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13 Real-Life, Character Driven Films To Check Out In Theaters This Fall


Big-budget franchise flicks like “Rambo 5,” “Terminator 6,” “Frozen 2,” and “Star Wars 9” are set to hit theaters over the next few months. The advertising blitz will be unrelenting—and, if history proves any guide, profitable. In years ahead, we can expect Hollywood to deliver more of the same. That is, unless moviegoers vote differently with our dollars by eschewing blockbuster sequels in favor of character-driven, grounded-in-real-life stories.

While spectacle movies can be fun, are original scripts and unfamiliar characters worth spending a few bucks in theaters? It’s an open question that involves watching previews and reading reviews, two helpful (although not infallible) means of determining interest in a film. These 13 upcoming fall films—many with limited releases and from independent producers—may be worth setting a calendar reminder to catch on the big screen.

October Releases

The Current War (Oct. 4)

Sometimes production setbacks can improve a film. After producer Harvey Weinstein was indicted over Me Too revelations, Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as American inventor Thomas Edison was caught in the turmoil and went unreleased for over a year.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon took the opportunity to recut his biopic. “The Current War” pits Edison against Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) in a battle of wits and technology, along with co-star wattage from Tom Holland and Katherine Waterston.

Miss Virginia (Oct. 18)

Education is a deeply personal, charged issue at the intersection of public policy and family values. Yet few filmmakers have found a way to tell absorbing educator-centric stories, with “Won’t Back Down” and “Stand and Deliver” as notable exceptions.

After eight years of work, Moving Picture Institute will release “Miss Virginia” which dramatizes recent school-choice battles. Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”) portrays Virginia Walden Ford and Niles Fitch (“This Is Us”) her son. They set out to convince bureaucrats in D.C. to open education options for low-income families.

No Safe Spaces (Oct. 25)

Universities have long been revered as forums of open inquiry, where college students and faculty alike can question anything. In recent years, forces on the left (and sometimes even the right) have sought to enforce ideological uniformity on campuses, resulting in censorship.

In “No Safe Spaces,” talk radio host Dennis Prager teams up with comedian Adam Carolla for an ambitious documentary on free speech battles. Along with shocking footage of campus riots, leading voices such as author Jordan Peterson, CNN host Van Jones, actor Tim Allen, former CBS journalist Sharyl Attkisson, and Professor Cornel West give their takes.

November Releases

Harriet (Nov. 1)

She escaped inhumane conditions as a slave, then journeyed south more than a dozen times to rescue 70 others. A forerunner of generations of human rights activists, Christian abolitionist Harriet Tubman will be portrayed by film and stage star Cynthia Erivo (“Widows,” “The Color Purple”).

Filmed in Virginia last fall, the biopic reportedly also dramatizes Tubman’s role as a Union spy during the Civil War. With a screenplay co-written by Gregory Allen Howard (“Remember the Titans”) and director Kasi Lemmons, “Harriet” spotlights a freedom fighter all Americans should know.

The Divine Plan (Nov. 6)

In a culture profoundly incurious about religious ideas, one filmmaker has spent years piecing together a surprising narrative: how President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II covertly plotted the downfall of Soviet Communism based on shared values grounded in faith.

Premiering as a one-night event, “The Divine Plan” documentary from director Robert Orlando (“Silence Patton”) and professor Paul Kengor features author Douglas Brinkley (“The Reagan Diaries”), Cold War historian Anne Applebaum, and former Reagan administration National Security Advisor Richard Allen, among others.

Ford v. Ferrari (Nov. 15)

The 1960s rivalry between automakers Ford and Ferrari plays out on the racetrack in the latest from director James Mangold (“Logan,” “Walk the Line”). When the Italian sports car company backs out of a Ford buyout offer, Henry Ford II is determined to best them in the legendary Le Mans race.

With Matt Damon as the mastermind behind Ford’s GT40 and Christian Bale as the British driver Ford hires, it takes a few laps around the track for them to get it right. Promising a high-speed drama of American ingenuity and resolve, “Ford v. Ferrari” looks like a winner.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Nov. 22)

It struck some as cliché when Tom Hanks was cast as Fred Rogers—one nice guy playing another. Yet if early reviews are any indication, Hanks turns in a career-defining performance as the cardigan-wearing children’s TV educator.

Critics who attended its premiere last Saturday called it “absolute perfection,” while the star noted watching “hundreds of hours” of footage to get in character. Following last year’s successful Mister Rogers documentary, this biopic based on an Esquire magazine feature is sure to find a large audience.

21 Bridges (Nov. 22)

Marvel fans will have to wait until summer to get their next fix of superhero action… or will they? In this New York City cop drama, “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman reunites with “Avengers: Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo for what promises to be a fast-paced thriller.

It’s also a clever bit of counterprogramming, as some teens and young adults won’t be keen to hang out when mom and dad rush to see Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers this same weekend.

The Irishman (Nov. 27)

This year, Netflix has carved out a niche of compelling real-life stories—notably “The Highwaymen,” “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” and “The Red Sea Diving Resort.”

To close out 2019, the leading streaming service will premiere this highly anticipated drama from Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese. “The Irishman” features A-listers Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, who depict mid-20th century violent conflicts in the world of organized crime, with debates already brewing over its accuracy.

December Releases

The Aeronauts (Dec. 6)

The origins of weather prediction rise to the surface in this British period drama. Set in 1862, it presents real-life meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne from the “Fantastic Beasts” films) alongside fictionalized partner Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones from “Rogue One”). In pursuit of scientific breakthrough, they fly a hot air balloon to heights never before seen; daring action scenes were realistically filmed thousands of feet up.

A Hidden Life (Dec. 13)

Visionary director Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”) offers what some call his most accessible film in “A Hidden Life,” about a conscientious objector in World War II-era Austria. While landscapes may be reminiscent of “The Sound of Music,” count on a decidedly less syrupy, more tenacious approach to how one man resists the Nazi Party even at great cost.

Just Mercy (Dec. 25)

When the evidence against a death row inmate doesn’t add up, public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan from “Creed”) takes up the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx from “Ray”). With Brie Larson (“Captain Marvel”) in a supporting role, “Just Mercy” reveals the origins of Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit founded in 1989.

1917 (Dec. 25)

A sprawling war epic from director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (“The Shawshank Redemption”), “1917” is actually not a prequel to “Dunkirk” despite a trailer that mimics the distinctive style of Christopher Nolan’s film. During World War I, two British soldiers must reach the front lines in time to avert a deadly trap—with the lives of 1,600 service members on the line.