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2020 movie preview: Black Widow and Wonder Woman lead the sequel parade

A rundown of which original and franchise movies to look for in the year ahead.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Avengers and Star Wars blazed out in 2019, but you're dreaming if you think the age of the big movie franchise is winding down. Almost every weekend in 2020 you'll be able to see a new sequel, prequel, reboot, remake, video game adaptation or comic book spinoff.

This year, the women lead the way, as Marvel's Black Widow and DC's Wonder Woman 1984 look set to be the biggest hits. Not to mention Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn taking center stage in Birds of Prey while Disney gets round to rebooting the animated classic Mulan. Not only do they showcase female characters and stars, these four flicks are all directed by women too.

Check out our gallery to see the new movies coming to theaters in 2020, including the original films filling the gaps between the sequels.

2020 is going to be an interesting year. No Star Wars. No Avengers. And even the year's Marvel adaptations The Eternals and Morbius are unknown quantities. As yet, there doesn't seem to be a conversation-dominating wild card driving people nuts, like Joker did in 2019.

So yeah, we'll probably all go see A Quiet Place 2, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Fast and Furious 9. But are even horror nuts excited about another Conjuring movie, another Saw, another Grudge? Does Godzilla v Kong really feel like a major event to you?

This year is so big on sequels, several of them dredge up some seriously creaky titles. We've waited 17 years for Legally Blonde 3 and Bad Boys for Life, 29 years for Bill and Ted Face The Music, and a whopping 34 years for Top Gun: Maverick. Great if you want to see your childhood faves looking super old... Aw, who am I kidding. Reese Witherspoon, Will Smith, Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise haven't aged a day.

Perhaps these belated sequels are the logical end point of our culture's current obsession with both newness and familiarity. Or who knows, Coming 2 America might actually be fun.

Even the "original" movies opening in 2020 aren't necessarily that original. Among the new releases are Uncharted and Sonic the Hedgehog (based on video games), In The Heights and Everybody's Talking About Jamie (based on successful stage musicals), and Jungle Cruise (based on a Disney theme park ride).

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James Bond (Daniel Craig) is shaken and stirred in No Time to Die, which promises a twist on the formula.

MGM/Universal Pictures

An original movie isn't automatically better than a sequel or remake, of course. The King's Man, The Invisible Man and James Bond's latest No Time to Die, for instance, promise to bring intriguingly fresh energy to well-established franchises. Big screen prequel The Many Saints of Newark will entice fans of legendary TV show The Sopranos. And even esteemed directors like Steven Spielberg and Denis Villeneuve get in the remake/adaptation game as they deliver their visions of West Side Story and Dune respectively.

But if we do want original movies, some big names with distinctive styles are rejecting franchises for brand-new stories. Edgar Wright ventures into horror with Last Night in Soho, while Guy Ritchie returns to his signature fast-talking crime capers in The Gentlemen. Noted directors Judd Apatow, Tom McCarthy and Christopher Nolan all have mystery movies set for release this year.

Nolan's film Tenet is particularly enigmatic: We know it stars Robert Pattinson, the next Batman, but even a secret trailer briefly shown in theaters doesn't give much away.

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Disney reinvents Mulan in 2020.

Disney

So what are the nonsequel films we can look forward to this year? Let's start with some espionage-flavored action thrillers. The Rhythm Section turns Blake Lively into a deadly assassin in an action-packed espionage thriller, and Without Remorse sees Michael B. Jordan kick ass in a Tom Clancy adaptation.

Pixar will no doubt tug on the heartstrings of adults and children alike with its two releases in 2020, Onward and Soul. Tom Hanks also has two movies coming this year: He directs, stars in and battles U-Boats in ocean-going World War II drama Greyhound, and ventures into a dangerous postapocalyptic landscape in Bios.

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Life's always better down where it's wetter for Kristen Stewart in Underwater.

Underwater

Also on the sci-fi front, Ryan Reynolds teams up with Killing Eve star Jodie Comer in Free Guy, which looks like Deadpool-esque wacky fun. Underwater sees Kristen Stewart thrown into the deep end in an Alien-style creature feature beneath the sea, while Chris Pratt goes into time-twisting battle in The Tomorrow War. 

And that's just the major studio releases -- there's also plenty of intriguing smaller or indie movies bringing original plots. Michael Winterbottom's satire Greed and the scathing Promising Young Woman promise to be savagely topical, respectively tackling wealth inequality and sexual politics.

And the Sundance Film Festival, the first major festival of the year, as always showcases a line-up of satisfyingly left-field movie concepts. For example, Nine Days tells the story of a man interviewing souls for the honor of being born. Black Panther star Winston Duke and Joker's Zazie Beetz appear in that one. Then there's Possessor, in which Black Mirror star Andrea Riseborough plays a body-hopping assassin losing her mind when she gets stuck in the wrong body. 

2020 will see a number of powerful documentaries, and Sundance premieres several searing factual films in January. Code for Bias explores the failure of facial recognition algorithms to accurately recognize people with dark skin, while Feels Good Man traces the journey of Pepe the Frog from innocent cartoon to far right hate symbol. Meanwhile, Into the Deep exposes the bizarre story of the death of journalist Kim Wall, murdered by her subject aboard his homemade submarine.

Somewhere in between the remakes and the original movies are the comic book adaptations. Superheroes are still big box office, but The Empty Man, Bloodshot and Radioactive feature zero caped crusading. Bloodshot looks like a bonkers action thrill ride in its hyperkinetic trailer, Empty Man is a chilling murder mystery, and Radioactive is a biography of Marie Curie.

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Will Ethan Hawke be electrifying as Tesla?

Sundance Institute

Interestingly, while the trend for comic adaptations is still going strong, the trend for biopics and true stories seems to be tapering off. At last year's Oscars, a whopping five of the best picture nominees were films based on true stories, but this year the only major biopic currently in the calendar is King Richard, in which Will Smith plays the father of tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams. There are some smaller movies based on true stories, like Tesla, in which Ethan Hawke plays the famous inventor. But it seems that real-life stories have largely migrated to the small screen in 2020.

After the disastrous failure of well-known brands like Terminator, Hellboy and Charlie's Angels in 2019, sequels are far from a safe bet. As multiplexes fill with familiar titles in 2020, will audiences shun sequels and reject reboots? Maybe 2020 is the year the franchise bubble finally bursts ... at least until Star Wars comes back.

Which movies are you looking forward to in 2020? Are there too many sequels, or are you excited to catch up with some old friends? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.