very un-festive festivities. I look forward to another round of Aster’s thoughtful character work and creepy, dread-soaked craftsmanship – as well as learning another new lesson: Just go to IKEA instead. 

18. "Knives Out" (Nov. 27)

Rian Johnson is one of the most intriguing writer-directors working, from the high school noir of his debut "Brick" to the smart sci-fi morality mind-bending of "Looper" and his last project … damn, its name is escaping me. 

So, of course, I’m all in on his next feature, "Knives Out," currently only described as "a modern murder mystery in a classic whodunit style." Though the plot synopsis may be short on details, the cast list is already huge in high-profile names, including Chris Evans making a rare outside MCU appearance, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield of "Sorry to Bother You" (and the terrific "Short Term 12") and Christopher Plummer. That’s a murderers’ row of potential murderers, and while the story is vague right now, murder mystery is a genre all too untapped right now – and Johnson seems like just the guy to bring some new twists and ideas to it. 

Now, I’ll wrap up this list shortly – just give me a second to remember what the heck was the name of his last movie …

19. "Star Wars: Episode IX" (Dec. 20)

Oh yeah, this.

After Johnson’s gorgeous and thrilling "The Last Jedi" giddily carved away the least interesting aspects of "The Force Awakens" (re: Rey’s parents, Commander CGI Lumpy Face, anything "mystery box" related) and carved a whole new path for Hollywood’s most beloved franchise, it’ll be interesting to see where J.J. Abrams plans to take the Skywalker story in its final saga. Knowing the famously secretive director is back behind the wheel, we likely won’t know much until, well, when we’re in our seats on opening night. Heck, we don’t even know its name yet.

But one thing that’s not a secret: Abrams is a crowd-pleaser at heart, with a firm finger on fandom and delivering the familiar in energetic, unfamiliar ways. So this final trip to this particular corner of a galaxy far, far away should come to a smooth landing. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.