These movies will have to be seriously impressive in order to impress us. (But we really, really hope they impress us.)
Pumpkin spice fever has descended upon the masses once more, which means that the start of the fall movie season is not far behind. The cinematic desert of August is already fading into memory, and the Hollywood doomsday preppers have been lulled back to sleep for the time being by a killer clown who has already raked in so much cash a sequel is already speeding down the pipeline. To be fair, they had already worn themselves out screaming their heads off after a miserable Labor Day weekend and a summer that didn’t have quite enough really big hits to make up for some truly abysmal misses. But summer is over now, and with the changing of the seasons comes some of the year’s most anticipated releases.
However, anticipating a film is not the same as having high expectations of a film, and while the two can quite frequently coexist, they also often go their separate ways. It might not be fair, but there are some upcoming films that will just need to not be a garbage fire to leave us pleasantly surprised (here’s looking at you, Justice League), while others will have to clear much higher hurdles in order to stick a triumphant landing.
With that in mind, let’s look at the five major upcoming releases with some seriously hight stakes. Now, if they manage to meet or exceed expectations, they will be the cinematic events of the season. If not, the fallout could include everything from legions of disappointed fans to a future as a cautionary tale.
Also, a point of clarification: in order for the stakes to truly be high there has to be suspense, so you’ll notice there aren’t any films on this list that have already premiered on the festival circuit.
5. Murder on the Orient Express
Release Date: November 10
Expectation: This many competent people couldn’t come together and make something bad… right?
The cast includes about half the actors you know and love. And Johnny Depp, who we all knew and loved fifteen years ago but now just wish would go away before his 2017 self truly ruins our ability to appreciate his early 2000s self. The story is Agatha Christie—sharp, lean, with some trite clichés balanced out by genuinely clever moments—adapted for the screen for the fourth time by Michael Green, who has worked on so many incredible projects, including Logan and American Gods, that you can almost forget he represents one quarter of the writing credits of 2011’s Green Lantern. The director is Kenneth Branagh. It’s a film with a star-studded super-cast helmed by a bunch of established industry people who know what they are doing. There has to be a point, right?
A pretty sleek trailer debuted in June that still was not quite stylish enough to excuse the use of Imagine Dragon’s “Believer,” which turns the whole thing into the exact wrong sort of 1930s-2017 culture clash, a reverse-Judi-Dench-with-a-fidget-spinner. But at the same time, you can’t actually have this many high profile, respectable professionals involved in a project that doesn’t have some… something to it, can you?
There has to be a point… right?
(This is the sort of thing I tell myself to keep my faith in humanity alive.)
4. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Release Date: September 22
Expectation: Bloody good fun
As the majority of us were only vaguely aware that Kingsman existed in comic book form before Kingsman: The Secret Service exploded into theaters in 2014, lots of us entered the first Kingsman film with no idea of what we were getting into—which, with the shamelessly irreverent nature of the film, worked to its advantage. While full of familiar tropes and features, it was, on the whole, a bracing breath of fresh air. With a cast that has doubled in size and star power, Kingsman: The Golden Circle seems to be taking the popular “go bigger” approach, though only time will tell if it pans out—and if the sequel can provide the same sort of incredibly entertaining viewing experience the first installment did when audiences are coming in with higher expectations. If it fails, we’ll always have The Secret Service. And if it succeeds, well, you better start figuring out your opinions on rope because between Wonder Woman and Agents Whiskey and Tequila (Pedro Pascal and Channing Tatum), it’s looking like 2017 might be trying to do for lassoing what 2012 did for archery (thanks for that, Katniss and Hawkeye).
Release Date: November 22
Expectation: A beautiful, emotionally engaging adventure for all ages
When it comes to consistent quality, Pixar is pretty much the gold standard. Which is why the studio’s first film of 2017, the unnecessary and just okay Cars 3—which, when you consider some of the things other studios serve up as children’s entertainment, is incredibly bearable—was such a disappointment. While previews suggest Coco will be more in line with what we expect from the studio, looking at the viewership numbers of promotional videos released thus far, the numbers seem underwhelming at the moment. And while there are still a few months to go, an underwhelming response would be a sorry way to end a year that already has not been Pixar’s best, especially considering how Coco marks the studio looking towards some more culturally diverse source material.
2. Thor: Ragnarok
Release Date: November 2
Expectation: Psychedelic fun featuring some badass villainy
Though Thor provided us with Loki, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s few villains more engaging than dry toast, the corner of the superhero movie universe that revolves around Chris Hemsworth and his biceps does not exactly include any of the franchise’s crowning glories. Thor is decent and Thor: The Dark World puts the “meh” in mediocrity. Of the three series established in Phase One, the God of Thunder has thus far been the underachiever. After all, the other two are Iron Man, who has the eternal prestige of being the firstborn, and Captain America, who had a comparably “pretty good” start to the Asgardian but has since gained two sequels that are easily among the MCU’s strongest entries. But change might be in the air. Because with Cate Blanchett as Hela, there is hope that Ragnarok will not just help address Marvel’s movie villain problem, but add a much-needed entry into the lackluster book of female movie supervillains. And she’s not the only newcomer worth getting excited about: Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, and Karl Urban are also joining.
But it would be criminal not to mention the MCU newcomer behind the camera as well: Taika Waititi. Coming off a string of indie triumphs—most recently 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows and 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople—Waititi waltzed into San Diego Comic Con in a pineapple romper (matching shirt/short combo? who knows…) and solidified the thought that many of us started having after seeing the first gloriously joyous trailer: that he is exactly the sort of person we want creating our superhero entertainment. Everything from his fashion sense to his delightfully film-nerdy Twitter account leaves one feeling so good about Waititi that even his claim that 80% of Ragnarok was improvised does not inspire the sort of skepticism or nervousness that it should. Even if Ragnarok does end up being the worst sort of drivel, it will certainly still do fine at the box office. Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad both did, after all. But it would still be a very sad day. I don’t want Taika Waititi to give me a reason not to like him.
1. Blade Runner 2049
Release Date: October 6
Expectation: Cinematic brilliance
The thing about being a sequel is that you have a built-in hurdle to clear in order to be considered successful, and that hurdle is called the film that came before it. Now, whether you are judge a film based on critical acclaim, the fervor or size of the fanbase, or the magnitude of its influence, Blade Runner is a force to be reckoned with. While no one was truly surprised that a sequel was in the works, I don’t think anyone had any hope that said sequel would be anything but proof that studios consider nothing sacred anymore and something that would hopefully go quietly and so not damage its predecessor in the process of struggling against but ultimately succumbing to being a total failure.
But then names started getting attached. Names like Harrison Ford. Dennis Villeneuve. Roger Deakins. And then the first tantalizing trailer, which left many of us wondering: what if they actually pull it off? A worthy sequel to Blade Runner? If that does end up happening, it will be a triumph for the books. And if it does not… well, the two trailers released have demonstrated that it won’t be the fault of cinematography or production design.