NEW YORK –
For the first time in three years, the autumn cinema industrial complex is making a comeback. The red carpets of the festival are underway. The campaigns for the Oscars are prepared. Long-awaited blockbusters, such as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar: The Way of Water”, are ready for big box office.
But after the turmoil of the pandemic, can the fall film season go back to how it was? Many hope it can. After two spring editions, the Academy Awards have returned to a more traditional date of early March. The Golden Globes, after the near cancellation, are planning a comeback. Some films are also trying to regain a spirit of the past. At the Toronto Film Festival in September, Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” booked the same “Knives Out” cinema that premiered in a packed theater almost exactly three years ago.
“It feels like yesterday,” Johnson says, laughing. “Okay, some things have happened.”
After a nearly wiped out Autumn 2020 and a hobbled 2021 season from Delta and Omicron COVID-19 variants, this fall could, perhaps, be something more like the regular annual cultural awakening that happens every fall, when most top movies arrive. of the year.
“I think we’re just trying to make it exist as at least a version of what we knew before,” says Johnson. “As with everything, you just have to jump into the pool and see what the water is like. I really hope that at least the illusion of normality holds up. I guess it’s all normality.”
But “Glass Onion”, with Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc in a new mystery, also remembers how much he has changed. After “Knives Out” was a box office success for Lionsgate, grossing $ 311 million worldwide for Lionsgate, Netflix shelled out $ 450 million to get the rights to two sequels. And while exhibitors and the streaming company have discussed a wider theatrical release for “Glass Onion” – a foolproof success if it did – a more modest theatrical launch is expected before the films arrive on December 23 on Netflix.
The balance between theater and streaming remains unstable. But after a summer revival at the box office and an evolving outlook for Wall Street streaming, the cinema – with its billions of tickets per year and cultural footprint – looks pretty good. For the first time in years, going to the cinema has a strong wind behind it. Or at least it did until a particularly slow August dulled momentum due in large part to the scarcity of new large-scale releases.
“If you look at how many films we had compared to what we did, we were operating at 2019 levels,” says John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. “We had 70% of the supply of wide distribution films in the first seven months and we did 71% of the business we did in the same period of 2019. Viewers are back in pre-pandemic numbers, it’s just that we still need more movies. “
This will be less of a problem as the fall season increases. “Wakanda Forever” (November 11) and “The Way of the Water” (December 16) could compete with the summer smash “Top Gun: Maverick” ($ 1.36 billion worldwide and still counting) for the best movie of the year. Less clear, however, is whether the solid fall slate of adult films and Oscar nominees can lead the way once again. Last year’s Best Picture winner, “CODA,” from Apple TV +, won the award without a dime at the box office.
Among the most anticipated films in the circuits and cinemas of the autumn festivals is the semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” by Steven Spielberg (23 November); “Blonde” (September 23), with Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe; Todd Fields’ “TAR” (October 7), with Cate Blanchett; Sam Mendes’s “Empire of Light” (December 9); “The Son” (November 11), Florian Zeller’s follow-up to “The Father”; Chinonye Chukwu’s Emmett Till saga “Till” (October 14); Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” (October 21); James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” (October 28); and the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes “The triangle of sadness” (7 October).
Superhero films (“Black Adam”, October 21, with Dwayne Johnson), children’s films (“Lyle Lyle Crocodile,” October 7), horror films (“Halloween Ends”, October 14), romantic comedies (“Ticket to Paradise” , Oct. 21, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney) and other high-flying adventures (“Devotion,” Nov. 23) will also mix, as will streamer highlights. These include Amazon’s “My Policeman” (October 21), starring Harry Styles; and the Netflix releases “Bardo” (in theaters November 4), by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” (theatrical release November 25); and “Pinocchio” by Guillermo del Toro (streaming December 9).
But if much of the fall movie season is about restoring what has been lost in recent years, for some upcoming movies, the point is change. “Woman King” (September 16), directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood and starring Viola Davis, is an epic epic about an army of West African warriors. For Prince-Blythewood, the director of “Love & Basketball” and “The Old Guard”, “Woman King” represents “the opportunity to rephrase what it means to be female and feminine”.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a movie like this before. Much of our history has been hidden, ignored or erased,” says Blythewood. “‘Braveheart’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘Last of the Mohicans’. I love those films. Now, this was our chance to tell our story in this genre.”
Even “Bros” (September 30) is something different. The film, starring and co-written by “Billy on the Street” comedian Billy Eichner, is the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio (Universal). All of its main cast members are LGBTQ. Comedies have had a hard time in theaters in recent years, but “Bros”, produced by Judd Apatow, is hoping that a new perspective will animate a familiar genre.
“It’s a historic film in many ways,” says Eichner. “It’s not something we thought about when we were first developing it. Nobody sits down and says, ‘Let’s write a historical film.’ We said, “Let’s make a hilarious movie.” It’ll make people laugh, but it’s unlike anything the vast majority of people have ever seen. “
“Bros” and “Woman King” are productions destined to challenge Hollywood’s status quo. This is also part of the nature of “She She Said” (Nov. 18), a dramatization of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation of film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” (December 2) also chronicles a female revolt in real life. It is based on events from 2009, when Bolivian Mennonite women reunited after being drugged and raped by men in their colony.
Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as a married couple living in a 1950s-style suburban nightmare male fantasy, tackles similar themes through a science fiction lens.
“I want to create something that is really fun, fun and interesting, but is actually my way of provoking conversations about real issues like body autonomy,” says Wilde. “I didn’t know he was going to be as timely as he is right now. Never in my wildest nightmares did I believe that Roe was going to be overthrown right before the release of this movie.”
Other timelines of film production seem to exist almost separate from our earthly reality. James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of the Water” will debut 13 years after 2009’s “Avatar” (still the highest-grossing film ever), a sequel originally slated for release in 2014. Since then, there have been plenty of dates. The comings and goings that sequels – four films are now slated to launch over the next five years – have at times felt like successful Godots who may be waiting forever in the wings.
Speaking from New Zealand where “The Way of the Water” was mixed and scored, producer Jon Landau promised that the wait is, in fact, almost over.
“This is finally happening,” Landau said. “Those delays, as you would call them, were really about creating the basis for a movie franchise. It wasn’t about saying, ‘Let’s get the script right.’ It was: ‘Let’s do four right scripts.’
Measuring change in the film industry is even more difficult when it comes to the interval between “Avatar” episodes. When the first “Avatar” was in theaters, 3D was heralded (again) as the future. Barack Obama was in the first year of his first term. Netflix rented DVDs by mail.
“A lot has changed, but not a lot,” says Landau. “One of the things that hasn’t changed is: why are people engaging in entertainment today? Just like they did when the first ‘Avatar’ was released, they do it to escape, to escape the world we live in.”
AP Film writer Lindsey Bahr contributed