The 20 Must-See Movies of 2016


IMG_1906Preston Barta // Editor

With the triumphant return of STAR WARS to the silver screen, it’s hard to think beyond what else the next 365 days have to offer. However, by all indications, there is plenty of great cinema to look forward to in 2016.

There are some much-anticipated franchise returns including Matt Damon’s currently untitled Jason Bourne film and Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon (INFERNO), but there are also original offerings from the Coen brothers (HAIL, CAESAR!) and Martin Scorsese (SILENCE) that demand a visit to your local multiplex.

While January’s slate may seem doubtful, with potential critical bombs like NORM OF THE NORTH and FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK in the pipeline, there are far more flicks on the horizon that seem to promise more than the dismal dross that rolls around each start of a new year.

Preston’s Picks:

Release Date: Feb. 26
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie

First out of the gate is THE WITCH, a 17th century horror-thriller where religious hysteria overtakes a simple farming family.

It’s said that a good horror film is one that sticks with you, one that you can’t shake for days, possibly even years. It makes you scared to turn off the light and run when you could have walked. THE WITCH shows many signs of being that film.

Stirring up dread, superstition and paranoia, Robert Eggers’ feature debut may seem dry and slow for some, but those interested in the reality of dark history will find themselves deeply disturbed and spellbound.

View our review from Fantastic Fest ’15 here.


Release Date: Apr. 15
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell and Tyler Hoechlin

Richard Linklater’s spirit-sequel to DAZED AND CONFUSED, may be 2016’s first jolt of cinematic electricity, following a group of college kids in the ‘80s.

Linklater is a genre chameleon and has always been completely unpredictable as a filmmaker. Whether he’s directing a 12-year epic about a boy growing up in Texas (BOYHOOD) or making a film about a struggling marriage (BEFORE MIDNIGHT), Linklater makes movies for himself, leaving us eager for his next outing.

Release Date: May 6
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Sebastian Stan

In the world of reliable moneymakers, it’s difficult to keep up as every major studio churns comic book properties into the next big thing. It’s hard to track the production schedules, much less who’s in each film and how it all fits in the superhero universe.

We’re going to see an R-rated justice seeker (DEADPOOL on Feb. 15), a Batman-Superman showdown (BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE on Mar. 25) and a band of baddies working together to do some good (SUICIDE SQUAD on Aug. 5) among many other movies. Perhaps the one film that will continue the genre-breaking trend of Christopher Nolan’s dramatic and heavy THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy will be CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

The third Captain America entry sees the Star-Spangled Avenger (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) going head-to-head after a dispute about a new form of legislation that would require all beings with superhuman abilities to register with the government.

It has more depth than the traditional superhero story of good versus evil, pulling contemporary debates about security versus liberty into the fray. Throw in the new Avengers team, the debut of Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man, and a few other characters we haven’t seen for some time, and you’ve got quite possibly the biggest Marvel movie to date.

rogue-one-cast-photo_612x380ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Release Date: Dec. 16
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk

After THE FORCE AWAKENS delivered and rekindled many people’s love for the STAR WARS franchise, ROGUE ONE could harness that force to set the series on the right path.

With director Gareth Edwards (GODZILLA, 2014) at the helm and a great cast, this pre-A New Hope story of a group of resistance fighters coming together to steal the Death Star plans may be what 2016 needs to cap off another great year at the movies.

Release Date: TBA
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz

Derek Cianfrance is an interesting filmmaker. He encapsulates a rawness that is rarely seen in movies today. He captured the beginning and ending of a relationship in the haunting BLUE VALENTINE and the unbreakable bond between a father and his son in the powerful THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES.

With the adaptation of M.L. Stedman‘s novel, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, Cianfrance is set to challenge his audience once again with a story of a couple (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) who face a moral dilemma when they find an infant and raise her as their own. The material may be heavy, but with Cianfrance’s steadfast hand, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is sure to be a film to never forget.

Cole’s Picks


Release Date: Apr. 15
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart

Luckily, we were able to screen GREEN ROOM last fall at Fantastic Fest. It’s a frantic siege film that pairs up a low-level punk rock group against a hoard of strategic Neo-Nazis with a taste for blood. Director Jeremy Saulnier (BLUE RUIN) has a sure-fire hit on his hands.

View our review from Fantastic Fest ’15 here.



Release Date: Jun. 3
Director: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Cast: Imogen Poots, Andy Samberg and Sarah Silverman

The fellas who make up The Lonely Island have been bros predating their days at Saturday Night Live. Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have found success through digital shorts (D*ick in a Box, Lazy Sunday), albums (TURTLE NECK & CHAINS) and individually. The latter two gents typically behind the camera and Andy on the small screen.

No clue what they have in store, but it could be anywhere from a concert film, to a road picture, or rely heavily on sketch comedy. There is a lot of possibilities to capitalize on with these personas they have so cleverly crafted– all I’m saying is “please, please don’t screw this up!”

finding-doryFINDING DORY
Release Date: Jun. 17
Director: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
Cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen Degeneres and Diane Keaton

In 2016 comes another Pixar sequel in FINDING DORY. The original FINDING NEMO portrayed the ocean for what it really is: completely terrifying. The original has been Pixar’s most satisfying film to date. Director Andrew Stanton is back so finding a sense of scale won’t be the problem, but let’s see what happens when the comedic brilliance of Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres are separated.

Stanton and company will most assuredly take us on a massive adventure and bring us the heart, characters and laughs we are all expecting from such a sequel.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone having fun in "La La Land"LA LA LAND
Release Date: TBA
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and J.K. Simmons

Nostalgia is back in a big, big way in America and what a more exciting time for film than an homage to the big Technicolor musicals of the 50s than Damien Chazzelle’s LA LA LAND. This film could be something special especially with Chazelle’s proclivity to make music in film relevant again, something we saw to great acclaim with his previous directorial effort WHIPLASH.

The IMDB log-line goes as follows “A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.” Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the leads and they could recreate a different incarnation of the chemistry they have already established together with the previous on-screen collaborations


Release Date: TBA
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone and Christina Hendricks

Buy and large Nicolas Winding-Refn really shat the bed and completely questioned his place as a filmmaker with his last film ONLY GOD FORGIVES (all documented in MY LIFE: DIRECTED BY NICHOLAS WINDING REFN). There’s no telling what he’s going to throw at us with THE NEON DEMON, but as he returns to the seedy Los Angeles he’s bringing a cast including Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone, Elle Fanning and Christina Hendricks, as well as composer Cliff Martinez, who can articulate Refn’s distinct vision– and that’s something to be excited about.

Gwen’s Picks

Release Date: Jun. 10
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Frances O’Connor

Remember the first time you watched THE CONJURING and you ended the night balled up in a corner shaking? I do. That was a fun time. Fast forward three years and we finally get a sequel to one of the most horrifying film of the last five years, just in time for the summer. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, a married couple that happens to be the best darn ghost hunters people can find. Undeterred from their last supernatural adventure, Lorraine and Ed will stop at nothing to help their newest client.

Scary things will happen, we will all need to hug each other after. The door will be left open for more sequels that will haunt our dreams.

Release Date: Jul 15
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon

I am firmly in the camp that Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKennon can do no wrong. So when they were cast in Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS reboot I went out and bought champagne. This is probably my most anticipated film of the year just for the sheer balls Feig has to recreate a series that so many people hold dear. So dear, in fact, that many cannot bring themselves to get excited about girls hunting ghosts. Like that could ever be a thing. Well, joke’s on them! It is a thing and we will get to see it on July 15th.

thumbnail_22494SUICIDE SQUAD
Release Date: Aug. 5
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto

Although the DC cinematic world has not been as robust as the Marvel one, they are trying to bring long-time fans of their comics to the theater for more than just the adventures of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. I am not looking forward to the sequel to Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL, but I do like the look of David Ayer’s villains on the loose movie SUICIDE SQUAD, if only to see Jared Leto’s twisted attempt at the Joker.

Who knows if this film will be cinematically viable, but it does have the potential to be a lot of fun. The trailers look good and there is something unnerving about Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn that doubles as enticing.

fl16-girl-on-the-train-01-emily-blunt-9999-12-22-15_612x380GIRL ON A TRAIN
Release Date: Oct. 7
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Emily Blunt and Édgar Ramírez

2015’s literary sensation GIRL ON A TRAIN got the speedtrack treatment and will be a film just over a year after the book’s release. The chilling mystery hopes to fill the gap left by GONE GIRL, and with THE HELP director Tate Taylor steering the ship, it just might.

Imaginations run wild as a woman who travels on a train every day shapes a story about a seemingly perfect couple that stumble into a tragedy only a few people see. GIRL ON A TRAIN is a beautiful example of how people can fall victim to their own imaginations and get tangled in something they should never have seen. Murder is a fun game, but only if it doesn’t involve you… right?

Release Date: Nov. 18
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell

The most beloved (to me) director from the HARRY POTTER series of films, David Yates (DEATHLY HALLOWS), is back in the wizarding world for another round of magical stories. This time he is adapting the book-within-the-book FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM from J. K. Rowling, who also wrote the screenplay, about a young writer named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who is walking between the muggle and magical worlds 60 years before the beginning of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE.

I cannot be the only person who has missed my wanded friends, considering it has been a few years since the film saga came to an end. Is it too early to set up a tent in front of my local theater?

Jared’s Picks:

this-trailer-for-the-new-coen-brothers-movie-hail-caesar-is-full-of-a-list-starsHAIL, CAESAR!
Release Date: Feb. 5
Director: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Cast: George Clooney, Josh Brolin and Channing Tatum

The latest film from the Coen brothers, who last wrote Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES, looks to be another zany adventure, centered around a studio fixer in over his head after its main star gets kidnapped. It looks awkwardly funny and possibly a slight towards the studio system. Plus, listen to this cast: Brolin, Clooney, Tatum, Johansson, Swinton, Fiennes, and on and on and yeah I’m in.

Release Date: Feb. 15
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin and Gina Carano

With all of these comic book movies coming out, they’re all meant to be a nostalgia cash-in. This is different. DEADPOOL had two things happen for the movie to finally come to light: the success of an unknown comic-film property (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), and someone leaking the short that blew up the Internet. Deadpool is the ultimate anti-hero, and will be a welcome breath of fresh air come February. Also, expect a rise in chimichangas.

IndiaTvdd3b2f_RyanGoslingTHE NICE GUYS
Release Date: May 20
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Matt Bomer

I’ve been a fan of Shane Black’s since THE LAST BOY SCOUT, so I’m glad that he’s found a renaissance in Hollywood. Set in the 1970s, a motley duo of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe team up to investigate a conspiracy within the porn world. If you haven’t seen the trailer, go watch it. There’s so much to laugh at and it’s only 2 ½ minutes long. Hopefully, this is next year’s R-rated comedy hit.

imagesTHE BFG
Release Date: Jul. 1
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall and Jemaine Clement

Spielberg is going right for my childhood by finally adapting Roald Dahl’s classic, and one of my favorite books growing up. Giants are known to go through the streets of London while children sleep, but when a young orphan named Sophie spots one, she gets taken. The BFG (big friendly giant) is an outcast who is constantly bullied by the other disgusting giants, and, with Sophie’s help, realizes his potential. It’ll be interesting to see what they leave on the cutting room floor, but should be a lot of fun.

Release Date: Dec. 21
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen

The story is a sci-fi tale that involves a lone passenger accidentally waking up in cryo-sleep as a ship is transporting thousands to a colony planet. As the passenger is no longer in stasis, he/she decides to wake another passenger so as not to die alone. The project has been batted around for years, with directors and actors changing numerous times. Starring two of the hottest actors on the planet in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and directed by Morten Tyldum (THE IMITATION GAME), it’ll be intriguing to see how this fares at year’s end.

Others to Consider:

  • ASSASSIN’S CREED (Dec. 23)
  • BOURNE 5 (Jul. 29)
  • DR. STRANGE (Nov. 4)
  • EDDIE THE EAGLE (Apr. 29)
  • THE JUNGLE BOOK (Apr. 15)
  • A MONSTER CALLS (Oct. 14)
  • PETE’S DRAGON (Jul. 1)
  • STAR TREK BEYOND (Jul. 22)
  • X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (May 27)

Be sure to revisit us throughout the year to see if these aforementioned films meet our expectations.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.