The final month of a dreary summer movie season begins on Thursday, meaning it's time to look forward to the fall and all the serious fare that will be vying for awards come that long and brutal campaign. But fall isn't just about gunning for glittery trophies. There are also box office receipts to be considered. Following a lousy summer of bomb after bomb, studios have an unusually high number of prestige films hoping to revive bottom lines this September and October. As Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter points out today, this crowded season could prove treacherous.
McClintock writes that "the lineup of early fall movies is dizzying in terms of talent in proximity to one another." The onslaught of what McClintock calls "adult dramas" (but what we like to call Oscar bait) has a lot to do with the success of Argo, a movie which opened on October 12 of last year and maintained critical and box office momentum all the way to the Dolby Theater's stage in February. McClintock warns that there's the possible problem of "consumer fatigue, which has plagued the 2013 summer box office." With all these movies angling to capture high minded movie-goers in early fall, some could be kicked to the curb, either financially or critically, or both.
So, which film becomes the Argo, a box office and Oscar success, and which becomes the 2011 October release The Ides of March, a high-profile political drama that proved a critical and financial disappointment? Let's look at some of this year's contenders.
Rush, September 20: Universal is first out of the gate, their Formula 1 drama racing (heh) into theaters a day before summer's technical end. The film, about the rivalry between '70s racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, certainly has an awards-y pedigree; Ron Howard directed and Peter Morgan (of Frost/Nixon and The Queen) wrote the script. But somehow "Chris Hemsworth" and "Oscar" don't sound quite right together. And while our beloved Thor has a pretty good track-record at the box office, we're just not sure how eager Americans are to see a drama about foreign car racing. International receipts ought to be good, though.
Gravity, October 4: Warner Bros. is hoping to recreate Argo's alchemic mix of critical and commercial appeal with Alfonso Cuarón's 3D lost-in-space tale. All signs point to success: Big movie stars, big director, big concept, heady mix of drama and adventure, etc. And its only competition its opening weekend is Runner Runner, the Ben Affleck-Justin Timberlake collab that we're not sure anyone asked for. The film's major financial obstacle is the somewhat likely possibility that once people get wind of the fact that this is mostly a movie about one lady in space, they'll get scared off.
Captain Phillips, October 11: Paul Greengrass's Somali pirate drama doesn't have much direct competition in its opening weekend, and its heroic true-life story should lure audiences in. Who doesn't want to see Tom Hanks nobly triumph in a scary situation? But awards-wise, Hanks will likely overshadow himself with his portrayal of real-life movie man Walt Disney in December's Saving Mr. Banks. Plus, have you heard that accent?
12 Years a Slave, October 18: Hotshot director Steve McQueen's film about a black man born free and then sold into slavery opens in limited run up against The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon's Julian Assange biopic. Both look quite promising, and are heavily gunning for awards attention that they'll likely receive. But their financial futures are more uncertain. Rave reviews could buoy them, but difficult dramas about slavery and international political fugitives are hard sells, even during the serious fall movie season.
The Counselor, October 25: Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy's glossy drug thriller probably has the worst awards chances, but maybe the highest box office hopes. While Scott has had an uneven past few years, this film's star-studded cast — Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz (and Rosie Perez!) — seems destined to draw a big crowd.