Any movie nowadays is a gamble.
While box office is up nearly 4 percent so far over last year’s record performance, the pressure is on for the final four months of releases to come in strong. The thing is, the schedule is chock full of risky bets in an industry that is increasingly reliant on tentpoles and international box office earnings for survival.
In some cases, studios are wagering on movie-star firepower (Sony’s “Passengers”). In others, that moviegoers will overcome past biases — against director Mel Gibson, for instance, or big-budget movies based on video games (like Fox and New Regency’s pricey “Assassin’s Creed”).
1. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (Fox, Sept. 30)
Tim Burton has had inconsistent results at the box office since his 2010 big-budget, live-action and CGI hit “Alice in Wonderland” topped $1 billion worldwide. His 2012 thriller “Dark Shadows,” also starring Johnny Depp, grossed less than $80 million domestically on a $150 budget (though it performed better overseas). And his 2014 indie “Big Eyes” with Amy Adams topped out under $15 million.
While Burton didn’t return for this year’s “Alice” sequel, its lackluster box office performance — just $289 million worldwide — may indicate that audiences have developed a low threshold for CGI action fantasy. — Meriah Doty
2. A Tale of Two Bergs: “Deepwater Horizon” (Lionsgate, Sept. 30), “Patriot’s Day” (CBS Films / Lionsgate, Dec. 21)
Now Berg and Wahlberg are back with two challenging fact-based films that don’t seem like easy sells. First up is “Deepwater Horizon,” about the devastating 2010 explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which Berg took over from original director J.C. Chandor.
And then just before Christmas comes “Patriots Day,” a drama depicting the devastating bombing at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Just the thing to take the family to after opening presents under the tree? Of course, that’s when it opens in limited release. The film is set to open wide in mid-January next year. — Matt Donnelly
3. Long-in-the-Tooth Sequels and Reboots
“Blair Witch” is coming out 17 years after the 1999 original; “Bridget Jones’s Baby” opens 12 years after the 2004 sequel, “Edge of Reason;” and “Bad Santa 2” is the 13-years-later sequel to the 2003 original. There are a good amount long-delayed sequels on the release docket this fall.
But we can’t help but wonder: Where is the demand for these titles? Were they green-lit based on name recognition? If this summer’s box office sequelitis serves as any barometer, moviegoers may opt to sit these titles out or wait until they land on VOD.
One revival of bygone IP seems more promising: MGM and Sony are rebooting the 1960 Western “The Magnificent Seven.” While today’s moviegoers may not be familiar with the original, Antoine Fuqua‘s new version boasts some of the hottest stars in Hollywood, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. — Meriah Doty
4. “Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight, Oct. 7)
Writer, director and star Nate Parker became the toast of Sundance last January with his biopic of the legendary Nat Turner, the leader of a slave rebellion in 1830s America. His film became the subject of a bidding war before landing at Fox Searchlight in a record-shattering $17 million deal.
But while Searchlight has had success with Oscar winners like “12 Years a Slave,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “Birdman,” there are plenty of pricey Sundance hits have failed to connect with audiences that actually pay to see movies. (Remember”Happy, Texas” or “Hamlet 2,” both $10 million deals? Neither do we.) Can “Birth” break the curse? — Matt Pressberg
5. “The Accountant” (Warner Bros., Oct. 14)
Ben Affleck is intent on spending some of the street cred he’s earned back, after his triumphant return to the upper echelons of Hollywood. And that doesn’t exclusively mean landing a paycheck and prestige role as Batman.
How else to explain what looks like an acting exercise from Lupita Nyong’o‘s old stomping grounds at Yale Drama? As a socially awkward but numbers savvy CPA for mobsters in “The Accountant,” Affleck gets to woo Anna Kendrick and outrun J.K. Simmons. But will it add up to success? — Matt Donnelly
6. “Hacksaw Ridge” (Summit, Nov. 4)
Mel Gibson has been in the Hollywood doghouse for much of the last decade. Even Jodie Foster‘s “The Beaver” failed to reignite his career. Now he’s back behind the camera for the first time since 2006’s “Apocalypto.”
“Hacksaw Ridge” is the story of America’s first conscientious objector, who refused to bear arms during WWII. Not only did Gibson land Andrew Garfield as his star, but the early buzz on the film has been positive. Still, distributor Summit Entertainment isn’t taking any chances — the studio’s first trailer flashes the title card, “From the director of ‘Braveheart.'” — Matt Donnelly
7. “Doctor Strange” (Disney, Nov. 4)
Marvel is used to taking major risks and venturing into new uncharted territory with their cinematic universe, whether it’s in space with “Guardians of the Galaxy” or the quantum realm in “Ant-Man.”
Now Marvel’s biggest gamble to date will be to venture into the astral plane and the world of sorcerer Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch has a cult following but hasn’t really opened a movie domestically, or had the benefit of being introduced in one of Marvel’s Avengers films. One thing for sure is that Marvel always has an ace up it’s sleeve. – Umberto Gonzalez
8. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (Warner Bros., Nov. 18)
Fans love their Harry Potter, and Warner Bros. is eager to extend a franchise that has grossed $2.3 billion over the course of eight movies.
But Harry and the familiar characters are MIA in this prequel spinoff, which takes its title from a plotless 128-page booklet that J.K. Rowling first issued in 2001 as a guide to magical creatures from her wizarding world.
And the screenwriter is a promising but unproven one, at least as a screenwriter: J.K. Rowling. Still, it’s hard to count out the Scottish author given the power of her imagination. — Rasha Ali
9. “La La Land” (Lionsgate, Dec. 2)
Can 31-year-old “Whiplash” writer-director Damien Chazelle strike musical gold twice? Lionsgate could really use a hit after a year in which its TV business has carried the weight for its disappointing slate of films.
Chazelle has already had a surprise music-based hit with “Whiplash,” which delivered an Oscar to J.K. Simmons and made $49 million worldwide on a $3.5 million budget. Lionsgate is hoping “La La Land” hits that same tune. — Matt Pressberg
10. “Assassin’s Creed” (Fox, Dec. 21)
It must be tough for Michael Fassbender‘s character Callum Lynch, getting sandwiched between Disney’s “Star Wars: Rogue One” and Sony’s “Passengers.” However, being a descendant of a secret killing society based on the hit video game might just be the edge Fassbender needs.
New Regency’s video game adaptation has three strikes against it. First, movies based on video games have not enjoyed strong box office returns. Second, Jean-Julien Baronnet, then-CEO of “Assassin’s Creed” publisher Ubisoft Motion Pictures, let slip last year that the film cost nearly $200 million to produce — which means it will have to be a very big hit. Pam Abdi, president of production for New Regency, said that the budget was $130 million. A spokesperson for New Regency could not explain why Baronnet cited the higher figure. And Fassbender, who best known for playing X-Men’s Magneto, is still unproven to audiences as a leading man at this budget level. – Umberto Gonzalez
11. “Passengers” (Sony, Dec 21)
This Jennifer Lawrence-Chris Pratt space romance is arguably the crown jewel of Sony’s 2016 slate, vying only with Ang Lee‘s awards hopeful and buzzed-about technical marvel “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”
The movie stars two of the hottest actors currently working, but the sci-fi love story is original IP with a brainy director in “The Imitation Game”‘s Morten Tyldum. Without a dinosaur or David O. Russell in sight, the studio will have to rely on the Q scores of the beloved pair. — Matt Donnelly
For the record, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that year-to-date box office is down from last year.