50 Films to See Before Going to the Movies This Fall

By  · Published on September 4th, 2015

Twentieth Century Fox

Isn’t it great that the summer movie season is over? Enough with all the sequels and the reboots, right? Well, this fall’s crop of movies might disappoint you if you’re looking for originality. Over the next four months, you can expect to see about as many sequels as you did the last four months. Worse, though, is the number of remakes, many of them dramatic retellings of stories that were covered just fine in documentaries. Plus Jem and the Holograms, which is based on a cartoon TV series.

You may not be interested in seeing every single major release between now and the end of the year (feel free to stick to our fall preview), but if you are you might also be interested in checking out all 50 films listed below (plus some extra mentions here and there). Or you can pick and choose depending on your moviegoing plans this season. We just want you to be prepared with context wherever necessary.

Each recommendation includes a due date to watch it by, which is the initial release date of their respective new counterparts.

Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

Edward Zwick’s Pawn Sacrifice, starring Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer, looks okay, but Liz Garbus’s documentary about the famous chess grandmaster is really all you need. Especially during the segment on the 1972 World Chess Championship, the earlier film already plays like an intense drama, so a biopic wasn’t required. Except for the people who hate docs and are still upset that Searching for Bobby Fischer wasn’t about Fischer at all. Due Date: 9/16

Everest (1998)

While not completely linked with the new drama of the same name, this IMAX documentary was shot in part during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster it depicts, and its crew was involved in the search and rescue efforts. There is at least mention of the IMAX filmmakers in the drama. Also worth seeing is the 2007 documentary Remnants of Everest: The 1996 Tragedy, which was directed by the IMAX film’s co-director, David Breashears and was seen in the US as a Frontline episode titled Storm Over Everest. Due Date: 9/18

The Maze Runner (2014)

So little of Wes Ball’s first Maze Runner movie makes sense (refer to the questions it left me with) that it might not even be essential viewing before the new sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, but it probably couldn’t hurt, and anyway it’s still very entertaining in spite of how confusing and illogical it is. Due Date: 9/18

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014)

Johnny Depp is getting some good buzz for his performance as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, but before you catch the portrayal be sure to see the real deal in this recent documentary by Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy). It’s more focused on the notorious gangster’s trial than his life story, but the latter understandably comes through with the former. We also recommend The Departed for its famous fictionalization of Bulger. Due Date: 9/18

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

This animated feature might make you realize you don’t hate all recent Adam Sandler movies, but I can’t promise you the new sequel, Hotel Transylvania 2, will do the same. Due Date: 9/25

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Eli Roth’s long-delayed new movie, The Green Inferno, isn’t quite a remake of this infamous exploitation horror film, but it is enough of an homage that it nearly qualifies as a loose update. Not only is the influence very apparent, but Roth actually screened the 35-year-old cult classic to the real-life Amazonian villagers who appear in his movie. Due Date: 9/25

Stonewall Uprising (2010)

Roland Emmerich’s dramatized telling of the famous Stonewall riots, the most famous events in the history of the gay rights movement, is already being criticized by the LGBT community for its inaccuracies. Best to stick with this documentary and maybe even the bracketing films Before Stonewall and After Stonewall for more of history lessons. Due Date: 9/25

Man On Wire (2008)

Not only is James Marsh’s film of Philippe Petit and his famous Twin Towers tightrope feat an Oscar winner for Best Documentary, Features, but it’s also on my list of the 10 best documentaries of all time. Aside from the promise of IMAX 3D spectacle in its reenactment of footage we see for real in the earlier work, there’s little reason for Robert Zemeckis’s dramatic remake, The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt as Petit. Due Date: 9/30

Freeheld (2007)

Another essential LBGT story can be found in this film by Cynthia Wade, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subjects. After watching the real 40-minute version, then you can go see the potentially also Oscar-worthy remake of the same name starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as lesbian domestic partners fighting for equal benefits rights. Due Date: 10/2

Peter Pan (1924)

While Disney’s animated version is the more famous adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s play, and the one most people will be using as the reference point for the new Warner Bros. prequel, Pan, the earlier silent film from Paramount should be seen for a rare case when the character Tiger Lily was played by an ethnic actress. Maybe still not the correct ethnicity, but still, it was a big deal for Hollywood to cast a Chinese-American actress like Anna May Wong for such a significant role. Due Date: 10/9

Jobs (2013) and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015)

You’re probably already certain, without ever seeing it, that Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal of Steve Jobs is not as good as Michael Fassbender’s will be in Steve Jobs, but you’re better off making sure. And for the real deal to possibly triumph over both, Alex Gibney’s got a new documentary feature about the late Apple CEO. Due Date: 10/9

Dead Season (1968)

If you can get your hands on this old Soviet spy film, you can see the Glienicke Bridge spy exchange now depicted in Steven Spielberg’s lates, Bridge of Spies, from the other side’s perspective. Rudolf Abel, the guy we handed over (portrayed by Mark Rylance for Spielberg) served as a consultant and makes a brief appearance as himself. Due Date: 10/16

Paranormal Activity 1–4 (2007–2012)

The latest installment in the Paranormal Activity series, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, promises to be the last and to provide answers to all our questions. To remind yourself of those questions, head back to the beginning and then continue with the subsequent three sequels (I think you can skip the spinoffs). Due Date: 10/23

What 80 Million Women Want (1913)

We can assume that Meryl Streep also watched this 102-year-old drama based on the UK campaign for women’s right to vote to prepare for her role in Suffragette, which also involves a fictional account of that historical period. In the new movie, Streep plays Emmeline Pankhurst, who appears in What 80 Million Women Want as herself. Due Date: 10/23

Our Brand Is Crisis (2005)

Rachel Boynton’s film documents the story of the 2002 Bolivian presidential election and James Carville’s firm’s political strategizing for winner Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a story now dramatized in a movie of the same name by David Gordon Green. Due Date: 10/30

The Miles Davis Story (2001)

This standard documentary on the life and music of Miles Davis may not wind up being a preferred choice against Don Cheadle’s new biopic, Miles Ahead — more likely they’ll be of equal worth for fans – but it will at least show you some great footage of the real jazz legend at work. Due Date: TBD

Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008)

There are those of you who saw James Bond’s last outing, Skyfall, but didn’t see Daniel Craig’s prior installments. And since the new 007 movie, Spectre, involves the main creative team behind the 2012 hit, you’re probably going to be interested in it. But it more directly follows and concludes events begun in Casino Royale and continued in Quantum of Solace. Due Date: 11/6

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)

It’s hard to tell just yet if The Peanuts Movie will be a contender for the Academy Award for Best Animated Film this year, but there has already been an Oscar-nominated Peanuts movie. This first theatrical feature starring Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest was recognized for its original song score, including new music by Vince Guaraldi. It lost to The Beatles for Let It Be. Due Date: 11/6

Trumbo (2007) and Spartacus (1960)

Jay Roach’s new movie about Dalton Trumbo, also titled Trumbo, looks kind of bad, and kind of unnecessary so soon after such a fine documentary based on son Christopher Trumbo’s play. That’s not enough, though. You need to see Dalton Trumbo’s works as a screenwriter, before and after being blacklisted, to understand his significance. Spartacus may be the best, and it’s also the one most notably referenced in the trailer for the upcoming biopic. Due Date: 11/6

33 (2011)

Another basic documentary, this Spanish-language film isn’t so much essential as recommended for a primer on the story of the 2010 Chilean mining accident before the release of the Antonio Banderas-led drama The 33. Due Date: 11/13

The Story of Darrell Royal (1999)

Matthew McConaughey narrates this basic, hour-long sports documentary about the life of Darrell Royal. It’s worth seeing for the initial facts ahead of Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of the famous college football coach in My All American. Due Date: 11/13

The Ring (2002) and The Ring Two (2005)

Don’t go into this fall’s Rings thinking it’s a remake, as was previously thought. It’s a sequel, and given that it’s been a while you’ll definitely want to revisit the original remake (that’s neat oxymoron) and its sequel to remind you what’s happened so far. Due Date: 11/13

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

One of the more obvious items on this list, it’s actually mostly a reminder to myself, because I still haven’t watched the first part of the series’ conclusion yet. Of course, you’ll want to see the other prior two, too, if you haven’t, before hitting the theaters for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Due Date: 11/20

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)

You’d think that an Oscar-winning foreign film such as this Argentine thriller wouldn’t need an English-language remake. Yet the new version, starring Julia Roberts, does look really good, too. Watch them both. Due Date: 11/20

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

The new movie Victor Frankenstein tells Mary Shelly’s classic story from Igor’s point of view, but never mind that Shelly’s novel of “Frankenstein” features no such character. He’s become a staple of the cinematic versions, beginning with the 1931 adaptation’s Fritz character. His first appearance with the now famous name of Igor (or Ygor) is sort of this second sequel, where he’s portrayed brilliantly by Bela Lugosi. Feel free to follow it with Lugosi’s reprisal as the character in 1942’s Ghost of Frankenstein. Due Date: 11/25

Rocky I, II & IV (1976–1979; 1985)

The trailer for Creed almost doesn’t feature Sylvester Stallone at all, meaning some of you could have (unlikely but maybe) missed that it’s a Rocky sequel with a passing-of-the-torch storyline with Michael B. Jordan playing the son of Apollo Creed. In that brief moment at the end of the trailer, though, you get references to at least three of the first four installments. They’re all you need to see if you’d rather skip the other three. Due Date: 11/25

Your Cheatin’ Heart (1964)

If I Saw the Light didn’t star Avengers actors Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, you might wonder why we need another Hank Williams biopic. We’ve already got this one, starring George Hamilton as the country singer and Susan Oliver as his wife, and it’s only half a century old. Due Date: 11/27

Macbeth (1971)

One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, “Macbeth” has been made into a lot of movies, a few of them exceptional. Before checking out Michael Fassbender in Justin Kurzel’s new adaptation, you can watch Orson Welles’s version or Akira Kurosawa’s reworking, Throne of Blood, but for a more timely take, see this Roman Polanski film produced by Playboy. And listen to the recent You Must Remember This podcast series on Charles Manson, which has a nice little mention of Polanski’s Macbeth in part 10. Due Date: 12/4

Revenge of the Whale (2001) and Into the Deep: American, Whaling & the World (2010)

There are almost too many documentaries about the Essex, the historic whaling ship involved in events that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Most of them feature some level of dramatization, too, but nothing like what Ron Howard’s upcoming In the Heart of the Sea is going to showcase. You’ve got one narrated by Liam Neeson (NBC’s Revenge of the Whale) and another by the great Ric Burns (Into the Deep, which is part of PBS’s American Experience series), and you should start with those. Due Date: 12/11

Star Wars Episodes 1–6 (1999–2005; 1977–1983)

Yeah, even the prequels. They might be on the test. Due Date: 12/18

The Chipmunk Adventure (1987)

If you need to see any Alvin and the Chipmunks movie ever, make it this animated feature and skip all the live-action versions, even the new (titled Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip), with their crude CG versions of the once-beloved singing rodents. Due Date: 12/23

Man in the Wilderness (1971)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant looks like it’s going to be the more exceptional take on the story of Hugh Glass, but don’t let that stop you from becoming familiar with this fictionalized version starring Richard Harris in the role now filled by Leonardo DiCaprio and John Huston in the role now filled by Domhnall Gleeson. Due Date: 12/25

League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis (2013)

Now that the upcoming Will Smith drama Concussion has been revealed to be changed to appease its villains, the NFL, the movie is best left boycotted. Instead of seeing it (rather than in addition to), watch this Frontline episode on the same issue of deadly head trauma suffered by professional football players featuring a central interview with Dr. Bennett Omalu, the man Smith portrays in the compromised new release. Due Date: 12/25

Point Break (1991)

It’s still too far off to be sure, but the Point Break remake also looks totally useless, but for different reasons. If you’ve never seen the original starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, finally catching up with it now might have you wondering what the big deal is. I’m someone who saw it back when and I’d actually agree with you. But some movies need to be seen for the familiarity at the very least. Due Date: 12/25

Citizenfour (2004)

Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden movie, Snowden, may not be useless, but it sure will be supplementary to this Oscar-winning documentary by Laura Poitras. She and the guys who appear in Citizenfour are all prominently portrayed in Stone’s movie, which stars Joseph Gordon Levitt in his second remake of a documentary this season. But see it because it’s a masterpiece rather than solely because of the context it brings to Stone’s biopic. Due Date: 12/25

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.