- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 9, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) - It’s not really news that Arnold Schwarzenegger is back this year. Everybody else in Hollywood is, too, so why not the former California governor?

Schwarzenegger’s back with this month’s action tale “The Last Stand,” while fellow aging action star Bruce Willis returns in February’s “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth installment in his “Die Hard” series.

Superheroes return throughout the year with “Iron Man 3,” “The Wolverine,” “Thor: The Dark World” and a new take on Superman with “Man of Steel.” Animated pals revisit with follow-ups to “Despicable Me,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “The Smurfs,” and “Monsters, Inc.” Horror is resurrected with fresh stabs at “Carrie” and “The Evil Dead.” Action crews re-enlist for more on the “G.I. Joe,” “The Fast and the Furious” and “Star Trek” fronts. Comedy crews go for more laughs with “The Hangover Part III” and “Grown Ups 2.” Even old favorites such as “Jurassic Park,” “The Little Mermaid” and a couple more “Star Wars” prequels come back in 3-D reissues.

And the next chapters quickly follow for two of 2012’s biggest hits with “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”


The second “Hobbit” originally was supposed to finish Peter Jackson’s prelude to his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, until Warner Bros. and the filmmakers decided last year to shoot more footage and make it another three-pack. To expand the relatively slender “The Hobbit” into a three-movie epic, Jackson has borrowed heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” appendices, which fill in much of the Middle-earth back-story about dwarf history, elf lore and the mysterious comings and goings of Ian McKellen’s wizard, Gandalf.

“In `The Hobbit,’ Gandalf accompanies the dwarves on the journey, but from time to time, he disappears. He says, `Right, I’ve got some important things to do. I’ll meet you up at so-and-so,’” Jackson said. “Tolkien wrote a lot of, like, story outlines for what was happening to Gandalf during that time, and it was all `Lord of the Rings’ stuff. … We’ve been weaving that material into `The Hobbit,’ so this is `The Hobbit’ expanded, using Tolkien’s own text to do so.”

Here’s a look at other 2013 movie highlights:

WINTER AND SPRING:

This used to be the dead zone, when studios dumped stinkers into theaters and counted the days until summer blockbuster season. Yet recently, the first few months of the year have yielded big hits, including “The Hunger Games” and “Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax” last March.

In “The Last Stand,” Schwarzenegger is back for his first starring role since leaving the governor’s office, playing an LA-cop-turned-small-town-sheriff taking on an escaped drug kingpin. His “Expendables 2” co-star Willis is back in “A Good Day to Die Hard” as the cop who won’t quit teams with his son to stop a nuclear heist in Moscow. And rounding out the still-in-action `80s heroes, their “Expendables” buddy Sylvester Stallone stars in February’s “Bullet to the Head” as a hitman working with a cop to get the bad guys that killed their partners.

Other highlights for January through April: Sean Penn’s mob drama “Gangster Squad”; Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton’s fairy-tale update “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”; Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy’s comedy “Identity Thief”; James Franco and Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz” prelude “Oz the Great and Powerful”; Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson’s action sequel “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”; Tom Cruise’s sci-fi tale “Oblivion”; a demonic update with “Evil Dead”; and a 3-D re-release of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.”

SUMMER SEASON:

In Hollywood, summer starts the first weekend in May, and this year that means Robert Downey Jr. suits up again as rich, flaky genius Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3,” back in leading-man form after 2012’s superhero ensemble smash “The Avengers.” This time, Tony’s forced to fall back on his own survival skills after an enemy up-ends his universe.

“Tony definitely is brought out of his comfort zone, so there’s a lot of travel in this,” Downey said.

Two weeks later comes “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” with headstrong Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) still feeling the growing pains as he struggles to protect his crew from peril while realizing that he doesn’t have all the answers. Not quite the brassy Kirk we remember from William Shatner’s days on the bridge.

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