The keiki are back in school and the grown ups, weary from months of CGI-driven explosion fests, finally get some smarter fare at the movies. Yes, there’s the inevitable final round of The Hobbit (opening Dec. 17) and another Night at the Museum (opening Dec. 19). We also get Robert Downey Jr., not playing Tony Stark but a lawyer in The Judge (opening Oct. 10). Still, a handful of ambitious films, with surprising turns from famous actors, as well as the belated reunion of Harry and Lloyd, make the next four months at the movies completely irresistible.
The Equalizer (opens Sept. 26)
The Gist: Denzel Washington re-teams with Antoine Fuqua, his Training Day director, for this action thriller.
Why It Could Rock: Denzel, like Liam Neeson, is not just a credible action star but an acting titan.
Unless: If it’s so good, why is it opening in the movie dead zone that is September? Looks nothing like the groundbreaking TV show it’s based on.
Gone Girl (opens Oct. 3)
The Gist: David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s massively popular bestseller, stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry.
Why It Could Rock: Fincher could slam dunk this story, which carries one of the most startling twists in some time. The cast is impeccable. If they deliver, Harris and, yes, even Perry, could get supporting actor awards.
Unless: Some smarty pants yells out the surprise ending in the theater, causing fisticuffs to break out.
Annabelle (opens Oct. 3)
The Gist: A prequel to The Conjuring, informing us where the scariest doll since Chucky came from.
Why It Could Rock: The trailer is terrifying and this gets a jump on the lesser Halloween fare.
Unless: Since no one from The Conjuring is in this and it’s a prequel, isn’t the fate of the characters a given?
Interstellar (Nov. 7)
The Gist: Christopher Nolan’s outer space epic, stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain.
Why It Could Rock: Who doesn’t want to see Mr. Aw-right-aw-right floating through the cosmos?
Unless: Nolan’s films are brilliant but divisive. This is said to be his headiest, most challenging film yet, which might annoy audiences expecting Gravity 2.
Dumb and Dumber To (Nov. 14)
The Gist: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and writer/directors The Farrelly Brothers, back together 20 years later.
Why It Could Rock: Carrey and Daniels in their element. It’s guaranteed to be better than Dumb and Dumberer–When Harry Met Lloyd. The trailer is a riot.
Unless: Comedy sequels are tough to pull off (Exhibit A: Anchorman 2). Does anyone under 20 really care about this movie?
Foxcatcher (opens Nov. 14)
The Gist: The disturbing true story of a homicide committed in an Olympic wrestling facility.
Why It Could Rock: Moneyball director Bennett Miller, driving stars Channing Tatum and especially Steve Carell to stretch in ways that will astonish their fan base.
Unless: Even with the star power and rave reviews, will audiences embrace the dark material?
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (opens Nov. 21)
The Gist: Katniss, Peeta, Haymish, Effie and the guy with the purple hair are all back.
Why It Could Rock: The second installment, Catching Fire, was excellent. This series might be gathering Harry Potter-like momentum. Jennifer Lawrence could make a movie about staples compelling.
Unless: How many times do we want to see teenagers hunt and murder one another?
Exodus: Gods and Kings (Opens Dec. 12)
The Gist: Ridley Scott directs the Old Testament, starring Christian Bale as Moses.
Why It Could Rock: If anyone can make a modern day The Ten Commandments, it’s Scott. Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul round out the cast. It looks, in a word, awesome.
Unless: The rock monsters from Noah show up and help Moses beat up the Pharaoh.
Inherent Vice (opens Dec. 12)
The Gist: Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s detective comedy, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon.
Why It Could Rock: Anderson brings out definitive work from his actors and this looks lighter going than his recent works. Phoenix may finally be due for a Best Actor Oscar.
Unless: Anderson’s out-there body of work is polarizing. His most “mainstream” work was Punch-Drunk Love and this one is even longer than The Master.
American Sniper (Dec. 25)
The Gist: Clint Eastwood directs Bradley Cooper in the true story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest Navy SEAL sniper who ever lived.
Why It Could Rock: A Clint Eastwood drama being shoehorned at the end of the year for Oscar consideration… a tactic that worked 10 years ago for Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby.
Unless: It plays less like Heartbreak Ridge and more like Jersey Boys.
Photo from The Equalizer: Movieweb.com