The fall movie season begins with Tenet, Mulan, and a Charlie Kaufman mindbender

From left: Mulan (Screenshot: Disney), Antebellum: (Photo: Matt Kennedy), Tenet (Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon), The Nest (Photo: IFC Films)
From left: Mulan (Screenshot: Disney), Antebellum: (Photo: Matt Kennedy), Tenet (Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon), The Nest (Photo: IFC Films)
Graphic: Allison Corr

Despite the dangers that enclosed spaces still pose, movie theaters have begun to reopen in America. As a result, a few films will brave a theatrical release this September—beginning this week, in fact, with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which is already playing in multiplexes and at a few drive-ins across the country. Still, most of the new films coming out this month will be available the same way just about all movies have been these past six months: via streaming platforms, digital services, VOD, and virtual theaters. Keep reading to find out what’s coming to a living room—and, yes, some theaters—near you. And before trekking out to see a movie on the big screen, please read up on the health risks.

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Tenet

Tenet

Select theaters and drive-ins now

Christopher Nolan’s spy-fi action spectacular was originally intended to fly the flag for original blockbuster fare this July, but time and a pandemic make fools of us all. The film arrives now in American theaters, one week after its international debut, to inspire debate as to whether it’s the belated movie event of the summer or the super-spreader event of the fall. Either way, this globe-trotting adventure is among Nolan’s most confusing and least resonant, sending new recruits John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki through a time-bending narrative that gets harder to follow as it goes along, in part because characters keep spouting important exposition behind muffling masks. One case for waiting to watch it at home: Subtitles!

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Mulan

Mulan

Disney+ March 4

Disney’s latest and possibly most ambitious live-action trawl through its animated library ditches the cricket, the dragon, and the songs, but keeps the basic plot. Once again, Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) is a young woman whose aging father (Tzi Ma) is conscripted to fight off a horde of rampaging warriors; once again, she ditches out on matchmaking and proper ladyhood in order to fight in his place. Whale Rider’s Niki Caro directs a cast of absolute ringers, including Jet Li as the emperor, Donnie Yen as Mulan’s stern mentor, and Gong Li as a mysterious witch fighting at the villainous Bori Khan’s side. Once scheduled for multiplexes, Mulan will now be available to watch on Disney+, provided you’re willing to drop another $30 on top of the monthly membership fee.

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I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Netflix September 4

Charlie Kaufman, the brilliantly depressive thinker behind Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York, returns with another surreal, brain-bending whatsit. The deceptively straightforward story, about a young woman (Jessie Buckley) on a road trip to meet the parents of her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons), comes from a slim, scary novel by Iain Reid. But Kaufman, ever radical in his approach to adaptation, twists the source material’s psychological horror into something stranger and less easily classified. It’s among his most uncompromising films, and one of the major movies of this unprecedented nightmare year.

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Feels Good Man

Feels Good Man

Select theaters, VOD, and digital services September 4

Before he became the official mascot of Trumpers, “alt-right” trolls, and Reddit edgelords, Pepe The Frog was just a laidback stoner, the chill brainchild of cartoonist Matt Furie. This brightly accessible documentary chronicles how Furie lost control of his creation, and could only watch in mounting distress as the smiling amphibian was gradually coopted and transformed into a hate icon. Is there any hope the artist could reclaim his character from the darkest corners of the internet? Feels Good Man, which won a jury prize at Sundance in January, takes a closer look at the battle for Pepe’s soul.

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All In: The Fight For Democracy

All In: The Fight For Democracy

Select theaters September 9; Amazon Prime September 18

A documentary like All In: The Fight For Democracy would be important under any circumstances, but it might be essential viewing in an election year in which even the postal service has become politicized. The film’s topic is voter suppression, and specifically new laws that have been put into place since the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Directors Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés mainly frame the fight against racial discrimination in voting through the experiences of Stacey Abrams, whose narrow loss in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race has been widely attributed to the shady practice—though her story is sadly far from unique, as the film’s historical segments aim to illustrate.

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The Broken Hearts Gallery

The Broken Hearts Gallery

Select theaters September 11

Following scene-stealing supporting turns in Blockers and Bad Education, Geraldine Viswanathan steps into a starring role for this romantic comedy about a twentysomething art gallery assistant who creates a cathartic temple to the stuff your exes leave behind in your apartment—and, naturally, finds some new love along the way. Produced by Selena Gomez, The Broken Hearts Gallery doesn’t look like it’s going to be a game-changer. But sometimes just cute and charming is enough, particularly if you’re nursing a quarantine heartbreak of your own (though seeing it in theaters this month might give you a different kind of ache in an area not too far from the heart).

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Sibyl

Sibyl

Select theaters & virtual theaters September 11

Stories about writers who borrow from real life, doctors and therapists who cross the line, and film productions that bleed into reality are reliable sources of multidirectional tension, and this French drama from writer-director Justine Triet offers all three. Virginie Efira stars as the title character, a psychoanalyst who’s using her clients as inspiration for a novel. Faced with writer’s block, she discovers a wealth of material in the messy personal life of an actress (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who’s been having an affair with the co-star of her latest movie. When she’s asked to fly out to Italy to work with her client on set, Sibyl can’t resist. The film premiered to strong notices at last year’s Cannes.

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The Devil All The Time

The Devil All The Time

Netflix September 16

Afterschool and Christine director Antonio Campos has assembled quite the cast for his fourth feature, adapted from Donald Ray Pollock’s debut novel about the entwined fates of various sinners and psychopaths in postwar Ohio and West Virginia. Tom Holland plays the troubled young man and orphan around which a picaresque ensemble of lost souls converge; he’s joined by Bill Skarsgård as a disturbed WWII veteran, Robert Pattinson as a country preacher on the lam, and Jason Clarke and Riley Keough as married, nomadic serial killers. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, the cast also includes Mia Wasikowska, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, and Harry Melling, all presumably cast as flavorful oddball Americans of the rural and midcentury variety.

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Antebellum

Antebellum

VOD September 18

The horrors of slavery shift from the painfully recent past to the viscerally horrifying present in this first feature from writer-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. The plot recalls Octavia Butler’s classic sci-fi novel Kindred, as Veronica (Janelle Monáe), a successful writer living in the modern day, is inexplicably transported back to the pre-Civil War South while away on a work trip. At least, that’s what appears to be happening, in a thriller with a lot on its mind but also a twist that diminishes some of its power. (Our own review praises the film’s performances but laments its clunky script.)

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Kajillionaire

Kajillionaire

Select theaters September 18

It’s been nine years since a Miranda July movie last touched down on movie screens, but the offbeat auteur has lost none of her signature eccentricities. That’s clear just from the trailer for her third feature, about a family of con artists whose latest scheme triggers some long-repressed issues for daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger co-star as the elder scammers, with Gina Rodriguez as the stranger who gets sucked into their orbit. Kajillionaire’s blend of absurdism and deep human yearning earned rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, prompting a bidding war.

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The Nest

The Nest

Select theaters September 18; VOD November 17

Through some unlikely, possibly coincidental overlap in distribution strategy, Antonio Campos’ Borderline Films collaborator Sean Durkin also has a film coming out the third week of September—his first since launching his own career and Elizabeth Olsen’s with Martha Marcy May Marlene nine year ago. Another drama of psychological unrest, The Nest casts Jude Law as a 1980s businessman who convinces his American wife, played by Carrie Coon, to uproot their family and move into a sprawling English manor, so that he can chase his Reagan-era dreams of economic prosperity. There are no ghosts lurking in the big old house, but Durkin still directs the film like a horror movie, while also getting sharp, unsentimental performances from his leads.

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Alone

Alone

Select theaters and VOD September 18

John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning were two of the most unlikely film artworks of the last decade—direct-to-video sequels that retconned a second-rate B-movie series into a fount of eerie, movie-mashing dream logic, all the while delivering gnarly, expertly directed fight scenes. Since then, Hyams has mostly worked in TV, but he returns to genre film with this thriller about a woman who gets kidnapped and must evade her captor after escaping his cabin in the Pacific Northwest. We’re excited to see how Hyams applies his considerable action movie chops, horror influences, and sense of atmosphere to a cat-and-mouse setup.

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Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes

Netflix September 23

Two of the many past cinematic incarnations of Sherlock Holmes have given him a crafty younger sibling and a youthful makeover. Enola Holmes swirls both of those together and adds a gender flip of sorts in following the adventures of its title character, a younger sister for Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin). Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) sets off in search of the family’s matriarch (Helena Bonham Carter), vexing her siblings by flouting social conventions. Director Harry Bradbeer has been on a prestige-TV tear of late, helming episodes of Killing Eve, Ramy, and Fleabag (with which Enola Holmes apparently shares moments of direct-to-camera address). The movie looks fun; here’s hoping its origins as a book series don’t result in a mystery whose solution is punted off to the next installment.

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Greenland

Greenland

Select theaters September 25

He’s rescued the president three times, averted war with Russia twice, and saved the Earth from something called a “geostorm.” But can Gerard Butler and his wobbly American accent save his family from some kind of planetary crisis that involves comets? In Greenland, the scowling one-man-genre reunites with Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh for another mystifyingly titled disaster film. Butler action movies have become an annual tradition, and while their quality never rises above diverting mediocrity, it’s good to know that in these uncertain times, there are still some things you can count on.

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Ava

Ava

VOD September 25

Tate Taylor directed The Help back in 2011, and lately he seems to be circling back to create unexpected genre vehicles for that movie’s stars. First he gave Octavia Spencer a juicy showcase in last year’s Ma, and now it’s Jessica Chastain’s turn in Ava, which looks and sounds like the kind of assassin thriller that Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp studio used to release every August. If it winds up being a bit of slumming for the overqualified Chastain, at least she’ll be in good company; Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, Geena Davis, and Joan Chen co-star. And hey, Ma was a lot better than The Help, so maybe Taylor is just discovering his specialty.

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The Glorias

The Glorias

Amazon Prime and digital platforms September 30

Illustration for article titled The fall movie season begins with iTenet/i, iMulan/i, and a Charlie Kaufman mindbender
Photo: Sundance Film Festival

In the tradition of such unconventional biopics as I’m Not There and Get On Up, Julie Taymor’s dramatization of the life of Gloria Steinem doesn’t appear to follow a linear path. It looks more like a postmodern road movie, enlisting four actors—Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, and Julianne Moore—to play the second-wave feminist at different points in her life, riding together on what can only be described as the Greyhound bus of history and meeting the many remarkable figures who made up the women’s liberation movement in the ’70s and beyond. Taymor’s structure may be offbeat, but reviews from Sundance suggest that the message of her film is one of straightforward empowerment.

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The Boys In The Band

The Boys In The Band

Netflix September 30

Fifty years ago, The Boys In The Band broke ground simply by openly discussing homosexuality in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Now, Ryan Murphy and a who’s who of gay Hollywood are giving the material a fresh look with a new Netflix adaptation. Bridging the gap between the pre-Stonewall and post-marriage equality eras is Mart Crowley, author of the original 1968 play, who returns to script this latest take on the material. He’s accompanied by director Joe Mantello, who revived Crowley’s play for Broadway in 2018, as well as the complete cast of his stage version, led by Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, and Zachary Quinto.

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Plus

Plus

Robin’s Wish
Robin’s Wish
Photo: Vertical Entertainment

The documentary Robin’s Wish (VOD and digital platforms September 1) looks back on Robin Williams’ final years and his fight against the neurodegenerative disorder Lewy body dementia. French filmmaker Damien Manivel won Best Director at the Locarno Film Festival for Isadora’s Children (MUBI September 2), a dramatization of the life and career of dancer Isadora Duncan. Rachael Leigh Cook and Damon Wayans Jr. are paired by the mighty Netflix rom-com algorithm in Love, Guaranteed (Netflix September 3). John Leguizamo gets his own Dangerous Minds, playing an inspirational chess instructor for marginalized Miami teens in Critical Thinking (virtual theaters, VOD, and digital platforms September 4). In what sounds more like a horror movie than a comedy, a married couple finds Pauly Shore squatting in the Guest House (VOD and digital platforms September 4) of their new dream home. Hugo Weaving stars in a modern-dress take on Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure (VOD and digital platforms September 4). Jeff Orlowski’s The Social Dilemma (Netflix September 9) examines how a small number of social media companies and Silicon Valley tech barons are disturbingly reshaping the way we live and even think. Dive into a former president’s relationship to music with the documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President (select theaters and virtual theaters September 9). One-time Hollywood hitmaker McG continues his bizarre second career in DTV-grade schlock with sequel The Babysitter: Killer Queen (Netflix September 10). Haley Lu Richardson is still playing teenagers, including the unfortunately knocked-up high school heroine of Unpregnant (HBO Max September 10). One-time ensign Wil Wheaton stars as the host of a deceptively friendly VHS program in the thriller Rent-A-Pal (select theaters and VOD September 11). Buoyancy (virtual theaters September 11) follows a Cambodian boy sold into slave labor aboard a Thai fishing boat. The Secrets We Keep (select theaters September 16 and VOD October 16) sounds like a modern gloss on Death And The Maiden, with Noomi Rapace as a woman who kidnaps the neighbor (Joel Kinnaman) she thinks committed war crimes against her. A rock band’s big break is jeopardized by its egomaniacal frontman in SXSW comedy Teenage Badass (VOD September 18). The Library That Dolly Built (select theaters September 21) celebrates country legend Dolly Parton’s literacy-focused nonprofit, while Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (virtual theaters September 23) explores the legacy of the famed neurologist. A rich princess discovers that, hey, she also has magical superpowers in Secret Society Of Second-Born Royals (Disney+ September 25). Lena Olin is The Artist’s Wife (select theaters and VOD September 25) in a drama about coping with dementia. And Ottolenghi And The Cakes Of Versailles (select theaters and VOD September 25) follows five pastry chefs using their craft to bring the opulence of the French Monarchy to a New York art exhibit.

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Postponed

Postponed

The King’s Man
The King’s Man
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Having already suffered multiple delays unrelated to the pandemic, the blockbuster spy prequel The King’s Man has been reassigned to February 26, 2021. One of the first movies to see its original release date compromised by COVID, A Quiet Place Part II has abandoned plans to open this month and is now tentatively scheduled for April 2021. Initially slated for June and then rescheduled for September, the Candyman reboot is now eyeing the Halloween-season weekend of October 16. David Chase’s Sopranos prequel The Many Saints Of Newark will return to mobster-controlled Jersey on March 21, 2021. And the Noel Coward adaptation Blithe Spirit may not hit American theaters until 2021, though U.K. audiences currently expect it come Christmas.

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