Ah, spring. Unless pop culture (and Bambi) has lied to us, it’s the season for romance—that time of year when people begin shedding their winter layers, losing the holiday pounds, and getting back out there. And what better way to secure a potential soul mate than spending a couple of hours in a dark auditorium, silently staring at a big screen instead of having a conversation? Of course, not just any old movie will get the pheromones pumping. The multiplex is a potential minefield of bad date-night selections, where a wrong choice can tilt your magic evening into insurmountable awkwardness and put the kibosh on any budding courtship.
That’s where we come in. With love in the air, Valentine’s Day on the horizon, and at least one erotic-lit adaptation looming large over the release calendar, The A.V. Club offers a handy dater’s guide to 50 of the season’s most prominent coming attractions. We’ve included helpful suggestions on who to bring along to these cinematic aphrodisiacs and fair warnings about the ways that each might torpedo your odds at seeing the lucky fella or lady again. Happy wooing, America. And may your overpriced movie ticket be the ticket to a happy and healthy love life.
Jupiter Ascending (February 6)
What it’s about: The Wachowskis return with an all-new, or at least mostly new, science-fiction spectacular about a regular woman (Mila Kunis) informed by a vaguely goat-like alien warrior (Channing Tatum) that she is The One—er, an heir to a family of alien royalty. The movie was bumped from its planned release last summer, almost as if Warner Bros. hadn’t realized until then they had ponied up big money for a movie from the filmmaking team behind the decidedly unprofitable Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas. Whatever the studio thinks of it, the Wachowskis always have the courage of their convictions.
Who to take to it: Loud and proud nerds; Wachowski loyalists; space opera fanatics too restless to wait until December 18.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: A lot of people were disappointed by their second date with The Matrix, also known as The Matrix Reloaded.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water (February 6)
What it’s about:
What it’s about: Following 2004’s traditionally animated The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, the computer animated/live-action hybrid The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water posits a world where humans and sentient, pants-wearing sponges can coexist on the same physical plane. But rather than ponder the implications of this inter-dimensional crossover, the movie focuses on the conflict between SpongeBob (and friends) and a thieving pirate-greasy spoon operator played by Antonio Banderas.
Who to take to it: Former coastal residents nostalgic for the boardwalk; millennials who saw the original more than a decade ago; your date’s kids after the babysitter cancels.
Why it might ruin your chances for a second date: Don’t be the creep who’s remembered for getting handsy during the The SpongeBob Movie.
Seventh Son (February 6)
What it’s about: Filmed all the way back in 2012, this long-delayed adaptation of Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice finds a gruff, ambiguously accented Jeff Bridges doing battle with witches and assorted other medieval-fantasy dangers. For a troubled big-budget production that’s getting dumped in the boonies of midwinter, this has quite a bizarre pedigree, including a script co-written by London underworld specialist Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Peaky Blinders). For what it’s worth, the movie’s already made a bundle abroad, having opened at No. 1 in director Sergei Bodrov’s native Russia.
Who to take to it: People who liked both Locke and Season Of The Witch, and are looking for a movie that combines the two; Russians; whoever saw R.I.P.D. on opening day.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: You’re asking to get dumped in the boonies of midwinter yourself.
The Voices (February 6)
What it’s about: Ryan Reynolds takes on the role of a mentally unhinged serial killer in this black comedy from director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken With Plums). Reynolds plays a bathtub factory employee who falls for a co-worker and begins acting out homicidal impulses articulated out loud by his pets. It’s currently garnering Reynolds some of the best reviews of his career, and holds an 83 percent at Rotten Tomatoes.
Who to take to it: Ryan Reynolds fans; admirers of pitch-black humor; people who talk to their pets.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Seeing a film in which someone’s romantic interest is secretly hearing voices and murdering people may not be the impression with which you want to leave a first date.
Fifty Shades Of Grey (February 13)
What it’s about: A rich guy (Jamie Dornan) stares intently at a gal (Dakota Johnson) who bears more than a passing resemblance to the mousy trembling girl from Twilight, possibly because Fifty Shades Of Grey is an international bestselling trilogy of books that began as sexy Twilight fan fiction. It turns out the rich guy is into BDSM, and somehow this revelation will sustain three whole movies.
Who to take to it: Masochists.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Watching erotica on a first date is almost as bad an idea as saying the word “erotic” on a first date. Also, it could highlight a potential mis-match if one of you is enthralled and the other bursts out laughing.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (February 13)
What it’s about: The last time Colin Firth made a film with “king” in the title, an Oscar was his reward. Something tells us that his performance as a veteran secret agent ushering a young hoodlum (Taron Egerton) into British intelligence won’t earn the same degree of recognition. This shoot-’em-up spy game marks the second time, after Kick-Ass, that director Matthew Vaughn has tackled an original property by the self-styled bad-boy superstar of comics, Mark Millar.
Who to take to it: Adolescents of all ages; comic-book readers burnt out on superhero adaptations; those who think the James Bond series could use more bullets and a younger superspy.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: It’s based on a Millar comic, which means a flippant rape scene is always a possibility.
The Last Five Years (February 13)
What it’s about: Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan star in a big-screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s drama-club cult item, a two-person musical that depicts the breakdown of a marriage using a tricky backwards-forwards chronology. Brown’s bare-bones, empty-stage show consists almost entirely of solo numbers; writer-director Richard LaGravenese has expanded it somewhat, shooting on location, adding a cast of non-singing characters, and penning new dialogue to link the songs.
Who to take to it: Vocal performance majors who auditioned with “A Summer In Ohio”; grown-ups who still somehow identify as “theater kids;” people who describe themselves as “Anna Kendrick fans.”
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: It literally begins and ends by counterposing a couple’s first date with the aftermath of the painful breakdown of their relationship. Have fun!
What We Do In The Shadows (February 13)
What it’s about: Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement makes his (co-) directorial debut with What We Do In The Shadows, helmed with his frequent collaborator and Eagle Vs. Shark director Taika Waititi. This mockumentary-style horror-comedy focuses on a group of eccentric vampire roommates who initiate a recently created vampire into both their household and the shadowy subculture of the undead.
Who to take to it: Flight Of The Conchords nerds; goth kids who can poke fun at themselves.
Why it might ruin your chances for a second date: If your date happens to be Australian, be sure to clarify that you know New Zealanders and Australians are different groups of people with easily distinguishable cultures and accents, you just thought it looked like a funny movie. (They’re sensitive about that kind of thing.)
The Rewrite (February 13)
What it’s about: In his fourth collaboration with writer-director Marc Lawrence, Hugh Grant plays a washed-up, divorced Hollywood screenwriter who takes a guest professor gig at a university in upstate New York. Marisa Tomei is the single mom he teaches/romances.
Who to take to it: College students with a thing for their professor; professors with a thing for their students; anyone who smiled pleasantly through Two Weeks Notice, Music And Lyrics, and Did You Hear About The Morgans?
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: No risk, no reward—and this is about the least risky date-night option of the season. Your partner for the evening may assume you’re as safe (i.e. boring) as the bland actors of your average romantic comedy.
Queen And Country (February 18)
What it’s about: John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance) has claimed this semi-autobiographical drama will be his final film. It stars Callum Turner as a young man who’s drafted into the British Army during the Korean War. (The character is allegedly the same as the one who appeared in Boorman’s earlier Hope And Glory.)
Who to take to it: Veterans with fond, not horrific, memories of basic training; Anglophiles; M*A*S*H watchers still holding out hope for a belated 12th season.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The trailer ends on a joke about venereal disease—a less-than-hilarious topic when you’re contemplating intimacy with a stranger.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (February 20)
What it’s about: A bunch of dummies from the first movie—though not, notably, the one played by John Cusack, who opted out of the sequel—have changed the past to make themselves rich and famous, but the consequences of altering history are, as always, unpredictable and dangerous. (See: every time-travel movie or story ever.) Also, there will be dick jokes.
Who to take to it: Fans of the first one who clamored for more adventures with these rascals. (Limited pool of candidates acknowledged.)
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: In the trailer, Rob Corddry gets shot in the dick, which is used as an excuse for a “dude, you’re so gay” joke. Any of that could be grounds for date dismissal.
McFarland, USA (February 20)
What it’s about: Kevin Costner stars as a cross-country coach who leads an underdog high-school team from a predominantly Latino California town to championship glory in the 1980s. “Based on a true story,” as these things inevitably are; Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) directed for Disney.
Who to take to it: People who own Glory Road on DVD; people who own Coach Carter on DVD; people who own Pride, Miracle, or We Are Marshall on DVD.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: They might be inspired to go out with someone whose interests extend beyond inspirational sports-related true stories.
Accidental Love (February 20)
What it’s about: On paper, David O. Russell took a six-year gap between the releases of I Heart Huckabees (2004) and The Fighter (2010). But he spent at least some of that time working on a political satire called Nailed, starring Jessica Biel as a waitress who gets involved with a congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal) after getting shot in the head with a nail gun. Production was halted multiple times before Russell quit in 2010, and the movie remained in limbo for years, with several key scenes yet to be shot. But someone apparently performed the patchwork surgery necessary to discharge the film into release, with a few cosmetic enhancements like a new, generically audience-friendly title and a new, legal-friendly name for acclaimed director Russell (he’s credited as Stephen Greene, no longer considering the film his own). Still, even 70 to 80 percent of a David O. Russell political comedy might be worth checking out as a curiosity.
Who to take to it: David O. Russell completists; David O. Russell haters eager for an embarrassment; accident victims who aren’t David O. Russell.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: If you sell your date on a new David O. Russell movie and he or she catches the name “Stephen Greene” in the credits for some kind of unholy mess, will he or she be able to trust you ever again?
The Duff (February 20)
What it’s about: Arrested Development’s Mae Whitman attempts to break away from her role as dumpy girlfriend Ann (a.k.a. Her?) by playing Bianca, a… dumpy high-school student who decides to change both herself and her high school’s social order after learning that her classmates call her the “DUFF” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of her social circle. Ignoring the warnings of her teacher (Ken Jeong), Bianca enlists the help of popular jock Wesley (Robbie Amell) to help take her mean-girl BFF Madison (Bella Thorne) down a peg.
Who to take to it: Indiscriminate Arrested Development and Community fans; vocal defenders of She’s All That.
Why it might ruin your chances for a second date: Any reminder of the cruelty of high school, even a comedic one, could be painful for anyone who spent their teen years hiding in the yearbook room.
Wild Tales (February 20)
What it’s about: A disgruntled construction worker, a dual (and dueling) case of road rage, and a wedding gone spectacularly awry are among the subjects of this darkly comic Argentinian anthology, one of the five films competing for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar. At Cannes, where it premiered last May, the film felt like a welcome jolt of irreverence; there’s no reason to think it won’t be greeted as the same when it opens in U.S. theaters this spring.
Who to take to it: Good-natured Marxists; angry 99 percenters; art-cinema buffs with short attention spans.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Laugh too hard at the film’s cynical vignettes—including the aforementioned, nightmare nuptials—and your date might confuse your sharp sense of humor for a nihilistic worldview.
Focus (February 27)
What it’s about: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the writing-directing duo behind I Love You Phillip Morris, return to con-man romance in this comedy about a world-class scam artist (Will Smith) who takes a talented younger grifter (The Wolf Of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie) under his wing and possibly into his arms. Expect misdirection, delayed twists, and lots of fancy wristwatches and body-con dresses.
Who to take to it: Witty, cosmopolitan individuals who will take you to casinos and drive you in their fast cars and are on a first name basis with people who work in hotels; folks who don’t much care about age differences between screen couples.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Date may begin to question your motives and/or identity.
Maps To The Stars (February 27)
What it’s about: Canada’s one-time master of body horror, David Cronenberg, reteams with Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson for another coldblooded study of the rich and famous—this one an aggressively broad Hollywood satire, with Julianne Moore, John Cusack, and Mia Wasikowska as a few of Tinseltown’s emptiest vessels. Bruce Wagner (Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills) wrote the screenplay in the late 1980s, which explains why its jokes about celebrity culture and soul-sucking producers feel so warmed-over.
Who to take to it: Failed actors with chips on their shoulders; forgiving diehard Cronenberg fans; contemptuous East Coast artists who wouldn’t be caught dead in Los Angeles—unless you know someone out there, and if so, would you pass them this script?
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Maps To The Stars presents a Hollywood so incestuous that many of its characters are literally related. Your date may decide it’d be simpler to just not see you again than to comprehensively cross-check his or her genealogy report from Ancestry.com.
’71 (February 27)
What it’s about: In Belfast, Northern Ireland, circa the titled year, a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell, from Starred Up and Unbroken) gets separated from his unit during a violent riot. His subsequent, nocturnal voyage across the city plays like Black Hawk Down as directed by Paul Greengrass.
Who to take to it: Action junkies with history degrees; anyone with an ear for thick brogues; U2 fans whose favorite part of seeing the band live is hearing Bono stop the show cold for 20 minutes of impassioned speechifying about what’s going on in Northern Ireland.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The Troubles remain a hot-button topic. Tread lightly through any post-screening conversation.
The Salvation (February 27)
What it’s about: Mads Mikkelsen stars in this Danish frontier drama, as a gentle immigrant driven to violence by the murder of his family. Set in the late 1800s, and also featuring Eva Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the film earned positive reviews at Cannes, where it was received as an admirably harsh and no-frills Western.
Who to take to it: Hannibal fans jonesing for some Mads; anyone who uses the phrase “they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Let’s be real here: Taking a date to an old-fashioned oater starring the guy who plays Hannibal Lecter seems like a one-way ticket to the friend zone.
Chappie (March 6)
What it’s about: District 9 and Elysium director Neill Blomkamp traipses into Short Circuit territory with this tale of a robot (Sharlto Copley) programmed to learn and feel. Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, and Hugh Jackman play the meat-bags he might instruct to bite his shiny metal ass, were he not so polite and childlike. Though early reports suggested that Chappie would be a comedy, the first teaser had more of a gooey Spielberg vibe.
Who to take to it: Sentimental Asimov fans; Geek Squad employees with hearts as big as their brains; sentient machines with their emotion chip switched to “hot mess.”
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: If you fail to shed a tear on the behalf of poor, misunderstood Chappie, it’s you who may look like the real robot.
Unfinished Business (March 6)
What it’s about: There’s basically no chance this wasn’t the pitch: “It’s like a road trip, but it’s a business trip!” (Chances are also solid that it was originally called Business Trip.) Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, and Dave Franco must travel to Germany to close a big business deal, which they’ll do by wining and dining their clients, but also getting physically hurt and sexually humiliated, if the trailer is any indication.
Who to take to it: Someone who owns Road Trip: Beer Pong on DVD.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The sheer virility of Vince Vaughn could send men and women alike scurrying for their most modest outfits.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (March 6)
What it’s about: The sequel to 2012’s retiree fantasy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel reunites Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy for another exotic, extremely careful romp in India. This time Dev Patel’s eager young hotelier is looking to expand his business, just as the cast itself is growing with the arrival of Richard Gere—officially ready to check in for his senior citizen discount. The original was a charming sleeper (and not just because it enabled so many refreshing naps), and the follow-up seems primed to recapture that same appreciative, underserved audience.
Who to take to it: People who enjoy fine acting without all the gratuitous bang and clang; lovers of far-flung locations they don’t actually have to go to; the nice widow from down the retirement home hall.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Sadly, there’s always the chance they won’t live that long.
Merchants Of Doubt (March 6)
What it’s about: The director of Food, Inc. returns with a documentary about scientists who sell their souls to big corporations by trying to confuse the public about issues that most scientists have already come to solid conclusions on, like climate change and the existence of the chupacabra.
Who to take to it: Lefties who like to have their progressive views reinforced, or right-wingers lookin’ to get riled up about “propaganda.” So anybody, really!
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Good luck keeping your mouth shut if or when your date has a few uninformed thoughts of his or her own on climate change.
Cinderella (March 13)
What it’s about: From Kenneth Branagh, acclaimed director of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and that remake of Sleuth, comes the latest entry in the ongoing cycle of live-action, lightly revised fairy-tale adaptations. Lily James plays the sooty stepdaughter who gets to spend one night hanging out with rich people, while Richard Madden plays her beloved, a handsome prince stricken with an Oliver Sacks-ready case of face blindness, which prevents him from recognizing people if they change clothes.
Who to take to it: People whose wardrobe at age 3 consisted in large part of yogurt-caked princess dresses; whoever perks up at the idea of seeing British people in nice clothes.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Just be careful to get back before the clock strikes midnight and that orange Scion turns back into being your roommate’s car.
Run All Night (March 13)
What it’s about: Fresh from Taken 3, Liam Neeson reunites with his Unknown and Non-Stop director Jaume Collet-Serra to complete another, less official trilogy of thrillers that actually make better use of their leading actor than his signature franchise. Here the big lug plays a hit man who runs afoul of gangsters (led by Ed Harris) in order to protect his estranged son.
Who to take to it: Dads; genre aficionados; Key and/or Peele.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The pleasures of Non-Stop notwithstanding, watching Liam Neeson fight bad guys for two more hours may not be the most persuasive argument that rehashing a particular activity will prove more fruitful over time.
The Cobbler (March 13)
What it’s about: Serious Adam Sandler gets serious for Thomas McCarthy’s dramedy, playing a man who can repair anyone’s shoes—except the ones on his heart. When he discovers he can magically become the owner of any pair he tries on, he takes his first steps toward healing his broken family, while also stumbling on a zany mob subplot. Similarly, The Cobbler shoehorns a high-concept Sandler comedy inside the subtle, low-key charm McCarthy mastered in movies like The Station Agent and The Visitor. It remains to be seen whether it will fit.
Who to take to it: Fans of Adam Sandler, but only when he’s sad; shoe fetishists; daddy issue fetishists.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: It’s a movie about Adam Sandler’s magic shoes.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (March 13)
What it’s about: This winner of the best-sounding plot of the year stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) as a lonely Tokyo office worker who discovers a battered VHS copy of the Coen brothers’ movie Fargo and becomes convinced it’s a documentary that will lead her to that film’s suitcase of money. The Zellner brothers’ slice of downbeat whimsy was a Sundance favorite.
Who to take to it: Coen brothers fanatics; people who long to escape their day jobs.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: A story about an alienated loner abandoning her life for the desolation of North Dakota don’t exactly scream “hold me closer” to a stranger.
It Follows (March 13)
What it’s about: Writer-director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth Of The American Sleepover) reinvents himself as a budding master of horror, subjecting a group of authentic-sounding Michigan teenagers to a curse that’s transmitted through sex. The film, which premiered at Cannes last May and has been doing the festival rounds ever since, gets a lot of mileage out of a remarkably simple premise. Anyone spooked by the sight of something sinister walking straight at the camera should keep a change of underwear handy.
Who to take to it: John Carpenter fans; nostalgic Michiganders; people who find being scared fun and not unbearably stressful.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Watching a horror movie about a relentless specter that stalks people after they have sex could kill the mood a bit.
Amour Fou (March 18)
What it’s about: In 1811, the German poet and novelist Heinrich Von Kleist entered a suicide pact with terminally ill musician Henriette Vogel. This bone-dry, expertly composed comedy from Jessica Hausner (Lourdes) casts that arrangement as a case of romantic coercing. It’s a bizarre true story given an appropriately oddball cinematic treatment.
Who to take to it: Romantic Era enthusiasts; “sensitive” narcissists in dire need of some perspective on their melodrama; those allergic to traditional period-piece love stories.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: This is a film about a guy who attempts to guilt-trip a young woman into killing herself to prove her devotion to him. Is there a less sexy choice for date night?
The Divergent Series: Insurgent (March 20)
What it’s about: Picking up where last year’s just plain Divergent left off, this adaptation of the YA novel Insurgent follows Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) as they navigate a post-uprising world, evade the Erudite faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), and, as now contractually obligated by all sequels, share more screen time with a character played by Jai Courtney. Acclaimed non-Jai Courtney actors Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Ashley Judd, and Miles Teller also appear.
Who to take to it: Young adults who refused to be categorized; prestige actors scoping out prospects for Divergent 3; Jai Courtney’s various relatives.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Considering that this series won’t be resolved until 2017, when yet another part three will spill over into yet another part four, Insurgent might start to look like too sizable a commitment.
The Gunman (March 20)
What it’s about: Pierre Morel (Taken) helms an English-language adaptation of a novel by the great French crime existentialist Jean-Patrick Manchette, starring Sean Penn as a mercenary who finds himself fighting his shadowy bosses. Idris Elba, Javier Bardem, and Ray Winstone round out the movie’s cast of seething, angry man’s men.
Who to take to it: Viewers who want to see something that totally looks like it would be produced by Luc Besson, but somehow isn’t; people who prefer their scowling and shooting to be competently directed; folks with a folder on their desktop marked “Idris Elba GIFs.”
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Uh, do you really want to know how well you’d do in a “Would you rescue me from a shadowy organization of international mercenaries” conversation?
Get Hard (March 27)
What it’s about: Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell do what they do best—act incredulous and oblivious, respectively—in Hart’s newest star vehicle, Get Hard. Ferrell stars as James King, a corrupt businessman sentenced to prison for fraud. Terrified of what might happen to him in prison, King asks a man he just met, valet Darnell Lewis (Hart), to help him prepare for life behind bars. Lewis himself has never been to prison, but King doesn’t need to know that.
Who to take to it: Populists; Will Ferrell diehards; a co-worker you don’t know very well and whose tastes you’re still trying to figure out.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The trailer for Get Hard leans heavily on prison rape jokes and homophobia in general, which might not go over well should you and your date be of the same sex—or really, if neither of you are assholes.
Home (March 27)
What it’s about: DreamWorks Animation’s latest finds the Earth taken over by celebrity-voiced aliens, with all the celebrity-voiced humans relocated to another planet. A teenage girl—voiced by Rihanna, because this is a DreamWorks production—manages to stay behind, and gets up to all kinds of misadventures with a friendly alien and maybe a flying car. Developed under the title The True Meaning Of Smekday, from the children’s book on which it’s (presumably loosely) based.
Who to take to it: People who remember that, when it all comes down to it, DreamWorks has made some pretty solid animated films over the last few years; someone who is as severely, slack-jawed stoned as you are, emerging from a fog of skunk-like marijuana odor like the Flying Dutchman sailing into a harbor; fellow single parents, with children in tow.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Please evaluate the circumstances under which you, a grown-up, choose a DreamWorks movie pitched squarely at kids as an evening date.
While We’re Young (March 27)
What it’s about: Two married artists (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) experience something of a midlife crisis when they begin hanging out with a pair of much-younger hipster lovebirds (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Questions of ethics in documentary filmmaking bump up against sharp generational-divide humor in the first of two Noah Baumbach comedies headed for theaters this year. (The other one, Mistress America, just premiered at Sundance.)
Who to take to it: Fortysomethings with a sense of humor about their age; twentysomethings equally capable of laughing at their own pretensions; Girls fans who can’t wait another year for their Adam Driver fix.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: As a portrait of a long-term relationship, While We’re Young may be a little too perceptive, scaring off prospective life partners with its foreshadowing of arguments to come.
Serena (March 27)
What it’s about: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, arguably two of the very biggest movie stars currently working, shot this romance for acclaimed director Susanne Bier in between Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, only to see it languish in the editing room without a distributor; now it’s getting an arthouse and VOD release. They play a Depression-era married couple running a timber business. Reviews from its fall release in England and France have not been glowing, though Lawrence and Cooper received typically strong notices.
Who to take to it: Disgruntled viewers of Accidental Love; that rare breed of human who appreciates attractive movie stars; timber enthusiasts.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The last movie to feature Cooper and Lawrence was a rollicking good time, and this one is about a couple running a timber business.
White God (March 27)
What it’s about: Is it a neorealist drama? A gritty Homeward Bound for adults? A nature-run-amok horror film? This acclaimed European import, which won a major prize at Cannes last year, boldly resists categorization. What we can say: It concerns a teenage girl who becomes separated from her pet pooch, and the hardships said canine faces as an urban stray.
Who to take to it: Dog lovers with strong constitutions; dog haters with a sadistic streak; people with neutral feelings toward dogs and strong feelings about unclassifiable genre cinema.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Frankly, it’s just a divisive film. If your date hates it, you might end up in the doghouse. (Sorry.)
Furious 7 (April 3)
What it’s about: Tragedy struck when star Paul Walker was killed during the filming of the latest Fast & Furious film, dampening excitement over the addition of Jason Statham and Kurt Russell to this increasingly ambitious and labyrinthine franchise. After rewrites, reshoots, and a release date bump, Furious 7 arrives to serve as a big send-off for the affable Walker as well as another high-octane thrill ride. Saw originator James Wan directs this installment, wherein two factions of car thieves try to get revenge on each other.
Who to take to it: Gearheads; action aficionados of all walks; Walker fans seeking a proper farewell.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: After a couple of expectations-exceeding efforts, it’s possible that heavy hype and the loss of director Justin Lin could lead to a short-faller like the earlier sequels. Can your first date survive that potential disappointment?
Woman In Gold (April 3)
What it’s about: In what sounds like the most Weinstein-y Weinstein movie ever, Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann, a real-life Holocaust survivor who fought the Austrian government in court for possession of a valuable painting that was stolen from her by the Nazis. Ryan Reynolds is her art-illiterate attorney; Daniel Brühl (Rush) is opposing counsel. Promisingly, the film is premiering at Berlin. Less surprisingly, it’s directed by the guy who made My Week With Marilyn.
Who to take to it: Your mom’s bridge partner; Academy voters; that one person out there clamoring for a distaff Monuments Men.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The premise is so vaguely familiar that your date might have some serious déjà vu and emotionally confuse you for that ex he or she took to a different middlebrow Weinstein film years earlier. You know, that one with Helen Mirren. Or the one with Nazis.
The Salt Of The Earth (April 3)
What it’s about: Wim Wenders directs this Academy Award-nominated documentary about photographer Sebastião Salgado, whose work has historically combined aesthetic beauty with images of people in horrific circumstances. Now Salgado is working on a much gentler project photographing wilderness areas with his son Juliano, and Wenders accompanies the Salgados on location from Siberia to Papua New Guinea.
Who to take to it: Liberal arts majors; National Geographic subscribers; anyone who wears handwoven Peruvian anything.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: You might not feel like dessert after witnessing the horrors of famine, disease, and genocide through Salgado’s lens.
About Elly (April 8)
What it’s about: Before he made A Separation and The Past, Oscar-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi directed this mystery about the disappearance of a kindergarten teacher during a seaside vacation. The 2009 film was supposed to come out Stateside years ago, but disappeared from release calendars when its distributor went belly up. Thankfully, Cinema Guild has swooped in to finally bring About Elly to U.S. theaters.
Who to take to it: Patient cinephiles; from the sounds of it, fans of L’Avventura.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The catalyst for the film’s drama is reportedly an attempt at matchmaking; if your own date was arranged in the same way, he/she may take the movie as a bad omen of things to come.
The Longest Ride (April 10)
What it’s about: A relationship between a college student (Sophia Danko) and a cowboy (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint) crosses paths with an epic love story told as flashbacks from an elderly man (Alan Alda). If you haven’t yet guessed that this is a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, it’s only because that previous description doesn’t mention that the movie takes place in North Carolina and the flashback love story unfolds through a series of handwritten letters.
Who to take to it: Good, God-fearing folk with old-fashioned values; owners of handkerchiefs; proud/disappointed father Clint Eastwood.
Why it might ruin your chance at a second date: The romantic deaths of so many Sparks movies have created an insatiable bloodlust; if it’s the end of the first date and you haven’t yet died tragically, your partner may doubt your dedication.
True Story (April 10)
What it’s about: File this one under stranger than fiction. Jonah Hill plays disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel, who struck up an unlikely friendship with a criminal who borrowed his identity, the convicted child murderer Christian Longo (James Franco). The film, from first-time feature director Rupert Goold, earned mostly positive reviews at last month’s Sundance Film Festival.
Who to take to it: Exposed fabulists; Apatow-entourage completists; James Franco’s biggest fan, James Franco.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Sell it as “the new James Franco and Jonah Hill movie,” and your date may feel severely mislead. This Is The End it ain’t.
Ex Machina (April 10)
What it’s about: Alex Garland, go-to screenwriter for when Danny Boyle goes genre (28 Days Later, Sunshine), gets a shot at writing and directing his own feature, about a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson, presumably in the Cillian Murphy role) recruited by a CEO (Oscar Isaac) to work on a lifelike android called Ava (Alicia Vikander). As often happens when humans and lifelike androids hang out together, complications ensue; based on Garland’s work with Boyle, those complications may involve a human cracking up and committing horrific acts of violence, but that’s just speculation.
Who to take to it: Discerning sci-fi fans who love both Her and Sunshine; programmers who can restrain themselves from pointing out improbabilities as they happen; your favorite and most lifelike android.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Garland is unproven behind the camera, and his predilection for violent mayhem might kill, or at least heavily maim, the mood.
Clouds Of Sils Maria (April 10)
What it’s about: Olivier Assayas, one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, teams with Juliette Binoche, one of the world’s greatest actresses, for a talky showbiz drama about an aging star who agrees to appear in a revival of the stage show that launched her career. The catch? She’s been cast this time as the older, less dominant character, opposite the young starlet (Chloë Grace Moretz) who’s claimed her original role. A never-better Kristen Stewart plays Binoche’s young assistant.
Who to take to it: Actresses old and young, who may recognize some of their own career experiences in the meta plot.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: The play-within-the-film is a depressing study of manipulation and merciless seduction—not the type of material that puts anyone in the mood for romance.
Kill Me Three Times (April 10)
What it’s about: Simon Pegg plays a mirthful hit man who gets tangled up in a complicated murder plot. He wears black and a badass moustache, and he says “fuck” a lot. Also, there’s apparently a lot of Pulp Fiction-esque time-shifting.
Who to take to it: Someone who kind of liked Seven Psychopaths or The Way Of The Gun, but that couldn’t quite get even that much nuance; those so scarred by seeing Pegg go mushy in Hector And The Search For Happiness that they’d eagerly lap up the opposite.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: You may discover that the only thing you had in common was the lack of knowledge about a mysterious third Hemsworth brother, and now there’s nothing else to talk about.
The Moon And The Sun (April 10)
What it’s about: The oft-told tale of the time King Louis XIV was given a mermaid, and he had to decide whether it was moral to steal her life force in a quest for immortality. (How does Hollywood get away with recycling the same story every year?) Based on the historically inaccurate yet prize-winning novel by Vonda N. McIntyre, the movie stars Pierce Brosnan as the King and Fan Bingbing as the mermaid.
Who to take to it: A date with a yearning for the kind of feelings that only mystical creatures can inspire. Maybe they’re into cosplay.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Because you took him or her out for seafood, and then to this movie about a mermaid yearning to be free. Do some research next time, dummy!
Lost River (April 10)
What it’s about: Set in a mythic ghost-town version of Detroit, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut was met with much critical derision when it premiered at Cannes last May. The film is certainly derivative, borrowing heavily from a lot of famous influences, including Terrence Malick, Harmony Korine, and David Lynch. But it also proves that Gosling has a real eye for composition, not to mention a gift for strong casting. (The fine ensemble includes Saoirse Ronan, Christina Hendricks, Eva Mendes, and Ben Mendelsohn.)
Who to take to it: Giallo enthusiasts; Detroit locals fine with seeing their hometown portrayed as a decaying lost city; Doctor Who fans eager to watch Matt Smith play James Franco playing Alien from Spring Breakers.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: A Ryan Gosling movie that features no Ryan Gosling? You’ll have explaining to do—and the stammering British kid from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not count as a fair trade.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (April 17)
What it’s about: It seems Kevin James wasn’t quite done Blart-ing it up after the success of the first film. Of course, waiting five years to make this sequel, in which the title hero uncovers a heist plot while attending a security guard expo in Las Vegas, make have squandered some of that Blart-related goodwill.
Who to take to it: Fans of chubby guys falling down; fans of chubby guys running into glass doors; family members of Kevin James.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: Given that the trailer seems to suggest it’s just the first movie with some names and places switched around, your date might think he or she is having a flashback to a previous bad date.
Unfriended (April 17)
What it’s about: Just when you thought the last ounce of inspiration had been drained from the found-footage fountain, along comes Unfriended, a horror film that seems to unfold entirely within a web browser. The plot, teased by the terrific poster, concerns a group of friends being stalked in a chat room by someone using the account of a tragically deceased classmate. It could be awful, but thanks to its central gimmick, it probably won’t be boring.
Who to take to it: Hopeless web addicts; the extremely gullible; anyone who’s somehow managed to avoid watching every bad Blair Witch descendant that’s opened over the last 16 years.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: What will a Google search or some Facebook snooping turn up on you?
The Age of Adaline (April 24)
What it’s about: Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has an accident that stops her aging process; she remains frozen at 29 years old for decades, avoiding close relationships—until she’s tempted by a new romantic prospect. This Benjamin Button-on-pause is directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who has some experience with strange love stories, having made the unconventional romantic dramedy Celeste & Jesse Forever.
Who to take to it: If Celeste & Jesse is any indication, smart and rueful semi-romantics; 29-year-olds; 29-year-olds at heart.
Why it might ruin your chances at a second date: If Adaline’s 80-plus years of living feel like 80-plus years of screen time, your date may age past romance and into a peaceful, eternal slumber.