11 Biggest, Priciest Fall Movie Gambles, From ‘Cats’ to ‘Charlie’s Angels’

Fall Movie Preview 2019: Big bets, big budgets and potentially big payoffs in store as these movies hit the end of the year

The fall movie release schedule is jam-packed with adaptation of famous novels, a resurrection of old IP and movies that will take us back in time thanks to CG technology that makes familiar stars look decades younger.

But as with every season, there are some major risks on the release calendar — some of which may pay off in the end, whereas some others might not. The budget could be too costly, the subject matter too niche or the studio may have waited too long to revive a once-popular property.

Here’s who stands to win or lose big:

Rambo Last Blood Sylvester Stallone


“Rambo: Last Blood” (Sept. 20)

“Last Blood” is epitome of one would call a long-delayed sequel. The last film in Sylvester Stallone’s franchise, “Rambo,” came out 11 years ago. Lionsgate is betting big on releasing a film in a beloved series so much later, but recent reboots of male-skewing action series suggest caution. Last year, a new “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis grossed $34 million domestically on a production budget of $30 million, while “The Predator” reboot only earned $51 million despite a $88 million budget (not counting marketing costs).

Still, the new “Rambo” could appeal to an older male fan base who have turned up for Stallone’s recent releases such as “The Expendables,” “Creed” and “Creed II.” But it also opens against two other movies that might skew older as well — Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” and “Downton Abbey.”

AD ASTRA Brad Pitt

20th Century Fox

“Ad Astra” (Sept. 20)

After multiple release date changes, the Brad Pitt film is finally hitting the big screen. The movie was first announced in early 2016 and scheduled for release last January, and was shifted twice more in the midst of Disney’s acquisition of Fox.

Director James Gray once said this movie will be “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie” — well, that sounds super-expensive. The budget is $87.5 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Oh, and Fox’s box office returns haven’t been that stellar — even Disney CEO Bob Iger commented on the studio’s poor performance during the earnings call for the fiscal third quarter, saying, “One of the biggest issues we faced in the quarter was the performance of the Fox film business. It was well below what it had been and well below what we thought it would be when we did the acquisition.” Iger did mention the Fox division’s upcoming Matt Damon-Christian Bale vehicle “Ford v. Ferrari” as a promising title for the studio — but no word of “Ad Astra.”

Joker Joaquin Phoenix

Warner Bros.

“Joker” (Oct. 4)

Warner Bros. has found success lately with lighter comic-book adaptations such as “Wonder Woman” ($821 million worldwide gross) and “Aquaman” ($1.15 billion worldwide), following films like “Suicide Squad” ($747 million worldwide) and “Justice League” ($657 million worldwide) that didn’t quite hit the mark with critics or fans. So can the studio now score with a dark drama (described as darker than “The Dark Knight”) on a beloved character like Joker, especially when it’s R-rated?

In addition, Joaquin Phoenix faces a particular challenge playing a character best remembered from Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” Last June, several outlets reported that the budget was $55 million — a fraction of most superhero pictures.

gemini man


“Gemini Man” (Oct. 11)

The sci-fi story “Gemini Man” has been kicking around since the late ’90s. But the story of an assassin who must fight his own decades-younger clone has been delayed until CG technology could make the high-concept story work. Now Skydance Media has produced the big-budget film, with Ang Lee directing Will Smith in the dual role. According to Box Office Pro‘s long-range tracking, the sci-fi thriller is currently on track for a modest $25-$30 million opening.

Despite the success of this summer’s “Aladdin,” which has conjured over $1 billion worldwide, Smith has had a rocky track record with his recent live-action outings, like 2016’s “Collateral Beauty” ($31 million domestic) and 2015’s “Concussion” ($34 million).

motherless brooklyn

Warner Bros.

“Motherless Brooklyn” (Nov. 1)

Edward Norton writes, directs, produces and stars in this adaptation of the acclaimed Jonathan Lethem novel about a private investigator with Tourette syndrome who seeks to solve his mentor’s murder. But the prestige project — whose cast includes Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leslie Mann, Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe — has been marred by tragedy and lawsuits stemming from a fire in the building in which the set was built, that killed a New York City firefighter in March 2018.

An added challenge: The film opens against another prestige heavyweight: Kasi Lemmons’ biopic of slave-turned-activist Harriet Tubman, played by Cynthia Erivo.

Irishman Robert De Niro

“The Irishman” (November 1)

Martin Scorsese’s film has been in the works for five years, and it’s expensive. Paramount Pictures even dropped out of the project when Fabrica de Cine announced it would no longer be financing the film because of its climbing budget. In March of last year, it was reported that the film’s budget had ballooned to $140 million due to the visual effects needed to de-age stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci by up to 30 years in some scenes. By the time of postproduction, some reports put the film’s total cost at $200 million.

Despite plans for a limited theatrical release, Netflix is not in the box office game of its competitors — which makes it very hard to see how the streaming giant will see ROI given just how pricey this project has become.

Terminator Dark Fate Arnold Schwarzenegger

Paramount Pictures

“Terminator: Dark Fate” (Nov. 1)

It’s a little risky for Paramount Pictures to try and reboot the “Terminator” franchise for a third time in a single decade. Additionally, the last two “Terminator” movies were major letdowns for critics and fans alike: 2009’s “Terminator Salvation” grossed $125.3 million domestically on a $200 million budget, while 2015’s “Terminator: Genisys” topped out at $89.8 million domestically on a $155 million budget — despite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return.

However, “Dark Fate” marks the return of Linda Hamilton to the franchise as Sarah Connor. Excitement for the film at CinemaCon in April was high, which might be an indicator that fans are finally ready to see this sci-fi world again.

Charlie's Angels

Entertainment Weekly

“Charlie’s Angels” (Nov. 15)

Sony is taking a page out of Hollywood’s playbook by revamping an old film franchise that used to be successful almost 20 years ago (and rebooting a TV series that was popular in the ’70s) and sprucing it up with younger cast members (Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska) and a female director (Elizabeth Banks).

Reboots haven’t been that successful in recent years. 2017’s “The Mummy” cost an estimated $125 million, but only grossed $80 million domestically and was panned by critics. The all-female “Ghostbusters,” starring Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, received better reviews but was still considered a box office disappointment, grossing $128 million domestically on a $144 million budget. One exception to the reboot curse was last fall’s “Halloween,” which became a box office success and broke several records in the process.

Knives Out Daniel Craig Lakeith Stanfield

Lionsgate/Claire Folger

“Knives Out” (Nov. 27)

An all-star cast made up of Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford and Michael Shannon can’t have been cheap for this Rian Johnson-directed whodunit drama. After a bidding war at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, MRC (and then Lionsgate) committed upwards of $40 million to secure the project, with a strong back end for Craig and the filmmakers. In the world of live-action remakes, long standing IP and superhero films, an original movie with a studio-level budget is a bit of a risk. Only one film not based on existing IP was among 2018’s top 20 grossers: John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place.”


“Playmobil” (Dec. 6)

This animated film based on the toy franchise boasts some big vocal stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Gaffigan, Meghan Trainor, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Adam Lambert. But Playmobil isn’t a big household name in the United States — especially in comparison to its competitor, Lego, which has successfully launched a series of hit animated movies for Warner Bros.

More troubling is that the film’s release has been pushed back several times — and that the indie studio STX has already face-planted with another toy-inspired animated film this year: “Uglydolls,” which flopped with just $20.2 million on a $45 million budget.

cats jennifer hudson

Universal Pictures

“Cats” (Dec. 20)

Universal is taking a risk with the film adaptation of the beloved Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats,” which follows a group of felines that decide which of their tribe members will ascend to heaven to come back in a new life. The A-list cast — which includes Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Judi Dench, Idris Elba and Rebel Wilson — didn’t come cheap, or did the hefty budget for sets, costumes and CG work to make all the stars seem more feline.

The film also has a marketing challenge to scratch itself out of: When the first trailer for the film dropped last month, there was a negative reaction, with many criticizing the visual effects and the way the cats looked. This could be a major blow to the film’s opening weekend — or, on the other hand, it could entice more people to go see it. It remains to be seen.

Brian Welk contributed to this report. 

Beatrice Verhoeven

Beatrice Verhoeven

Senior Film Reporter


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