Spring movies 2024: 10 buzzy films to savor before the popcorn season kicks in

20 March 2024

There’s a whole lot of monkey business going on this spring in movie theaters.

King Kong teams up with Godzilla. The enduring “Apes” franchise continues with “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” And Dev Patel dons a gorilla mask to step into a bloody fight club ring in Mumbai.

Not so much into primate-related cinema? No worries.

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How about watching talented Oakland native Zendaya sizzle both off and on the court as a tennis coach tangling with two athletes in the eye-opening “Challengers?”

If that’s just way too sexy for ya, there’s the certain-to-be-a-crowd-pleaser “The Fall Guy,” with the unstoppable, unbeatable and just too darn handsome for words Ryan Gosling as a stuntman searching for a missing actor.

So, yeah, if you’re wondering what’s coming to theaters before the summer popcorn season arrives in mid-May, there is quite an assortment in the offing: dramas, comedies, tragedies, thrillers and even some more demonic stuff going down in Rome (“The First Omen,” April 5),

We studied the spring movie calendar (from now through May 10) and picked 10 movies (a couple we’ve seen in advance) that we think will be worth a trip to movie theaters to gorge ourselves on overpriced popcorn and top-rate entertainment, not necessarily in that order.

Here’s our roundup (arranged in no particular order). Note that release dates are subject to change.

“The Fall Guy”: Hollywood never tires of tinkering around with beloved — OK, even terrible — TV series by turning them into mostly forgettable movies. There have been a handful of good ones (“21 Jump Street,” the “Star Trek” films and “The Fugitive”), but more than a share of duds (“Starsky & Hutch,” “The Flintstones,” “S.W.A.T.”) and some utter clunkers (“Wild Wild West,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Dukes of Hazzard”). So where does “The Fall Guy” fall? The good news is it looks like a winner. Uber-athletic filmmaker David Leitch’s redo of that kitschy ‘80s series starring Lee Majors as a stuntman/bounty hunter earned raves in its South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) premiere earlier this month. A big reason why is its dreamy star Ryan Gosling, following up on his Oscar-nominated turn as Ken in “Barbie,” who struts his stuff as stuntman Colt Seavers. In this romance-laced blockbuster, Colt’s on the hunt for an action star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who’s gone missing while shooting a film directed by Colt’s ex-girlfriend (Emily Blunt). Anyone who watched the Oscars on March 10 know that Gosling and Blunt have real chemistry together. Just take our money now. Opening: May 3.

“Challengers”: Oh, the games pro athletes play — on the field (or court, in this case) and in their bedrooms. In this steamy threesome drama helmed by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”), Tashi, a former star player turned coach (Oakland native Zendaya) seeks to up the slumping game of her top-ranking client (Mike Faist, of “West Side Story”) who’s also her hubby. Trouble and temptation knock on their door in the strapping form of her hubby’s former bestie, who also happens to be Tashi’s ex-lover (Josh O’Connor of “Emma”). He happens to also be the on-court competition, leading to tangled emotions, ambitions and probably ethics. “Challengers” looks to be Zendaya’s bid for another winning title, and the versatile performer keeps on pushing herself and impressing critics and audience alike. She lands her biggest lead role in a theatrical release yet, and we think she’s more than up for the challenge. Opening: April 26.

“Civil War”: With a contentious presidential election advancing from the backburner to the disturbing forefront, Alex Garland’s “what-if” film proposes a sickeningly believable scenario, that our nation becomes so entrenched and divided and outraged that a civil war breaks out. As a filmmaker, Garland likes to engulf you, rattle you, then spit you out (the last 10 minutes of his “Men” made everyone squirm. EVERYONE). Here, Garland assembles an A-list cast that includes Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny and Nick Offerman for a nailbiter that follows journalists as they risk all to cover a volatile story about angry, heavily armed Americans squaring off with a totalitarian government. Call it the ultimate American Horror Story. Opening: April 12.

“Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire”: Coming hot off a first-ever Oscar win, that workaholic Godzilla is already back on the job, teaming up with that massive, cranky ape King Kong for Legendary Pictures’ latest MonsterVerse smackdown. But can returning helmer Adam Wingard’s focus on the historical legacy of these Titans and that monster haven Skull Island rival anything we witnessed in the Oscar-winning (for best special effects) 2023 extravaganza “Godzilla Minus One?” We have doubts, but that won’t stop us from seeing this effort starring Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens. Opening: March 29.

“Wicked Little Letters”: A serial letter writer spews LOL profanities and hurls spurious accusations at residents of a quaint 1920s English village. The anonymous extracurricular activity creates a ruckus and leads to pious fingers pointing directly at Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley), an Irish migrant and raucous single mom who does indeed curse like a proverbial sailor. In stage director Thea Sharrock’s truth-based dark comedy, feisty Rose tangles with her nosy, buttoned-up, pursed-lipped neighbor Edith (Olivia Colman) while a smart female investigator (Anjana Vasan) runs smack into sexism wherever she turns. “Wicked Little Letters” might well be that pleasing antidote to make you laugh during these troubled times. The creative use of naughty words deployed in those scandalous letters sure had me cackling. Opening: April 5.

“Femme”: Two of the finest performances of 2024 power Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s provocative, unique queer revenge drama/thriller. When Black drag performer Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) runs into homophobe Preston (George MacKay of “1917”), who’s the tatted, tightly wound brute that violently gay-bashed him, a vengeance plan takes root. But as Jules enters Preston’s life, the power dynamic begins to shift in unexpected, dangerous ways. “Femme” never allows you to take one breath of air — one reason why this is the find of the indie spring season  The two performances gut you. Opening: In limited release April 5 in Bay Area theaters.

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”: Director Wes Ball had his work cut out for him, following in the ape prints of 2010’s sensational trilogy (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and the exceptional “War for the Planet of the Apes”). But the filmmaker behind “The Maze Runner” trilogy gives the film and the franchise his best shot by leaping over generations to a new time where apes rule and humans acquiesce. When a power-drunk ape goes bananas and starts acting more and more like a dictator, a young ape emerges on the scene. Opening: May 10.

“I Saw the TV Glow”: A film that defies genre identification often turns out to be a head trip. And that pretty much sums up this Sundance Film Festival breakout, which received an enthusiastic response there and continues to draw sizable buzz. Jane Schoenbrun (“All Going to the World’s Fair”) takes us to the mid-1990s, where an isolated teen develops an intense connection with an eerie late-night TV show. Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman and Helena Howard star. We’ll certainly be tuning in. Opening: May 3 in select cities; May 12 nationally.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”: To try and figure what the heck Guy Ritchie’s comedic adventure is about, all you need to do is digest the title of the book that inspired the mayhem: Damien Lewis’s “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII.” That gives you the nuts-and-bolts of this “truth-based” exercise that stars a flotilla of hunks (Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Henry Golding and so on). Let’s just hope Ritchie channels more of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (even if it bombed at the box office) and less of “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (which made oodles.) Opening: April 19.

“Monkey Man”: We’ve always loved Dev Patel the actor, and now we can extend that adoration to his skills as a filmmaker, co-screenwriter and producer, at least based on the word out of SXSW, where his directorial debut premiered. The violent fight club-adjacent thriller stars Patel as Kid and is set in Mumbai. Patel, who reportedly incurred numerous injuries during the film’s fight sequences, plays a gorilla-masked fighter who directs his rage not only at his ring competitors but also those who have kept him down for the count. The fight sequences are supposedly phenomenal. Opening: April 5.

Contact Randy Myers at [email protected].

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