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2020 movie preview: Superheroes, sequels and films for grown-ups

No “Avengers.” No “Star Wars.” No problem.

Two of the biggest movie franchises of all time hit the pause button in 2019, but that doesn’t exactly mean 2020 will be light on blockbusters — or at least potential blockbusters.

It’s always hard to tell what will connect with audiences this far out. After all, this time last year, “Cats” looked like a technological marvel and surefire smash.

With that in mind, here’s a look — in some cases, a very early look — at some of what to expect at movie theaters over the next 12 months.

Superheroes

The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicks off its Phase 4 — aka, the one without the majority of its most popular heroes — with a presumed farewell to Scarlett Johansson in “Black Widow” (May 1) before debuting a new group dynamic with “The Eternals” (Nov. 6), starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and a newly ripped Kumail Nanjiani.

Spider-Man is still part of the MCU — for the time being, anyway — but he’s also the catalyst for the unconnected Spidey spinoffs “Venom 2” (Oct. 2) and “Morbius” (July 31), in which a scientist (Jared Leto) trying to cure his rare blood disease accidentally becomes a vampire.

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is in for a totally awesome makeover in “Wonder Woman 1984” (June 5), while the DC Extended Universe expands to include Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who’ll debut alongside Margot Robbie’s returning antihero, in “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (Feb. 7).

A soldier (Vin Diesel) killed in action is brought back to life, thanks to nanotechnology, to become a killing machine in “Bloodshot” (March 13).

And the last X-Men-related movie until Disney-owned Marvel reboots the whole thing is the horror-tinged “The New Mutants” (April 3), which may or may not see the light of day — it’s already been delayed multiple times and was filmed all the way back in the summer of 2017.

Sequels

Some sequels are more obvious than others. Like Daniel Craig wrapping up his tenure as James Bond in “No Time to Die” (April 8). Or Diesel’s Dom and the gang returning in whatever permutation of the words “Fast” and/or “Furious” they end up using for the ninth installment of the franchise (May 22).

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” (Nov. 20), the title of which is fairly self-explanatory, and director Kenneth Branagh returning as detective Hercule Poirot in “Death on the Nile” (Oct. 9), the follow-up to his 2017 Agatha Christie mystery “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Horror sequels and remakes

Not content to simply remake the 2002 installment of Japanese horror franchise “Ju-On,” producer Sam Raimi is remaking his 2004 remake, “The Grudge,” with another scarefest, confusingly titled “The Grudge” (Friday).

Much like the ghosts and demons you can never really exorcise from a home, plenty of scary movies will keep coming back, as evidenced by “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Sept. 11), “A Quiet Place II” (March 20), “Halloween Kills” (Oct. 16), “Escape Room 2” (Aug. 14), “Brahms: The Boy II” (Feb. 21) and an as-yet-untitled “Saw” reboot (May 15) conceived of by Chris Rock.

Sequels at least a generation apart

In Hollywood, hit movies never die — even the ones that haven’t been revisited in more than 30 years.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the streets of Miami they last shot up in 2003 in “Bad Boys for Life” (Jan. 17).

Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves), reunited for the first time since 1991, face the end of all reality if their band, Wyld Stallyns, can’t produce the perfect song in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Aug. 21).

The proton packs are passed to a (much) younger team in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (July 10), which ignores the 2016 reboot and is the first direct sequel since 1989’s “Ghostbusters 2.”

Eddie Murphy portrays Prince Akeem, along with Sexual Chocolate frontman Randy Watson and other characters, in an as-yet-untitled sequel to 1988’s “Coming to America” (Dec. 18).

The winner for the longest time between sequels, though, goes to “Top Gun: Maverick” (June 26), which sees Tom Cruise return to the flight deck for the first time since the 1986 original.

Prequels

Some franchises are easier to explore by going back to the beginning.

The late James Gandolfini’s son Michael portrays a young Tony Soprano in a look at the character’s early days in “The Many Saints of Newark” (Sept. 25), while the origins of the private intelligence agency Taron Egerton’s Eggsy would inherit are explored in “The King’s Man” (Sept. 18).

For grown-ups

Yes, Virginia, there are still a handful of high-profile original films, not based on video games or comic books — not that there’s anything wrong with that — that cater to adults.

Writer-director Christopher Nolan goes back to his “Memento”-meets-“Inception” roots with the globe-trotting espionage thriller “Tenet” (July 17).

Guy Ritchie directs Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant in the London-based crime drama “The Gentlemen” (Jan. 24).

Tom Hanks commands a U.S. destroyer, leading a convoy of 37 Allied ships pursued across the North Atlantic by Nazi U-boats, in “Greyhound” (May 8).

Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Julianne Moore star in “The Woman in the Window” (May 15), about an agoraphobic psychologist who suspects a crime that no one else believes.

And a former high school basketball star (Ben Affleck) who gave up the game in his prime returns to coach his alma mater while battling alcoholism in “The Way Back” (March 6).

Animation

There’s a double dose of Disney/Pixar with “Onward” (March 6), a magic-fueled adventure starring teenage troll brothers (voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland), and “Soul” (June 19), about a music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) whose essence is separated from his body.

SpongeBob SquarePants sets out to retrieve Gary, his stolen pet snail, in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (May 22).

Studios will continue to cash in on sequels with “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (July 3) and “Trolls World Tour” (April 17).

Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne try to stop a ghost dog from being unleashed upon the world in “Scoob!” (May 15).

And, to remind moviegoers that animated films aren’t just for children, “Bob’s Burgers” (July 17) makes the jump from TV to the big screen.

Other family movies

Unlike a certain recent box office disaster whose initial furry footage incited instant backlash, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Feb. 14) was delayed three months so animators could fix the movie’s many visual problems.

Disney goes for the trifecta with movies based on its animated catalog — the live-action “Mulan” (March 27) — as well as a theme park ride — Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in “Jungle Cruise” (July 24) — and its former top choice for source material, children’s books, with “Artemis Fowl” (May 29).

Other studios, meanwhile, are trying to out-Disney Disney as Robert Downey Jr. talks to the animals in “Dolittle” (Jan. 17) while Harrison Ford meets Buck, the heroic dog from Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” (Feb. 21).

Musicals guaranteed to contain zero terrifying feline-human hybrids

If the waking nightmare of “Cats” made you swear off movie musicals — or, more accurately, the trailer for “Cats,” since there’s almost no chance you saw the full movie — there’s still time for that to work its way out of your system.

Steven Spielberg helms a new version of “West Side Story” (Dec. 18) that brings back Oscar winner Rita Moreno, while “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu brings Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” (June 26) to theaters.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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