Fall Movie Preview: Wakanda and Pandora Are Just the Beginning

Oscar season is upon us!

After a summer that saw Top Gun: Maverick lead the box office on both Memorial Day and Labor Day, bookending one of the quietest theatrical Augusts in American movie history, here comes heavy-hitter season. With a promising film slate ahead, let’s unpack the fall movie offerings across categories like awards favorites, international standouts, big-swing blockbusters, and more.

Oscars in Autumn

With the Telluride and Venice film festivals concluded, awards season is upon us, despite the Oscars being six months away. One of the most-heralded festival performers was Tár (Oct. 7), the return of the enigmatic and infrequent (and Portland-raised) director Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children), here directing Cate Blanchett as a maestro flying too close to the sun.

Any Oscar prognosticator should keep an eye on Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans (Nov. 23) and She Said (Nov. 18), about New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor breaking the Weinstein scandal. Finally, September gives us a possible front-runner for Best Documentary: the kaleidoscopic Moonage Daydream (Sept. 15), the first David Bowie documentary authorized to use his music.

From Sweden to South Korea

It’s looking like a banner autumn for international cinema, frontloaded with new movies by Ruben Östlund and Park Chan-wook. Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (Oct. 7) finds the acerbic Swede stranding the super rich on a desert island, for which he nabbed his second Palme d’Or at Cannes.

South Korean master of vengeance Park (Oldboy) directs his first movie in six years, the already acclaimed murder mystery Decision to Leave (Oct. 14). And with Martin McDonough (Three Billboards, In Bruges) bringing Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson back to their native Ireland for The Banshees of Inisherin (Oct. 21), he can get a shout-out in this category as well.

The Center Might Hold?

We’re at least a decade into the much-discussed decline of the movie industry’s middle class, but that makes theatrical attempts at midbudget adult dramas and comedies stand out all the more.

Bros (Sept. 30), co-written by and starring Billy Eichner, is one of only a dozen studio comedies to hit theaters this year. And Ticket to Paradise (Oct. 21)—starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts as a bantering divorced couple—will marshal sheer star wattage against the rom-com’s possible extinction. Meanwhile, James Gray’s Armageddon Time (Nov. 11) sees the Ad Astra filmmaker team with Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong to reflect on his upbringing in 1980s Queens.

Slight Scares

Next month looks longer on Halloween-themed titles than actual horror movies. Halloween Ends (Oct. 14) counts as both (Michael Myers is definitely, really, truly going down this time, folks) and Hocus Pocus 2 (Sept. 30, Disney+) might scare millennials into feeling ancient.

Probably October’s most exciting horror-adjacent movie is the return of director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), whose Portland animation crew has been stop-motioning their tails off on Wendell & Wild (Oct. 28) for years to craft the story of two demon brothers (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele).

What’s the Big Deal Again?

One minor joy of movie calendar scrutiny is those few titles that are downright baffling. Enter Don’t Worry Darling (Sept. 23), the object of mind-boggling gossip surrounding Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles and everyone who’s ever interacted with them (this despite Don’t Worry reportedly being a pretty inert Stepford Wives riff).

Another paradox is the much-dreaded NC-17 rating lobbed at the Ana de Armas-starring Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde (Sept. 28). What does that even mean in the context of a Netflix film?

Hidden Worlds, Giant Movies

With Top Gun: Maverick soaring past the $1.4 billion mark at the worldwide box office, two enormous releases will look to fly higher. First, there’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov. 11), the year’s most anticipated Marvel film (in part due to the question of how director Ryan Coogler will handle T’Challa’s succession after Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing).

Finally, looking toward to the year’s end, James Cameron’s decade-in-the-making Avatar: The Way of Water (Dec. 16) is finally being released. Just how badly does the world want an Avatar sequel? That’s probably not a question Cameron asks himself. Why should you?