Is this, perhaps, a return to normal in the cinema? – NBC New York


For the first time in three years, the Fall Movie Industrial Complex is kicking into high gear. The red carpets of the festival are rolled out. The Oscar campaigns are ready. Long-awaited blockbusters like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” are ready for the big box office.

But after the tumult of the pandemic, can the fall movie season go back to how it was? Many hope so. After two spring editions, the Oscars returned to a more traditional date in early March.

Some films also attempt to rediscover a spirit of the past. At the Toronto Film Festival in September, Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” booked the same “Knives Out” theater that premiered to a packed house almost exactly three years ago.

“Looks like it was yesterday,” Johnson laughs. “OK, a few things happened.”

After a nearly wiped-out fall 2000 and a 2021 season hampered by the delta and omicron variants COVID-19, this fall could perhaps be more like the normal annual cultural revival that happens every fall, when most of the year’s best movies arrive.

“I think we’re all trying to make it exist as at least some version of what we knew before,” Johnson says. “As with everything, just jump into the pool and see what the water looks like. I really hope that at least the illusion of normalcy holds. I guess that’s all normality is.

But “Glass Onion,” which stars Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc in a new mystery, is also a reminder of how much everything has changed. After “Knives Out” was a box office success for Lionsgate, grossing $311 million worldwide for Lionsgate, Netflix paid $450 million to secure the rights to two sequels. And while there have been talks of a bigger theatrical release for “Glass Onion,” a more modest rollout in theaters is planned before the movies land on Netflix on December 23.

The balance between cinema and streaming remains unstable. But after a summer box office renaissance and a changing Wall Street outlook for streaming, theatrical cinema — with its billions in annual ticket sales and cultural footprint — is looking pretty good. For the first time in years, cinema has a strong wind at its back. Or at least until a particularly slow August sapped momentum largely due to a dearth of new wide releases.

According to John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners: “Moviegoers are back in pre-pandemic numbers, it’s just that we still need more movies.”

This will be less of a problem as the fall season intensifies. “Wakanda Forever” (November 11) and “The Way of the Water” (December 16) can each compete with the summer hit “Top Gun: Maverick” ($1.36 billion worldwide and still going) for the best film of the year.

Among the most anticipated films to come are Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” (November 23); “Blonde” (September 16), with Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe; “TÁR” by Todd Fields (October 7), with Cate Blanchett; “Empire of Light” by Sam Mendes (December 9); The Emmett Till Saga of Chinonye Chukwu “Till” (October 14). Also to come are superhero films (“Black Adam”, October 21, with Dwayne Johnson), children’s films (“Lyle Lyle Crocodile”, October 7), horror films (“Halloween Ends”, October 14) romantic comedies (“Ticket to Paradise”, October 21, with Julia Roberts and George Clooney).

But while much of the fall movie season is about restoring what’s been lost in recent years, for some upcoming movies, change is the point. “Woman King” (September 16), directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood and starring Viola Davis, is a muscular, fact-based epic about a West African army of female warriors. For Prince-Blythewood, the filmmaker of ‘Love and Basketball’ and ‘The Old Guard’, ‘Woman King’ represents “the chance to reframe what it means to be a woman and a woman.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen a movie like this before. So much of our history has been hidden, ignored or erased,” Blythewood says. “’Braveheart,’ ‘Gladiator,’ ‘Last of the Mohicans. ‘ I love these films. Now here is our chance to tell our story in this genre.

“Bros” (September 30) is also something different. The film, starring and co-written by “Billy on the Street” comedian Billy Eichner, is the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio (Universal). All of its main actors are LGBTQ.

“It’s a historic film in many ways,” says Eichner. “It’s not something we thought about when we first developed it. No one sits down and says, ‘Let’s write a historical film. We said, ‘Let’s make a hilarious film.’

Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as a married couple living in a nightmarish 1950s suburban male fantasy, tackles similar themes through a sci-fi lens .

“I want to do something really entertaining and fun and interesting, but it’s actually my way of sparking conversations about real issues like bodily autonomy,” says Wilde. “I didn’t know it would be as timely as it is right now. Never in my wildest nightmares did I believe that Roe would have been knocked down just before this movie came out.

Other movie production schedules seem to exist almost outside of our Earth reality. James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of the Water” will debut 13 years after 2009’s “Avatar” (still the highest-grossing film of all time), a follow-up originally slated for release in 2014.

Measuring change in the film industry is even more difficult when it comes to the length of time between “Avatar” installments. When the first “Avatar” was in theaters, 3-D was (still) being touted as the future. Barack Obama was in the first year of his first term. Netflix rented DVDs by mail.

“A lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t changed,” says producer Jon Landau. “One of the things that hasn’t changed is, why do people turn to entertainment today? Just like they did when the first ‘Avatar’ came out, they do to escape, to escape the world we live in.


AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed.


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