Recently, E! Online posted its list of the projected movie hits for 2011. To the informed reader, it all seemed as much barrel + fish + semi-automatic weapon = box office gold. Never at a loss for opinion, the Popdose Staff took a crack at the list (actually several cracks), and the discussion went in several interesting directions. What do we want from Hollywood, from our popcorn entertainment, and do we say we want something but actually are willing to go for the ride being offered to us?

There’s a big bag of candy in the van, kiddo. Come with us and take a bite.

Here’s E!’s list:

15. Scream 4
14.
Thor
13.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
12.
The Hangover 2
11.
Kung-Fu Panda 2
10.
X-Men: First Class
9.
Green Lantern
8.
Cars 2
7.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
6.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
5.
Captain America: The First Avenger
4. Cowboys & Aliens

3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
2. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol
1.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Jeff Giles: Oh, man. There are a few movies on this list that sort of mildly intrigue me — I’m impressed that Marvel has the elephant balls to try putting Thor on the big screen — but I’m not excited about any of ’em.

Chris Holmes: Hmmm, let’s see: Sequel, Comic Book, Sequel, Sequel, Sequel, Prequel/Comic Book, Comic Book, Sequel, Sequel, Sequel, Comic Book, Comic Book, Sequel, Sequel, Book Adaptation.

That said, Thor could be intriguing. I was a huge Avengers/Thor fan growing up, so I’ll probably take a chance. I will also be first in line for Harry Potter (I am an unapologetic fanboy), and maybe Captain America. Although I’m still peeved that they subtitled it The First Avenger, when he was not one of the originals. Oh, and my wife will probably bribe me into seeing Dragon Tattoo.

Dw. Dunphy: Marvel had an opportunity to do a full-out epic with Thor and then transpose him into modern times, but I doubt we’re going to be that lucky.

I’m interested in Cowboys & Aliens because it is one of the very, very few here that’s not a sequel (or directly connected to sequels, i.e. the Marvel movies), and I’m curious about Brad Bird‘s jump from animation to live action, although you probably couldn’t get more cartoonish than having Tom Cruise as your star.

Jack Feerick: Predicting that a Twilight movie is gonna make money is like predicting that water is going to be fucking wet. The closest thing to a dark horse on that list is Cowboys & Aliens; the rest are either already successful franchises or established brands that will pull people into the theaters out of curiosity, if nothing else. I don’t think Thor will have legs, but I’m sure it’s going to win its opening weekend.

I’m vaguely interested in seeing how Brad Bird transfers his skill for visuals and character to a live-action project, but beyond that … meh.

Michael Parr: Sadly, the only films that remotely excite me on that list are the Marvel films, and perhaps Cowboys & Aliens. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already seen The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, quite definitively. I don’t see how Fincher is going to make it palatable for U.S. audiences without ruining the film.

Dave Steed: The only one I care about is The Hangover 2. It might be a bad year for dumb comedies. Doesn’t look like very much is in the works at this point. I’m actually looking forward to The Dilemma, but I need more Adam Sandler!

Jeff: You get Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in Just Go With It. I’d summarize the plot for you here, but after writing that sentence I need a nap.

Dave: Jennifer Aniston cancels out any chance of Sandler making this funny.

Jack: See, for me, the very presence of Adam Sandler cancels out the chance of anything being funny.

Kelly Stitzel: I am far more intrigued by IFC’s predictions. But then, I lean more towards indie film than blockbuster/mainstream stuff.

Matt Springer: Oh, you eyerollers!

I am very excited by many of the films on this list. I realize that snark is the coin of the realm these days, but there are some really interesting projects here from a mainstream Hollywood perspective. Can Marvel Studios actually pull off the nigh impossible with a three-film summer that includes two of their own projects, designed to lead into yet another giant blockbuster (The Avengers) coming in 2012? It’s never been done at this scale; it’s never even been attempted. Even with the success of all the previous Marvel films, there’s a huge gamble here.

Several directors making their first stabs at mainstream popcorn blockbusters, notably Kenneth Branagh on Thor, Rob Marshall on Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, and Brad Bird (!!!) on Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. I’ll go so far as to say I’m more curious about what Bird will do with Tom Cruise and a $150 million budget than I am about what a navel-gazing indie auteur has cooked up for his handheld docudrama about the tragic abuse of Himalayan mountain goats.

DC Comics is clearly trying to emulate the success of Marvel’s Iron Man franchise with Green Lantern, a film about a cocky smartass given incredible power and tasked with defending the planet. Will they pull it off?

Cars 2: Really, Pixar? Really?! That said, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. Cars is my least favorite Pixar film, but the elevator pitch on this one — a spy caper set in the Cars universe — is too wacky not to intrigue me.

I like a good arthouse gem as much as the next person, but anyone with even a passing interest in mainstream pop culture has to look at that list and be pretty excited. That said, I would rather have a tumor inserted into my body and then removed again with a rusty spoon than see a Twilight film.

Robert Cass: Pack your bags, Springer — you’re outta here! Okay, fine, I’ll give you one last chance to redeem yourself here at Popdose — come up with a list of something we can all add to or bitch about, or say something overly complimentary about Springsteen and/or ’80s music. DO IT!

Matt: Um … I love Nelson!

Robert: I’m partly on your side here, Matt. I still get excited about blockbusters the way I did when I was younger, but I don’t go out of my way to see them like I did when I was younger, and if I do see them I’m usually disappointed, simply because I’m older now and more jaded than I used to be.

Out of all the movies mentioned, I’m only likely to see Cowboys & Aliens in the theater at this point. The New York Times devoted an entire article to audiences’ poor reaction to the trailer before Harry Potter screenings in November, which surprised me. For one thing it must have been a slow news day at the Times, but more importantly, I love the trailer yet I also see the humor in it, so why are audiences reacting as if the genre-mashup comedy is unintentional? I think the movie’s title is awesome in the same way Face/Off was; I just hope Cowboys & Aliens is better than Face/Off. If Harrison Ford’s going to continue to do action movies, this seems like the right direction for him.

As for the new Mission: Impossible, I give Tom Cruise credit for picking a good or promising new director for each entry in the series. In that sense the series is like Alien and its three sequels.

Kelly: I can honestly say there isn’t a single film on E!’s list that I’m anxiously awaiting. I’m curious to see how shitty Scream 4 will be, but I won’t be paying money to see it at the theater. I’ll watch The Hangover 2 and the remake of Dragon Tattoo once they come to DVD, but again, not going to shell out any dough to see them on the big screen.

David Medsker: Wait, are they saying there are five movies that are going to outgross the last Potter movie? That’s a sucker’s bet right there, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be Dragon Tattoo.

Mission: Impossible III was the best of the bunch by a country mile, as far as I’m concerned. If J.J. Abrams is still involved, I’ll be there. I think the decision to have Brad Bird direct the fourth one is genius since the man has already made one of the best action movies of all time (The Incredibles), but the very idea of a second Hangover movie makes me want to drown kittens.

Dw.: Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in Just Go With It: Sandler uses best friend Aniston to make potential girlfriend jealous/interested in him. Think he ends up falling for her for real? Think this one has been done by Aniston a hundred times before?

Matt Wardlaw: Aniston can keep making the movies and I’ll keep renting them.

Chris: I’m waiting for the next Katherine Heigl rom-com. That girl has range!

Bob Cashill: Twilight: Eclipse improves upon New Moon, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to Breaking Dawn, much less two parts of it (which I blame Harry Potter for).

This list is probably an apt indicator of what will fly this year, not that anyone except Cruise’s accountant is excited about a fourth M:I. As for Thor, Kenneth Branagh hasn’t directed a good movie since the mid-’90s (his lousy Frankenstein was an early bid at blockbusterdom), and it looks cheesy — not Green Lantern cheesy, but it gives off an odor. (Of the five Natalie Portman movies we’re getting, it will likely be the most successful.) That said, Lantern has the action journeyman Martin Campbell in its corner.

Then again, anything in 3D is already disabled. The Tron sequel is a zero in 3D, and if that didn’t work nothing will, not that I’m not a little interested in how Michel Gondry (The Green Hornet) and Michael Bay (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) will use it. Remember, folks — keep your glasses, buy a ticket for a regular-priced movie, then see the 3D one if you must without paying the frigging surcharges.

Dw.: Lantern has Campbell, and that is good, but it also has Ryan Reynolds. Had this movie been made 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been Jason Lee, and the movie would likely have been exactly the same.

Robert: Has Campbell directed a good or popular movie outside of the James Bond franchise in the past 15 years? I don’t know if he’s a better asset for the film than if they’d picked, say, Sofia Coppola or someone similarly unexpected instead.

Ryan Reynolds has great comic timing. Don’t write him off entirely.

Bob: Campbell directed The Mask of Zorro, a big hit (and a most enjoyable movie) in ’98, its not-as-bad-as-said sequel in ’05, the middlingly successful Vertical Limit (’00), which always sucks me in when I come across it on cable, and both the TV mini and film adaptation of Edge of Darkness, which I liked in both incarnations. A decent track record, not even including the great Casino Royale. (And c’mon, Marvel, WB, DC, etc. don’t want anyone unexpected to direct these corporate things. They want get-along guys like Campbell, who’s good at what he does but no “auteur,” and Branagh, who clearly wants to be back on the A-list, if Thor is what gets you back on the A-list.)

Robert: I forgot about the first Zorro. But you’re forgetting about Beyond Borders, Campbell’s Angelina-Jolie-extends-her-adoption-of-18-kids-to-the-big-screen valentine to UNICEF. Now we’re even.

Ted Asregadoo: It’s amazing when you realize how many comic book-character movies there are — at first, that is. I don’t know if any of you have read The Hollywood Economist, but it’s a really good book about why certain movies get the green light. It comes down to who goes to the movies each week, and if you couldn’t guess from this list, it’s teenage boys. So to cater to their most loyal customers, the movie companies stock the cineplexes with a lot of what’s on this list. And regarding sequels, To the Best of Our Knowledge on NPR had a pretty good show on sequels and spin-offs in the movies. I’m not sure if I completely agree with the guest who said that sometimes the sequel is better than the first film, because I don’t think he saw Jaws 2.

Anyway, on to the list. I guess the only ones I’m interested in seeing are Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers, and Cowboys & Aliens. The rest of them I’ll mostly likely stay away from, especially the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Scott Malchus: I loved Kung Fu Panda, so if they can capture just some of the original I’ll be happy. I’ll end up seeing it anyway. Cars 2 is just a ridiculous idea. I’m excited to see Thor, but maybe that’s because my son is such a fan of the character; it certainly excites me more than Captain America and Green Lantern. Haven’t seen anything on X-Men yet, but I may see it. The only other film here that excites me is Cowboys & Aliens. The trailer makes it look great, and Favreau is a really talented director.

As for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I saw the first film on Netflix and I immediately felt that it was already a David Fincher movie. That movie was dark and slick, just like his output in the ’90s (Seven came to mind). Fincher won’t ruin it. I just hope that his characters aren’t detached, as in most of his work.

David: Always give Pixar the benefit of the doubt. They’ve earned it. And the first trailer for Cars 2 suggests that it might be more spy movie than car movie. Sounds good to me.

I liked Kung Fu Panda enough, but that Christmas special they just did was awesome; I hope the new one is funny. No interest in Pirates, though. And from what I’ve heard about that last Twilight book, that movie is going to be insufferable.

Scott: I stopped giving Pixar the benefit of the doubt after everyone came on themselves over Up. Save for that beautiful opening, it’s just another adventure movie. The original Cars was atrocious. Sad that it wound up being Paul Newman’s last movie.

Dw.: I’m already burned out on the whole Dragon Tattoo thing. That’s all I heard during 2010 — who will play Lisbeth Salander, what about the original movie, what about the books, Stieg Larsson over and over again. After all the yapping, I just don’t have any interest.

Jack: See, my lack of interest is rooted in a far more practical fact: the books were terrible. Cliché piled on cliché, written with all the verve of a software manual, tasteless and banal all at once, with the requisite hysterically obvious Authorial Stand-In/Mary Sue and Authorial Wish-Fulfillment Girl in the leads.

Although I’ll admit that I didn’t finish any of them, I gave up on The Girl Who Played With Fire after the three-page scene where Salander stands before her mirror admiring her new breast implants. Thank you, Stieg Larsson, your services will not be required — if this is anyone’s idea of how to write a strong heroine, then our culture is more fucked-up than even I thought.

Larsson was a genuinely heroic journalist. Let him be remembered for that, not for being the Dan Brown of Sweden.

Bob: Weirdest thing about Fincher’s Girl is that it’s set in Stockholm, presumably with the cast doing Swedish-meatball accents. But that oddity aside, it’s got a solid cast, a good writer in Steven Zaillian, and Fincher at the helm. I’m in.

Scott: Awwww, really? They’re doing accents?

Bob: I don’t know if they’re doing accents, but they are in Sweden, not — I don’t know — Seattle.

Robert: All I know about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is that it and its book sequels are the new Da Vinci Code as far as must-have public-transportation reading goes. I also wouldn’t count out anything David Fincher chooses to direct. The man has talent.

I do wonder if audiences have reached the saturation point with superhero movies as a whole. It’ll be interesting to see if Marvel’s gamble pays off this summer.

Matt Springer: I wonder that too, but I think what Marvel has hit upon is that if the movie’s good, people will see superheroes all day. Actually, it was probably DC and Warner Bros. that hit upon that with Batman Begins. Crazy to think that Iron Man and The Dark Knight came out the same summer since they were such paradigm shifts for the blockbuster genre.

On the one hand, I think Marvel has shown a savvy ability to make casting and staffing decisions that provide the promise of integrity while still pleasing fanboys. Joss Whedon directing The Avengers is perhaps the ideal example. On the other hand, it makes me nervous when I hear about Jon Favreau leaving the fold due to what are rumored to be budget and paycheck issues. Cheaping out on making these movies as great as possible is a short-term win for the money crunchers but a long-term loss in terms of film quality and the ability of Marvel to continue this effort.

I mean, I get that I’m a geek and maybe my personal peccadilloes are not commonly shared, but the idea of an Avengers movie next summer that actually follows on from Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, with all the same actors — my god, it’s full of stars. As for summer 2011, I have faith that Branagh is the kind of director who can capture the melodrama of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s take on Norse mythology, both from a scripting and visual standpoint.

I still like Nelson!

Dw.: It’s a question of cycles and where we are in this one. There was a time when you couldn’t get a studio to consider a superhero movie. It helps that Marvel (Disney) and DC (Warner Bros.) are connected now, and I don’t believe we’ll ever see a day when superhero movies don’t exist, but I can see where their welcome is worn out like the westerns.

Robert: It’s true that if a movie’s good, people will (most likely) show up. This past summer there was a lot of talk about Inception doing well partly because it wasn’t a sequel or adaptation, but I guess we’ll have to wait until 2012 to see fewer sequels and adaptations.

I wonder if Jon Favreau was burned by Marvel when they wouldn’t delay the opening of Iron Man 2 to this year. I wasn’t as crazy about the first Iron Man as others were, but the sequel really felt like a rush job.

Similar to Joss Whedon, Joe Johnston seems like a good choice for Captain America. He’s a solid craftsman.

Ken Shane: I guess it’s just me, but I’m really looking forward to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and opens in May. This is only Malick’s fifth film over a career of nearly 40 years, and I thought the previous four were all brilliant. Of course it might turn out to be a muddled, pretentious mess, but I’ll be there on opening weekend.

I have mixed feelings about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I’m a big fan of the novels, and I thought the Swedish film hit all the right notes and really didn’t need to be remade. On the other hand, I like Fincher, and I’m sure his film will be at least respectable.

Kelly: I’m looking forward to the Malick film also. The trailer is absolutely gorgeous.

Tony Redman: I’m guardedly optimistic about the new Muppet movie coming out this Thanksgiving. If they can maintain the spirit of the original Muppet movies while keeping it entertaining for today’s audiences, I think they’ll have a winner. Hopefully this will be the culmination of the recent Muppet revival of the last couple of years.

Scott: I too am excited about this Muppet movie. The original managed to bring together old Hollywood (Bob Hope, Carl Reiner, etc.) with the new (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Carol Kane), making it an accessible film for several generations. Moreover, it was funny and dark, but never too dark that kids couldn’t enjoy it. Jason Segel is a huge fan of the Muppets, and I think that his intentions are to capture the same spirit of the first Muppet movie and The Muppet Show.

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