11 Riskiest, Priciest Movie Gambles This Fall, From ‘Venom’ to ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

Fall Movie Preview 2018: A symbiote, a nutcracker and a gay rock star walk into new movie season — who will thrive? who will survive?

Last Updated: September 5, 2018 @ 7:56 AM

For most, the only risks of the Fall season involve excess layering and holiday food binging.

But in Hollywood, it’s a critical time to launch awards films, take audiences back to school after the mindless fun of summer blockbuster season and hope to win the Christmas-corridor box office race.

All the major studios — Disney, Fox, Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount and Universal — as well as mini-majors like Lionsgate have skin in the game. Here’s who stands to win or lose big:

“Venom” (Sony/Columbia, October 5)

Sony Pictures is dipping two toes into the Spiderverse this fall as it looks to expand its Marvel IP beyond the world of Peter Parker. First up is “Venom,” which takes place in the same Marvel universe as the mighty “Avengers” franchise and, of course, Sony’s own hot Spidey property fronted by Tom Holland.

Tom Hardy plays  journalist Eddie Brock, who gets entangled with an alien symbiote that gives him special powers as long as they share the same body. Hardy’s turbulent genius has been largely reserved for prestige films and period dramas — aside from mumble-mouthed turns in blockbusters like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Leading lady Michelle Williams and antagonist Riz Ahmed should help pull in some unexpected demos, but this is purely a dice-roll for Hardy and Sony as it seeks to leverage its slice of the Marvelverse.

a star is born

“A Star Is Born” (Warner Bros., October 5)

Leading man Bradley Cooper and global superstar Lady Gaga seem like a perfect match for this long-gestating musical reboot, territory where both Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand have tread before.

If only it were that easy. Cooper is a first-time director who wanted to shoot on location at live musical festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury. And Gaga is untested as a dramatic actress — despite a Golden Globe win for her uber-camp turn in “American Horror Story: Hotel.”

They’ll have to harmonize not only as artistic and credible voices, but also as two real stars playing two fictional stars without coming off like caricatures. Early indication is that Cooper pulled it off — on no less than the third time this movie has been made.

Rami Malek Bohemian Rhapsody

“Bohemian Rhapsody” (Fox, November 2)

Legendary rocker biopics are usually safe bets, as long they include a given artist’s music catalog and plenty of fast-paced montages of glam and excess. Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) takes up the mantle of Freddie Mercury, and looks so convincing in the role it sparked a social media sensation earlier this year.

Let’s not forsake the eight years of development hell this project languished in, which saw numerous stars (including Sacha Baron Cohen) attached to play the Queen rocker and as many directors floated to handle the movie.

Then there was the rare public firing of Bryan Singer, who directed most of “Bohemian” before Fox yanked him from the project over a dispute over his work performance, TheWrap reported. Dexter Fletcher stepped in and finished the shoot — but the first trailer in May prompted a social-media storm about suggestions of a heterosexual love story for the gay icon and a failure to mention his AIDS diagnosis.

The line at Fox has largely been to ignore controversy and build anticipation for the finished product. Will it rock you? TBD.

Nutcracker and four realms

“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” (Disney, November 2)

Disney developed a film version of the beloved holiday ballet — first staged in 1892 — and it seemed like a slam-dunk visual feast from director Lasse Hallström, goosed by an all-star cast (including Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Morgan Freeman) and the screen debut of African American prima ballerina Misty Copeland.

But the release was pushed back from 2017 — and the studio hired Joe Johnston to oversee a massive 32-day reshoot that raised eyebrows around town (Hallström was said to have scheduling conflicts — though he was not attached to any other projects).

Not only is this public-domain IP of the sort that Disney often avoids these days, but the studio now faces the additional challenge of determining whether and how the promotional campaign should use Freeman, accused of sexual misconduct and harassment in May. (The actor has vehemently denied any misconduct.)

The Grinch

“The Grinch” (Universal, November 9)

More hallowed than “The Nutracker,” Dr. Seuss’ perennial mean one — Mr. Grinch — is getting a dust-off and CGI facelift from Universal and Illumination. The last time the studio touched the property was in 2000, with Ron Howard’s live-action film starring rubber-faced Jim Carrey — which grossed just over $345 million worldwide.

Now the film will seek to reengage a youth audience whose viewing habits are guided by parents in love with the original animated TV special. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the green antihero, and an early trailer shows a more modern take (he spies on Whoville with drones).

girl in the spider's web

Sony

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (Sony/Columbia, November 9)

Seven years after David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” sputtered to $102 million domestically, Sony is attempting to reboot the franchise based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling thrillers about a goth hacker named Lisbeth Salander.

But the studio is starting mostly from scratch — skipping the second and third novels in the late Swedish author’s trilogy and instead jumping to the first novel written by his authorized successor, Swedish crime journalist David Lagercrantz.

And “The Crown” star Claire Foy is stepping in for Rooney Mara as Salander — with Daniel Craig’s journalist hero replaced by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason (“Borg vs. McEnroe”). Will fans still go for a long-dormant franchise with a less starry cast?

Robin Hood Trailer Taron Egerton

“Robin Hood” (Lionsgate, November 21)

Did anyone ask for another Robin Hood movie? Granted, this is public-domain IP. But this is also the third studio adaptation since Warner Bros.’ 1991 “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” (Does anyone even remember Universal’s 2010 attempt with Russell Crowe?)

Now Lionsgate is taking a swing with Jamie Foxx teaching Taron Egerton’s Robin of Loxley how to plunder. The film, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way, was announced in 2015 with a script written by “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” scribe Joby Harold. We all know how that film performed.

Adding to the film’s risk profile is Otto Bathurst, who is getting his feature directorial debut.

mary poppins returns emily blunt

Getty Images

“Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney, December 19)

There are two big challenges here for Disney. The first is for Emily Blunt, who proved she can sing in “Into the Woods” but must live up to the role of the magical nanny created by the beloved Julie Andrews.

Second, the filmmakers must both justify the need for a sequel arriving 54 years after the original — and educate younger audiences who (gasp) may not be familiar with the story or the characters.

On the plus side, “Hamilton” star and creator Lin Manuel-Miranda co-stars here — though the new tunes are supplied by “Hairspray” composer Marc Shaiman lyrics co-writer Scott Wittman.

alita battle angel

“Alita: Battle Angel” (Fox, December 21)

Fox is betting big on this cyberpunk action adventure from producer-screenwriter James Cameron. $200 million big.

Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”) directs the film, based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga, with an “Avatar”-like mix of CG and human characters whose trailer suggests a definite uncanny-valley vibe.

Rosa Salazar (“Maze Runner” series) stars as Alita, a kickass cyborg who awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize. The film also stars Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali — who are, shall we say, untested as box office draws.

“Aquaman” (Warner Bros., December 21)

The good news is Jason Mamoa looks great as the heir to the throne of Atlantis.

The bad news is the last time we saw him was in “Justice League,” which grossed a decent but not spectacular $209 million last year and continued to raise doubts among fans about whether Warner Bros. has a handle on its DC Extended Universe — aside from the unreserved success of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (and Gal Gadot’s charming and badass portrayal of that heroine.)

Warner hopes it can launch a new hero (and franchise) just like “Wonder Woman” with “Aquaman,” which has a $160 million production budget. And the studio tapped a proven hit maker in director James Wan, who launched both the “Insidious” and “Conjuring” franchises and directed the 2015 action mega-hit “Furious 7,” which grossed $1.5 billion worldwide.

bumblebee transformers trailer comic-con 2018

Paramount

“Bumblebee” (Paramount Pictures, December 21)

Paramount has seen diminishing returns for its “Transformers” franchise — last year’s “The Last Knight” eked out a series-low $130 million domestically.

But with little other IP in its cupboard aside from “Mission: Impossible” and the also declining “Star Trek,” the studio hopes to reboot the “Transformers” franchise with a spinoff prequel focusing on the origin story of one of the fan-favorite characters.

Paramount’s new boss Jim Gianopulos is hedging his bets by slashing the usual blow-out budget to a leaner $100 million. That means trading the pricey auteur Michael Bay for first-time live-action director Travis Knight (“Kubo and the Two Strings”), and filling out the cast with stars like Hailee Steinfeld instead of Mark Wahlberg.

But will a leaner “Transformers” — set in the 1980s, to boot — provide more than meets the eye to moviegoers?

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