A bumper year for derring-do, with Bourne, Bond, and the man behind Buffy

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The Independent Culture

The new year tends to bring a glut of Oscar contenders, but there couldn't be a surer sign that it's trash time again than February's Ghost Rider 3D: Spirit of Vengeance, with Nicolas Cage as a fiery-skulled superhero.

The first Ghost Rider film might not have been up to much, but the sequel comes from the creators of the berserk Crank movies, so it could end up being as enjoyably haywire as Cage himself. And there are plenty more superhero adventures where that came from. July sees the rebooting of the Spider-Man franchise, with Andrew Garfield as the new kid behind the mask in The Amazing Spider-Man, and Emma Stone as his high-school sweetheart. In the same month, there's The Dark Knight Rises, which purports to be the final instalment in Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale's Batman trilogy. Tom Hardy is the musclebound bad guy; Anne Hathaway is Catwoman.

But the biggest superhero blockbuster is likely to be The Avengers, Marvel's mega-expensive team-up of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk. It's written and directed by Joss Whedon, the fantasy-comedy maestro behind TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it's one of two films he has out in April. The other is Cabin in the Woods, which he co-wrote with Drew Goddard, a Buffy alumnus and the writer of Cloverfield. It's set to be a typically clever subversion of the backwoods horror genre.

In March, the eccentrically punctuated new Aardman animation, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, sees the studio return to claymation. Hugh Grant provides the voice of the pirate captain. Then there's a ludicrously entertaining Jo Nesbo adaptation, Headhunters, which starts as a glossy corporate thriller before mutating into deranged farce, keeping a straight face throughout.

In May, Sacha Baron Cohen and his Borat director, Larry Charles, introduce The Dictator, surely the first Hollywood comedy to be inspired by a novel written by Saddam Hussein. If you prefer characters who are a little less extreme, there are two films revolving around knotty Anglo-American romances. The first is February's bracingly honest comedy drama Like Crazy, starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as two recent graduates who struggle to sustain their relationship in different continents. The second is The Five Year Engagement, a romcom with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.

Later in the year, we can expect the return of two familiar action heroes – sort of. In fact, August's The Bourne Legacy is that most questionable of enterprises, a Bourne film with neither Matt Damon as its star nor Paul Greengrass as its director. Still, it has the same writer as the original Bourne trilogy, Tony Gilroy, and Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker as a Bourne-ish secret agent. Speaking of Bourne-ish secret agents, Daniel Craig's James Bond is back this October in Skyfall. The uninspiring title may sound as if it belongs to a spin-off video game, but it's intriguing to see that Sam Mendes is directing, and that he's hired Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris too. Whishaw is playing Q, so the series might even refind its sense of humour.

Finally, in December, we're due Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti western, Django Unchained, which stars Jamie Foxx as a runaway slave. Spike Lee, who once accused Tarantino of wishing to be "an honorary black man", must be preparing his outraged response already.

Watch out for...

A decade ago, the Olsen twins were a scarily successful duo of child stars. But just as Macaulay Culkin's little brothers went on to outshine him, it's a younger sibling, Elizabeth Olsen who's got the talent. She's already garnered awards for her intense performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene (out next month), an unsettling drama about an escapee from a religious cult.