From Cocaine Bear and Barbie, starring Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie, to The Little Mermaid and Oppenheimer, as well as the latest instalments of Dune, Indiana Jones, and Mission: Impossible, our critics pick the best 2023 releases.

1. Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear is “inspired by” the true story of a black bear who swallowed a drug dealer’s stash of cocaine, with a title so short and to-the-point that it makes Snakes on a Plane seem convoluted. Unfortunately, the bear died almost immediately afterwards. It was then stuffed and displayed as “Pablo Escobear” in the Kentucky Fun Mall. Our ursine hero rampages through a forest, attacking campers and criminals played by Keren Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Alden Ehrenreich, and the late Ray Liotta in this raucous horror comedy directed by Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels). If the viral trailer is any indication, Cocaine Bear should be a lot of fun, though it probably won’t win many awards.

2. 65

The Jurassic Park / World franchise may have died out with Jurassic World Dominion, but there are still plenty of dinosaurs to be seen on the big screen in 65. Commander Mills, a spaceship pilot “on a long-range exploratory mission” who crash-lands on a wilderness planet, is played by Adam Driver. Only one of his passengers appears to have survived, a girl played by Ariana Greenblatt. They are not, however, alone. The twist is that they are actually 65 million years ago on Earth (hence the title). Does this imply that Mills has travelled back in time? Is he a human disguised as an alien? Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the film’s writer-directors, co-wrote A Quiet Place, so they know a thing or two about lean, mean characters. Survival thrillers in which humans face off against hungry monsters. (NB)

Released on 9 March

3. John Wick, Chapter 4

Keanu Reeves reprises his role as assassin-turned-hero John Wick, this time scowling, kicking, and killing his way across continents. He visits Paris, Berlin, Osaka, and other James Bond-like locations as if Bond were a hit man rather than a spy. This time, the entire criminal world appears to be after Wick, including the High Table leaders who control all of the crime organisations. Because he was unfaithful? Because he has an unhealthy obsession with dogs? In this hugely successful, relentlessly fast action franchise, plots are secondary. Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane, both Wick veterans, return as well. (James, Caryn)

4. Renfield

Renfield is the undead Count’s devoted servant in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a madman who eats, flies, and plots his escape from an asylum. But he gets a makeover in this horror comedy directed by Chris McKay, who also directed The Lego Batman Movie. The title role is played by Nicholas Hoult (The Great, The Favourite). In modern-day New Orleans, he is still doing his master’s bidding, but, according to McKay, Dracula is “the boss from Hell” in more ways than one, so Renfield prefers to spend time with a traffic cop played by Awkwafina. Warm Bodies, in which he played a lovestruck zombie, demonstrated Hoult’s ability to handle monster-related romantic comedy, but the truly intriguing casting is Nicolas Cage as a red-suited Count Dracula. File under “The Role he was Born to Play”. (NB)

5. The Little Mermaid

Disney’s live-action remake of the 1989 animated classic is as realistic as a story about a half-human, half-fish princess can be. Halle Bailey, who performs with her sister as Chloe x Halle, plays Ariel, who wishes she could grow legs so she could join her prince on land. Melissa McCarthy plays Ursula the sea witch, Javier Bardem plays Ariel’s father, King Triton, and Daveed Diggs plays Sebastian the crab (you can almost hear him singing Under the Sea already). Along with the original songs written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, four new songs written by Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda are included. Rob Marshall, the director, is well-versed in fairy tales. having directed Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns (CJ)

6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

In 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse combined a variety of animation styles to create a mesmerising pop-art masterpiece. It also brought together a variety of Spider-People. A new Spider-Man, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a familiar one, Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), and a Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy, were among the wall-crawlers from various alternate realities (Hailee Steinfeld). But that was just the start. The sequel will span six parallel universes and feature 240 characters, many of whom will be Spider-related: Oscar Isaac, for example, is the voice of Spider-Man in the year 2099. Everything Everywhere All at Once and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ multiple realities may soon seem simple in comparison… (NB)

7. Asteroid City

Wes Anderson’s latest twisted view of the world takes place in 1955 in a fictitious US desert town where children and parents attend a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention. The official description only mentions a cataclysmic event, so I’ll go ahead and guess that the asteroid in the title has something to do with it. What we do know is that Anderson’s films, including The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch, are illogical and strange in the most wonderfully imaginative ways, and that the cast is beyond spectacular, with Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Carell, Margot Robbie, and Willem Dafoe. (CJ)

8. Elemental

Pixar’s newest animated film is set in Element City, a city where everyone is made of one of the four classical elements: earth, water, air, and fire. But what happens when a watery man (Mamoudou Athie) falls for a fiery woman (Leah Lewis)? Could things get hot and heavy? The clever anthropomorphic concept is typical of the studio that made Inside Out, but Elemental’s director, Peter Sohn, says his culture-clash romance is really about growing up as the son of Korean immigrants in a multicultural Bronx neighbourhood. That is heartening news. Pixar is currently at its best when filmmakers are allowed to put their own heritage on the screen, as Luca and Turning Red demonstrated. (NB)

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