We are in the middle of a great experiment, and the multiplex is the laboratory.
That uncertainty may prove to be a boon for those who like variety — and a dash of the unexpected. Horror movies — often relegated to the warmer months — make up a surprisingly substantial part of the coming months’ releases. But so do films of almost every other sort: sci-fi, superhero sagas, romance, family films, biopics, historical costume dramas, comedy, memoirs, musicals, nostalgia-trip sequels and quirky art-house fare.
Which ones will put audiences in seats is a question still to be determined. But this much is certain: These are 21 of the movies that are getting Hollywood’s hopes up — and people talking.
Opening dates and ratings are subject to change.
(Oct. 15, R)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis.
After the film’s debut last month at the Venice Film Festival, reviews of this 12th installment in the Halloween franchise weren’t pretty: “Call it: ‘Halloween Overkills,’ ” the Hollywood Reporter joked. Picking up where 2018’s “Halloween” left off, the film finds Curtis’s Laurie Strode, despite having been stabbed in the abdomen, still hellbent on killing the unkillable serial killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney), whom she first met in 1978. According to the trailer, Myers may now be something other than flesh and blood: “The more he kills,” Laurie says, “the more he transcends.” Also available on Peacock.
Selling point: It’s smart for filmmaker David Gordon Green — who also directed the 2018 film — to ignore all previous Halloween iterations, except for John Carpenter’s original. Now if only he can keep the spirit of sick fun he injected into the last film alive — just like Michael Myers.
The Last Duel
(Oct. 15, R)
Starring: Jodie Comer, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck.
An accusation of rape in the year 1386 fuels the action of this fact-based historical drama about medieval knights who square off in a fight to the death — the last such “trial by combat ” ever allowed in France. Driver plays the accused, with a mullet-sporting Damon as the husband of the accuser (Comer). A startlingly blond Affleck is their patron in the French court. Seen through a 21st-century lens, the still-controversial tale appears rich with contemporary resonance. Comer’s last line in the trailer: “I will not be silent.”
Selling point: With a screenplay co-written by Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) — sharing credit with Damon and Affleck — the centuries-old he-said, she-said story has been dusted off for the #MeToo era.
(Oct. 22, PG-13)
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Sharon Duncan Brewster, Javier Bardem.
Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel — about the heir apparent to a space dynasty whose power derives from controlling access to a precious “spice,” said to enhance brain power and extend life — has proven impossible to adapt in the past, most infamously with David Lynch’s roundly panned 1984 adaptation. Chalamet anchors the tale as the psychic, Messiah-like hero Paul Atreides, in a story so sprawling that director Denis Villeneuve only agreed to tackle it if he could break it into two parts. While some early reviews have praised the film’s visuals, there have been reservations: According to Variety, this “Dune” is a “masterpiece” compared with Lynch’s film, earning five stars for world-building, but only two-and-a-half for storytelling. Also available on HBO Max.
Selling point: In “Blade Runner 2049” and “Arrival,” Villeneuve has shown himself to have a firm grasp of both style and story — though we may have to wait for the promised “Dune 2” to get full evidence of the latter.
The French Dispatch
(Oct. 22, R)
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro, Lyna Khoudri, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Stephen Park, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Jeffrey Wright.
Inspired by a lifelong fascination with the New Yorker magazine, its lore and inner workings, Wes Anderson has set his latest film in the offices of an expatriate-staffed cultural magazine for Americans in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Divided into four chapters, each of which has to do with the reporting of a different article, the ensemble film boasts a large cast, many of whom are regulars in Anderson’s acting stable. (Murray plays editor Arthur Howitzer Jr., said to be a hybrid of New Yorker editors Harold Ross and William Shawn.) Could this be the apotheosis of the Wes Anderson movie — the most Andersonian of all Anderson’s films? Entertainment Weekly thinks so: “ ‘Dispatch’ often feels like the filmmaker in concentrate form,” the magazine wrote, “both his best and worst instincts on extravagant display.”
Selling point: Probably not the best film to start with if you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson movie. On the other hand, if you’ve seen everything he’s ever done — more than once — this may be the film for you.
Ron's Gone Wrong
(Oct. 22, PG)
Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer.
The debut animated feature from the U.K.-based Locksmith Animation tells the story of a middle-schooler (voice of Grazer) whose new digital companion B-Bot (Galifianakis) — a kind of walking, talking, vaguely humanoid hybrid of an Amazon Alexa device and a robot dog — badly (but endearingly) malfunctions. The film is co-directed and co-written by Locksmith co-founder Sarah Smith, who summed up its themes of tech frustration and unhealthy social-media obsession in an interview with IndieWire: “How do we, as parents, as children, as kids growing up in a world in which this is all they’ve ever known, how do we learn to live with the tech?”
Selling point: Who can’t relate to a piece of tech hardware that won’t do as it’s told?
(Oct. 29, R)
Starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, and based on Nick Antosca’s “The Quiet Boy” — a short horror story inspired by Native American folklore about a mythological antlered creature known as the Wendigo — “Antlers” revolves around a troubled boy named Lucas (Thomas) living with his impoverished father and brother in a small Oregon town. After a corpse turns up, chopped in two, Lucas becomes the focus of concern for his teacher (Russell) and her sheriff brother (Plemons), who come to suspect that the boy’s home may harbor more than your garden-variety dysfunction.
Selling point: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart” and “Out of the Furnace”) is a director who is known for having an eye and ear for the dark side of postindustrial America.
Last Night in Soho
(Oct. 29, R)
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg.
In Edgar Wright’s psychological horror film, McKenzie plays Eloise, a naive, small-town student studying fashion in London — the child of a mother with similar ambitions, who committed suicide years ago. When Eloise appears to discover a kind of supernatural portal, via her dreams, to the swinging 1960s, she begins to identify with a glamorous singer she encounters there (Taylor-Joy). But soon Eloise’s dreams start to become nightmares.
(Nov. 5, PG-13)
Starring: Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Angelina Jolie, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Richard Madden, Lia McHugh, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff.
Like DC Entertainment’s “Suicide Squad,” Marvel’s new ensemble superhero movie centers on a large gaggle of characters who are not that well known outside of comic-book fandom. In this case, they’re members of a race of immortal beings who have lived among humans for thousands of years — originally brought here for the purpose of defending Earth from monsters known as Deviants (and specifically forbidden to interfere in other conflicts). Many questions remain unanswered about the tightly guarded plot, including: Are Deviants the only antagonists, or a red herring? Who will portray the warlord Kro? (The villain is rumored to be played by Dan Stevens, who responded to an interview question about that with a coy “Kro comment.”) And could one of the Eternals themselves prove to be a villain?
Selling point: In addition to the bold hiring of director Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), the cast is notably diverse, and not just ethnically. “Eternals” features several gender-flipped roles, recasting the comics’ male characters of Ajak, Sprite and Makkari as women (played by, respectively, Hayek, McHugh and Ridloff, who also is deaf).
(Nov. 12, not yet rated)
Starring: Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds.
The Belfast-born actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh moved to England with his family when he was 9, just as the sectarian violence known as the Troubles was coming to a head. But his experiences there left an indelible mark, and in this loosely autobiographical, 1969-set film, Branagh revisits the troubled city of his youth, in a story that Variety likened to Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning “Roma,” only more accessible.
Selling point: Filmed in black-and-white, but bookended by a color prologue and epilogue, “Belfast” intercuts between Belfast life and scenes from film and theater that made an impression on its young protagonist, Buddy (newcomer Hill), suggesting that this is an origin story about Branagh the storyteller.
(Nov. 19, R)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann.
After two back-to-back movies inspired, respectively, by his mother and father — (“20th Century Women” and “Beginners,”) writer-director Mike Mills — the father of a 9-year-old, with his wife, filmmaker Miranda July — turns his lens on the theme of parenting. Well, maybe uncle-ing. In “C’mon C’mon,” Phoenix plays Johnny, a rumpled, Ira Glass-like audio journalist on assignment to interview children across the country about their hopes and fears, with his 9-year-old nephew Jesse (Norman) in tow. According to IndieWire, it’s a “sweet and shaggy mood piece” about a “quasi-parental friendship.”
(Nov. 19, PG-13)
Starring: Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd.
Wolfhard and Grace play the grandkids of O.G. (Original Ghostbuster) Egon Spengler — played by the late Harold Ramis — who along with their single mom (Coon) have moved into Spengler’s Oklahoma house. When echoes of the paranormal phenomenon at the center of the first “Ghostbusters” film (now known as the Manhattan Crossrip of 1984) begin to reappear, the kids must step into their forebear’s jumpsuit, so to speak, and take up the Proton Pack against a new crop of supernatural ectoplasm.
Selling point: Nostalgia isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if done right.
(Nov. 19, PG-13)
Starring: Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Aunjanue Ellis.
After the Telluride Film Festival premiere of this biopic — a portrait of Venus and Serena Williams’s father Richard, who nudged and nurtured his daughters into becoming tennis superstars — Smith received glowing reviews for his performance as the tough but loving Svengali to the two sports prodigies (Sidney and Singleton). Also available on HBO Max.
Selling point: As with “The Pursuit of Happyness” — the 2007 film that earned Smith his second of two Oscar nominations — it’s always great to see Hollywood celebrate a Black character it all to often ignores: the dedicated father.
(Nov. 24, PG)
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama.
With a colorful setting inspired by Colombia’s lush Cocora Valley, Disney’s animated feature tells the story of the Mirabel family, whose members all posses magical abilities — except for the bespectacled Madrigal (voice of Beatriz). But when that magic is threatened, it’s our heroine’s turn to discover that everyone has something special in them.
Selling point: Original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
House of Gucci
(Nov. 24, R)
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino.
Dripping with glamour, lurid scandal, fake Italian accents and more Oscar nominees and winners than you can shake a stick at, Ridley Scott’s true-crime tale is based on Sarah Gay Forden’s 2000 book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed.” The film tells the story behind the 1995 murder of fashion heir Maurizio Gucci (Driver), on the orders of his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), who was sentenced to 20 years for the crime in 1998, and released for good behavior in 2016.
Selling point: Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has described the film — which has already gotten under the skin of some Gucci heirs, according to the Associated Press — as a “kitschy, funny, tragic tragedy — like a high-end soap opera. With a crazy cast as well.”
(Dec. 10, PG-13)
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn.
Dinklage plays the title character, based on the hero of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play. As in Rostand’s story, he’s a swordsman and wordsmith in love with the same woman (Bennett) as his best friend (Harrison). But in director Joe Wright’s telling — based on the 2019 Off Broadway musical written by Dinklage’s wife Erica Schmidt specifically for her husband — Cyrano’s most notable physical feature, in this most famous of love triangles, is not his large nose, but his short stature.
Selling point: The songs were composed by three members of the rock band the National: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner (music) and Matt Berninger, assisted on lyrics by Carin Besser. Particularly heartbreaking is the third act tear-jerker “Heaven Is Wherever I Fall.”
West Side Story
(Dec. 10, PG-13)
Starring: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, with a new screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner, this version of the “Romeo and Juliet”-inspired story of doomed love is said to take its cues more from the original, Tony-winning 1957 stage musical than the Oscar-winning 1961 film. As Kushner told Vanity Fair, the Leonard Bernstein score is “arguably the most beautiful score ever written for musical theater, and Arthur Laurents’s original book is a masterpiece. And we started building from that.”
(Dec. 17, R)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perelman, David Strathairn.
The little-known 1946 novel that inspired this film from director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) has already been made into a movie once before: a 1947 pulpy film noir film starring Tyrone Powell and Joan Blondell. It’s a bit of a switch for del Toro, seeing as there are no supernatural elements to this tale of the relationship between a former carny (Cooper) and a psychiatrist (Blanchett). As the filmmaker told Collider, its darkness may be true to form for the director, but in an “underbelly of society” way.
Selling point: In a 2010 reappraisal of the original novel by William Lindsay Gresham, The Washington Post called the film’s source material a “creepy, all-too-harrowing masterpiece,” with “raw, Dostoevskian power.”
Spider-Man: No Way Home
(Dec. 17, not yet rated)
Starring: Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Alfred Molina.
The end of the 2019 film “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left us with — spoiler alert — a Spidey whose identity as Peter Parker had been revealed by a dying Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Trying to undo that one little oopsie, our hero visits Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) in an attempt to harness his powers to erase the incident. Needless to say, Strange’s magical mulligan tampers with the “entire stability of space-time,” as he puts it in the trailer, leading to a story that will undoubtedly include appearances by characters from Spider-Man’s past.
Selling point: The idea of a Spider-Man multiverse, with alternate timelines, has already inspired one fantastic film: the Oscar-winning 2018 animated film “Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse.”
A Journal for Jordan
(Dec. 22, not yet rated)
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams.
Denzel Washington assumes the director’s chair again, in a follow-up to his Oscar-nominated “Fences” (for which Viola Davis took home Best Actress prize). Adapted by screenwriter Virgil Williams, co-writer of “Mudbound,” the film is based on a memoir by Dana Canedy (Adams), who assembled her late fiance Charles Monroe King’s journals — written before King (Jordan) was killed in Iraq, and addressed to their infant son, whom he had met only once.
Selling point: The film promises to be both a love story and a father-son tear-jerker.
The Matrix Resurrections
(Dec. 22, not yet rated)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
A sequel to the “Matrix” trilogy, the latest chapter in the sci-fi franchise about different levels of reality has sometimes been referred to, in shorthand, as “The Matrix 4.” But it could turn out to be more like “The Matrix 1.2.” That’s because the new film’s trailer — reuniting Reeves and Moss’s characters, and introducing Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus — hints that the second and third films in the series, less well-received by fans and critics than the 1999 original, might no longer be considered canon by director and co-writer Lana Wachowski (flying solo here, without her sibling and longtime collaborator Lilly Wachowski). Also available on HBO Max.
Selling point: After two disappointing sequels, this could be the do-over fans have been waiting for.
(Dec. 22, PG)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Bono.
In a sequel to the charming, toe-tapping 2016 animated feature “Sing,” a koala impresario (voice of McConaughey) rounds up a musical menagerie of his friends (Egerton’s gorilla Johnny, Witherspoon’s pig Rosita and more) to coax a cranky superstar (Bono’s lion Clay Calloway) out of retirement.
Selling point: Think: Animal karaoke.