In a different reality, we’d right now be in the midst of Hollywood’s blockbuster season, enjoying the nearly weekly unveiling of a major-event movie, including much-anticipated sequels (F9) and new installments of beloved properties (No Time to Die). Instead, well, you’re cooped up in your place trying to figure out what to watch while not going stir-crazy.
This is where we come in. On a regular basis, we’ll be presenting “The Replacements”: a list of five alternative choices for every big tentpole you’d been excited to see before COVID-19 changed our lives. We’ll select movies that are thematically or narratively similar to the postponed blockbuster, offering picks that range from cool obscurities to certifiable classics to forgotten gems. For the time being, event movies are on hold. But hopefully our alternatives will help scratch that cinematic itch.
This week: The New Mutants, a spinoff from the X-Men franchise that’s been delayed several times. Initially slotted for an April 2018 release, this horror film got pushed back to February 2019 … and then August 2019 … and then April 3, 2020 … and now, well, who knows in our current pandemic? After the creative and commercial disaster of last year’s Dark Phoenix, audiences may not be ready for more mutants anytime soon, but this film stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Charlie Heaton as a collection of young people being held captive by Alice Braga, who’s studying their untapped powers. Will The New Mutants be able to overcome its poisonously bad buzz? We have no idea, but in the meantime, let us recommend five replacements that might tide you over — and, to be honest, might end up being better.
In the peak era of quickie Stephen King adaptations, 1984’s Firestarter tells the story of a little girl with pyrokinetic abilities (that means she can set things on fire with her mind) trying to escape an evil government agency with her father (David Keith). The thing is, though, is that you do not want to anger the little girl, particularly when she’s played by a Drew Barrymore, who’s already eager to show she’s more than just little Gertie. The movie gets a boost from its very hammy villains (Martin Sheen and a wildly over-the-top George C. Scott), and while it can be a little conventional at times, its story of a child attempting to wrangle her overwhelming powers is surely a major theme of The New Mutants.
The Incredibles (2004)
Often, movies about young people with superpowers are dark, tormented affairs; they’re metaphors for adolescent hormones and teenage insecurities. Then there’s The Incredibles, an altogether joyous story about the Parr family, who have tried to live like ordinary people, but that’s impossible because they’re not like you and me. With its cool retro-futuristic design and jazzy score, writer-director Brad Bird’s first Pixar effort — after The Iron Giant and his long association with The Simpsons — stylishly presaged the Marvel/DC blockbuster era, making superpowers look like an absolute blast. Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack are a far cry from the miserable mutants of The New Mutants — the worst they have to do is hide their true nature from the public — and The Incredibles’ giddy action and heartwarming exploration of family make this ideal all-ages viewing.
The premise of Chronicle — three teenagers accidentally develop superpowers and have to deal with both those and the horrors of being a teenager — sounds gimmicky, especially when you add in a found-footage format. But Josh Trank’s powerful concept thriller has more on its mind than that, as it grows progressively darker as it moves along, with the picked-on Andrew developing his powers in a different, more dangerous way than his more popular cohorts. This was the movie that made you think Dane DeHaan was going to be a huge star (that turned out to be reserved for Michael B. Jordan) and seemed to map Trank as a director to watch. That ended with his disastrous Fantastic Four, but still, this story of the dangers of too much power given to the too-inexperienced and callow resonates in a way The New Mutants will be lucky to approach.
The Witch (2015)
Not yet 24, Taylor-Joy has been on a hot streak for about five years. (For most anyone else, graduating to an X-Men movie would seem like a huge step up. But at this point, The New Mutants needs her more than she needs it.) The star of Split and Thoroughbreds showed a different side this year with the new adaptation of Emma., but if you never saw her breakthrough, then it’s time to check her out in the movie that was also Lighthouse filmmaker Robert Eggers’s coming-out party. The Witch is a supernatural shocker rich in atmosphere and period detail, studying a Puritan family in 17th-century New England that lives out in the woods alone. Suddenly, strange things start occurring, and after Thomasin’s (Taylor-Joy) baby brother is kidnapped and killed, they wonder if satanic happenings are afoot. Taylor-Joy unleashed her slow-burn, edgy intensity for the first time here, and her character is our guide through The Witch’s suffocating unease. The New Mutants is billed as a horror movie, but it’ll be a tall order to top this supreme chiller.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
This might be a little bit of a cheat, considering at one point Deadpool and his cohorts actually visit the X-Men campus and (almost) interact with some of the crew. But the irony of a film with a main character who has a lot of disdain for the X-Men is that Deadpool 2 is, in many ways, sort of like Professor Xavier: It’s all about an older mentor (albeit an unconventional one!) helping younger kids understand and control their powers … and provide them a community of their own at last. Sure, Deadpool might not be the gentlest father figure, but he’s a little softer in this sequel … almost at times Xavier-esque. He even sits in his chair!