Summer 2016 was a pretty big disappointment. Don’t ask me, because I barely saw any movies in theaters this summer, but I was following the critical reception to many of the summer’s blockbusters and the box office receipts, and I saw a sad state of affairs. I would argue that’s a large part of why I wasn’t more strongly compelled to make more trips to the movies. (Also in my defense, I did get married this summer … and was out of town a lot)
But no matter how you view this summer at the movies, you’re bound to be a little more excited for fall than usual. I almost never feel ready for the start of prime festival season and the steady hike to awards season, but this time, I’m strangely all about it. Not all my most anticipated fall movies are dramas, of course, but if I were to rank these, I’d probably lean away from genre.
15 Most Anticipated Fall Movies
Clint Eastwood continues his exploration of real-life characters in the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who famously landed a disabled commercial plane on the Hudson River without losing a single life back in 2009. As with “American Sniper,” Eastwood digs into a story of heroism and its many complexities, which seems to be his wheelhouse in this his fifth decade of filmmaking. And with Tom Hanks on board, among others, it’s hard not to be intrigued.
Speaking of directors in their wheelhouse working on films about real-life complicated heroes in recent history starring top-notch talent, it’s hard not to be intrigued by Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film made a secret appearance at Comic-Con in July but will expose itself to the world at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend.
Easily the film with the biggest box-office potential this fall is Antoine Fuqua’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” the Western that was based on the Akira Kurosawa classic “Seven Samurai.” Fuqua regular Denzel Washington stars alongside Chris Pratt as well as Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard and martial arts star Byung-hun Lee. If you still need to be sold, how about that it was co-written by Nick Pizzolatto, creator of HBO’s “True Detective”?
The surface appeal of this film adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ acclaimed novel is obvious: Tim Burton directing something creepy and off-beat for an all-ages audience. But I’m most excited to see writer Jane Goldman as the screenwriter. As far as I’m concerned, she hasn’t missed once. Some of her credits have turned into merely decent films, but many have been surprisingly good, including all her Matthew Vaughn collaborations (“Stardust,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Kick-Ass,” and “Kingsman”). “Miss Peregrine,” about a boy embracing his “peculiarity” aka special gifts, fits perfectly in with those titles. The cast is stacked too.
Another recent history film about heroism, though this one is more for the action and less for the drama (or any critical acclaim), “Deepwater Horizon” reunites “Lone Survivor” director Peter Berg with star Mark Wahlberg. The appeal is obviously Marky-Mark being the hero in this story of the oil rig that exploded in 2010. This movie has January written all over it, but we’ll take it in the fall. Dylan O’Brien of the “Maze Runner” series co-stars with Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich and more.
Denial (Sept. 30 – limited)
The film that will get the least exposure of all my anticipated fall movies is “Denial,” the story of the British court case in which American writer and historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) was sued for libel by British Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall), which turned into a debate over whether one can prove the Holocaust happened, or more importantly, what it means to demand that proof. Oscar-winner David Hare (“The Reader”) wrote the screenplay based on Lipstadt’s book. Director Mick Jackson returns to the big screen for the first time since 1997’s “Volcano.” to tell the story.
Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” a cinematic retelling of the Nat Turner slave rebellion in 1831, was the big hit of Sundance this year, amassing a lot of buzz, winning the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, and bagging a big distribution deal. I’ll admit, even though “12 Years a Slave,” came out three years ago, the prospect of another two hours of brutal human suffering on screen is exhausting, but it’s clear this film is striking another resilient and needed chord and it will be a must-see during awards season.
In the mid-2010s, fall has suddenly turned into the season for film adaptations of acclaimed and popular contemporary novels. Last year we got “The Martian,” the year before “Gone Girl,” and now Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train.” Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) is no David Fincher or Ridley Scott, but he’s got some skill to be sure, just not necessarily in the thriller genre. The story follows divorcee Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), who becomes embroiled in a missing persons investigation involving a woman who lives next to Rachel’s ex and his current wife.
Fall has been good to Ben Affleck. His directorial efforts “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town” and “Argo” were all acclaimed hits in the fall, and “Gone Girl” was a huge commercial success. In this film for Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior,” “Miracle”) he plays a crooked math savant accountant with a list of extremely dangerous clients, who faces a breaking point when the government starts investigating him. Affleck is joined by Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal (Netflix’s “Daredevil”), John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor.
When the first “Jack Reacher” was set to be released, I’ll admit to rolling my eyes, but between this franchise and the last two “Mission: Impossible” movies, Tom Cruise has proved as good in his late-40s-early-50s as he’s ever been. The first “Reacher” was a pleasant surprise, and while the would-be movie franchise has lost director Christopher McQuarrie, it’s gained Edward Zwick, a venerable filmmaker who collaborated with Cruise on “The Last Samurai.”
Doctor Who? (Sorry, not a relevant joke). Marvel is about to go into even more obscure comic book territory with this one, but with talent like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams, there’s no reason to fear that the newest Marvel hero to hit the big screen won’t be a big draw. Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) brings some horror sensibilities to what appears to be the “Inception” of the Marvel film catalog. In other words, I’m ready for stranger things (sorry again).
Jeff Nichols has been knocking on the door of a big Oscar contender for a few years now. “Take Shelter,” “Mud” and “Midnight Special” were all films that ranged from very good to excellent. “Loving” is the story of an interracial couple in the south in the 1950s (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) who are thrown in jail for getting married; their case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Being based on a true story (as opposed to his usual tall-tale/supernatural bent), while also being extremely relevant to issues of race and marriage today, “Loving” is poised to be Nichols’ breakout and no one deserves it more.
Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair for the first time in a decade for … guess what? A story of heroism based on real events. Andrew Garfield stars as Seventh Day Adventist Desmond T. Doss, a soldier/medic in World War II who refused to carry a gun, becoming the first conscientious objector in American history to win the Medal of Honor. Reviews out of Venice last weekend were definitely positive, albeit mostly as a strongly delivered film rather than a particularly interesting or complex one. Also, it’s apparently really bloody for a film about pacifism.
Arrival (Nov. 11)
The fall has also been good to filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. His Hollywood debut “Prisoners” and last year’s “Sicario” were beautifully haunting films. With “Arrival,” he tackles science fiction with horror writer Eric Heisserer and a cast including Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams stars as a linguist on a crew investigating an alien spacecraft that has landed on Earth. Who needs more info than that? What’s excellent is this appears to be less alien invasion film and more about how humans might respond to close encounters.
Did I mention we weren’t done with the complicated heroism theme? This is the last time though, honest. With no context, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” looks like “American Sniper Lite” and something I would avoid, but you can’t look away when two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee is at the helm. Working with a script from a writing rookie whose only notable credit is as associate producer on “Life of Pi,” it’s hard to imagine this being a heavyweight awards contender, but Lee can certainly surprise.
8 Fall Films to be Skeptical Of
The found footage genre has gone so far past 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” that here we are with a “Blair Witch” follow-up 17 years later (I’m ignoring 2000’s “Book of Shadows”). This modern take comes from the duo of Adam Wingard (director) and Simon Barrett (writer) who made “You’re Next” and segments of anthology horror film’s “V/H/S” and “V/H/S 2.” I actual have a healthy amount of optimism for this one but I’m not anticipating it by any means and it’s possibly good early reviews will be more middling by the time more critics have seen it.
I quite enjoy Nicholas Stoller’s work on adult comedies, but the jump to animated films is surprising. Warner Bros. Animation’s feature film division had a great start with “The LEGO Movie,” but this is a whole other animal. Bird, specifically. The pace of “Storks” from the trailer seems kind of frenetic and especially goofy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there just seems like too much going on here.
I’ve written about “Masterminds” previously — in May 2015. Relativity’s bankruptcy delayed the comedy more than a year, and even with all the talent involved, I’m just not excited. It seems a little pedestrian. Jared Hess of “Napoleon Dynamite” and other films that have failed to measure up to that one directs with Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis and two talents there were not billed when the initial market came out: Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon of “Ghostbusters.”
Friend Request (Oct. 7)
Normally I wouldn’t even put this in the skeptical category, but there are other horror films more easily skippable (like “Ouija: Origin of Evil”). Anyway, I’m pretty sure this latest take on “horror in the digital age” is going to be awful. At least 2014’s “Unfriended” attempted to do the whole film on a computer screen. “Friend Request” tries to look like it’ll be “innovative” but the trailer clearly shows how the story turns into a supernatural/possession haunting film, which is far from original.
Max Steel (Oct. 14)
There was a phase of Hollywood developing films based on action figures that spiked in the early 2010s and none of those films came to fruition — except “Max Steel,” apparently. It’s tough to imagine there’s much built-in fan base here, and with no-name actors aside from Maria Bello and Andy Garcia in supporting roles, this is the kind of film likely to get buried in the fall slate. At the same time, I would definitely welcome this film as a surprisingly good film, however. How can any child of the ’90s not with suits and super powers?
Greg Mottola is a comedy director I really like. “Superbad,” “Adventureland” and “Paul” are all movies I rather enjoyed. Like with my skepticism toward “Masterminds,” however I think I’m just tired of the recent wave of comedy and am looking for something fresh. That’s not “Joneses” which tells a familiar and predictable story of an ordinary couple (Isla Fisher and Zach Galifianakis) who get mixed up with their perfect neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) who turn out to be secret agents. The fact that it comes from the writer behind “You, Me and Dupree” has me even less inspired, albeit Joe and Anthony Russo of “Captain America: Civil War” fame did direct that movie …
Inferno (Oct. 28)
It’s not a horror movie title in time for Halloween — it’s the latest mystery adventure for Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” were watchable but underwhelming; it’s kind of surprising Ron Howard is back with this series, frankly. Burying a Howard-Hanks collaboration on Halloween weekend says a lot, considering the last two films were released in prime May territory, but if you like clues, art, history and “Dante’s Inferno,” you will probably only be so disappointed.
Something tells me that “Can’t Stop the Feeling” will be the only thing DreamWorks’ “Trolls” will be remembered for. I can live with that. I could well be wrong given the DreamWorks pedigree. The “Kung Fu Panda 3” writers ( a well-received movie) handled the script and the co-directors have experience on the “Shrek” films. I’m just not seeing any signs that this is going to be special and the bar for animation is high.
The Disappointments Room (Sept. 9) – It’s rare to watch a horror trailer where they don’t kind of reveal where it’s all going. This horror/thriller from D.J Caruso (“Eagle Eye,” “Distrubia”) had me attempting a guess and curious about the answer. Kate Beckinsale and Lucas Till (the recent “X-Men” movies) star. (Dir. D.J. Caruso)
Other People (Sept. 9, limited) – The cancer-themed indie is probably getting retreaded to death, but the debut feature of “SNL” writer Chris Kelly about a comedy writer who moves back home to take care of his mother looks promising, plus it stars a change-of-pace cast in Jesse Plemons (“Friday Night Lights”), Molly Shannon and Bradley Whitford. (Dir. Chris Kelly)
The Good Neighbor (Sept. 16, limited) – James Caan plays the creepy old man next door whom two teens attempt a “haunting experiment” on, only to find more than they bargained for. Some good buzz out of South by Southwest for this one. (Dir. Kasra Farahani)
Certain Women (Oct. 14, limited) – Garnering strong festival reviews is the latest from the well-respected Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”). There’s not much commercial appeal here, but Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern are in the lead roles. For a film about strong women, that’s home run casting. (Dir. Kelly Reichardt)
American Pastoral (Oct. 21, limited) – The latest Philip Roth novel to hit the big screen (and the second this year), this film follows a perfect middle class couple (Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly) whose daughter (Dakota Fanning) becomes radicalized and it tears their life apart. (Dir. Ewan McGregor)
In a Valley of Violence (Oct. 21, limited) – Ethan Hawke’s other Western this fall comes from horror filmmaker Ti West, who moves into totally new territory with this escalation-of-violence film reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s style. John Travolta comes out of the woodwork, with nerd girl extraordinaire Karen Gillan. (Dir. Ti West)
Elle (Nov. 11, limited) – This French-language film debuted at Cannes and was nominated for the Palm d’Or. Isabelle Huppert stars as a video game company exec who after being attacked in her home tracks down her attacker and enters a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. (Dir. Paul Verhoeven)