Some of the world's biggest film-makers, including James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Martin Scorsese, have new films this year, while the latest in the Harry Potter, Terminator, X-Men and Twilight franchises will hope to build on their existing fanbases.

Some - Knowing, Surrogates and The Box, for example - are new ideas with intriguing concepts and directors that could be surprise hits.

Others - Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience and nature documentary Earth - are attempts to tap into audiences with non-narrative films.

One thing is certain: 3D is in, being employed on numerous films from small horror titles (Final Destination 4: Death Trip 3D, My Bloody Valentine 3D) to gigantic super-epics (Avatar, Monsters Vs Aliens). All release dates are correct at time of going to press.

The blockbusters

Can there be a more anticipated movie than James Cameron's 3D sci-fi spectacular Avatar, his first dramatic feature since Titanic established itself as the biggest film of all time in 1998'

December 18 is Fox's worldwide release date in both traditional and Imax formats for the film, which was shot using revolutionary motion capture and virtual camera systems.

Weta Digital is working on the CG effects and Cameron promises 'an entire world, a complete ecosystem of phantasmagorical plants and creatures, and a native people with a rich culture and language'. Australian newcomer Sam Worthington heads the cast, which also includes Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi and Sigourney Weaver.

Whatever Cameron tries to do, Michael Bay will give him a run for his money, and the effects on show in Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, which Paramount releases for DreamWorks on June 26, will no doubt be first rate. And JJ Abrams joins the envelope-pushing brigade as his re-envisioning of Star Trek hits theatres on May 8, also for Paramount.

Other big-name directors with high-octane blockbusters out this year include Roland Emmerich whose latest end-of-the-world saga 2012 hits theatres through Sony on July 10, and 300's Zack Snyder whose film of the graphic novel Watchmen is set for a March 6 launch through Warner Bros, although at time of going to press, a distribution rights dispute with Twentieth Century Fox was threatening the release date.

Delayed from 2008, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince arrives from Warner Bros on July 17 in the heart of the summer season. The seventh book, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, will be adapted into two films for release in November 2010 and May 2011 respectively, giving the studio its greatest possible box-office potential as its franchise comes to an end.

Warner Bros also has domestic rights on Terminator: Salvation, the fourth in the series and the first to be produced by The Halcyon Company. McG sits in the director's chair and his cast includes Christian Bale, Bryce Dallas Howard and Avatar's Worthington.

Fox is revisiting the X-Men franchise with a spin-off prequel about Hugh Jackman's character, X-Men Wolverine, directed by Tsotsi Oscar winner Gavin Hood.

And Universal is hoping to jumpstart its The Fast And The Furious franchise with the fourth in the series, Fast & Furious (April 3). It will reunite Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for the first time since the opening film, under the direction of the third film's Justin Lin.

Sony is counting on duplicating the magic that made The Da Vinci Code a $750m worldwide smash, with the follow-up Angels & Demons. Bringing director Ron Howard back together with star Tom Hanks, the Vatican-set Robert Langdon mystery arrives on May 15.

New to the big screen is Universal's lavish movie version of classic 1970s TV series Land Of The Lost set in a prehistoric world and featuring Will Ferrell under Brad Silberling's direction.

Sacha Baron Cohen brings his Bruno character to the big screen for Universal (May 15) and Miley Cyrus makes her first stab at movie stardom with the film version of her Hannah Montana TV series, Hannah Montana: The Movie, which is bound to create some dizzying box office for Disney when it opens on April 10.

Fox's holiday 2006 smashes Night At The Museum ($575m worldwide) and Alvin And The Chipmunks ($360m worldwide) both have sequels in 2009. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian sees Amy Adams join Ben Stiller and company in a new city and new museum on May 22, while Alvin And The Chipmunks - The Squeakuel arrives in theatres with a new director (Betty Thomas) but the same human star (Jason Lee) on Christmas Day.

And establishing a Thanksgiving tradition that began with spectacular success last year, Summit has set November 20 as the opening day for New Moon, the Chris Weitz-directed sequel to Twilight.

Other blockbusters-in-waiting include Tony Scott's remake of The Taking Of Pelham 123 with Denzel Washington and John Travolta (Sony, June 12), Joe Johnston's update of The Wolf Man (Universal, November 6) featuring Benicio Del Toro as the werewolf, Guy Ritchie's hard-edged film of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law (Warner Bros, November 20) and Robert Zemeckis' 3D fantasy A Christmas Carol featuring Jim Carrey in seven roles (Disney, November 6).

Aminated features

The increasingly sophisticated world of animation should offer plenty of delights in 2009, not least of which will be Pixar's annual offering Up, which opens on May 29. Directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc), Up tells the story of a 78-year-old balloon salesman who flies away for the adventure of a lifetime in South America.

Fox enters the summer animation contest with the third in its Ice Age franchise, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs (July 3), DreamWorks Animation has the 3D movie Monsters Vs Aliens (March 27) and Sony has Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (September 18). Disney, meanwhile, tries something old - the, gasp, 2D animated The Princess And The Frog (December) - and something new in half animated, half live-action 3D adventure G-Force, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

But in addition to big-name animated titles, there are some intriguing newcomers. Spike Jonze's ambitious film of Where The Wild Things Are, which combines live action, animatronics and CGI, is finally released after years in production through Warner Bros on October 16. Wes Anderson's stop-motion The Fantastic Mr Fox opens through Fox on November 9, with a voice cast including George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. And Focus Features will release two animated movies - Henry Selick's stop-motion Coraline (February 6) and Shane Acker's post-apocalyptic 9 (September 9).

The Comedies

The comedies lined up for release in 2009 see some tasty talent teaming up, and should build on comedies' current market share.

Take Judd Apatow's next film, Funny People, which is set for release by Universal on July 31. Set in the world of stand-up, it features Apatow regulars Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann (aka Mrs Apatow) and Jonah Hill alongside Adam Sandler and Eric Bana. Apatow also produced ancient-world comedy The Year One with Jack Black and Michael Cera (Sony, June 19), while Rogen teams up with newcomer Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) on Observe And Report (Warner Bros, April 10).

Romantic comedy pairings are plentiful - from Sandra Bullock and Thomas Haden Church in All About Steve (Fox, March 6), to Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal (Disney, June 12), Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner in The Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past (Warner Bros, May 1) and Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in The Ugly Truth (Sony, April 3).

Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker have an untitled comedy at Sony (December 25), while a slew of stars including Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore and Ben Affleck try to understand romance in He's Just Not That Into You (Warner Bros, February 6).

Other star vehicles include Eddie Murphy in family comedy Imagine That (Paramount, June 12), Dwayne Johnson as The Tooth Fairy (Fox, November 13), John Travolta and Robin Williams in Old Dogs (Disney, November 27), Zac Efron as a young Matthew Perry in Warner's story about a man reliving his youth in 17 Again (April 17), John Hamburg's I Love You, Man with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (Paramount, March 20), and Isla Fisher in PJ Hogan's Confessions Of A Shopaholic (Disney, February 13).

Meryl Streep has two major comedies in 2009: in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia (Sony, August 7) she plays a celebrity cook, and at Christmas she teams with Nancy Meyers for an untitled film in which Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin vie for her attention. Mamma Mia, indeed.