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There’s no question that the year ahead is an exciting one for cinema with a number of seriously big name blockbuster franchises set to make a return to the big screen. In fact it already looks like 2012 is certain to eclipse the slightly underwhelming year we’ve all just survived in the mainstream department. I’m hardly one to value money-making movies over more prestigious or art-house films as my Top Ten Films of 2011 should make clear but I confess that I find it much easier to get enthusiastic about franchise names months before release. It wasn’t until reviews started appearing for films like The Tree of Life and The Skin I Live In, both of which placed high on the aforementioned list, that I started to become interested. This should account for the clearly mainstream-leaning nature of this list, the ten films due for release in 2012 I’m most looking forward to.

10. Wreck-It Ralph

First up is the latest offering from Disney which marries two of my favourite things, animation and video games. The studio’s been on the up after the last three films and this new picture might be higher on this list if more was known about it other than that it’s about an old-school arcade game villain (I think the title nails that feel). It’s not due for release until next Christmas so we’ll have to wait a long time to see if the people who gave us Tangled can keep up their renewed run of form.

9. Frankenweenie

Another animation and the first of three stop-motion pictures to make the list. Here we have Tim Burton revisiting a 30-minute live-action project of the same name from 1984 and giving it the feature-length animated treatment. The story concerns a boy scientist who does what any decent young crackpot does when his pet pooch gets run over and plays God to resurrect him. That it’s Tim Burton should be reason enough to justify its place on this list.

8. The Amazing Spider-man

Appearing a mere ten years after the first Sam Raimi adaptation of Marvel’s foremost superhero stories this reboot recasts Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger and features Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, Spidey’s original love interest. Retelling the superhero’s origin story so soon after his first big-screen appearance might seem mad but in today’s franchise obsessed film world it’s a sign of things to come. More importantly Garfield looks like he’ll make an even better Peter Parker than Toby Maguire.

7. Prometheus

The Alien franchise hasn’t exactly had the best deal since the first sequel. David Fincher’s ill-fated third and the rather ridiculous Alien Resurrection were a big enough step down from the fantastic first two but we hit rock bottom with a pair of disastrous cross-overs with the Predator series. But now with original director Ridley Scott back on board for this pseudo-prequel and the likes of Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender in the cast things are looking up for what was once one of the great science-fiction film franchises.

6. Skyfall

Another title about which very little is known but since this Bond stars Daniel Craig, the best incumbent in the role since Connery that really ought to be enough. With Craig saying it’s going to be Bond with a capital B, Sam Mendes in the director’s chair and Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem and Albert Finney joining the cast it’s sure to be a smash.

5. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.

The brilliant trailers for this Claymation pirate pic from the good old boys at Aardman indicate this could be their best film for years in spite of the terrible title. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, a man intent on winning Pirate of the Year but has other things to worry about not least the forces of Imelda Staunton’s mad Queen Victoria. It’s great to see the creators of Wallace and Gromit returning to the medium that made them famous and they seem to have rediscovered the energy that made us all fall in love with their work in the first place.

4. ParaNorman

Another stop-motion animated horror, this one gets the nod ahead of Frankenweenie because it comes from the people who made Coraline, which I’ll be reviewing as soon as I get the chance. Norman is a boy suffering from Haley Joel Osment Syndrome – he can talk to dead people. Henry Selick might not be directing this one but it still looks like it could be a doozy.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Pretty much everyone else’s pick for number one only manages the third spot here. The concluding part in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, not to mention massively successful Batman trilogy is a dead-cert to be the highest grossing film of the year. With Bane, the villain who broke the Caped Crusader’s back in the comics, appearing as played by Tom Hardy it’s sure to be bruising and the trailer is promising a big show. The only question is can it live up to The Dark Knight?

2. The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Bigger, for me, than Batman is Tolkein. Peter Jackson’s masterful adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is easily the best movie trilogy there’s ever been. Now, after an uncertain saga of delays and problems he’s back to direct the story that preceded it, or the first part at least. Trailers have confirmed the film is being made in exactly the same style as the trilogy so don’t consider it a surprise if this film is every bit the same huge success.

1. Brave

The Hobbit might be a big deal but Pixar turning their hand to historical fantasy, something I’ve wanted them to do for years, is bigger. Featuring the studio’s first ever female lead the story takes place in ancient Scotland where Merida, a tenacious ass-kicking princess yearns for the freedom to be what she wants to be, tenacious and ass-kicking. It looks amazing, there’s a whole cast of go-to Scottish-accented thesps lending their vocal chords and it’s Pixar. For these reasons there isn’t a film set for release this year I’m looking forward to more.