LOS ANGELES - 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."
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.
"He's not the Capt. Kirk that we knew before. He's not the mature leader of men yet," Pine said. "It brings all of his kind of brash, all-knowing sense of himself up against the reality of, "well, do you really know what you're doing?'"
Other highlights for May through August: Bradley Cooper and his gang in "The Hangover Part III"; Vin Diesel and his gang in "Fast and Furious 6"; Adam Sandler and his gang in "Grown Ups 2"; Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role of "The Great Gatsby"; Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel"; Brad Pitt and zombies in "World War Z"; Will Smith and son Jaden in the sci-fi adventure "After Earth"; Billy Crystal and John Goodman voicing the "Monsters, Inc." prequel "Monsters University"; Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum in the Oval Office thriller "White House Down"; the return of the little blue folks in "The Smurfs 2"; "Wedding Crashers" pals Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in the comedy "The Internship"; Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer as trail buddies in "The Lone Ranger"; Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi's sci-fi battle "Pacific Rim"; Steve Carell's animated sequel "Despicable Me 2"; Hugh Jackman's superhero follow-up "The Wolverine"; Matt Damon's futuristic thriller "Elysium"; the ancient Greece follow-up "300: Rise of an Empire"; and Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg's crime story "2 Guns."
FALL AND HOLIDAYS:
Part two of "The Hobbit" may own next Christmas, but Thanksgiving will be all about "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." Jennifer Lawrence is back as reluctant hero Katniss, hurled back into competition against fellow past winners of the life-or-death games.
The usual worry after a critical and commercial smash is whether the sequel can match up. Lawrence isn't sweating that, though.
"I didn't think, we've got to do as good or better, which is probably a very basic thing to think about. It's probably a good idea to think that way," Lawrence said. "But I didn't. Then when I read the script and started seeing everything developing, I really did think it could be better. And I'm definitely not worrying about it being worse or disappointing. I don't even consider that."
Other highlights for September through December: the animated sequel "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"; 3-D reissues of "The Little Mermaid" and the "Star Wars" prequels "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith"; Tom Hanks' Somali pirate saga "Captain Phillips"; Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore's new take on Stephen King's "Carrie"; Vince Vaughn's sperm-donor comedy "Delivery Man"; Chris Hemsworth's superhero sequel "Thor: The Dark World"; the animated TV cartoon adaptation "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"; the wintry animated adventure "Frozen"; Will Ferrell's comedy sequel "Anchorman II"; Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson's "Mary Poppins" behind-the-scenes story "Saving Mr. Banks"; Chris Pine's Tom Clancy thriller "Jack Ryan"; Keanu Reeves' samurai adventure "47 Ronin"; George Clooney's World War II tale "The Monuments Men"; and Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline's bachelor bash "Last Vegas."