Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros., Dec. 25)
There's no James Bond this year, so why not refashion Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary 19th century sleuth into a superhero that's a cross between 007 and Jim West? Robert Downey Jr. is "quirky and kind of nuts" -- and so is Holmes in Guy Ritchie's conspiracy-driven thriller. Here Holmes' fighting skills are as lethal as his intellect, and Jude Law's Watson proves an adroit foil with his skills as soldier, surgeon, womanizer and gambler. Vfx from Double Negative and Framestore look to be explosive and adroit in recapturing Victorian London.
Ninja Assassin (Warner Bros., Nov. 25)
The studio promises a blood fest in this refashioned martial arts actioner from director James McTeigue and produced by Joel Silver (Sherlock Holmes) and the Wachowskis. Raizo (Rain) is one of the world's deadliest assassins but has become a myth. When his friend is executed by his former clan, he goes into hiding and comes back for revenge. Nearly 800 vfx shots, ranging from CG blood, CG weapons, CG dismemberments, CG embers and matte paintings have been executed by nearly 10 vendors, including Pixomondo, Trixter and Evil Eye. Dan Glass (the overall supervisor) worked with Chas Jarrett, Bjoern Mayer and Chris Townsend.
The Lovely Bones (Paramount, Dec. 11)
Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel is one of the year's most awaited releases and has Best Picture potential written all over it. In 1973, a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) is murdered by a local pedophile (Stanley Tucci), and enters an afterlife with a weird sense of humor. Jackson ,who potentially returns to his Heavenly Creatures kind of movie, has expanded the afterlife with the help of Weta Digital (supervised by Christian Rivers). Not exactly heaven, her refuge is more of an in-between state of mind until she can resolve the issues surrounding her death -- and is the imaginatively metaphoric province of dreams filtered through the lovely New Zealand landscape.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit Ent., Nov. 20)
The second installment in the Twilight franchise is setting records on Fandango and could top its predecessor. And the vfx bar has been suitably raised, with lots of werewolves from Tippett Studio entering the vampire fray.
Avatar (Twentieth Century Fox, Dec. 18)
OK, this is it -- the film we've been waiting and waiting and waiting for: James Cameron's return to the big screen. We've seen the trailers, we've glimpsed the IMAX 3-D footage from "Avatar Day" and we will know soon enough if this hybrid has been worth all the hype. Rest assured: it will be a forward-looking stereoscopic spectacle that will have the industry frantically seeking to join the virtual production revolution. And Weta Digital is the lead vendor in this game changer.