The Fall Movies Preview 2016 Part 1: Novel Adaptations

Jeremy Renner in ‘Arrival’ © Paramount; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in ‘Fences’ © Paramount; Ewan McGregor in ‘American Pastoral’ © Lionsgate; Emily Blunt in ‘The Girl on the Train’ © Dreamworks

With summer’s blockbuster bombast finally fading along with the August heat, we once again find ourselves drifting into a cinematic fall season marked by more thought-provoking and idiosyncratic visions. Yes, among the late-year offerings there are a handful of big-budget franchise hopefuls, but the full list of upcoming movies represents a broad array of attractive treats for the literarily inclined cineaste. Here are Signature’s picks for the most compelling adaptations and fact-based films coming to theaters between Labor Day and New Year’s, plus a few wild cards we suspect will yet get slotted into that window to qualify for awards consideration. As before, we’ve split our list into fiction, below, and nonfiction, which we’ll post next week. Let the anticipation begin to build.


“American Pastoral”
Actor Ewan McGregor makes his directing debut with this adaptation, penned by John Romano (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), of Philip Roth’s devastating Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 novel about the wrenching shift in the American character that occurred a few decades after World War II. Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning star along McGregor, who plays Roth’s alter ego “Swede” Levov, a man whose hard-earned stability is abruptly sabotaged by his own daughter’s political radicalism in 1968. In theaters October 21.

light-between“The Light Between Oceans”
M.L. Stedman’s 2012 novel provides the source material for this morally complex story of a childless couple manning a remote lighthouse off the coast of Australia in the 1920s that takes in an abandoned baby as their own, with unexpectedly heartbreaking results. “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” filmmaker Derek Cianfrance wrote and directed the adaptation, which stars Oscar winners Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz and multiple-Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender. In theaters September 2.

dressmaker“The Dressmaker”
Kate Winslet stars as a talented designer who leaves Paris to return to the Australian hometown that cast her out two decades earlier in order to exact a peculiar kind of revenge on those who wronged her in this period drama based on Rosalie Ham’s 2000 debut novel. Jocelyn Moorhouse, who directed “How to Make an American Quilt” and “A Thousand Acres” (based on Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel), co-wrote and directed the adaptation. In theaters September 23.

billy-lynn“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
Ben Fountain’s debut 2012 novel follows a small crew of American soldiers hailed as heroes for surviving a brutal battle in Iraq as they take part in a “Victory Tour” that includes an appearance at a Thanksgiving football game in Dallas. Amid the hoopla, the title character begins to have second thoughts about the nature of the adulation while grappling with the knowledge that they are all being sent back to the war zone afterward. Ang Lee, who won a directing Oscar for his previous film “Life of Pi” (2012), is behind the camera, with Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, and Steve Martin starring. In theaters November 11.

Denzel Washington (“Antwone Fisher,” “The Great Debaters”) steps behind the camera for the third time for this big-screen adaptation of the classic Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning 1983 play by August Wilson, who adapted the script himself. Washington stars, along with Oscar nominee Viola Davis and Mykelti Williamson, in the story of a patriarch struggling with finances, race relations, family drama, and his own troubled past in 1950s Pittsburgh. In theaters December 16.


Pedro Almodóvar wrote and directed this Madrid-set drama drawn from three short stories in Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro’s 2004 collection Runaway that concern the same character, a woman desperate to reconnect with her grown daughter as she thinks back on the painful personal history that led them to their estrangement. In theaters December 21.

Also Playing: “Certain Women” (October 14), “Moonlight” (October 21), “Lion” (November 25).


never-go-back“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”
Tom Cruise is, well, back as Lee Child’s famously trouble-prone ex-military policeman, who has appeared in twenty popular novels since 1997. This story, based on the bestselling eighteenth book, published in 2013, embroils Reacher in a desperate mission to clear both his own name and that of a respected Army colleague he believes has been framed. “Jack Reacher” (2012) writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has passed the blackjack to “The Siege” director Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the script for the action sequel. In theaters October 21.

After the global success of “The Da Vinci Code” (2006) and “Angels & Demons” (2009), Tom Hanks suits up for the third time as globetrotting Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who once again must uncover an international conspiracy by deciphering ancient texts, artworks, and symbols. Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and screenwriter David Koepp also return for this adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling 2013 sequel (the fourth in the Langdon series), which pits an amnesiac Langdon and a helpful doctor (played by Felicity Jones) against a potential plague that could wipe out Europe. In theaters October 28.

dr-strange“Doctor Strange”
One of Marvel’s more mystical heroes — dreamed up by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko in the early 1960s — finally appears on the big screen in the form of baritoned beauty Benedict Cumberbatch. Horror filmmaker Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Sinister”) co-wrote and directed the origin story, which explains how the brilliant surgeon loses use of his hands in an accident, scours the globe in search of new meaning, and meets The Ancient One, who retrains him to fight evil using martial arts and sorcery. The Oscar-caliber cast also includes Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Tilda Swinton. In theaters November 4.


bridget-jones“Bridget Jones’s Baby”
Author Helen Fielding’s well-meaning but awkward romantic heroine gets a third go-round, with Sharon Maguire, the director of the successful 2001 film that launched the series, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” back behind the camera. This time, the fortysomething Bridget is tripped up by an unexpected pregnancy that may have been the result of dalliances with either her old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) or her new American crush (Patrick Demspey). Emma Thompson, who won the Oscar for adapting Sense and Sensibility in 1995, co-wrote and stars in the latest installment, which is an original story not based on a new Fielding novel. In theaters September 16.


girl-train“The Girl on the Train”
Paula Hawkins’s dark debut psychological thriller, which blew up the bestseller lists in 2015, here gets translated to the big screen by director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) and playwright-screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, who’s plumbed the unsettling fringes of the female mind in films such as “Fur,” “Secretary,” and “Chloe.” It’s a fitting sensibility for the story of three intersecting women of questionable reliability caught up in self-destructive behavior, distorted fantasy, and compulsive infidelity. Emily Blunt stars in the “Gone Girl”-esque mystery. In theaters October 7.

Gritty “Prisoners” and “Sicario” filmmaker Denis Villeneuve takes an unexpected turn into science fiction with this adaptation of Ted Chiang’s award-winning 1998 novella, Story of Your Life (which later appeared in a 2002 story collection). Eric Heisserer (“Lights Out”) wrote the screenplay, which focuses on a linguistics expert called in by the military to communicate with aliens that have made first contact with Earth. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star. In theaters November 11.

tony-susan“Nocturnal Animals”
Fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford follows up his well-received 2009 debut adaptation, “A Single Man,” with a big-screen version of Austin Wright’s twisty 1993 novel, Tony and Susan. Amy Adams stars as a woman disturbed by a seemingly threatening manuscript for a violent thriller written by her ex-husband, whom she left behind fifteen years earlier. The killer cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Linney, and Michael Shannon. In theaters November 23.


Also Playing: “Rings” (October 28); “Elle” (November 11); “Bye Bye Man” (December 9).


miss-peregrine“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”
This fantastical adaptation of Ransom Riggs’s 2011 bestseller has the feel of the X-Men mixed with Harry Potter as imagined by director Tim Burton, whose dark whimsy seems perfect for animating the story of a boy who uses his grandfather’s odd photograph collection to find an island orphanage stocked with even odder kids. Jane Goldman (“X-Men,” “Kick-Ass”) wrote the screenplay. Riggs wrote two sequels — Hollow City (2014) and Library of Souls (2015) — so if this one does well, expect a fun, creepy trilogy. In theaters September 30.

middle-school“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”
Taking a page from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, this kid-centric comedy based on the James Patterson series (there are now nine books) follows a quiet but rebellious middle schooler who decides to make a game of breaking every rule in his school’s Code of Conduct. Steve Carr (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”) directed. In theaters October 7.

fantastic-beasts“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne stars as vaunted fictional author Newt Scamander in J.K. Rowling’s adaptation of her own 2001 Harry Potter prequel, a spin-off based on a textbook young Harry studies during his first year at Hogwarts seventy years later. The film, directed by returning “Harry Potter” stalwart David Yates, details Newt’s adventures in post-World War I-era New York City as a budding magizoologist in pursuit of information about magical creatures. Rowling and Warner Bros. have two sequels planned. In theaters November 18.


live-by-night“Live by Night”
Ben Affleck wrote, directed, and stars in this adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel about a Boston man’s climb through the ranks of organized crime during Prohibition despite having a father who’s a police captain. (The book is a follow-up to Lehane’s 2008 novel, The Given Day.) It’s a strong reunion of filmmaker and material, since Affleck, who last helmed 2012 Best Picture winner “Argo,” cut his directing teeth on an adaptation of Lehane’s grim Gone, Baby, Gone in 2007. All of Affleck’s films thus far have prompted Oscar nominations, so we can expect to see this latest in the awards race. In theaters TBD.

Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s controversial, award-winning 1966 historical novel finally comes to fruition with Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver playing Portuguese Jesuit priests in the mid-seventeenth century who travel to Japan to support persecuted Christians and locate their mentor (Liam Neeson), who is rumored to have lost his faith. The religious drama, almost surely an Oscar contender if released before the end of the year, was penned by Oscar-nominated writer Jay Cocks, who worked on scripts for Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” and “The Age of Innocence.” In theaters TBD.