12 Movies to Watch Before You Go to the Movies in 2014

By  · Published on January 5th, 2014

You’ve seen our preview of our most anticipated movies of 2014. Now put away those expectations for a bit and be patient, because it’s homework time. As you may know, each weekend I offer some recommendations for movies, both well-known and obscure, to see after you’ve watched that latest hot new release. I’ll be continuing this feature into the new year, so you can look forward to adding more to your backlog queue with titles tied to everything from The Legend of Hercules to Night at the Museum 3. First, though, I want to get a jump on some of the most obvious movies of the past related to the upcoming movies of the near future.

These are primarily the original works receiving remakes in the first half of 2014 – or older works based on the same stories. And as usual, some are more popular and familiar than others. Couldn’t you just skip the old versions and go blindly into the new as if it’s a fresh property? Of course, and you can keep on listening to cover songs, too. And always see the movie instead of reading a book. However, if you’re interested in knowing your history and also being able to judge something with proper awareness of what came before, whether you want to make comparisons or not, read ahead and prepare yourself for the next six months of moviegoing.

Hercules in the Haunted World

The new Renny Harlin movie of The Legend of Hercules isn’t a remake, but it is based on a myth that has been turned into numerous works for the big and small screen. And a whole lot of them are available on Amazon Instant Video and free for Prime members, including . There are also a few on Netflix Watch Instantly, including the one starring the not-yet parents of Mariska Hargitay (Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield) and the 1997 Disney animated feature. Most are pretty awful, which should be realized before you head into the latest, though usually in a goofy way. So you might be best off watching one through the gateway of Mystery Science Theater 3000, who did an episode on the 1964 Hercules Against the Moon Men. Or you can just try one as is, and the most fun choice is probably this 1961 take via Mario Bava and co-starring Christopher Lee (with another actor’s voice) as the villain, King Licos. Due Date: 1/17

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video Prime


I don’t completely understand what the new movie I, Frankenstein is all about (I kinda have been ignoring it), but it does involve Frankenstein’s monster. I’ll never know why anyone has bothered to even attempt any other takes on Mary Shelley’s novel after James Whale’s 1931 adaptation. It remains the model to which we forever compare everything else. He even made the only originally conceived offshoot worth a damn with Bride of Frankenstein. Due Date: 1/24

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video


I may be one of the few really looking forward to the new one, due to my being a big fan of director Jose Padilha and because it looks like a reimagining fit to modern relevance, but I also don’t expect it to be as good as Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi action classic. If you’ve never seen it, you don’t have much time before the redo becomes your full first impression of the concept of a cyborg policeman fighting crime and corruption in Detroit. Due Date: 2/12

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video

About Last Night…

It’s been a while since we got an African-American-cast remake of an ’80s movie (see Love Don’t Cost a Thing, The Karate Kid, Steel Magnolias…), and this isn’t one I would have pegged for a logical next pick. While the original, which stars Demi Moore and Rob Lowe as a new couple who begin with what was meant to be a one-night stand, is based on a 1974 play by David Mamet, the upcoming Valentine’s Day release, which stars Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, appears to be crediting the 1986 version’s script, as well. The theatrical feature debut of Edward Zwick, About Last Night… is one of the forgotten Brat Pack movies and deserves a look. If anything, you can play spot Catherine Keener in her very first film role as a waitress. Due Date: 2/14

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video (purchase only, but it’s cheap)

Endless Love

Another romantic offering for Valentine’s Day this year is a redo of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 movie based on the Scott Spencer novel (strangely I’ve seen no mention of the novel in material about the new version). This 33-year-old version starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt as a forbidden young couple (the Romeo and Juliet director was obviously interested in repeating himself a bit), was widely panned by critics but did pretty well at the box office and received an Oscar nomination for its title song performed by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie (the new movie stars Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde and instead of featuring a cover of that tune has instead a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”). Look for another star making a first appearance: Tom Cruise made his debut in a minor role as one of Hewitt’s character’s friends. Due Date: 2/14

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video Prime or Netflix Watch Instantly

The Last Days of Pompeii

Another forbidden love story will be found in the period disaster flick Pompeii, which seems to have the same plot as Titanic only with a famous volcanic eruption rather than a famous passenger liner crash. The incident has been replicated for thrills before, but the best was nearly 80 years ago and made by the directors of King Kong. Though it takes the name of the Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel, it’s not quite an adaptation as it has different characters and plot. Unlike the new movie, it’s not focused on a romance but a father and son relationship. Due Date: 2/21

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video

District B13

Paul Walker’s final film, if he’s removed from Fast & Furious 7, will be Brick Mansions, an English-language remake of the 2004 French actioner District B13, again produced and co-written by Luc Besson. The original was the feature directorial debut of Pierre Morel, who went on to make Taken, and it was set in the near future (2010, which is now the past!). It’s also already an awesome and relatively dumb thrill ride, so it’s hard to imagine the need for the same people to bother redoing it just for a few more Americans to see it. If not in tribute to Walker, I’d skip the remake, as it seems to be the most redundantly unnecessary of all this list’s new release alternatives. But maybe it’ll surprise us. Due Date: 2/26

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video Prime or Netflix Watch Instantly

Noah’s Ark

Another movie that’s not exactly a remake is Darren Aronofky’s Noah, which is just another epic version of the Bible story. Many other takes have been brought to the big screen over time, but I recommend Walt Disney’s jazzy Oscar-nominated stop-motion animated short from 1959. And when you’re done with that, check out Isabella Rossellini’s Seduce Me episode that brilliantly questions the Noah story’s one male/one female idea. Due Date: 3/28

Watch the Disney short in full below and the Rossellini short here

Umberto D.

If you ask me, this is Vittorio De Sica’s best neorealist film, the one that breaks my heart every time I see it. I can’t even imagine someone trying to capture the magic of the original’s relationship between the old man, Umberto, and his dog, Flike. But apparently there’s an updated version set in Brooklyn on its way from a filmmaker named Roy Carlo and starring The Soprano’s Dominic Chianese with Cathy Moriarty, and it already has a distribution deal with IFC Films. IMDb lists its release date as being this May, but that might not be accurate. Either way, even if someone got smart and canceled the whole thing, you have to see the original. I guarantee you’ll love it or you have no soul. Due date: 5/5

Watch it via Hulu Plus


I plan to do a little homework of my own for Gareth Edwards’ much-anticipated new take on the iconic Japanese monster. I’m going to watch the 1998 flop, because I never bothered when it came out (in spite of having seen some of it shot around the corner from my dorm). I know it’s universally accepted as being terrible, but I need to see it to be in the know. I should also see all the Godzilla sequels and spin-offs I’ve not yet watched. For anyone who has never seen the very first Godzilla from 1954, though, must do so. I’d say it’s the most necessary film on this list, at least if you plan to see the latest remake. If you don’t care for monster movies at all, then, skip them all. They’re not for everyone. Oh, and I do insist on the original version, not the retitled and re-edited U.S. release with the Raymond Burr insert. Due Date: 5/16

Watch it via Amazon Instant Video

Sleeping Beauty

Can you imagine children being introduced to the classic story of Sleeping Beauty by way of the upcoming live-action movie focused on the villain, Maleficent? Why is Disney so interested in bad guys lately, anyway? This seems like some sort of Act of Killing nonsense. Not that the studio’s animated feature from 1959 is the first or only or maybe even best version, but it’s still wonderful. And it is the direct basis for what’s coming out this year. Due Date: 5/30

Currently only available on DVD and Blu-ray

Left Behind: The Movie

One of the quickest remakes of something that was already in the English language I know of, the Nicolas Cage-led bigger budget adaptation of the first of Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Christian doomsday novels is due sometime in late Spring or early Summer of this year. Whatever the date, as long as the actual Rapture doesn’t happen before then you should have plenty of time to get up the courage to watch the 2000 version starring Kirk Cameron. And don’t think you won’t get sucked in and want to watch the sequels. Due Date: TBD

Watch it via iTunes

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.