Another blockbuster season has come and gone, and all the Transformers, Expendables and Ninja Turtles have crawled back into Hollywood’s toy box for another year. This summer’s cinematic offerings were filled with missed opportunities (the underwritten, overpopulated Amazing Spider-Man 2), box office disappointments (the clever but doomed Edge of Tomorrow), off-the-grid triumphs (Snowpiercer, A Most Wanted Man), art-house alternatives (Boyhood, Ida) and more than a few pleasant surprises Guardians of the Galaxy and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes both proved that tentpole movies can be every bit as intelligent, heartfelt and character-driven as their more modestly budgeted counterparts. So as the weather cools and the beaches empty, it’s time to look forward to a darker, weirder crop of films. Here, in order of their release dates, are the 10 that sound the most promising.
1. Tusk (Sept. 19)
Writer-director Kevin Smith continues his foray into the horror genre with Tusk, the diabolical tale of Mr. Howe, a legendary seafarer and wealthy eccentric played with snarling exuberance by veteran character actor Michael Parks, who lures an unsuspecting podcaster (Justin Long) to his secluded Canadian estate with the intent of surgically and psychologically transforming the young man into a grotesque walrus-human hybrid.
The idea, which sounds like a morbidly humorous gloss on The Human Centipede, reportedly occurred to Smith while reading a bizarre Craiglist ad during one of his podcasts, but the concept remained little more than a running joke until his Twitter followers convinced him to move forward with the project, using the hashtag #WalrusYes to pledge their support. Smith’s last movie, the religious fundamentalist baiting horror movie Red State, also starring Parks, was a welcome departure from the filmmaker’s usual brand of chatty vulgarity, and it’s always fun to watch Silent Bob blaze new trails, so to speak.
2. The Boxtrolls (Sept. 26)
The newest offering from Laika Entertainment, the stop motion mavens behind Coraline and ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls promises to be another visually arresting, emotionally resonant adventure for children of all ages. The story, adapted from the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, focuses on an orphan boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright)and his surrogate family, a subterranean race of garbage collectors known as the Boxtrolls. When the residents of Eggs’ hometown turn to fanatical exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to get rid of the Boxtrolls, Eggs must fight to save the only home he’s ever known. The movie also features the vocal talents of Elle Fanning and Toni Collette, not to mention the ever-dependable comedic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
3. Gone Girl (Oct. 3)
David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) follows up his sleek, freeze-dried take on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with another murder mystery based on a popular novel, this time an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s New York Times bestseller Gone Girl. Did handsome Scott Peterson stand-in Nick Dunne (played with an inscrutable blend of charm and smarm by Ben Affleck) really murder his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), or is his crappy personality getting in the way of catching the real killer? The first trailer, set to a haunting cover of “She” by Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, refuses to spill the beans, suffusing the proceedings with a sleepy tinge of melancholy and menace. Even when Fincher repeats himself, as he seems to be in danger of doing here, his work always bears watching.
4. Birdman (Oct. 17)
Ex-Batman Michael Keaton pokes fun at his super-heroic past in Birdman (alternative title: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a pitch-black existential comedy from Alejandro González Iñárritu, the typically self-serious Mexican auteur behind Amores Perros, Babel and Biutiful. Keaton stars as has been actor Riggan Thomson, once famous for portraying a winged vigilante called Birdman, who finds himself on the verge of a Black Swan-style identity crisis in the weeks leading up to the opening of his latest Broadway vanity project. Fellow superhero movie veterans Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk) and Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) appear as Riggan’s egocentric rival and drug-addled daughter, respectively. Expect plenty of hallucinogenic imagery and kinky-costumed cavorting.
5. Horns (Oct. 31)
Remember those crazies who said Harry Potter promoted devil worship? This Halloween, they all get to say, “I told you so.” Daniel Radcliffe effectively transfers to Slytherin in Alexandre Aja’s horror comedy Horns, adapted from the novel by Joe Hill (a.k.a. Stephen King’s eerily identical offspring). Radcliffe, who deserves a lot of credit for taking risks and continuing to develop his acting chops in his post Potter career, plays Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, an anti-social outcast who wakes up one day to discover a pair of horns growing out of his head. The new implants give him dark and terrible powers, and he decides to use these to avenge the recent death of his girlfriend. What could go wrong? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
6. Interstellar (Nov. 7)
With the exception of the bloated, ponderous Dark Knight Rises, a new Christopher Nolan movie is always cause for celebration. His latest odyssey of obsession is Interstellar, featuring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and, of course, Michael Caine as a group of intrepid explorers who plan on traveling into a newly discovered wormhole in order to sidestep the standard rules of space travel and secure desperately needed resources for the folks back home. The trailer, with its emphasis on McConaughey’s newly widowed engineer and the emotional tumult he feels over having to leave his children, doesn’t give away much, but it appears the Inception director doesn’t want us to give up the dream of human spaceflight just yet.
7. Big Hero 6 (Nov. 7)
Based on the comic book series of the same name, Big Hero 6 will be the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel characters since the Mouse House acquired the company back in 2009. The movie revolves around 13-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), who lives in the futuristic city of San Fronsokyo with his best friend and pet project, the rotund, playful Baymax. After Hiro uncovers a far-reaching criminal conspiracy, he outfits Baymax as a DIY superhero and embarks on a mission to recruit like-minded crimefighters to put a stop to the threat. And before you ask, it was decided early on that Big Hero 6 would exist in a different continuum from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So don’t expect cartoony versions of Groot and Rocket Raccoon to make an appearance, even though that would be all kinds of awesome.
8. Dumb and Dumber To (Nov. 14)
Twenty years after their first idiotic escapade, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) reunite in an effort to find Harry’s grown-up daughter, for whom Lloyd has developed an unhealthy and all-consuming attraction. Comedy sequels are always a tricky business, especially when they arrive so long after the beloved original. The newly released trailer, however, played like gangbusters for the fans, and Carrey and Daniels seem to have retained a deep affection for these characters. The true onus will be on the Farrelly brothers, who haven’t made a decent movie since Osmosis Jones premiered back in 2001.
9. Foxcatcher (Nov. 14)
Steve Carell is generating serious Oscar buzz for his chilling, transformative portrayal of John Eleuthère du Pont, the amateur sports sponsor and paranoid schizophrenic who murdered his friend and Olympic freestyle wrestling champion Dave Schultz in the winter of 1996. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo co-star in the film, which was directed by Bennett Miller, who first demonstrated a great aptitude for dramatizing history in Capote, produced in 2005.
10. The Imitation Game (Nov. 21)
The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician and logician Alan Turing, an instrumental force in cracking Germany’s vaunted enigma code during the decisive days of World War II who was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality in the years following his great service to the empire. The film is the English-language debut of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, whose propulsive, mordantly funny thriller Headhunters was one of the very best films of 2011. This looks to be of the same rare quality.