Now that 2008 has been pushed to the back of the cupboard it is time to look ahead to 2009. With a potential Screen Actors Guild strike looming, the Hollywood studios were in overdrive during 2008, bidding to get 2009's raft on blockbusters in the can early on. Among them stand the penultimate instalment in the Harry Potter franchise, The Half-blood Prince, which was moved back from December 2008; the Transformers sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, most likely another bout of Michael Bay's migraine-inducing action; and an updated Star Trek movie, directed by Lost creator J. J. Abrams, which chronicles the Enterprise crew's early years in Star Fleet. In addition, there's big-budget bluster courtesy of 2012, another disaster movie from The Day After Tomorrow's Roland Emmerich; and Wolverine, an X-Men prequel with Hugh Jackman. Meanwhile, Spike Jonze's troubled screen version of Maurice Sendak's splendid children's book, Where the Wild Things Are, should appear by the year's end. For the real highlights of 2009, however, keep your eyes peeled for
Watchmen - March 6 Just as Citizen Kane regularly tops polls of the best film of all time, Watchmen is widely lauded at the best graphic novel of all time, featuring in Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential novels of the 20th century. After more than 15 years in development, the dense, sprawling and multi-layered Cold War story finally comes to the screen courtesy of Zack Snyder, the director behind green-screen Spartan dust-up 300. Although 300 established Snyder as a true special-effects wizard, the early footage proves that this R-rated comic-book film (a rare thing in itself) is much darker and grittier, the director opting to shoot for real wherever possible.
The Damned United - March 27 Adapted from David Peace's excellent novel, charting the legendary Brian Clough's 44-day ill-fated reign as the manager of Leeds United in 1974, Tom Hooper's movie fields a first-class starting line-up, including star players Peter Morgan and Michael Sheen (the writer and star of The Queen and Frost/Nixon) who tackle yet another real-life character. Clough's widow, Barbara, has already red-carded the movie, after criticizing the original book, but a Morgan screenplay based on Peace's unique work can't fail to excite interest.
The Wolfman - April 10 The classic story of 'man meets wolf, wolf bites man, man turns hairy' gets an update with Benicio Del Toro in the lead and Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt supporting. And with Rick Baker (who won as Oscar for American Werewolf in London) on make-up duty this could be the horror hit of the year. Following Universal Studio's awful 'classic monster' reboot - 2004's Van Helsing, blending Frankenstein and Dracula with disastrous results - The Wolfman, which has been expanded from its slim literary source, should be much grimier, and swimming in blood.
State of Play - April 17 Drawn from the hugely lauded BBC mini-series, which tells the story of a reporter and a detective working together to solve the murder of a politician's mistress, the film was once set to reunite the Fight Club duo Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, but even now features a heavyweight cast, including Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren and Rachel McAdams. Directed by Touching the Void and The Last King of Scotland helmer Kevin Macdonald, the locations have transferred to Washington, the filmmaker saying that the political movies of '70s American cinema have been a key influence.
Terminator Salvation - June 5 A fourth Terminator movie? Directed by a director known only as McG? Surely it'll stink to high heaven? Well, maybe not. The early footage is pleasingly grim and highly explosive, and the support team includes The Dark Knight duo Jonathan Nolan (that film's writer), and Christian Bale (that film's star), the latter playing a future John Connor. Bryce Dallas Howard and Helena Bonham Carter are in support. The film could yet prove the salvation for the career of McG, the peculiarly named director of the two recent, and truly baleful, Charlie's Angels movies.
Public Enemies - July 3 With stylish filmmaker Michael Mann and kooky superstar Johnny Depp dipping into the world of the gangster flick - telling the story of infamous hoodlums John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, as they wreak sharp-suited havoc in the 1930s - this could be the smart choice for film of the year. Both men are at the top of their game, and are joined by the excellent Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, Geovanni Ribisi and Channing Tatum. Expect a lot of bullets and, being a Michael Mann film, a highly stylized palette.
The Soloist - September 11 Fresh from his success with his popular if rather over-wrought adaptation of Atonement, English helmer Joe Wright turns to the true-life tale of Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless, schizophrenic street musician who trained at Juilliard. His story came to public attention when LA Times writer Steve Lopez befriended him and penned a series of articles. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx stars as Ayers, Robert Downey Jr plays Lopez, with the former, a gifted pianist himself, lugging a cello around the world when promoting his last film, The Kingdom, in a bid to improve his skills.
Shutter Island - October 23 For a long while the filmmakers were undecided on the project's name, but Martin Scorsese's eagerly anticipated thriller, based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel, at least has a settled cast, featuring a reunion for Scorsese and his star from The Aviator, Leonardo DiCaprio. Support comes from talents as diverse as Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Max Von Sydow. The story follows the tale of two US marshals investigating the disappearance of a patient from a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane.
Sherlock Holmes - November 20 The former Mr Madonna, Guy Ritchie, pours his share of the divorce settlement into an updated outing for London's most famous detective, his investigations unearthing the mercurial Robert Downey Jr, who he cast as the eponymous lead, and Jude Law, who plays Holmes' slim-downed sidekick, Dr. Watson. With Ritchie's most recent offering, RocknRolla, demonstrating a newfound maturity (gone was the swooping, snazzy camera work that characterized his earlier films), and a still-fine grasp of character (and indeed London), Holmes could be embarking on one of his most thrilling adventures yet.
Avatar - December 18
DreamWorks, the animation house behind Shrek, will release the first-ever movie shot entirely in 3D (i.e. audiences wear glasses) - the animation Monsters vs Aliens - in March. But Titanic and Aliens director James Cameron has an even more exciting project: an epic, 3D, interplanetary war flick, designed for more mature audiences. The Oscar-winning filmmaker has been working on his 3D project for eons, so can expect a true visual feast. He's even recruited Aliens hard-ass Sigourney Weaver into his already excellent cast.
These are anticipated US release dates.