As our anticipated summer of freedom gives way to another fall of pandemic-fueled uncertainty, the air-conditioned escapism promised by the movie theater is once again under threat. Films that were scheduled as a welcome return to moviegoing and normality are being reshuffled, once again, to distant futures. Some of them are skipping the theaters entirely, heading straight for the streaming services that have become our constant companions under lockdown. After so much pent-up longing to lose ourselves in the big screen, we’re now facing the hard truth that we may still be at home, staring at our laptops and TVs, for just a little while longer.
Still, there’s a potential upside to all this. The equal-opportunity world of streaming better allows for the discovery of smaller gems that might otherwise get lost at the multiplex. And while many of the movies arriving this fall feature established Texas stars like Woody Harrelson, Selena Gomez, and Ethan Hawke, they’re also rife with up-and-coming Texas actors and filmmakers that you should get to know, now that you have the time. Here’s a look at all of the upcoming films with some connection to our state that you should spend these next few months enjoying, in or out of the theaters.
Afterlife of the Party (September 2)
San Antonio–born filmmaker Stephen Herek directs this Netflix comedy about a good-time girl who’s facing the ultimate hangover: eternal damnation. Victoria Justice stars as the carefree Cassie, who parties herself to death on her twenty-fifth birthday and is quickly condemned to hell. Fortunately, Cassie’s spirit is granted five days to return to earth, make ghostly amends with her loved ones, and earn her way into heaven. Herek is a veteran of high-concept, endlessly rewatchable comedies such as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, and Rock Star, so expect another solid way to kill a lazy afternoon here.
Cinderella (September 3)
Pop star Camila Cabello makes her film debut in this umpteenth adaptation of the Cinderella story—a musical that also features Idina Menzel, James Corden, and Pierce Brosnan. But we’ll be watching for Lake Jackson’s own Maddie Baillio, who joins the predominantly British cast as one of Cinderella’s stepsisters after breaking out as the star of NBC’s Hairspray Live!
We Need to Do Something (September 3)
San Antonio author Max Booth III adapted his own novella for this lean psychological horror, due in theaters, about a young woman trapped inside a bathroom with her family after a freak tornado. The tight confines become a sort of purgatory plagued by evils both internal and external, with the family battling snakes and secrets alike. Booth’s story should take on an even more terrifying resonance after we’ve spent a year-plus in lockdown with our own loved ones.
The Card Counter (September 10)
Palestine’s own Tye Sheridan has had a few rocky years since starring in 2018’s Ready Player One, spending them trapped in dismal fare like The Night Clerk and Voyagers. But the latest from writer-director Paul Schrader and producer Martin Scorsese promises to restore some of his early arthouse cred. Sheridan plays a young man who’s bent on getting revenge against a sadistic colonel played by Willem Dafoe. He goads Oscar Isaac’s stoic poker player, a former military interrogator, into helping him, with the duo joining Tiffany Haddish’s gambling financier on a tense road trip through casinos and repressed memories.
Hood River (September 10)
Austin’s Robert Rodriguez executive-produced this documentary, debuting in theaters and on demand, about a small-town high school soccer team in Oregon that’s chasing a state championship while also struggling with racial tensions inside the locker room. The film focuses on the divide between the white, upper-middle-class kids and their Mexican teammates, who struggle to balance sports with day jobs and home lives marked by relative poverty and threats of deportation. It’s a timely topic that aligns with Rodriguez’s interest in telling underrepresented Latino stories, and it should resonate with viewers in Texas having similar difficult conversations.
Kate (September 10)
Netflix’s quest to find a female John Wick reaches a fever pitch with this actioner starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an assassin who learns she’s been poisoned, leaving her with less than 24 hours to seek her bloody revenge in Tokyo. Midland native Woody Harrelson stars as Kate’s handler Varrick, who in the trailer is mostly seen furrowing his brow and putting a hilarious drawl on phrases like “the grand honcho of the Yakuza.” Winstead is obviously the focus here—although we’d lay odds that Varrick isn’t exactly the “avuncular guy who sends young women to murder people” that he seems—but Harrelson provides some necessary ballast amid all the neon-drenched, bone-crunching spectacle.
Language Lessons (September 10)
University of Texas at Austin alum Mark Duplass cowrote this platonic romantic comedy with his costar, actress Natalie Morales, who’s also making her directorial debut. Filmed under pandemic lockdown, Language Lessons, debuting in a limited theatrical run, takes place entirely over a series of video chats, documenting the unusual, blossoming friendship between a man and his online Spanish instructor. Fittingly, the film premiered at 2021’s all-virtual South by Southwest, where most critics seemed charmed by its ingenuity in the face of its limitations. (Although your interest may vary according to your own level of Zoom fatigue.)
Dating & New York (September 10)
Viral star and The Daily Show breakout Jaboukie Young-White takes the lead in this romantic comedy about two crazy kids who meet over a dating app, then enter into a thoroughly modern “friends with benefits” arrangement. But you should check it out for Houston-bred comedian Catherine Cohen, who joins the ensemble as one of Young-White’s equally wry, hip friends. Cohen’s been one to watch for years now, and while Dating & New York looks as generic as the title, it’s only a matter of time before Cohen graduates to much bigger roles in millennial-pandering projects of her own.
Malignant (September 10)
Grapevine wunderkind Mckenna Grace reteams with her Annabelle Comes Home producer James Wan for the latest psychological horror from the Saw mastermind, set to premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Annabelle Wallis stars as a young woman who’s tormented by visions of grisly murders, as well as a malevolent presence known only as Gabriel. Both seem to be links to a troubled past she’s repressed, represented in flashbacks and grainy VHS tapes featuring Grace, playing the younger version of Wallis’s character. Playing the younger versions of heroines is a niche fifteen-year-old Grace has carved out for herself in movies from I, Tonya to Captain Marvel—and at the moment, no one does it better.
The Nowhere Inn (September 17)
Mercurial Dallas musician Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, stars as herself in this meta mockumentary, debuting in theaters and on demand, in which Clark’s real-life pal Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia fame) sets out to chronicle her rock star life. When Clark proves to be a disappointingly dull subject offstage, Brownstein challenges her to become more flamboyant, so Clark begins retreating further into her onstage persona. The film becomes a sly, surrealist satire that grapples with the inherent inauthenticity of pop stardom, in a way that should prove fascinating—and familiar—to St. Vincent fans.
Dear Evan Hansen (September 24)
Dallas-bred stars Kaitlyn Dever and Nik Dodani offer two reasons to check out this big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical—besides rubbernecking at the potentially disastrous decision to bring back 27-year-old Ben Platt as the titular high school teen. Platt reprises the role he originated on stage, a socially awkward kid who posthumously invents a relationship with a classmate who recently committed suicide. Dever plays the deceased classmate’s sister, whom Evan nurses a crush on, while Dodani costars as Evan’s only true friend. Dear Evan Hansen marks Dever’s first big movie lead after breaking out with 2019’s Booksmart, but it’s arguably an even bigger deal for Dodani, who’s been bubbling under with roles in TV shows such as the CBS’s Murphy Brown and Netflix’s Atypical.
The Guilty (September 24)
The Great Rehawkening™ continues as Austin native Ethan Hawke reteams with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua for this crime thriller, with a screenplay by True Detective creator and current Austin resident Nic Pizzolatto. The Guilty, debuting in a limited theatrical run before hitting Netflix on October 1, is an adaptation of a 2018 Danish thriller about a demoted cop who becomes consumed by a kidnapping case that plays out across a single horrific, twist-filled night. The all-star cast—which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Paul Dano, and Peter Sarsgaard—also features Texas City scene-stealer Edi Patterson (The Righteous Gemstones, Knives Out), who let’s hope will provide a bit of levity to what is otherwise a tense and relentlessly grim story.
My Little Pony: A New Generation (September 24)
Not even the fizzy, frolicking world of Equestria could survive the political enmity of these past few years: in this latest reboot of the My Little Pony franchise, the once-friendly realm is fragmented by paranoia and mistrust. It’s up to the newest crop of young ponies—among them Zipp, voiced by Houston-bred YouTube star Liza Koshy—to reunite pony-kind in this Netflix film, which will kick off an all-new My Little Pony series. As parents know all too well, the previous show, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, lasted for nearly a decade and more than two hundred episodes, spawning a feature film, two spin-off series, and a buck-wild fan base of both children and some preemptively defensive adults. Koshy should probably settle in for a long ride.
This Is the Year (September 24)
Executive-produced by Grand Prairie media mogul Selena Gomez, this coming-of-age comedy directed by Gomez’s old Wizards of Waverly Place costar David Henrie, concerns a nerdy high school senior who’s chasing the girl of his dreams while road-tripping to a giant music festival. Fort Worth’s Bug Hall, all grown up from his The Little Rascals reboot days, plays one of said nerd’s friends. He also shares a writing credit on the film, which premieres in theaters and on demand. Henrie says This Is the Year offers a nostalgic throwback to the romantic-comedy tropes of classic eighties movies. (And probably to the days when everyone was still excited about attending crowded music festivals.)
Black as Night (October 1)
Texas native Asjha Cooper (Everybody Wants Some!!) stars in this latest entry from Amazon’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series of socially minded horror films. Cooper plays a disenfranchised teen battling vampires who prey on New Orleans’s most vulnerable; she’s aided in her mission by her crush and a “peculiar rich girl.” Cooper has been grinding steadily in television ever since making her debut on an episode of Friday Night Lights, and she recently landed regular roles on the series Snowfall and Chicago Med. Staking vamps—alongside none other than the man himself, cult actor Keith David—should make for one hell of a first leading role.
Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania (October 1)
Selena Gomez also executive-produced this fourth (and supposedly final) entry in the animated Hotel Transylvania film series. Because of COVID, the sequel will skip theaters and head straight for Amazon. It’s a bit of an anticlimax for the billion-dollar franchise, but that was probably always going to be the case: while Gomez returns to voice Dracula’s daughter, Mavis, who’s now old enough to have monstrous kids of her own, both the franchise’s original star Adam Sandler and longtime director Genndy Tartakovsky are out, which likely will make this feel even more like some direct-to-video spinoff. Still, that Amazon deal was reportedly worth $100 million, which is a coup for Gomez, who also is free to finally move on from this series.
God’s Not Dead: We the People (October 4)
It’s been fourteen years since Houston native Isaiah Washington was fired from Grey’s Anatomy for dropping a homophobic slur, an incident that Washington declared in 2007 had effectively “killed” his acting career. The past few years don’t exactly contradict that: Washington has arguably become better known for stanning for Donald Trump, hosting a cooking show on Fox Nation, and pushing QAnon conspiracy theories than for any of his TV or movie work. He’s since spurned both QAnon and MAGA, and supposedly renounced politics, but Washington’s latest film still finds him playing squarely to an aggrieved conservative base. He costars in this fourth chapter of the evangelical God’s Not Dead franchise, in very limited theatrical release, as a congressman who helps David A.R. White’s defiant pastor take on another batch of secular straw men (including one played by Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro) who are out to plunge America into godless heathenism yet again. The Lord works in mysterious ways—but hey, it’s work.
The Manor and Madres (October 8)
Like Black as Night, these two films are from Amazon’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series. The Manor features Dallas native Stacey Travis, the cult star of films such as Hardware and Earth Girls Are Easy, along with Barbara Hershey and Bruce Davison, who lead the thriller about neglected nursing home residents who come to fear they’re being preyed upon by some supernatural force.
Texas is also a big part of Madres. El Paso native Ryan Zaragoza makes his feature directing debut with a script cowritten by San Antonio’s Marcella Ochoa, about a Mexican American migrant couple living in seventies California. As the wife, an expectant mother, begins to experience terrifying visions, they grapple with whether they’re facing a legendary curse or something closer to home. Also appearing in Madres are McAllen-bred actress Ariana Guerra and onetime Texas resident Kerry Cahill. The movie promises to tap into our border tensions with a healthy dollop of supernatural gore.
Halloween Kills (October 15)
Richardson-bred filmmaker David Gordon Green resumes his quest to fully resurrect the Halloween franchise in this direct sequel (set for a full theatrical run) to his hit 2018 reboot. It picks up mere minutes where the last one left off, with Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode leading the charge to put Michael Myers down (again), this time aided by other survivors of Myers’s original 1978 rampage—among them Rusk native Nancy Stephens, reprising her screen debut role as nurse Marion Chambers. Stephens officially retired from acting in 2002, so this makes for an extra-special, albeit probably not so warm, reunion with the masked madman.
Hard Luck Love Song (October 15)
Austin writer-director Justin Corsbie makes his feature debut with this noirish romance, premiering in theaters, about a singer-songwriter (Michael Dorman) who’s living out of cheap motels and hustling pool halls when he suddenly reconnects with an old girlfriend (Sophia Bush). Corsbie based his film, which also stars Delmot Mulroney and RZA, on Americana singer Todd Snider’s ballad “Just Like Old Times,” and it’s more broadly infused with the roots-rock music Corsbie grew up listening to. Cuts from Texas artists such as Townes Van Zandt and Hayes Carll pepper the appropriately worn and weary soundtrack.
Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage (October 15)
Woody Harrelson is finally assimilated into the Marvel movie machine with this theatrical sequel to 2018’s Venom. The Midland-born actor plays a crazed serial killer who gets an extra homicidal boost from an alien symbiote. In the trailer, Harrelson is clearly channeling the type of charming psychopath he played in Natural Born Killers, which somehow comes off as even scarier than when he mutates into a snarling spider-monster.
Night Teeth (October 20)
Insatiable star Debby Ryan moved to Texas as a teenager, getting her start—like so many Disney Channel alumni—on the Dallas-based Barney & Friends. Ryan’s come a long way from helping Barney rescue dogs from drainpipes. In this Netflix movie, Ryan stars as a mysterious young woman who hires an L.A. chauffeur for a night of partying, only to reveal that she’s some kind of bloodthirsty killer on the prowl—presumably after flashing those nocturnal choppers mentioned in the title. McAllen’s own Raúl Castillo Jr. costars in an as-yet-unspecified role, with teeth of an as-yet-unknown hour.
The French Dispatch (October 22)
More than two years after shooting wrapped, and following its twice-COVID-delayed, yet ultimately triumphant premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Wes Anderson’s latest finally lands in American theaters. The Houston director’s typically erudite comedy is a loose assemblage of quirky vignettes about American expat journalists living in a small French village, with Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman among a cornucopia of acting talent including Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet. The Cannes crowd gave it a rapturous, nine-minute standing ovation; Anderson fans should be similarly moved to knowing smirks.
Antlers (October 29)
Dallas native and Austin resident Jesse Plemons adds horror to his eclectic career, reteaming with his Hostiles director Scott Cooper on this supernatural creeper set in rural Oregon and slated for theatrical release. Plemons plays a local sheriff who, along with his schoolteacher sister (Keri Russell), grows increasingly concerned about a young boy they believe may be harboring some kind of mysterious creature. Fellow Dallas native Scott Haze costars as the boy’s father, while the film gets an assist from Dazed and Confused actor (and honorary Austinite) Rory Cochrane.
The Harder They Fall (November 3)
Metroplex-bred breakout Jonathan Majors leads this hyper-stylized western for Netflix, which promises to inject some modern dazzle into the genre’s dustiest tropes. Majors plays famed Black cowboy Nat Love, who’s out for revenge against outlaw Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) in this story that plays fast and loose with Texas folk heroes and Wild West legends such as Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield). The film doesn’t shoot straight when it comes to historical accuracy—but that’s all part of the fun.
Finch (November 5)
Richardson’s Caleb Landry Jones has made a career out of being unpredictable—starring in big X-Men movies and gritty indies alike, while also nurturing a successful side gig making bizarro psychedelic pop. To that end, playing a robot who’s invented by Tom Hanks seems almost pedestrian for Jones. The always-fascinating actor contributed a motion-capture performance to what sounds like a postapocalyptic cross between A.I. and Edward Scissorhands, with Hanks starring as a dying inventor, the last man on earth, who creates Jones’s automaton to keep him company as he wanders the wasteland. Because of certain real-life disasters, Finch was pulled from theaters and is now set to debut on Apple TV+.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (November 11)
The autumn of Mckenna Grace reaches full bloom with this long-delayed sequel finally headed for the theaters, in which Jason Reitman, son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, aims to revive his father’s beloved franchise while also giving it some kind of closure. Reverence and nostalgia may seem odd for a comedy about snarky, working-class stiffs who chase spooks and demon dogs with laser-powered vacuum cleaners, but such is the hold our childhoods have on us—and anyway, early reviews have been nothing short of effusive. Grace stands to have her biggest role to date in Phoebe, the granddaughter of the late Harold Ramis’s Egon Spengler, who moves with her mom (Carrie Coon) and brother (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) to Oklahoma, where she soon discovers her secret family history and a genetic predisposition toward busting ghosts.
The Power of the Dog (November 17)
Debuting in a limited theatrical run before moving to Netflix on December 1, The Power of the Dog stars Jesse Plemons and his partner (and adopted Austinite) Kirsten Dunst in a Jane Campion drama based on Thomas Savage’s western novel of the same name. Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch will bury all of his tweedy Britishness to play Plemons’s brother, a Montana rancher who’s both respected and feared. When Plemons’s George brings home a new wife, Cumberbatch’s Phil sets out to destroy the couple, bullying the woman and her teenaged son in a campaign of cruelty that only becomes increasingly twisted. Plemons and Dunst are bound to do typically fine work here, although we admit that the real draw might be seeing Cumberbatch doing Marlboro Man cosplay astride a horse.
Red Rocket (TBD)
There’s no firm release date yet on this comedy-drama directed by The Florida Project’s Sean Baker for the impeccable A24 imprint, but we’d be remiss not to include it. Shot in and around Galveston and Texas City, Red Rocket stars rapper turned actor Simon Rex (a.k.a. Dirt Nasty) as a former porn actor who returns to his tiny Texas hometown, where the locals are less than thrilled to see him. Red Rocket’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival was met with rave reviews and a standing ovation, with critics hailing not only Rex’s performance but the way Baker turns the oil refinery–choked vistas of the Texas Gulf into something that’s broken yet beautiful. See it on whatever screen you can.