Summer movie season is almost over, and that means movies are going to change. Get ready for Holiday movies, Oscar-bait, and some lower-budget, lower-concept action films. Some movies will rock your world, others will crumble into dust.
Here's our complete guide to Fall 2011's movies — with five films we're pretty sure will kick your ass. Including the live-action debut of The Incredibles' Brad Bird, and Martin Scorsese's brass automaton film!
This time last year, we had a list of 20 movies, and 10 of them looked like winners to us. (And it turned out we were a little too optimistic about some of those.) So this year, we only have five movies that look like awesomesauce in the making, and 17 that might pull out a win.
Apollo 18 (September 2):
A secret Apollo mission goes to the Moon and encounters... something horrible, in this "found footage" horror movie. It's like Paranormal Activity meets the first act of Transformers 3.
Prognosis: This film was supposed to come out in March, and has been delayed again and again. They rushed it into production to beat a competing film that was delayed indefinitely.
Shark Night 3D (September 2):
Umm... it's night. And there are sharks. Basically, the director of Snakes on a Plane tries to duplicate the success of the revived Piranha franchise. Not sure if these are mutant sharks, or if there's some sciencey reason why a lake is full of them. Or if it just, you know, happens.
Prognosis: There will be blood and boobies. Maybe someone will say "get these motherfucking sharks out of this motherfucking night."
Contagion (September 9):
Steven Soderbergh directs this huge sweeping thriller about an airborne virus that kills within hours. (And yes, the virus might burn itself out in real life, if it killed its hosts that quickly.) Everybody famous is in this film, and most of them die horribly. This could be the rare disease thriller that actually makes epidemiology thrilling.
Prognosis: It should rule.
Restless (September 16):
In the latest film from Gus Van Sant, a young death-obsessed orphan's closest confidant is the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War II, until he meets a terminally ill girl who's obsessed with Darwin. It's another one of several arty magical-realism-y movies that have come out lately.
Prognosis: It's gotten horribly negative reviews, from its showing at Cannes.
Dream House (September 30):
Daniel Craig moves his family into an awesome new home, and there's just one problem — a man killed his wife and daughters there years ago. And now, judging from the trailer, Craig's character is being haunted by the murdering husband. Or their lives are blurring together. It's some kind of ghost-slasher thing.
Prognosis: Could be a scary fun movie.
Real Steel (October 7):
Finally, a movie that takes us inside the high-stakes, action-packed world of robot boxing. Hugh Jackman is an ex-boxer who now "trains" and controls robot fighters — until he meets his young son, whose mom has just died. Can this father-and-son team turn an underdog robot into a champion? Do heartwarming films come out in the fall?
Prognosis: If you can take both "robot boxing" and "father-son bonding over robot boxing" seriously, this might be a fun romp.
The Thing (October 14):
A prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 classic about a deadly shapeshifter in the tundra, this film goes to huge lengths to connect the dots with Carpenter's film. We visited the film's set and were blown away by the attention to detail and the intense scenes of doomed Norwegians in a tiny base.
Prognosis: This film has to convince us that we actually needed a prequel to Carpenter's perfectly self-contained film. If it can do that, then it's golden.
The Skin I Live In (October 21):
It's one year in the future — 2012 — and a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) has developed a new artificial human skin that cannot burn, and he's holding a woman captive so he can experiment on her. That's just the tip of the iceberg in Pedro Almodovar's bizarre first attempt at a horror movie, based on Thierry Jonquet's novel Tarantula.
Prognosis: It sounds totally demented, but should make Almodovar's cult following happy.
Paranormal Activity 3 (October 21):
The biggest, most lucrative "found footage" horror series is back for a third bite. This time, we're looking in on the two sisters as little girls.
Prognosis: Maybe the fourth film will just be an ATM surveillance camera showing the producers coming up and taking our money, over and over again, for 90 minutes.
In Time (October 28):
Andrew Niccol has created some spellbinding dystopian worlds in Gattaca and The Truman Show. Now he creates his most fascinating — and contrived — dystopia yet: a world where everybody stops aging at 25, but you only have one year to live. To earn more eternal youth, you have to keep working, unless you're one of the lucky people with a million years in the bank. Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried become a futuristic Bonnie-and-Clyde/Robin Hood team, but discover it's not that easy.
Prognosis: It should rule.
Puss in Boots (November 4):
Didn't we just have a Shrek movie last year? And now there's a spin-off about the cat. Almost didn't include this, but it's about fairy tales and stuff. This is a prequel, focusing on Antonio Banderas' sharp-dressed cat, and his sidekick Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).
Prognosis: How many Shrek films have there been now, in total? We lost count.
Melancholia (November 11):
Controversial director Lars von Trier (Antichrist) dips into the apocalyptic genre. This film begins with a newly discovered planet destroying the Earth, and then rewinds to an earlier point, when a couple's wedding ends in disaster. (Just so it's clear to everyone: the Earth being destroyed is not a spoiler. It's the setup.) For the rest of the movie, we deal with people's relationship problems, as the destruction of the planet gets closer and closer.
Prognosis: For those who thought that Roland Emmerich just wasn't miserable enough.
Immortals (November 11):
Tarsem Singh (The Fall, The Cell) brings us Greek mythology, 300-style. Theseus (future Superman Henry Cavill) is our only defense against a pissed-off Titan (Mickey Rourke) who wants to find an ancient weapon and free the rest of the Titans from bondage. Basically, there are lots of hot young gods, sending hot young mortals on an epic quest.
Prognosis: Singh's movies are always pretty at least, and this looks seriously fun, if campy.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (November 18):
By now, you're either on the Twilight train or you're not. But there are a few reasons to check back in on this one: 1) This is the movie where all the fucked-up vampire shit happens, including the horrific vampire-human sex and the weirdest childbirth scene ever. 2) Bill Condon, whose Kinsey is one of the greatest biopics ever, is directing. 3) It sounds like they're turning the last act into a total horror movie, which should be a fascinating tonal shift.
Prognosis: At the very least, it will be memorable.
Arthur Christmas (November 23):
Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, create a new computer-animated film. (Not stop-motion, sadly.) The film focuses on Arthur Christmas, Santa's good-natured but accident-prone son, voiced by James McAvoy. Arthur is entrusted with an ultra-high-tech mission to save Christmas, yadda yadda.
Prognosis: We saw some footage at Comic-Con and it looked pretty fun, with enough Aardman touches that it might rise above the usual "Santa comedy" pitfalls. Maybe.
Hugo (November 23):
Martin Scorsese takes a huge swerve into "family movie" territory, with this adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. An orphaned boy, hiding out in the train station, tries to bring a brass automaton back to life, but he needs a special heart-shaped key to do it. And this film is loosely based on the life of director Georges Méliès, arguably the father of science fiction cinema. Basically, though, it's Scorsese and brass robots.
Prognosis: It should rule.
Piranha 3DD (November 23):
2010's Piranha 3D was a big enough success that they rushed a sequel into production — it was supposed to come out this summer, but it was delayed until Thanksgiving. Because "tryptophan poisoning" and family overload go hand-in-fin with killer fish and naked breasts.
Prognosis: Could possibly be the only thing keeping you sane at Thanksgiving.
The Muppets (November 23):
And our final Thanksgiving weekend contender is the first new muppet movie in ages. Not really science fiction or fantasy, except that people seem to accept talking felt, animated dolls in the real world.
Prognosis: Hard to say. But everybody involved seems to be taking it seriously, and there's a fun indy-rock soundtrack.
Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows (December 16):
The first Sherlock Holmes movie had mystical conspiracies, plus a weird steampunk contraption that was set to destroy Parliament. In the second movie, we finally get to meet Holmes' nemesis, Professor Moriarty. But what weird gadgets will Guy Ritchie have in store for us this time?
Prognosis: The first one was fun, if a bit draggy. Fingers crossed!
Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (December 21):
Two words: Brad Bird. The director of The Incredibles is making his live-action debut, oddly enough, with the fourth film in a long-moribund franchise. Tom Cruise is back, but wait — there's also Lost's Josh Holloway and The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, to help distract you from the Tom. This series has tended to include super-high-tech skullduggery and weird gadgets, and we're dying to see what Brad Bird can do with that stuff.
Prognosis: It should rule.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (December 23):
One of the greatest comics series of all time finally comes to the big screen, thanks to Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, with a script partially written by Doctor Who's Steven Moffat. Too bad they're not tackling one of the more fantastical storylines, like the Moon landing or the Seven Crystal Balls. But it still should be pretty trippy and full of heightened reality. And motion-capture acting. (Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock?)
Prognosis: It should rule.
The Darkest Hour (December 25):
The latest in a spate of "alien invasion" films sees aliens attacking Moscow with deadly lightning weapons, while an American (Emile Hirsch) is visiting. The concept art has been really cool, including the cat in a mini Faraday cage. And Timur Bekmambetov is on board as a producer.
Prognosis: We're suckers for an alien invasion movie. Let's just hope this one manages a satisfying ending.