The Verge fall movie preview, October 2018

Every year, the shift into cooler weather comes with a shift into a cooler box-office lineup: fewer billion-dollar blockbusters, fewer onscreen explosions, and a general trend toward less slashing, crashing action and more intense emotional action. The one thing that really heats up at the box office during the fall and winter season is the awards race: the last quarter of the year is a time for Oscar-bait projects and intense awards campaigning. We started The Verge’s four-part fall movie preview yesterday with a September 2018 roundup, looking at films from Shane Black’s franchise revival The Predator to the social-media horror-comedy cautionary tale Assassination Nation. Here, we continue with October, which starts prestige season in earnest, but leaves room for a supervillain and the inevitable Halloween horror. This isn’t a comprehensive list of releases — we’re focusing primarily on titles of particular interest to Verge readers, with a tongue-in-cheek consideration of what these films have to say about the future, either of film, the awards season, or the world we live in.

OCTOBER 5

Venom

The summary: Disgraced investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Mad Max: Fury Road’s Tom Hardy) starts digging into a shady foundation, and winds up infected with a malevolent, powerful symbiote that gives him tremendous power, as long as he’s willing to share his body with it.

Why Verge readers might care: It’s the first of Sony’s “Spider-Man without Spider-Man” spinoffs, billed as “In association with Marvel Studios,” but made with Spider-Man subsidiary characters, outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe umbrella. Venom is a major Spider-Man villain, but the wall-crawler isn’t meant to show up in the Sony Marvel Universe. (Given where he currently is in MCU continuity, it’s easy to see why — though this is a business decision based around character rights, not an artistic or narrative one.) MCU fans are certainly likely to be curious about whether this film hits the humor / action / drama beats that have made the MCU movies so much money, or whether it’s yet another trudgey, sludgy wannabe.

Why they might not: Venom without Spider-Man is like a Lex Luthor movie without Superman. Is the character really that interesting on his own, without his opposite number?

What it says about the future: This film’s success or failure could potentially say a lot about Marvel’s future willingness to farm out its less-essential characters to other studios, and about how much effort Sony is going to put into planned projects like the now-delayed Silver & Black.

A Star Is Born

The summary: Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a singer-songwriter with problems when he stumbles upon Ally (Lady Gaga), a talented but unknown songwriter. The pair fall in love, and with Jackson’s encouragement, Ally’s career begins taking off — even as their relationship is falling apart.

Why Verge readers might care: A Star is Born is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, but it’s the third time the original A Star is Born from 1937 has been remade. Many of the film’s songs were co-written by Cooper and Gaga. But from a pure cultural perspective, the most interesting aspect is that it’s Lady Gaga’s first leading film role.

Why they might not: This is a familiar story, even for audiences who haven’t seen one of the remakes. And while Gaga and Cooper are more up-to-the-minute stars than the characters featured in previous incarnations, the trailers still feel anachronistic, and so does the entire premise of a man handing stardom to a bashful woman who he’s also dating.

What it says about the future: If A Star is Born takes off with critics and audiences (judging from early responses, the former is already happening), this could be the moment where Lady Gaga adds “full-fledged movie star” to her list of pop culture bona fides, and where Cooper establishes himself as a triple-threat writer / actor / director.

OCTOBER 12

First Man

The summary: Whiplash and La La Land director Damien Chazelle reteams with Ryan Gosling for this drama focused on the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong — and the herculean effort to land a human being on the Moon.

Why Verge readers might care: Because every bit of that sounds terrific. And early reactions out of the Venice Film Festival have been strongly favorable.

Why they might not: Why wouldn’t they? The subject matter provides plenty of fodder for tension and drama, and Chazelle has stated that he’s eager to tell the authentic human side of this story, rather than fall back on the kind of hagiography that can result from people telling the tales of humanity’s greatest achievements.

What it says about the future: There seem to be two big takeaways here. As a filmmaker, Chazelle has seamlessly transitioned from smaller films like Whiplash to movies with an ever-increasing sense of scope, all without resorting to studio fare or losing his own distinctive personal voice. If he’s able to continue on that trajectory, it will put him in the company of directors like P.T. Anderson or Wes Anderson, who’ve been able to make movies of all shapes and sizes without watering down their personal vision. And if audiences respond to First Man, it will no doubt be taken as a signal that space exploration — and the incredible devotion and sacrifice it requires — is still capable of fascinating the public.

Bad Times at the El Royale

The summary: Seven people meet at a rundown Lake Tahoe hotel, each with their own secret. Among them: Jeff Bridges as a con-man pretending to be a priest, the MCU’s Chris Hemsworth as a cult leader, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as a vacuum salesman, and Dakota Johnson as a swaggering gangster. Then everything breaks down into bloody mayhem.

Why Verge readers might care: Writer-director Drew Goddard hasn’t directed a movie since 2012’s meta-horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods, but he did script The Martian and create Netflix’s Daredevil TV series. He gravitates toward oddball, unusual projects that don’t fit into familiar slots. The trailer for this film highlights a lot of wacky horror-thriller behavior, but doesn’t make the plot particularly clear — which is reminiscent of similar teases around Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods and Cloverfield. For Goddard fans, it’s worth tuning in just to see what’s being hidden here.

Why they might not: The last secretive twisty movie about a bunch of extremely colorful strangers who wash up at the same raggedy hotel together and start fighting each other was Identity, and the twist ending on that one was the kind of reveal that puts people off twist-ending movies in general.

What it says about the future: It’s hard to isolate any possible trend coming out of a darkly comic quirk-fest of an essentially unknown type. The success or failure of this film is much more likely to suggest whether Goddard’s likely to stick with cinema, or with television.

OCTOBER 19

Halloween

The summary: One Halloween night lin 1978, teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) faced off against Michael Myers (Nick Castle), an unstoppable killing machine in a creepy white mask. She barely escaped with her life. Now, 40 years later, Meyers returns — and Strode is forced to face him one last time.

Why Verge readers might care: John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween was a genre-defining classic, but in the ensuing decades, the franchise has been run into the ground through various sequels and reboots. This new film, from director David Gordon Green, hopes to undo the years of damage by ignoring everything but Carpenter’s original, serving as a proper sequel to the story of Strode and Myers — with both Curtis and Castle returning to the iconic roles.

Why they might not: No matter how enticing the promise of a fresh start is, 40 years is a lot of baggage to overcome. For some audiences, Michael Myers as a character may simply be antiquated, particularly with a newer crop of high-minded horror films like Hereditary, The Witch, and The Babadook terrifying audiences in recent years.

What it says about the future: The horror genre has largely been known as a reliable arena for churn-’em-out sequels and reboots where continuity and quality are conveniently thrown out the door. If the new Halloween resonates, audiences can likely expect faithful returns to many franchises of horror’s past.

The Hate U Give

Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

The summary: Black teenager Starr Carter (played by Amandla Stenberg, who was Rue in The Hunger Games) goes to high school with a largely white, highly privileged crowd where she tries to fit in. When a cop shoots her best friend, she struggles with peer pressure and her feelings of responsibility to stand up and be a voice of protest in her community.

Why Verge readers might care: The film is based on Angie Thomas’ bestselling 2017 novel, a splashy, conversation-starting success that captured how a new wave of teenagers are becoming outspoken, successful activists, particularly in the wake of high-school shooting, and in part thanks to the organizational and amplification tools offered by social media.

Why they might not: It sounds a lot like a teenage version of Monsters and Men, due out just a few weeks earlier.

What it says about the future: It reflects the increasing voice teenagers have in political circles, particularly as the news media seizes on their stories and their idealism. Expect more cinematic stories like this, whether or not this particular one does well.

OCTOBER 26

Hunter Killer

The summary: When the president of Russia is kidnapped, an American submarine captain (Gerard Butler) and a team of Navy SEALs sets out to rescue him.

Why Verge readers might care: This action-thriller looks hilarious. It doesn’t look like it means to be hilarious — it’s clearly going for high-intensity, with big special-effects sequences involving submarine fights and plenty of explosions — but it still looks like a laugh riot.

Why they might not: Anyone who’s seen Olympus Has Fallen, the more self-important of the 2013 “save the president from terrorists” movies (alongside White House Down) probably has a good barometer for judging whether Hunter Killer is their speed. Many of the producers on Olympus Has Fallen are back for Hunter Killer, and they brought along their crew, stunt workers, composer, and effects workers, along with Butler himself. Butler doesn’t play the same character (though his Olympus Has Fallen character is due back in Angel Has Fallen, currently in post-production), but it kind of feels like he’s the same guy, a John McClane type who just keeps ending up in the right place at the right time to save a president.

What it says about the future: Olympus Has Fallen made a respectable but not exceptional profit, apparently enough to justify a second crack at an action movie about Gerard Butler saving a president. If this one does well, who knows? Maybe it’ll become its own genre. Next up: Gerard Butler saves the president of Bolivia from aliens.

Mid90s

The summary: In Jonah Hill’s directing debut, a 13-year-old kid named Stevie (Sunny Suljic) balances his problematic homelife with the friendships he forges at a skate park — all set against the background of 1990s Los Angeles.

Why Verge readers might care: Hill’s film looks like a 1990s-flavored take on Dazed and Confused, a coming-of-age story that is as much about its setting and characters as it is about the central storyline. And while Hill is traditionally known as a comedic actor, the trailer’s earnest sensibility hints at something richer and more nuanced. (Another promising sign: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross signed up to score the film.)

Why they might not: The lure of nostalgia is strong, but the skateboarding scene in mid-1990s Los Angeles seems awfully specific… and while the trailer looks promising, Hill is unproven both as a director and a solo screenwriter.

What it says about the future: No matter how the film performs, it’s obvious that Jonah Hill is intent on being much more than just an actor. While most of his starring roles have been in comedies, he’s been expanding his range in projects like The Wolf of Wall Street, and ended up with story credits on the 21 Jump Street films. Choosing a movie so far out of his wheelhouse for his feature debut should be considered a statement.

Suspiria

The summary: Luca Guadagnino, the director of the wildly popular gay romantic drama Call Me By Your Name, is back with a remake of Dario Argento’s giallo-inflected 1977 supernatural horror classic Suspiria. It follows a young woman (Fifty Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson) who earns a coveted slot in an aggressive Berlin dance troupe. As she starts dancing, her occult powers expand, with bloody results.

Why Verge readers might care: The original Suspiria is a horror classic, thanks to its strikingly horrific images and significant tension. But it’s also sloggy and sleepy in places, enough to test the patience of modern horror fans. And the effects sometimes look very much of their era. Given the advance word about the intensity of this version, viewers may turn up just to see if a new Suspiria can live up to the reputation of the original.

Why they might not: That is, of course, assuming that the average modern horror fan is familiar with Suspiria’s reputation. If they aren’t, the film’s arty trailers, dance-troupe setting, and unhelpful title may not be enough to lure millennial viewers into the theater.

What it says about the future: If this film does well, there are hundreds of gritty, gruesome giallo films languishing in obscurity and ready to be mined for a horror-hungry American market, especially by the current and ongoing crop of young directors looking to break into the filmmaking industry with their own cheap-and-dirty horror hits.

TOMORROW:

Lisbeth Salander is back, Newt Scamander is back, Wreck-It Ralph is back, Rocky Balboa is back… November is going to be the month of cinematic reunions.