The new year is upon us and a fresh crop of films have already begun vying for your attention. Audiences can expect superheroes, spies and fantasy epics to dominate the multiplexes like before, as well as some of cinema's greatest auteurs returning with their latest labours of love. Here is Oliver Good's guide to the 20 films expected to become 2012's most talked-about releases
The Hunger Games
With Harry Potter finished and Twilight ending soon, The Hunger Games trilogy is expected to become the next young adult literary series to win big at the box office. Starring Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), the film takes place in a future in which one boy and one girl from each of the "12 districts" of the former US must fight to the death on live television.
Marvel Studios' dream project, The Avengers, will unite Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) – all of whom have been the subject of their own successful movies in recent years. As well as being written and directed by nerds' favourite Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the superhero movie, which features Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, has been filmed in 3D.
There are two near-certainties that surround the release of any Sacha Baron Cohen project: it will be hilarious and it will be controversial. The comic behind Brüno and Borat has turned his attention towards pompous autocrats such as the late Colonel Qaddafi for his next film, playing the leader of the fictitious Republic of Wadiya on a diplomatic trip to the US.
The indie film supremo Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) returns this year with a story set in the 1960s about a pair of young lovers who run away together, and the search for them that ensues. As well as returning Anderson actors such as Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, newcomers Bruce Willis and Edward Norton will also appear.
Tipped to become the year's most talked-about Indian film is the psychological thriller Talaash, starring the Hindi superstar Aamir Khan, as well as Kareena Kapoor, Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherjee. Helmed by the female director Reema Kagti (Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd), the film's plot is a closely guarded secret.
Originally billed as a direct prequel to his 1979 film Alien, the director Ridley Scott has been cagey about exactly how much Prometheus will have in common with the sci-fi classic. But a trailer released last month dropped plenty of clues, including shots inside the same egg chamber where the nightmare all began. It will star Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron.
After two years of sequels, the digimation masters at Pixar will offer a completely original story this year. With a trailer full of Scottish accents, flowing red hair and misty mountains, it sees a young woman (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) attempting to compete against male rivals in a contest involving archery, horse-riding and the like. It will appear in 3D, of course.
The Amazing Spider-Man
After plans for a fourth Sam Raimi-directed and Tobey Maguire-starring Spider-Man movie fell apart, Columbia Pictures opted to reboot the franchise with Peter Parker back in high-school (now played by Andrew Garfield) and the director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) at the helm. It will also feature Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as Dr Connors (aka the villain The Lizard).
The Dark Knight Rises
Easily the most anticipated film of the year, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale's final Batman movie will see the Caped Crusader face his toughest challenge yet: diabolical beefcake Bane (Tom Hardy) and the dangerously seductive Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). The recently released trailer shows the mask-wearing Bane creating a giant crater out of Gotham City's football stadium, mid-game.
The Bourne Legacy
With Matt Damon refusing to return to the world of Bourne without the director Paul Greengrass, Universal decided to make the series' fourth film without its star. Instead, Jeremy Renner will play an agent who was part of the same experimental training programme as Jason Bourne. Directed by Tony Gilroy (Duplicity), it will also star Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton.
Few filmmakers' work is as universally acclaimed as that of Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. His seventh movie, The Master, will see a charismatic intellectual (Philip Seymour Hoffman) launch a faith-based organisation after the Second World War, which is likely to have more than a few similarities to L Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology.
One of the most popular novels of the past decade, Cloud Atlas will be brought to the screen by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix). David Mitchell's book features six loosely connected stories, ranging from the 19th century to a distant post-apocalyptic future. The cast will include Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry.
The winner of 2009's Palme d'Or at Cannes for The White Ribbon, the Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke will return this year with the French drama Love. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, it will focus on a retired couple forced to deal with the aftermath of the wife's debilitating stroke.
After years of legal hold-ups caused by financial woes at MGM, James Bond (Daniel Craig) will return to the screen this year for the first time since 2008's Quantum of Solace. The 23rd 007 movie has assembled a remarkable amount of talent: the director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and supporting roles for Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2
Few film series have been as up-and-down as the Twilight saga, but many agree that the second part of the final book, Breaking Dawn, is likely to make a better movie than the first (released in November 2011 to appalling reviews). The story will focus on the efforts of the vampire family, the Cullens, to protect baby Renesmee after a dangerous allegation is made about her.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg, this biopic of the 16th US president has been talked about for years, but the project became one of the world's most anticipated movies when the actor Daniel Day-Lewis was announced as the lead. The two-time Oscar winner will be joined by another Briton, Jared Harris (Mad Men), who will portray 18th president, Ulysses S Grant.
Fresh from Oscar success with The King's Speech, the director Tom Hooper will return this year with a big-screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Misérables. Set during France's failed June rebellion of 1832, it sees the Frenchman Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) jailed for stealing bread, fleeing from a police inspector (Russell Crowe). Anne Hathaway and Sacha Baron Cohen will also appear.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Some 11 years after the first Lord of the Rings movie debuted and after seemingly endless legal disputes, the first of two films based on JRR Tolkein's 1937 bestseller, The Hobbit, will arrive this year. The director Peter Jackson will return along with many of the original cast, as well as plenty of new faces, including Martin Freeman (The Office), as Bilbo Baggins.
The Great Gatsby
The Australian director Baz Luhrmann raised a few eyebrows when he not only announced plans to film the classic American novel The Great Gatsby, but to do so in 3D. He's redeemed himself with some interesting casting choices however, including Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular rogue and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.
Few directors are able to cause fan hysteria simply with the appearance of their name, but Quentin Tarantino is one such filmmaker. Described as more of "a Southern" than a Western, the film will see a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) fight to take revenge on his former master (DiCaprio again). It will also star Christoph Waltz, Kurt Russell, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sacha Baron Cohen.
The films are listed in order of their expected release dates, which are subject to change