Analysing the kinds of movies mainstream cinema will offer audiences over the next calendar year inevitably includes the surety that multiplex crowds will be revisited not just by familiar concepts and stories but by characters we’ve been conditioned to share popular culture with, like it or nay. The blockbuster status of James Cameron’s Avatar is encouraging for a couple of reasons: namely because it is a) a very well-made picture and b) one of few massively budgeted Hollywood movies based on an original idea.

This year we saw people and creatures from Transformers, Twilight, Star Trek, Ice Age, Night at the Museum, The Da Vinci Code, The Pink Panther, Fast and the Furious and X Men return in some of the year’s biggest movies. Fresh characters from movies such as Up, The Hangover, Paranormal Activity, District 9 and Avatar reminded audiences that Hollywood is still capable of producing flecks of originality.

Next year the ante will be upped, offering a year stuffed to the gills with iconic characters of, shall we say, varying substance. On the upper echelon we will have new cinematic forays from Robin Hood, Balthazar Blake, Lamuel Gulliver and Gordon Gekko; on a decidedly lower terrain we will see Shrek, Harry Potter, Bella and Edward, the Narnia kids, Freddy Krueger, the Karate Kid, the A Team, Ironic Man and, um, The Wog Boy make their way back to the big screen.

This ragtag crew carry with them the promise of spectacle and the guarantee that they will rake in serious dosh at the box office, notwithstanding the occasional turkey. Memo to Wog Boy: that could be you, mmmaatteeee.

Below are 20 of the biggest movies of 2010. It is sobering, though not in the least surprising, that of these 20 pictures — the kind we call “event” or “tent pole” releases — only three are not sequels, prequels, adaptations or remakes.

Robin Hood (May)
Russell Crowe gets down in da Hood for his fifth collaboration with long-time epic-maker Ridley Scott in a role that will forever link him to the likes of Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner and um, Cary Elwes. In Robin Hood Crowe will rob from the rich and give to the poor, a welcome change from belching out rock lyrics and throwing telephones at hotel receptionists. Cate Blanchett will co-star as Maid Marian. No word yet on whether Scott will attempt to replicate the searing artistic success of “arrow cam” — the best thing about Costner’s 1991 hit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

The Book of Eli (February)
In another addition to the increasingly crowded but visually desolate post-apocalyptic genre (ala I Am Legend, Terminator: Salvation, The Road etc) a surly fuzzy-faced Denzil Washington in ass-kicking mode will wander across a ravaged US landscape, fighting to protect a book that holds the secrets to saving mankind. His character has been walking for “31 years”, even since “the war tore a hole in the sky”, so one hopes he has a decent pair of sneakers or some carefully fitted orthotics. The Book of Eli doesn’t look like much chop — in fact it looks about as lame as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel — but at least it’s an original idea, original only in the sense that it’s not a sequel, an adaptation or a remake. Yes, slim are the pickings.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (TBA)
Adapted from the famous Mickey Mouse/dancing broomsticks segment in Disney’s 1940 animated feature Fantasia, which was inspired by Goethe’s 1797 poem, National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub and hot shot producer Jerry Bruckheimer update the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to modern-day Manhattan and cast puppy dog impersonator Nicholas Cage as master sorcerer Balthazar Blake. Early word suggests Cage will again attempt to balance the weight of his performance in the space between his eyebrows.

Prince of Persia (May)
Since making a name for himself in 2001’s brooding indie mind melt Donnie Darko, star Jake Gyllenhaal has kept away from junky action blockbusters, notwithstanding disaster auteur Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004). That looks set to change in the loudest and dumbest ways imaginable with The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which early footage (suggests isn’t exactly aspiring to defy the common wisdom that all video game adaptations are inherently sh-thouse. In a role that appears to have been written specifically for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Gyllenhaal will play a buff long-haired ragamuffin who teams with a princess to stop Ben Kingsley from destroying the world with a sandstorm.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (TBA)
As the newly revamped franchise catchphrase goes: “one-two-Freddy’s-remake-is-coming-for-you”. It’s anyone’s guess how music vid director Samuel Bayer’s reworking of Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic will pan out, but it’s certainly been buoyed by good casting: Jackie Earle Haley, who played Roschach in Watchmen, will don Freddy Krueger’s iconic scissor hands gloves and red and green jumper to torment a new gen of teenagers in their sleep.

Predators (TBA)
Adrien Brody fills in as a surrogate Arnold Schwarzenegger in producer Robert Rodriguez’s reboot of the Predator franchise. One assumes Brody, who won an Oscar in 2002 for his performance in Polanski’s The Pianist, will  buff up big time for the role, but even then it’s hard to imagine him looking anything but puny in comparison to Arny’s hey-day physique. Pressure will be on for the screenwriters to top the golden one liner from John McTiernan’s 1987 original, delivered by wrestler-cum-actor-cum-Governor Jesse Ventura: “bleed? I ain’t got time to bleed”.

Alice in Wonderland (March)
A live action adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved book was always going to tickle the fantasy-infatuated fancy of cult filmmaker Tim Burton, who promises to stuff the story with his distinctively offbeat hallucinogenic style. The gloriously psychotropic looking trailer suggests this one will resonate particularly well in 3D, with a borderline unrecognisable red-haired Johnny Depp prancing about in full-blown OTW mode as The Mad Hatter. Alice in Wonderland marks the sixth Burton/Depp collaboration.

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (April)
The GFC inspired this belated sequel to Oliver Stone’s 1987 corporate thriller, which starred Michael Douglas in an Oscar-winning turn as stockbroker Gordon “lunch is for wimps” Gekko. Douglas and Stone will reunite, joined by rising star Shia LaBeouf, whose professional credibility has so far proved remarkably impervious to monolithic-sized turkeys (i.e. Transformers 1 and 2 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

Gulliver’s Travels (December)
Slated for a Christmas 2010 release, Jack Black will star role as Lemuel Gulliver in a “reimagining” of Jonathan Swift’s classic tale about a travel writer who arrives in a strange land and finds himself a giant amount men, then later a midget among giants. The most recent live action feature was a 1977 version starring Richard Harris.

Wog Boy 2: Kings of Mykonos (May)
OK, this isn’t likely to become an international box office behemoth, but given the original Nick Giannopoulos comedy took in $13.4 million at Australian cinemas in 2000, the sequel could legitimately qualify for a local blockbuster equivalent. When so many Australian cultural cringe comedies crash and burn the success of The Wog Boy remains a mind boggling mystery.

Tomorrow When the War Began (TBA)
Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie, who penned the excellent Michael Mann thriller Collateral (2004) and chipped in on all three Pirates of the Caribbean screenplays, will mark his directorial debut with an adaptation of John Marsden’s beloved invasion novel, which details the occupation of Australia by an unnamed foreign power. Neighbours star Caitlin Stasey will play protagonist Ellie Linton. If the film does well there will be oodles of room for sequels (Marsden wrote seven books in the series).

Toy Story 3 (June)
The ever-reliable Pixar Studio, which is currently nursing a 10-zip strike record of good films versus duds, will return to the franchise from whence they began for the third infinity-and-beyond big screen outing of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mr Potato Head and the rest of the playtime crew. It will be helmed by Lee Unkrich, who co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. 2010 will also see the re-release of Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D format.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (TBA)
The Twi-hards will again emerge in droves to sink their fangs into the next adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s unaccountably successful high school vampire novels. The synopsis on IMDB for Eclipse reads “lovestruck teenager Bella must choose between her vampire boyfriend Edward and werewolf Jacob”. Funny, I thought that story of New Moon too.

The Last Airbender (TBA)
Ten years ago emerging writer/director M Night Shyamalan revealed great potential with his clever but overrated thriller The Sixth Sense and his screwy but underrated superhero drama Unbreakable (2000). Script problems in Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) did not put Shyamalan in good stead for his next two pics — 2006’s Lady in the Water and last year’s The Happening — a pair of mystifyingly incompetent duds for which the term “turkey” is exceptionally generous. Things will not be returning to anything vaguely resembling normality with The Last Airbender, which looks set to mystify viewers with another borderline incomprehensible storyline, this one about a character named Aang who lives in a world consisting of four preposterously named nations (Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation and the Air Nomads) and must “return peace and balance by putting an end to the war and mastering all four elements”. My advice is to lay off the crack, M (if that is your real name).

Shrek Forever After (June)
That fat incorrigible Mike Myers-voiced green ogre gets off the couch for his fourth (and hopefully last) cinematic outing in which he moves from a domestic family setting to a twisted far away land where ogres are hunted and, we can only hope, mercilessly slaughtered. Fingers crossed Shrek gets barbecued and turned into a shish kebab.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (November)
The iconic bookish looking do-gooder from Hogwarts returns for the last of JK  Rowling’s books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which has been separated into two movies to maximise box office revenue. That’s a little like slicing a bar of soap in half, selling it as a two for one and charging the consumer double anyway. The producers are probably thinking they should have done that with all the Potter movies.

The Expendables (August)
Buoyed by his recent and surprisingly decent belated sequels to the Rambo and Rocky franchises, Sylvester “Italian Stallone” Stallone directs a junky action plot about a team of mercenaries on a mission to overthrow a South American dictator. The cast has been cherry picked to make retro action aficionados froth at the mouth, with Sly starring alongside Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Danny Trejo, Jason Stratham, Eric Roberts and Steve Austin, with cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Steven Seagal, Kurt Russell, Jean Claude Van Damme and Wesley Snipes were reportedly offered roles but turned them down due to other commitments. Early buzz has touted The Expendables as a throwback to old school (i.e. non-CGI) action of the guns and fisticuffs variety.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (December)
The previous adaptation of CS Lewis’s beloved Narnia books, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, was widely considered a box office disappointment despite earning more than $US400 million worldwide. Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was shot mostly in Queensland, will feature small parts from a bunch of Aussie veterans including Gary Sweet, Roy Billing and Bruce Spence.

Iron Man 2 (April)
Robert Downey Jnr’s sh-t-hot performance in Iron Man as an eccentric arms dealing millionaire who, post-crisis of conscience, decides to protect mankind using an indestructible flying suit (naturally) united critics and audiences in howls of delight. The highly anticipated sequel scores some serious cool points for casting Mickey Rourke as the villainous Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash, and the supporting cast is huge — including Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany and Garry Shandling.

The Karate Kid (TBA)
11-year-old Jaden Smith (son of Will) will wax on wax off in director Harald Zwart’s extensively reworked remake of the junky 1984 classic. The new Karate Kid will be set in Bejing (not LA), the protagonist will be much younger (in the original he was a high school student) and the Mr Miyagi character has been replaced with Mr Han, played by Jackie Chan. Lovers of the original should not get their hopes up: Zwart’s previous film was the god-awful Pink Panther 2 and Chan is riding a long line of shockers including Rush Hour 3, Around the World in 80 Days and Shanghai Knights.