Jake Coyle | AP Film Writer
NEW YORK — Filmmaker Cary Fukunaga has been waiting more than a year and a half for the biggest movie of his career, the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” to arrive in theaters. It has been a strange and surreal wait. Months before the much-delayed movie is even released on Oct. 8, the film’s theme song, by Billie Eilish, has already won a Grammy.
“I had a dream last night where Sam Mendes was there,” Fukunaga said in a recent interview, referring to the director of the previous two Bond movies. “We were on vacation on some frozen lake. He was done with Bond films. And he was like, ‘Oh, you finished one. Now you get a break.’ Then we started, like, water skiing on a frozen lake.”
“It was a weird dream,” says Fukunaga.
The fall movie season — usually a reliable rhythm and cozy autumn comfort — is this year, like much of the past 18 months, a little disorienting. On the way are movies once planned to open as far back as April 2020, like “No Time to Die,” summer movies that hope to find better conditions in autumn, and films that have been shot and edited during the pandemic.
What has coalesced is a movie mishmash — something much more robust than last fall’s cobbled together, mostly virtual fall movie season — a season that stretched all the way to the Oscars in April. But the recent rise in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant has added new uncertainty to a time Hollywood had once hoped would be nearing normality.
“Everything is fluid, and everything will stay fluid,” says Tom Rothman, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures. “It’s the antithesis of the way it used to be. In the old days, you planted your flag and you didn’t move for hell or high water. Now, there’s a great premium on being very flexible and nimble.”
The unpredictability of the conditions is universally shared but acutely felt at studios like Sony that even through the pandemic have remained largely committed to exclusive theatrical releases. While Disney (with Disney+) and Warner Bros. (with HBO Max) have sought to hedge their bets and boost subscribers to their streaming services with day-and-date releases in 2021, Sony, Universal, Paramount and MGM (home to Bond) — with various windowing strategies — have mostly stuck to theater-first plans.
In all the movies coming this fall — among them “The Last Duel” (Oct. 15), “Dune” (Oct. 22), “Eternals” (Nov. 5), “House of Gucci” (Nov. 24) —nothing may be quite as tense as the ever-unfolding drama around old-fashioned, butts-in-the-seats moviegoing. Citing the delta-driven surge, Paramount has uprooted from the season, booting “Top Gun: Maverick” to next year. But on the heels of some promising box-office performances, many of the fall’s top movies and leading Oscar hopefuls are only doubling down on theatrical, and the cultural impact that comes with it. Even if it’s a gamble.
“We have a lot of inventory. You don’t want to keep pushing all of the films,” says Rothman. “At a certain point, you have to go.”
After building confidence in moviegoing over the summer, delta has sapped some of Hollywood’s momentum. The National Research Group had recorded more than 80% of moviegoers were comfortable going to theaters in July. But that number dipped to 67% last month.
Yet summer’s last big movie, Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” gave the fall a major lift with an estimated $90 million in ticket sales over the four-day Labor Day weekend — one of the best performances of the pandemic. Notably, it was only playing in theaters.
Even before all the numbers were in, Rothman and Sony moved up the release of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” the sequel to its $856 million superhero hit, by two weeks to Oct. 1. It kicks off Sony’s slate including Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Nov. 19), Denzel Washington’s “A Journal for Jordan” (Dec. 10) and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Dec. 17).
No studio is betting quite as big on movie theaters this fall as Sony. The studio lacks a major streaming platform but has signed lucrative pacts with Netflix and Disney to stream films after theatrical release. Discussing the disappointing results of day-and-date movies like Warner Bros.’ “The Suicide Squad” versus a theater-first hit like Disney’s “Free Guy,” Rothman recently touted the explanation: “It’s the window, stupid.”
“There is no economic model to — never mind make a profit — to break even on the assets themselves without a windowed universe. It doesn’t exist,” says Rothman.
That debate — what movies open where and when — is sure to remain unsettled in the coming months, and probably well beyond. Warner Bros. has pledged to return to exclusive theatrical releases, for 45 days, next year. But little this fall — including the movie calendar — is a sure thing.
“Until the pandemic is genuinely behind us, I don’t think that you can prognosticate about what the future of cinema is going to be,” says Rothman. “It’s still on emergency footing right now.”
So Hollywood’s summer in limbo will stretch into the fall. But more than any previous point in the pandemic, a whole lot of movies are lined up. The Venice and Telluride film festivals have kindled buzz for a wide array of upcoming films, including Jane Campion’s lauded Netflix drama “The Power of the Dog” (Nov. 17), with Benedict Cumberbatch. The Oscar race could have some major star power, too. Among the early standouts: Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in “Spencer” (Nov. 5) and Will Smith as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in “King Richard” (Nov. 19).
In “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Jessica Chastain transforms into the infamous televangelist. Searchlight Pictures will release it Sept. 17 in theaters.
“We like that communal experience, especially after a year and a half of being starved of it. It doesn’t mean streaming is going away. It’s here to stay,” says Chastain, who also stars in the HBO miniseries “Scenes from a Marriage.” “In my mind, I just see the industry as expanding.”
Just how many films have been released during the pandemic is often underestimated. But even with a few high-profile departures, the upcoming season is crowded. Apple has Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” with Denzel Washington. Amazon has the musical adaptation “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (Sept. 17). New movies are on tap from world-class filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro (“Nightmare Alley,” Dec. 3), Pedro Almodóvar ( “Parallel Mothers,” Dec. 24), Asghar Farhadi (“A Hero,” Jan. 7) and Paolo Sorrentino ( “The Hand of God,” Nov. 24).
There’s also a feast of docs including Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s Julia Child portrait “Julia” (Nov. 5); Liz Garbus’ “Becoming Cousteau” (Oct. 22); Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “The Rescue” (October), about the 2018 Thai cave rescue; and, fittingly, a portrait of one of the pandemic’s most ubiquitous faces, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, in John Hoffman and Janet Tobias’ “Fauci” (Sept. 10).
Netflix will release three dozen films between now and Christmas — including Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s directorial debut “The Lost Daughter” (Dec. 17); the Western “The Harder They Fall” (Nov. 3), with Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut “Tick, Tick … Boom!”; and Antoine Fuqua’s “The Guilty” (Sept. 24), a single-setting crime thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a demoted police officer taking 911 calls.
Just before production began earlier this year, Fuqua came in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. To keep distance from his cast and crew, he directed the movie from a van parked outside the set.
“It’s a strange world we’re in at the moment, and it wears on all of us quite a bit,” says Fuqua. “But I try to stay positive. That’s why ‘The Guilty’ happened. I do think there’s a responsibility for all of us to forge ahead, not wallow in the situation that we’re in, and find new ways to do it.”
Hopefully, the long delay of a number of films that have been waiting in the wings for more than a year — including Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” (Dec. 10), Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” (Oct. 22) and, yes, “No Time to Die” — will soon finally be over.
“What I haven’t gotten on this one is the satisfaction of anyone else seeing the film and saying ‘I hated it’ or ‘I like it,’ says Fukunaga. “That’s the part you’re waiting for. Some people are going to like it. Some people aren’t going to like it. But you still want to hear it. Even if you don’t want to hear it, you want to hear it.”
A rundown of notable films coming out this fall:
“Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali” (Netflix): A documentary chronicling the friendship between the boxing legend and the civil rights leader.
“The Card Counter” (In theaters): Oscar Isaac plays a professional gambler and a former serviceman who encounters a young man (Tye Sheridan) bent on revenge in Paul Schrader’s latest.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (In theaters and on Amazon Prime): In this adaptation of a West End musical, Max Harwood stars as a teenager from Sheffield who dreams of becoming a drag queen.
“Fauci” (In theaters): A documentary portrait of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Come From Away” (Apple TV+): A filmed version of the award-winning Broadway musical about thousands of airline travelers who landed in Newfoundland on Sept. 11 when flights across the U.S. were grounded.
“Malignant” (In theaters and HBO Max): James Wan directs this horror film about a young woman’s disturbing visions that turn real.
“Queenpins” (In theaters): Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste star as best friends whose illegal coupon-club scheme scams millions.
“Language Lessons: (In theaters): Natalie Morales directs, co-writes and co-stars in a drama about a friendship between a Spanish teacher and her student.
“Best Sellers” (In theaters and VOD): Aubrey Plaza plays a book editor and Michael Caine a cranky author in this comedy.
“Blue Bayou” (In theaters): Writer-director Justin Chon stars as a Korean adoptee raised in a small Louisiana town who, as a married adult, faces possible deportation.
“Copshop” (In theaters): Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo star in Joe Carnahan’s action thriller set in rural Nevada.
“Cry Macho” (In theaters and HBO Max): Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a former rodeo star and horse breeder who takes a job bringing a young man home from Mexico.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (In theaters): Jessica Chastain stars as Faye Tammy Bakker, with Andrew Garfield as Jim Baker, in Michael Showalter’s drama about the televangelists.
“My Name Is Pauli Murray” (In theaters and Amazon Prime): “RBG” filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West profile the nonbinary African American civil rights activist.
“The Nowhere Inn” (In theaters and VOD): A metafictional movie about Carrie Brownstein making a documentary about Annie Clark, the indie musician known as St. Vincent.
“The Starling” (Netflix): Melissa McCarthy stars as a woman suffering the loss of a young child whose battle with a territorial bird becomes an mode of healing.
“Dear Evan Hansen” (In theaters): Stephen Chbosky directs this star-studded adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical, with Ben Platt reprising his role as a painfully shy teenager.
“The Guilty” (In theaters; On Netflix Oct. 1): Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a demoted police officer working the emergency dispatch phone lines who takes a call from a kidnapped woman.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (In theaters): A sequel to 2018’s “Venom,” with Tom Hardy reprising his role as a investigative journalist with super-human powers thanks to an alien symbiote that has taken up residence in his body.
“The Addams Family 2” (In theaters and VOD): A sequel to the 2019 animated film.
“The Many Saints of Newark” (In theaters and HBO Max): A prequel to David Chase’s HBO series “The Sopranos,” with Michael Gandolfini, son of the late “Sopranos” stars James Gandolfini, playing the New Jersey mob boss as a younger man.
“Titane” (In theaters): French filmmaker J ulia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, a body-horror drama about a woman with a titanium plate in her head and a unique bond with automobiles.
“No Time to Die” (In theaters): In the 25th James Bond film, Daniel Craig returns as 007, with Cary Fukunaga directing.
“Lamb” (In theaters): A couple in rural Iceland discover a strange newborn in their barn.
“Mass” (In theaters): Two sets of parents (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) connected by tragedy meet for a conversation of grief and guilt.
“Survive the Game” (In theaters and VOD): Bruce Willis stars in this crime thriller about a drug bust gone wrong.
“Halloween Kills” (In theaters): Director David Gordon Green and star Jamie Lee Curtis return for this sequel to the 2018 “Halloween” reboot.
“The Last Duel” (In theaters): Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, along with Nicole Holofcener, wrote this Ridley Scott medieval France drama, starring Adam Driver, Damon and Affleck.
“The Velvet Underground” (In theaters and Apple TV+): Director Todd Haynes profiles the iconic New York rock band in his documentary filmmaking debut.
“Bergman Island” (In theaters and VOD): Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps play a filmmaking couple visiting the hoe of Ingmar Bergman in Mia Hansen-Løve’s drama.
“Dune” (In theaters and HBO Max): Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic stars Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Zendaya.
“The Electric Life of Louis Wain” (In theaters, on Amazon Prime Nov. 5): Benedict Cumberbatch plays an eccentric British illustrator in this period drama by Will Sharpe.
“The Harder They Fall” (In theaters, on Netflix Nov. 3): A revenge Western starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield and Regina King.
“Becoming Cousteau” (In theaters): Liz Garbus profiles the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in this documentary.
“The French Dispatch” (In theaters): Wes Anderson crafts an intricately detailed ode to the New Yorker in this series of fictional tales of an American newspaper in France.
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” (In theaters): An animated movie where kids have robot pals, only 11-year-old Ron’s bot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) doesn’t quite work.
“Passing” (In theaters, on Netflix Nov. 10): Rebecca Hall makes her directorial debut in this period drama set in 1920s Harlem starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga.
“Antlers” (In theaters): Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons star in Scott Cooper’s horror thriller about an Oregon town and a supernatural creature.
“Last Night in Soho” (In theaters): Edgar Wright’s time-traveling thriller set in 1960s London stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie.
“Army of Thieves” (Netflix): Zach Snyder’s prequel to his 2021 zombie heist film “Army of the Dead.”
“Eternals” (In theaters): Chloé Zhao directs this Marvel movie about immortal beings, starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington and Brian Tyree Henry.
“Finch” (Apple TV+): Tom Hanks plays a robotics engineer who is among the few survivors of a cataclysmic solar event.
“Spencer” (In theaters): Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in Pablo Larraín’s drama.
“Julia” (In theaters): “RBG” documentary filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen profile groundbreaking TV chef Julia Child.
“Red Notice” (In theaters, on Netflix Nov. 12): Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds star in this action thriller about a global manhunt.
“Belfast” (In theaters): Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white, semi-autobiographical tale about a working-class family in the Northern Ireland capital in the 1960s.
“Tick, Tick … Boom!” (Theaters, on Netflix Nov. 19): Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial debut in this adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s musical, starring Andrew Garfield.
“The Power of the Dog” (In theaters, on Netflix Dec. 1): Jane Campion directs a story of two brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons) on a Montana ranch where one brings home a new wife (Kirsten Dunst).
“Bruised” (In theaters, on Netflix Nov. 24): Halle Berry directs and stars as a disgraced mixed martial arts fighter taking a last shot at redemption.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (In theaters): Jason Reitman directs a sequel to the ’80s classic his father, Ivan Reitman, directed.
“King Richard” (In theaters, HBO Max): Will Smith stars as Richard Williams in a biopic about the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams.
“Mothering Sunday: (In theaters): Eva Husson directs this drama about a maid (Odessa Young) at a grand British house who’s having an affair with the neighbor’s well-born son (Josh O’Connor).
“House of Gucci” (In theaters): Ridley Scott’s crime drama dramatizes the murder of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), head of the Gucci fashion house, by his ex-wife, Patrizia Gucci (Lady Gaga).
“Encanto” (In theaters): Disney’s 60th animated feature is a Colombia-set film about family members who all possess magical powers, featuring music from Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“National Champions” (In theaters): A star college quarterback (Stephan James) strikes for fair compensation hours before the biggest game of the year.
“Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City” (In theaters): The seventh live-action film in the long-running videogame-adaptation series features a new cast.
Pictured: Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in a scene from “No Time To Die,” in theaters on Oct. 8. (Nicola Dove/MGM via AP)
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Posted Sept. 10, 2021.