First, let’s get this out of the way: We’re all going to see Avatar: The Way of the Water, James Cameron’s long-in-the-works sequel the highest-grossing movie ever made, even if we don’t plan to right now. Avatar might have lost some of its cultural footing in the years since its 2009 release, but never underestimate the man who made Titanic. He may work slowly, but he’s in the business of making unavoidable, massive, worldwide hits.
So consider what follows a preview of everything else coming out between now and the end of the year. And that’s a lot. Below you’ll find everything from an already-controversial biopic to an animated Key and Peele reunion to a movie about a pair of fine young cannibals. There are movies you’ll likely be hearing about all through awards season; superhero movies; and films by major directors that are still shrouded in mystery.
Blonde (in theaters September 16, debuting on Netflix September 28)
Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale
What It’s About: Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel of the same name, Blonde dramatizes the rise and fall of Marilyn Monroe (de Armas), including her relationships with Arthur Miller (Brody), Joe DiMaggio (Cannavale) and others.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Oates’ novel won tremendous acclaim and has proven to be one her most enduring works, de Armas is on a hot streak (serving as the brightest spot in even her weaker movies) and Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is a director with a distinct vision. The film arrives preceded by controversy, in part because of its rare NC-17 rating, but it will undoubtedly be worth reckoning with (even for those who end up hating it).
The Woman King (in theaters September 16)
Director: Gina Prince-Blythewood
Stars: Viola Davis, Thuso Mdebu, John Boyega
What It’s About: In the 17-19th centuries, the African kingdom of Dahomey’s defense forces included the Agojie, known to outsiders as the Dahomey Amazons, an all-female fighting force whose battles included clashes with French colonial forces. In this historical drama, Viola Davis stars as an Agojie leader trying to get her forces into shape as conflict looms.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: It’s always worth checking out anything directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) and with 2020’s The Old Guard she proved she was skilled at combining drama and action. And have you seen the trailer? Davis looks badass.
The Silent Twins (in theaters September 16)
Director: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
Stars: Letitia Wright, Tamara Lawrance
What It’s About: Wright and Lawrance star as June and Jennifer Gibbons, twin daughters of Caribbean immigrants to the U.K. who, after being bullied at school, developed their own language and refused to speak to anyone but each other. The fascinating real-life story only gets weirder from there, so anyone wanting to go in unspoiled should probably stay away from the Wikipedia page.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Polish director Smoczyńska directed The Lure, a strange and psychologically acute horror movie about killer mermaids that’s unsettling and atmospheric in ways that make her an inspired choice for this story.
Moonage Daydream (in theaters September 22)
Director: Brett Morgen
Star: David Bowie
What It’s About: Morgen has an impressive track record making unconventional, immersive documentaries like Jane (a look at the life of Jane Goodall) and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. This study of the life and career of David Bowie draws from Bowie’s archive and is said to feature a wealth of rare and unseen footage.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: The film is premiering exclusively on IMAX screens and if any artist deserves this kind of immersive, big-screen doc it’s Bowie, whose command of visuals, theatricality and shifting personae was central to his performing career. Also, who doesn’t want to be surrounded by Bowie music blasting on a cutting edge sound system?
Bros (in theaters September 30)
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Stars: Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane
What It’s About: Eichner stars as Bobby, a gay man committed to living the single life… or is he? After meeting Aaron (McFarlane) his commitment starts to wane in this new romantic comedy co-written by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Eichner’s always fun and it’s nice to see him playing the leading man in a romantic comedy, especially one centering gay men from a major studio. It’s been six years since Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors) directed a movie and he’s been missed.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever (in theaters and on Apple TV+ September 30)
Director: Peter Farrelly
Stars: Zac Efron, Russell Crowe, Bill Murray
What It’s About: Effron stars as the real-life John “Chickie” Donohue, a New Yorker who decided to sneak into Vietnam and bring beer to some troops in the days before the Tet Offensive.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: This is Farrelly’s follow-up to Green Book and seems to be as much a departure from that film as Green Book was from his comedies. Chickie is a big step away from the sort of characters Efron usually plays. It will be interesting to see whether director and star can pull it off.
Amsterdam (in theaters October 7)
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock
What It’s About: It’s intentionally difficult to figure out exactly what Amsterdam’s about. Russell’s first film since 2015 stars Bale, Robbie, and Washington as three friends wrapped up in a murder mystery in the 1930s and it seems to be inspired by an actual event. (The trailer claims “a lot of this actually happened.”)
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Seemingly everyone is in this movie, from Mike Myers to Taylor Swift, and Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) is certainly a director of note (though one whose past behavior already hangs over this release like a cloud).
TÁR (in theaters October 7)
Director: Todd Field
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss
What It’s About: Blanchett stars as an acclaimed, troubled conductor and composer caught up in a personal and professional crisis.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Todd Field has only made two films — In the Bedroom and Little Children — but both were quite memorable. He’s been missed in the sixteen years since the latter, and not surprisingly has picked up a reputation as a director only interested in working on the right film. A team-up with Blanchett seems like a fine way to make a return.
Triangle of Sadness (in theaters October 7)
Director: Ruben Östlund
Stars: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Woody Harrelson
What It’s About: A master of biting dark comedies like Force Majeure and The Square, Östlund makes his English-language debut with a satirical story set above a luxury cruise that goes awry.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Östlund’s reputation is well deserved and the film already won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes, despite earning the ire of some attendees. (There’s sadness attached to it, however. Dean died at the age of 32 in August.)
Decision to Leave (in theaters October 14)
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Stars: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun
What It’s About: Part love story, part mystery, Park Chan-Wook’s latest follows a cop (Park Hae-il) who falls for a suspect (Tang Wei). It’s a familiar set-up but, this being a Park Chan-Wook film, expect some twists.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Speaking of Cannes, Park (Stoker, The Handmaiden) walked away from the festival with the Best Director prize. Any new film by him, especially involving morally murky terrain like this, is an event.
Till (in theaters October 14)
Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Stars: Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison
What It’s About: Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955, a horrific act of violence followed by a gross miscarriage of justice. This new drama depicts Till’s life and death and his mother’s transformation into a powerful civil rights activist.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: This will, for obvious reasons, be a tough film to watch, but it’s a powerful and sadly timely story well suited to the Clemency director’s skill at combining social concerns with drama.
Wendell & Wild (in theaters October 21 and on Netflix October 28)
Director: Henry Selick
Stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Lyric Ross
What It’s About: A pair of demons (Key and Peele) attempt to team up with a teenage girl.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) doesn’t make movies all that often, in part because there’s so much work involved in his signature stop-motion animation. But when he does it’s kind of a big deal. The creepy/funny glimpses we’ve gotten so far suggest this is the perfect project for him and it doubles as a Key and Peele reunion.
Armageddon Time (in theaters October 28)
Director: James Gray
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong
What It’s About: The arthouse favorite’s latest draws on his experiences growing up in ’80s New York.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Gray might not be a household name, but he’s quietly turned into one of the most compelling American directors thanks to films like The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra. He was also, until those two films, a director focused pretty squarely on life in New York past and present, so his latest serves as something of a homecoming in ways beyond its autobiographical elements.
Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) (in theaters November 18, on Netflix, December 16)
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Stars: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani
What It’s About: A Mexican journalist (Cacho) returns to his home country after two decades in the United States, during which he experienced tremendous professional success.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Love them or hate them, Iñárritu movies like Birdman and The Revenant are never boring. In a mirror of the film’s protagonist, Iñárritu makes his own return to Mexico with the film, which he says was born of a longing for his homeland.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (on the Roku Channel, November 4)
Director: Eric Appel
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson
What It’s About: A young accordion enthusiast (Radcliffe) tries to make his way in the world of send-up songs.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Four decades into his career, “Weird Al” Yankovic is a deservedly beloved pop culture institution. A parody of musical biopics based around his own life in the parody world seems perfect.
The Fablemans (in theaters November 11 before expanding on November 23)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen
What It’s About: Spielberg’s latest is an autobiographical coming-of-age story about a kid growing up and falling in love with movies in post-War Arizona while dealing with fallout from his parents’ crumbling marriage.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Spielberg’s not a self-indulgent filmmaker, so it’s unlikely he would draw on his own life unless he felt like it could make a story worth telling. Also, it’s a Spielberg movie, which is always reason enough.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (in theaters November 11)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira
What It’s About: After the death of King T’Challa, the kingdom of Wakanda has to figure out how to defend itself from outside forces without him.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Chadwick Boseman’s unexpected death threw the plans for a Black Panther sequel into chaos. While it’s still not clear how Coogler will follow up the original, the trailer suggests that loss will be central to the story, and with the brilliant Creed under his belt, he has sequel form to pull it off.
Bones & All (in theaters November 23)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance
What It’s About: Two teenage cannibals road trip their way across 1980s America.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Guadagnino has done romance with Call Me By Your Name and horror with Suspiria. So why not combine the two? The premise sounds bizarre, but this film adapts an acclaimed novel and Guadagnino has earned a certain amount of trust.
Strange World (in theaters, November 23)
Director: Don Hall
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union
What It’s About: Gylleanhaal voices Searcher Clade, the patriarch of a family of explorers, in Disney Animation’s latest feature.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: The Disney renaissance of the late-‘80s and early-‘90s still gets talked about in hushed tones, but Disney’s been having a pretty good run in the last few years, with all-timers like Frozen, Moana, and Coco. Will Strange World break that streak? It seems unlikely.
White Noise (in theaters November 25, on Netflix December 30)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Adam Driver, Greta Getwig, Don Cheadle
What It’s About: When an accident causes an “airborne toxic event,” a large academic family flees in terror.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Don DeLillo’s dark, satirical 1985 novel doesn’t easily lend itself to adaptation, so it will be interesting to see what Baumbach does with the material. He’s put together a great cast for it, however, and it’s heartening to see him continuing to challenge himself after Marriage Story.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (in theaters in November and on Netflix in December, exact dates TBD)
Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Stars: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Christoph Waltz
What It’s About: You know the basic story, but del Toro’s stop-motion animation take on Pinocchio makies one major change by setting it in fascist Italy.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: We’ve already seen Robert Zemeckis’ new take on the Disney version of Pinocchio this year. The story’s combination of magic, whimsy, and horror seems tailor-made to Del Toro’s sensibility.
Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies (in theaters December 2)
Director: Michael Showalter
Stars: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field
What It’s About: Drawing from a TV critic’s memoir, Showalter’s latest depicts the final year in the life of Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) and husband Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge).
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: This should be a chance for Parsons to stretch well beyond the boundaries of his best-known role on The Big Bang Theory.
Women Talking (in theaters December 2)
Director: Sarah Polley
Stars: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley
What It’s About: Based on a Miriam Toews novel inspired by real-life events, Polley’s latest takes place in a Mennonite colony whose female residents discover the male members have been drugging and raping them at night, then blaming the attacks on demons.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Polley has emerged as director of great subtlety and she’s assembled the perfect cast to tackle difficult, shocking material.
Empire of Light (in theaters December 9)
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Oliva Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth
What It’s About: Colman and Ward play unlikely lovers, both employees of a palatial movie house in ’80s Britain.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Mendes’ films don’t always work, but they never lack ambition. His biggest challenge here might be scaling down again after Skyfall, SPECTRE, and 1917. However that works out, Colman’s been delivering one amazing performance after another, and that’s unlikely to change.
The Whale (in theaters December 9)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau
What It’s About: Fraser stars as a 600-pound man making an effort to reconnect with the daughter he left behind years before.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: In a word: Fraser. This is the biggest role he’s taken on since disappearing in the ‘10s and it sounds like a challenge. Aronofsky’s first film since Mother! could be a return to the more intimate mode of The Wrestler.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody (in theaters December 21)
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Stars: Naomi Ackie, Ashton Sanders, Stanley Tucci
What It’s About: As the title suggests, this is a biopic of Whitney Houston.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Musical biopics are tough, particularly in a post-Walk Hard world where all their clichés have become jokes. But screenwriter Andrew McCarten is no stranger to biopics, thanks to his work on The Theory of Everything and Bohemian Rhapsody. Houston’s tragic story is a hard one to tell but Ackie’s an appealing star and Lemmons (Harriet) is a talented director, so there’s reason to hope for the best.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (in theaters at a date still TBD, on Netflix December 23)
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monae
What It’s About: World-famous detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) drops into another murder mystery, this time in Greece, with connections to a tech billionaire (Norton) and his circle of friends.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Johnson’s 2019 film Knives Out was a delightful throwback to old-fashioned whodunnits that we didn’t know we needed until we got it. It was also structured in such a way that allowed Johnson to clear the decks and start over with a new cast, apart from Craig. Hence, Glass Onion (and given the Netflix deal for at least two sequels, a third movie to come).
Babylon (in theaters December 25)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
What It’s About: Details have been tight about Chazelle’s latest, a drama set at the moment movies transitioned from the silent era to sound.
Why It’s Worth Looking Forward To: Since the dawn of the streaming era it’s been clear movies are in a transitional moment of their own, so maybe it’s fitting that Babylon would close out the year in film. Chazelle’s never made the same type of film twice, so who knows what we’re going to get?