Smash Hits and Train Wrecks: 26 Fall Movies We’re Keeping Our Eyes On


There’s a chill in the air (at least here in Canada) and that always means the beginning of fall, and along with it, one of the more prestigious seasons at the movie theatre. Jason Chen and I have made it a regular job here on the site to track the upcoming releases in this block and let you know which ones we’re looking forward to.

This year, however, we’re adding an additional layer: since not all the movies we add to our list will turn out to be hits, we decided to offer our best guess of how the movie will perform, including commercially, critically and even during the awards season in the new year. Watch for our initials (RS and JC) after each entry to keep track of who’s following what!

The Girl on the Train (Oct. 7)

This is the film adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel of the same name, and it’s been hailed as the next Gone Girl, if only because it’s a psychological thriller that involves a murder mystery, allegations of adultery, and a high-profile cast. Production companies DreamWorks and Reliance are hoping they can recreate the success Regency and TSG experienced with Gone Girl – a fixture among the year’s top-10 lists and a financial windfall in the hundreds of millions.

But the key differences here: Hawkins didn’t write the screenplay for her own adaptation as Gillian Flynn did for Gone Girl, and Tate Taylor doesn’t have the reputation or resume of David Fincher. The Girl on the Train has some experts predicting a $30 million opening weekend gross, which would fall just shy of Gone Girl’s $37 million opening, but some even consider that to be optimistic.

Best Guess: It certainly won’t be a train wreck, but living up to Gone Girl – which it will inevitably be compared to – will be difficult, and it’s going toe-to-toe in its second week against another much-anticipated psychological thriller in The Accountant.  - JC

The Accountant (Oct. 14)

Few people were talking about The Accountant until a few months ago. A trailer with a well-chosen Radiohead track dropped almost out of nowhere, and it was hard to reject a movie with Ben Affleck (who’s still enjoying a career renaissance) in the lead and a supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal and John Lithgow. Affleck plays an elite, genius accountant, who seems to live with either a form of autism or an all-consuming case of OCD, who also sells his services to warlords and cartel bosses.

Best Guess: I’m 50/50 on this one at the moment - it may hit big, but the resumé of director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got a Gun) leaves this one open to fizzle, as well. - RS

Tom Cruise returns as Jack Reacher in the sequel directed by Edward Zwick.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Oct. 21)

The first descriptor that comes to mind with the Jack Reacher movies is “guilty pleasure”, but that’s not entirely fair to Tom Cruise and the people he wrangles into these movies. The first film, released in 2012, had a surprisingly good cast (Rosamund Pike as the female lead and Werner frickin Herzog as the villain), and despite some odd editing choices (like stripping the score from the big fight at the end), it ended up being better-than-average entertainment. This new film gives Reacher - a former military police officer - a new off-the books case to crack and more heads to smash, so it’s likely to deliver the same sort of thrills as its predecessor.

Best Guess: With Cruise producing, this film will likely end up as a solid base hit, especially with a capable filmmaker like Edward Zwick directing. If you don’t go in with crazy-high expectations, it ought to be a fun distraction. - RS

Inferno (Oct. 28)

Tom Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon for the third (and hopefully final) time in Dan Brown’s cookie-cutter conspiracy theory thriller, this time with the help of Felicity Jones. Inferno is the fourth Langdon novel but the third to be adapted after the studios decided to skip The Lost Symbol, and was originally slated for a December 2015 release (not wise to go head-to-head against The Force Awakens).

The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons have combined to gross over $1 billion worldwide – 70 per cent from overseas – so there are enough rea$on$ for Imagine and Columbia to make another film despite mostly negative reviews. There is no reason to believe Inferno will be any better in quality than its predecessors, and given the lack of marketing and waning interest in Brown’s work, there’s also good reason to believe it won’t match Angels & Demons’ $485 million worldwide gross, which already grossed $273 million less than The Da Vinci Code.

Best Guess: A critical train wreck, and will likely gross enough for the companies (overseas, not domestic) to turn a profit but not enough to continue the series. Thank goodness. - JC

Hacksaw Ridge (Nov. 4)

Hacksaw Ridge marks Mel Gibson’s return to directing after a 10-year hiatus following Apocalypto, and tells the story of Desmond Doss, a U.S. Army medic who served in the Battle of Okinawa despite being a conscientious objector during World War II. The veteran of violent action films Mad Max, Lethal Weapon and Braveheart, Gibson admits that Doss’ dedication to pacifism is what impressed Gibson most, following a 10-year soul-searching quest after being publicly admonished for his drunken, anti-Semitic rant.

Andrew Garfield is a familiar name, but this will be his most dramatic role and toughest challenge to date. The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival and although it wasn’t selected for the main competition, reportedly received a 10-minute standing ovation.

Best Guess: Gibson is already a solid director, but his films don’t tend to draw mass audiences. It sounds like a critical smash hit, but may have trouble pulling in the dough. - JC

Doctor Strange (Nov. 4)

Marvel’s second film in its 11-film Phase Three will reportedly return (or at least make reference) to the Infinity Stones storyline, which will culminate with Infinity War in 2018. An incredibly strong cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch promises to be darker, more dramatic and more character-driven than other recent Marvel ventures, and Scott Derrickson’s entry will be employing some impressive Inception-like visuals to explore the spiritual and mystical side of the MCU, a nice change of pace from aliens, robots and hero-on-hero action porn.

Best Guess: The quality of MCU films have gotten better after a few missteps while transitioning from Phase One to Phase Two, but Doctor Strange should follow in the footsteps of excellent origin stories of Marvel’s less popular characters, including Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. Here’s to a smash hit on all accounts. - JC

Amy Adams stars in 'Arrival', directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Arrival (Nov. 11)

Based on Ted Chiang’s award-winning short story, “Story of Your Life,” Denis Villeneuve and Amy Adams team up to tell a story about a linguist who tries to communicate with aliens before they – supposedly – try to end the world. It’s interesting that the marketing campaign has portrayed this to be an alien invasion film (official tagline: “Why are they here?”) with Armageddon-like implications. This is because, at its heart, “Story of Your Life” is a coming-of-age love story about the relationship between Adams’ character and her daughter, who is unnamed in the story but named Hannah in the film.

Still, it’s best to trust Villeneuve, who is known to craft characters with endless depth, and Adams, a consistently brilliant dramatic actress, to do their jobs and to present a film that doesn’t fall into any alien invasion film tropes (attacks, alien weapons and hokey science).

Best Guess: Arrival is a can’t-miss smash hit because Villeneuve and Adams have been consistently good, but to focus on the alien invasion alone wouldn’t do justice to Chiang’s emotionally charged story. Adams has always been able to portray different layers of the same character, and a deep, moving performance should easily make her a hot topic during awards season. - JC

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Nov. 11)

Since I shoot and edit video for a living, every so often a filmmaker will make something that calls out to me on a purely production level - a movie I have to see just to find out how they handle some new tech at their disposal. With Billy Lynn, veteran director Ang Lee becomes the first director after Peter Jackson to embrace the high frame rate (HFR) format for a big-budget Hollywood film. Only in this case, Lee is upping the stakes. Instead of the 48 FPS that Jackson offered for his Hobbit films, Lee is pushing it to 120 FPS. The goal is to create a super-smooth look that mirrors real life; if you’ve never tried it before, it truly is unlike any movie you’ve seen on the big screen.

As theatre chains look to present experiences that can’t be had at home, Lee’s film - which follows a young soldier suffering from PTSD as he’s paraded in front of the nation at the Super Bowl - may be the make-or-break movie for the format, as few directors have opted for it in the years since Jackson debuted it.

Best Guess: The November release date suggests the studio has confidence in the storytelling, so they may gun for some Oscars. It could be a smash hit with critics and industry insiders, but it’s very difficult to sell the virtues of HFR to average moviegoers who don’t have a taste for tech jargon. - RS

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 18)

What The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings is what Fantastic Beasts is to the Harry Potter series; both of them are prequels that attempt to expand the universes they inhabit, though you hope this one doesn’t suffer from the same amount of bloat. The book version of Fantastic Beasts doesn’t include a story; rather, it’s a book that lists the creatures that dot J.K. Rowling’s magical world, so the film certainly has quite a bit of freedom for originality.

The film will be set in the 1920s, with Newt Scamander – a name briefly referenced in The Philosopher’s Stone (book) and The Prisoner of Azkaban (film) – fighting against the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an organization hell-bent on destroying the world of witchcraft and wizardry.

Best Guess: There’s little question that the film will be a financial success, but Fantastic Beasts will only find its true legs if it offers up a rich, original story and uses Harry Potter as a reference, and not a crutch. All signs indicate another smash hit franchise for Warner Bros. - JC

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in 'Manchester by the Sea', directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

Manchester by the Sea (Nov. 18)

The new film by Kenneth Lonergan was one of a handful of movies to emerge from the past run of film festivals as a critical favourite; whereas La La Land grabbed attention as a romantic comedy/musical, Manchester by the Sea was singled out for its gritty drama and shattering performances. The film spans several years in the life of a working-class man (Casey Affleck) living in New England who finds himself taking on new family responsibilities after a tragedy. This will be one to watch for the performances, and may be a contender in several categories for the acting prizes in the new year.

Best Guess: Another hit with critics, but it’ll be harder to find in a lot of places, due to the size of the production and the tragic overtones. Depending on the mood of the Academy this year, it may net Affleck his first Oscar, as long as Gosling doesn’t take it for La La Land. - RS

Edge of Seventeen (Nov. 18)

Hailee Steinfeld helped pull everything together in True Grit, but has since meandered through poorly adapted Shakespeare plays, the odd secondary lead role and a pop career. After a lot of initial positive buzz, Edge of Seventeen has been likened to The Breakfast Club – the end-all and be-all of coming-of-age films – with Steinfeld once again showcasing the acting chops that earned her an Oscar nomination, while Woody Harrelson plays the foil as the caustic high school teacher who ends up re-discovering himself by helping her. Films like these tend to be predictable fare, but there’s always a huge market for warm, fuzzy feelings, especially if they can hit the right notes.

Best Guess: A critical smash hit, but a surprisingly profitable one as well. Hopefully, this will kick-start Steinfeld’s acting career after failing to live up to the lofty standards she had set for herself in True Grit. - JC

Allied (Nov. 23)

Allied is getting more scrutiny than it might have originally due to its star Brad Pitt’s marital woes, but that won’t stop it from drawing in audiences looking for a new World War II espionage film (in case Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge sates the thirst for battle scenes). The movie tracks a romance through the latter half of the war between Pitt’s spy character and a French Resistance officer played by Marion Cotillard. With Robert Zemeckis at the helm, the movie will tick off a lot of boxes for what people expect from these kinds of movies - the only question will be what new components it has to offer.

Best Guess: Allied also has the benefit of a November release, and Zemeckis is a pro, but this movie will depend on what screenwriter Steven Knight brings to the table to freshen up the experience we expect from the genre. - RS

Bad Santa 2 (Nov. 23)

Bad Santa was a cult hit with its no-holds barred, R-rated humour about very deeply flawed people, telling the story of a con man who dresses up as Santa Claus during the holiday season in order to rob malls. Much of the original cast has returned, including Brett Kelly, who returns after a six-year hiatus as the sweet, honest, lovably awkward Thurman Merman, the foil to Billy Bob Thornton’s drunk, misogynistic Willie T. Soke.

Neither Terry Zwigoff, who directed the first film, nor the charming and hilarious Lauren Graham, return for the sequel, but Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and Christina Hendricks should be able to fill in admirably.

Best Guess: It took a couple years for Bad Santa to cultivate its fan base, and despite being in development for over six years, Billy Bob already noted it won’t be as good as its predecessor. The humour may land its punches, but expectations are already low, so it may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy and chucked into an already heaping pile of unnecessary sequels. - JC

Dwayne Johnson and Auli'i Cravalho voice the leads in 'Moana'.

Moana (Nov. 23)

The latest effort from Disney’s non-Pixar animation studio got all the wrong kinds of press over the past few weeks, a result of social activists looking for a new target for their online vitriol. First there was a contingent of commenters annoyed with the depiction of Hawaiian/Polynesian mythology (the film follows a young princess in the Pacific Islands). Then Disney was forced to pull a Hallowe’en costume from stores which was modelled after Dwayne Johnson’s demigod character, amid choruses of “cultural appropriation”. Happily, these sideshows likely won’t steal much of the movie’s momentum, as the film looks like a fresh, empowering new story from a Disney division that’s put out some great work lately.

Best Guess: Smash hit. Moana will rake in all the family moviegoing dollars around the American Thanksgiving holiday stretch, and may stay in theatres past Christmas. - RS

Rules Don’t Apply (Nov. 23)

When Warren Beatty directs, he does very well: Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy and Bulworth were all well-received. Rules Don’t Apply comes 18 years after Bulworth and 15 years since his last acting appearance in Town & Country, not counting that odd Dick Tracy TV Special he did in 2008, where he criticized his own performance as Dick Tracy while in character as Dick Tracy. Beatty has become a mysterious figure over the years due to his absence from the silver screen, leading to rumours of procrastination and indecisiveness that led to the mothballing of a Dick Tracy sequel and Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis.

In Rules Don’t Apply, he plays noted recluse Howard Hughes, whom Beatty is said to have admired for some time. Admittedly, despite its very strong ensemble cast, much of my intrigue in this romantic dramedy lies in Beatty’s direction and performance, and not in its two leads, Lily Collins and Alden Ehnrenreich.

Best Guess: Yours is as good as mine, but there’s certainly something very nostalgic about ‘50s Hollywood and Beatty, and while that alone won’t propel Rules Don’t Apply to financial success, its tone, cast and routine plot should help garner some positive buzz. It feels like it would be a major reach to call it a smash hit. - JC

La La Land (Dec. 9)

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I tried four different times with no success during the Toronto International Film Festival to get tickets for La La Land, such was my level of excitement for the movie. As some advance reviews trickled out of the festivals that preceded TIFF, Damien Chazelle’s new movie was positioned as a total triumph, with memorable performances, beautiful cinematography and a winning set of showtunes. Combine that with a sweet story of a star-crossed romance between a budding actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and you have the film to beat on many best-of lists this year.

Best Guess: Smash hit. The only negative response may come from contrarians who are trying to sound cool by dissing the film. - RS

Miss Sloane (Dec. 9)

The new film from John Madden, the director of Shakespeare in Love and the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, Miss Sloane is poised to be one of the key “issues movies” of the coming awards season. It follows a Washington lobbyist (Jessica Chastain) who aims to push through some hyper-controversial gun legislation using unconventional tactics. Apparently Chastian appears in almost every single scene, so the weight is clearly on her shoulders to deliver a movie that needs to straddle the line between sermonizing the audience and soft-peddling the message.

Best Guess: Odds are still 50/50 on this one at the moment. The biggest variable here is the first-time screenwriter, Jonathan Perera: his script is an original story, and as much as we can always use more of them in Hollywood, there’s always a chance that it might misfire. - RS

Diego Luna and Felicity Jones in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story', directed by Gareth Edwards.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16)

Those who were disappointed by how strictly The Force Awakens stuck to a formula – including myself – should be excited by Rogue One, which promises to be an original story. Set 18 years after Revenge of the Sith and sometime before A New Hope, Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a rebel tasked with stealing plans for the first Death Star while avoiding the evil clutches of the Empire, led by Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic and Darth Vader.

The film won’t stray too much from the Star Wars saga, but Gareth Edwards has free reign to craft a space opera that doesn’t have to include the Skywalker family or Jedi lore. That in itself provides a breath of fresh air into the franchise, even though Disney doesn’t expect it to have the same kind of reception as The Force Awakens.

Best Guess: A critical and financial smash hit, but perhaps with a slightly colder reception because it doesn’t follow the established storylines from Episode I to VII. Rogue One is difficult to project because it isn’t considered one of the series’ main films, but it should easily top Revenge of the Sith’s $380 million domestic and $848 million worldwide gross to avoid being the lowest-grossing Star Wars film of all-time. - JC

The Founder (Dec. 16)

The strength of The Founder, which chronicles the story of Ray Kroc and the explosive expansion of McDonald’s, lies in its screenplay, which was written by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) and featured on the Black List in 2014 as one of the industry’s top unproduced films. That’s not taking anything away from Michael Keaton, who is an underappreciated dramatic actor and had a meta coming-out party in Birdman, shedding his reputation as “the guy who played Batman” and earning his first ever Oscar nomination.

It’s rumoured to be as dark as There Will Be Blood - both films explore the underbelly of a dog-eat-dog business - but with a cast that also includes comedy veterans Nick Offerman and B.J. Novak, The Founder will likely have a much lighter tone.

Best Guess: A critical smash hit that could garner Keaton his second Oscar nomination, and given that John Lee Hancock’s biographical dramas tend to do very well at the box office (even with The Blind Side aside), should be able to gross roughly $100 million worldwide. - JC

Passengers (Dec. 21)

Passengers was also featured on the Black List, but nearly a decade ago and has been in development hell ever since. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in the space drama with Morten Tyldum at the helm, who has a strong track record of success, most recently with The Imitation Game. If the film stays true to the original screenplay, Passengers reads more like a romantic drama than a space thriller, though it will certainly contain elements of both.

Gravity and Interstellar both grossed well over $600 million worldwide, a mark that Passengers will likely match or exceed, though it’s interesting to note Interstellar was never No. 1 in the box office, something that Passengers may also experience since it’ll be released just one week after Rogue One.

Best Guess: Passengers, against a budget of about $150 million, is a big financial hit, but doesn’t garner the same kind of critical praise as Gravity or Interstellar, mostly because it seems poised to run on star power rather than striving to be a technical or visual wonder.  - JC

Michael Fassbender stars in 'Assassin's Creed', directed by Justin Kurzel.

Assassin’s Creed (Dec. 21) 

Justin Kurzel re-unites with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in this video game adaptation after the trio worked together in the well-received Macbeth. Set both in the present and during the Spanish Inquisition, Fassbender plays the descendant of an assassin who is captured by a mysterious company and used as a test subject in simulated realities using a machine called the Animus.

Best Guess: Live-action films based on video games don’t perform well. The most recent adaptation, the much-anticipated Warcraft, grossed just $47 million domestically against a $160 million budget, and the past is littered with flops. No video game adaptation has ever received critical acclaim. Never. Even with a star cast, the odds are stacked against Assassin’s Creed, and going up against Passengers and Rogue One spells box office trouble. It may finally be the first video game adaptation to garner overall positive reviews, but talks of a sequel and potential franchise should be quelled until it proves otherwise. - JC

Silence (Dec. 23)

There’s a single keyword here, and it’s Scorsese. It would be foolish to bet against a living legend, at least in terms of critical and box-office success; we’ll leave the awards speculation for later. Three years since The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese is back with a tale of Jesuit priests in feudal seventeenth-century Japan, specifically the search by two younger priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) for their radical mentor (Liam Neeson), who’s gone missing. The film soon delves into questions of faith and religious persecution, leaving plenty for movie buffs to digest.

Best Guess: Smash hit. Unless there’s been some colossal mistakes behind the scenes, with the subject matter and talent on display here, there’s little to inspire doubt. - RS

20th Century Women (Dec. 25)

For anyone looking for something to see over the holidays with a less blockbuster-type bearing, this new period indie may catch your eye. Mike Mills, whose 2010 rom-com Beginners really deserves more attention than it got at release, is back with a story charting different ideas about love and freedom as the United States moved into a new decade in 1979-1980. The main selling point is the cast, which includes veterans like Annette Bening and Billy Crudup, as well as rising stars Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning. The free-form synopsis also sounds like it’ll fit Mills’ style nicely.

Best Guess: This could snap up a decent chunk of indie-film business (until Paterson opens a few days later), especially from moviegoers who have already seen La La Land five times. It likely won’t hit big in terms of mainstream box office or award contention, but it could end up as a dark horse in a few categories. - RS

Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramírez in 'Gold', directed by Steven Gaghan.

Gold (Dec. 25)

One of the more intriguing details about Gold is the history of the director. Steven Gaghan, whose 2005 film Syriana led George Clooney to win his only acting Oscar, seemed to be pulling in plenty of accolades, only to mostly disappear for 11 years (except for a two made-for-TV movies). Now, Gaghan is returning with a story about unlikely business partners (Matthew McConaughey, supplied with a stunningly bad hairdo, and Edgar Ramírez) who travel to Indonesia in search of the titular precious metal. Since I’ll watch just about anything with McConaughey at this point, I’m already in, and the decision is made easier by a supporting cast that includes other standouts like Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Macon Blair and Stacy Keach.

Best Guess: You have to hope that whatever is bringing Gaghan out of semi-retirement is pretty darn good, and the proximity of the release date to the end of the year also bodes well.  - RS

Live by Night (December, TBD)

Some of the first things I saw about Live by Night online were references to the fantastic cinematography, which some film writers described as “desktop-wallpaper-worthy”. You can pick out plenty of examples of this from the recent trailer, which does a great job of selling you on what will be Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, a 1920s-set gangster story. As one of many actors to try their hand at directing, Affleck’s had a 3-for-3 record so far, with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo. Based on that and the impressive cast Affleck has assembled, at the very least Live by Night will likely be a commercial success.

Best Guess: The only thing that might signal a possible dud here is the release date, which has moved around a bit lately, and hasn’t settled on an awards-qualifying slot yet. If the studio suddenly dumps it in January without a limited release in New York or L.A. the month before, it could be a hint that Affleck is set to experience his first flub as a director.  - RS

Paterson (Dec. 28)

If you’re looking for quiet, character-driven indies, Paterson has been on a lot of critics’ lists coming out of TIFF, and it currently enjoys a 97% on RottenTomatoes out of 30 reviews. Director Jim Jarmusch definitely isn’t for everyone, but his most recent movie Only Lovers Left Alive was arguably his most accessible work to date. Jarmusch trades out the vampire genre of that film for something decidedly more grounded: the simple, day-to-day life of a bus driver in New Jersey (Adam Driver). Some viewers roast Jarmusch for making movies where “nothing happens”, but perhaps that’s the point: sometimes a life is just a series of small moments, and who knows what you can learn from that?

Best Guess: This one is squarely aimed at the most film-literate of viewers, so it likely won’t cash out when it arrives. As good as it may be, it may not necessarily get much Oscar love, either. - RS

That does it for our fall preview! Which of these movies are you most excited for? Did we forget about any notable releases? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this wrap-up, share it with your friends and followers!