The November 2018 movies that matter mostSeptember 6, 2018
Every year, the shift into cooler weather comes alongside a shift into a cooler box office lineup: fewer billion-dollar blockbusters, fewer on-screen explosions, and a general trend toward less slashing, crashing action and more intense emotional action. The one thing that really heats up at the box office during the fall and winter season is the awards race: the last quarter of the year is a time for Oscar-bait projects and intense awards campaigning. We started The Verge’s four-part fall movie preview with a September 2018 roundup that covered films from The Predator to Assassination Nation. October 2018’s roundup kicks off prestige season in earnest with Damien Chazelle’s First Man but leaves room for the anti-hero comic book origin story Venom and yet another revival of Michael Myers in the throwback horror film Halloween. November is more of a mixed collection, but it’s surprisingly colorful, with additions to the Rocky, Harry Potter, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Wreck-It Ralph franchises. This isn’t a comprehensive list of releases. We’re focusing primarily on titles of particular interest to Verge readers, with a tongue-in-cheek consideration of what these films have to say about the future of film, awards season, or the world we live in.
The summary: This biopic of Queen, the rock band behind hits like “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” and the eponymous epic ballad, reportedly focuses above all on frontman Freddie Mercury.
Why Verge readers might care: Mr. Robot star Rami Malek plays Mercury, and early looks at the movie have mostly focused on his sound-alike performance and impressive mimicry of the singer’s moves and body language.
Why they might not: The movie has a pretty troubled past: Sacha Baron Cohen was originally cast as Mercury, but he reportedly dropped out of the film because he wanted a more adult take on the content. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse) was fired after he reportedly fought with Malek and stopped showing up to set without warning. A few days after his firing was announced, he was hit with a rape lawsuit regarding a 2003 incident. He still maintains sole directing credit, but the film’s production and post-production were handled by another director. It’s unclear whether the backstory will drive people away, draw in rubberneckers, or be completely forgotten in the wave of Oscar-courting publicity for the film.
What it says about the future: The big question about the future here isn’t Malek’s awards chances or the film’s box office; it’s whether Singer can save his career regardless of what happens with the film. He’s come through multiple sexual misconduct lawsuits, charges, and gossip already, and numerous reports of on-set blow-ups and no-shows. So the situation on Bohemian Rhapsody couldn’t have been entirely unexpected, but it was public enough and extreme enough to bring his future into question.
The summary: Ex-convict Tanya (Girls Trip star Tiffany Haddish) re-enters the life of her high-powered business-executive sister Danica (Tika Sumpter) and learns she’s spent the last year in an online relationship with a man who she’s never seen. Suspecting her sister’s being catfished, Tanya pushes for a road trip to find and confront the elusive boyfriend.
Why Verge readers might care: Haddish’s star has been steadily on the rise since Girls Trip, and she’s becoming a reliable draw. A promising cast (including Whoopi Goldberg, Sorry to Bother You’s Omari Hardwick, and Glee’s Amber Riley) have made for some pretty lively trailers. And the whole story feels like a tongue-in-cheek look at catfishing and online relationships in general.
Why they might not: It’s a Tyler Perry movie. Perry’s name under “writer-director” in the credits is generally enough to let viewers decide on their own whether they’re excited to proceed or couldn’t be hauled into the theater with heavy industrial equipment.
What it says about the future: Internet culture and online dating have been thoroughly mainstreamed, and we can look forward to a whole lot of general audience comedies like this.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
The summary: Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King — a short story that also launched the famous ballet The Nutcracker and endless other Christmas iterations of the story — The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a lush Disney fantasy about a young woman (Mackenzie Foy) who gets drawn into a magical realm that’s invented by her mother.
Why Verge readers might care: The film has a pretty impressive pedigree. It was co-scripted by Ashleigh Powell and Oscar-winning Spotlight writer-director Tom McCarthy, and it was co-directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston. The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and Keira Knightley. It’s cut from the same cloth as Disney’s extravagant, exhausting live-action remakes like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, with the one advantage that it’s drawn from a less-familiar story.
Why they might not: For viewers who are tired of this particular aesthetic — and Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland remake, which seemingly serves as their visual template — this movie’s going to look really familiar, even if the story doesn’t follow beats most Americans memorized as children.
What it says about the future: This definitely looks like a trial balloon for Disney. These live-action remakes are bringing in a ton of money by playing the nostalgia card. Can more original content that looks and sounds the same pull in similar box office numbers, or is the studio better off carting out endless retreads of its most classic movies?
The summary: Remember Dr. Seuss’ classic picture book How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Remember Despicable Me, which gave the world those bug-eyed, funny-talking yellow Minions and spawned many profitable sequels and spinoffs? Here’s a film from Despicable Me’s studio that pretty much merges the two, with the Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) as a Despicable Me-esque cranky villain wandering around Whoville performing minor acts of villainy, until he gets the idea to ruin Christmas.
Why Verge readers might care: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a beloved memory for a lot of people. The 2010 Ron Howard live-action remake is also a beloved memory for some, and a burning tragedy for others. Strangely, both groups might be interested in a new animated take on the tale, either to continue their fandom or to get the taste of Jim Carrey’s Grinch gags out of their mouths.
Why they might not: Illumination is the home of goofy, pretty, meme-friendly movies like Sing, The Secret Life of Pets, and The Lorax, as well as Minions and the Despicable Me movies. Like Tyler Perry above, they’re a pretty well-known “like it or don’t” property. Viewers who don’t have a lot of interest in animation that skews heavily toward bright, harmless, and kid-friendly probably aren’t going to be drawn to this one, either.
What it says about the future: How many Dr. Seuss books does Illumination have the rights to, anyway? Also, the early release date on this holiday movie suggests that by 2025, the Christmas movie season is going to start in mid-August.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
The summary: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo protagonist Lisbeth Salander and her on-again, off-again journalist partner Mikael Blomkvist are back. This time, they’re involved in a case involving a spy ring, a group hacking the NSA, and Lisbeth’s long-lost sister.
Why Verge readers might care: There was a fair bit of controversy over Stieg Larsson’s family deciding to continue his internationally best-selling Millennium series after his death, and the public war between his heirs and his partner was polarizing. All three books in Larsson’s trilogy were adapted for the screen in his native Sweden, with Noomi Rapace as the series’s breakout character, Lisbeth. But only the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was adapted in America, with David Fincher directing and Rooney Mara playing Lisbeth. One reason might be that the sequels were never as neatly packaged and cinematic as the first book. This film, starring The Crown’s Claire Foy as Lisbeth, adapts the first non-Larsson book in the series, written by David Lagercrantz. And it’s much more expressly designed as a sleek action story that brings back some extremely popular characters in a screen-friendly way.
Why they might not: The fight over Larsson’s estate was polarizing, with some fans of the original trilogy vehemently swearing they’d never touch the profiteering sequels. Some of the same sentiment may keep people away from the film — or viewers may just avoid it if they didn’t care for the first movie or Lisbeth. She’s a fairly extreme character, a kind of goth-punk avenging-angel super-hacker who brutalizes abusive men. She’s as much of a dark wish-fulfillment fantasy as any superhero, and she’s not for all tastes.
What it says about the future: This one’s an easy call: Lagercrantz has already written a fifth book in the series, 2017’s The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, and the success of this film version will likely determine whether that one makes it to the screen as well.
The summary: Caught behind enemy lines on D-Day, a group of American soldiers run across a Nazi mad-science lab that’s manufacturing monsters to win the war.
Why Verge readers might care: It’s an unconventional-looking horror film, produced by J.J. Abrams and initially billed as the fourth film in the distantly related Cloverfield series, though that connection has since been retracted. Director Julius Avery isn’t well-known — this is his second feature after the 2014 heist movie Son of a Gun — but the trailer makes this look like Hellboy meets 28 Days Later with the grimy visual aesthetic of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge.
Why they might not: Abrams’ name on a horror film doesn’t mean as much as it used to, and his puzzle box strategy of withholding as much information as possible about a film can sometimes strand it without significant selling points beyond “looks bloody and crazy!”
What it says about the future: Given the tenuous-at-best connection between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the series’S after-the-fact tacked-on connections to Cloverfield Paradox, it seems just as well that the projects Abrams is signing onto and edging toward a Cloverfield link are dropping that idea and attempting to stand on their own.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The summary: Continuing the story arc that started with 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the sequel continues to fill in the history of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, with more of the early adventures of magical-animal fan Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Hogwarts headmaster-to-be Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), and the monstrous Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).
Why Verge readers might care: The world is full of Harry Potter fans looking for more of Rowling’s world, and not everyone can afford to go to New York or London to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child onstage.
Why they might not: The world is also full of people who don’t care about prequels, wizards, fantastic beasts, or big, splashy CGI fantasies.
What it says about the future: Director David Yates (who also helmed the first film in this series, and the last four films in the Harry Potter book adaptation series) is signed on for three more Fantastic Beasts film after this one.
The summary: Having secured the assistance and training of former boxing champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in Ryan Coogler’s 2015 sports drama Creed, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of Rocky’s old rival Apollo Creed, is now training to fight the son of another old Rocky rival, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Apollo in the ring back in Rocky IV.
Why Verge readers might care: The first Creed was an excellent, well-performed, riveting drama, and Jordan has only become a bigger star since then, especially due to his role as the villain of Coogler’s Marvel movie Black Panther. The Rocky franchise has often brought a startling amount of gravitas and humanity to the underdog-sports-movie genre.
Why they might not: Coogler has moved on from the series, replaced by near-unknown Steven Caple Jr. Rocky IV, which this film taps into for its drama, is widely considered the corniest and most excessive film in the series. And the whole “fighting the son of the man who killed my father” plot sounds pretty gimmicky.
What it says about the future: At this point, it feels like an absolute sure thing that Stallone is going to be fully scanned and digitized so he can continue making Rocky movies well into the next millennium.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
The summary: Video game villain Ralph and his racing-game buddy Vanellope von Schweetz leave their arcade world and upload themselves to the internet in this sequel to 2012’s animated Disney hit Wreck-It Ralph.
Why Verge readers might care: In the same way Wreck-It Ralph tried to tap into the tropes of video games and fill the screen with in-jokes for gamers (including familiar characters, references, and Easter eggs), the sequel is full of references to life online, from comic looks at Twitter, search engines, casual games, clickbait, and so forth. It’s a knowing meta-comedy that looks like it’s going to tap into the same kind of “Hey, I recognize that” humor as the first one.
Why they might not: It’s unclear whether the film actually has a plot, especially one as emotionally resonant as the original movie’s. Wreck-It Ralph is a funny film full of nostalgia-bait humor about internet culture, but it’s also incredibly well-written and well-paced. It also reaches classic Pixar levels of emotion with its plot about the difficulties of being misunderstood, shut out, judged, and controlled by other people’s opinions. The trailers for the sequel showcase some humor that has Disney mocking its own image with some very detailed parodies of its own property, but is there a story?
What it says about the future: Again, internet culture is now a jokey trope worth wrapping even the most mainstream and crowd-friendly movies around.
Anna and the Apocalypse
The summary: Scottish Christmas zombie musical!
Why Verge readers might care: For viewers who aren’t already completely weary of zombie stories, musicals, or dark comedies that take the grimmest tropes with a lighthearted archness, this indie musical comedy about a bloody undead attack on a group of angsty high schoolers is pretty refreshing in its sheer commitment to fun. It’s relatively serious about expressing certain aspects of the teen experience, from anxiety about life after high school to embarrassment over an ill-advised hookup. But mostly, it’s an upbeat singalong that doesn’t stint on the shocks or the gore.
Why they might not: Plenty of people are tired of zombies, don’t like musicals, and resent the mash-up culture that mixes genres into a big sloppy stew. Arguably, those people may be taking their culture too seriously, but you can’t dictate what’s fun.
What it says about the future: Zombie stories have fallen out of vogue, but this is proof that they’re going to keep rising from the dead as long as creators keep coming up with new twists for their stories, or as long as creators keep growing up on zombie stories and wanting to try their own hand at adding to the canon.
Spider-Man, Aquaman, Battle Angel Alita, Transformers… this is going to be an action-oriented holiday movie season.