Is it back to normal at the movies?

Is it back to normal at the movies?

Is it back to normal at the movies

For the first time in three years, the fall movie industrial complex is lurching back into high gear. Festival red carpets are rolled out. Oscar campaigns are primed. Long-awaited blockbusters, like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar:

The Way of Water,” are poised for big box office.

But after the tumult of the pandemic, can the fall movie season just go back to way it was? Many are hoping it can. After two springtime editions, the Academy Awards have returned to a more traditional early March date. The Golden Globes, after near-cancelation, are plotting a comeback.

After an all-but-wiped-out 2020 autumn and a 2021 season hobbled by the delta and omicron COVID-19 variants, this fall could, maybe, just maybe be something more like the normal annual cultural revival that happens every fall, when most of the year’s best movies arrive.

But “Glass Onion,” with Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc in a new mystery, is also a reminder of how much has changed. After “Knives Out” was a box-office hit for Lionsgate, grossing $311 million worldwide for Lionsgate, Netflix shelled out $450 million to snap up the rights to two sequels. And while exhibitors and the streaming company discussed a larger theatrical release for “Glass Onion” - a surefire hit if it did - a more modest rollout in theaters is expected before the films lands Dec. 23 on Netflix.

The balance between theatrical and streaming remains unsettled. But after a summer box-office revival and an evolving outlook for streaming by Wall Street, theatrical moviegoing - with its billions in annual ticket sales and cultural footprint - is looking pretty good. For the first time in years, moviegoing has a strong wind at its back. Or at least it did until an especially slow August sapped momentum due largely to a dearth of new wide releases.

“If you look at how many movies we had compared to what business we did, we were operating at 2019 levels,” says John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. “We had 70 percent of the supply of wide-release movies in the first seven months and we did 71 percent of the business we did in the same period in 2019. Moviegoers are back in pre-pandemic numbers, it’s just we still need more movies.”

That will be less of an issue as the fall season ramps up. “Wakanda Forever” (Nov. 11) and “The Way of the Water” (Dec. 16) may each vie with the summer smash “Top Gun: Maverick” ($1.36 billion worldwide and still counting) for the year’s top film.

Less clear, though, is if the fall’s robust slate of adult-driven films and Oscar contenders can once again drive moviegoing.

Last year’s best-picture winner, “CODA,” from Apple TV+, ran the awards gauntlet without a cent of box office.

Among the most anticipated films hitting the fall festival circuit and theaters are Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” (Nov. 23); “Blonde” (Sept. 16), starring Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe; Todd Fields’ “TAR” (Oct. 7), with Cate Blanchett; Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light” (Dec. 9); “The Son” (Nov. 11), Florian Zeller’s follow-up to “The Father”; Chinonye Chukwu’s Emmett Till saga “Till” (Oct. 14); Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Oct. 21); James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” (Oct. 28); and the Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The Triangle of Sadness” (Oct. 7).

Superhero films “Black Adam,” (Oct. 21), starring Dwayne Johnson, kids movies “Lyle Lyle Crocodile,” (Oct. 7), horror flicks “Halloween Ends” (Oct. 14), rom-coms “Ticket to Paradise,” (Oct. 21) with Julia Roberts and George Clooney and more high-flying adventures “Devotion” (Nov. 23) will also mix in, as will prominent titles from streamers. Those include Amazon’s “My Policeman” (Oct. 21) with Harry Styles; and Netflix releases “Bardo” (Nov. 4), by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; “White Noise” (Nov. 25) by Noah Baumbach; and Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” (Dec. 9).

But if much of the fall movie season is about restoring what was lost the last few years, for some upcoming movies, change is the point.

“Woman King” (Sept. 16), directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood and starring Viola Davis, is muscular fact-based epic about a West African army of female warriors. To Prince-Blythewood, the filmmaker of “Love & Basketball” and “The Old Guard,” “Woman King” represents “the chance to reframe what it means to be female and feminine.”

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

“Bros” (Sept. 30), too, is something different. The film, starring and co-written by “Billy on the Street” comedian Billy Eichner, is the first gay rom-com by a major studio (Universal). All of its principal cast members are LGBTQ.