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Fall Movie Guide: Hope after dismal summer

Now is the summer of Hollywood's discontent, made inglorious by a run of movies underperforming at the box office.

The numbers are numbing: Not a single summertime release grossed more than $300 million domestically, for the first time since 2001. An estimated drop of 15 percent in summer ticket sales compared to 2013, the largest year-to-year decline in three decades.

Yet after the fall comes, well, the fall.

This year Hollywood is banking more than usual on the fall movie season. The window between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is typically a warmup for awards season, or a dumping ground for movies that can't cut it in summer competition. Now the season may decide what color of ink will be used by studio accountants in year-end reports.

Our annual Fall Movie Preview highlights 20 upcoming releases trying to hold down the fort until the holiday blockbusters are rolled out. A handful may even be relevant at awards time. Release dates are subject to change, but not Hollywood's desperation to get back on track.

September 12

Dolphin Tale 2 (Click the movie title to see the trailer.)

This is unofficially Tampa Bay Day at multiplexes, thanks to three new releases with local connections. Like its predecessor, Dolphin Tale 2 is inspired by a true story, continuing the uplifting story of Winter the dolphin, now joined by her orphan protege Hope at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd return, in the best Pinellas County tourism ad ever.

The Drop

Based upon a short story by Eckerd College graduate Dennis Lehane, author of twisty mysteries like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Brawny but brainy Tom Hardy stars as a Brooklyn bartender involved in mob money laundering with his uncle (the late James Gandolfini). When a money drop gets robbed, things go very wrong.

No Good Deed

St. Petersburg native and Hollywood success Will Packer (Ride Along) produced this thriller starring Idris Elba (TV's Luther) as an escaped convict terrorizing a suburban mom (Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson). Packer's knack for modestly budgeted urban crowd-pleasers should result in solid box office results.

September 19

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Liam Neeson and his particular set of deadly skills are money in the bank, and often entertaining. This time he's private eye Matthew Scudder, the gumshoe created by author Lawrence Block and previously played by Jeff Bridges in 8 Million Ways to Die. Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find his wife's murderer.

This is Where I Leave You

Their father's death brings together siblings (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll) for a week of guilt trips and grudges. Jane Fonda plays the widowed mom in the middle. The ensemble cast runs deep (including Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant and Connie Britton) and so may our disappointment, judging by the first trailer.

September 26

The Equalizer

The popular 1980s television series is revived, at least in title. Denzel Washington plays a former black ops commando, living a quiet life after faking his death. Not for long, and it's that pesky Russian Mafia causing trouble again. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, who helped Washington to an Oscar in Training Day.

Jimi: All Is By My Side

Jimi Hendrix, the man but not his music. The rock god's estate wouldn't sign over rights to his hits, so Oscar-winning writer-director John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) profiles prefame Hendrix, leading to his breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Andre (3000) Benjamin plays Hendrix since Chadwick Boseman was busy playing James Brown.

October 3

Gone Girl (Click the movie title to see the trailer.)

Okay, novelist Gillian Flynn. Here's your chance to tidy the climax of an otherwise nifty pretzel thriller, while adapting it for the screen. Director David Fincher is the right director for this knotty yarn of a missing wife (Rosamund Pike) and her suspicious husband (Ben Affleck). Awards season begins in earnest here.

Left Behind

Nicolas Cage has plenty of weird choices in his filmography but this is a doozy, remaking 2000's faith-based disaster flick set at the Rapture. Cage takes Brad Johnson's role as an airline pilot wondering where his passengers went, while Armageddon rages below. Chad Michael Murray is stuck replacing Kirk Cameron.

October 10

The Judge

The hook is seeing Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. playing father and son, and their inevitable clash of no-nonsense and jaunty personalities. The elder is a small-town judge accused of murder, balking at being defended by his estranged, big-city lawyer son. The jury's out for this one, and the evidence doesn't look good.

Whiplash

The hit of this year's Sundance Film Festival, with Lecanto High graduate Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) at a jazz drumming academy under the tutelage of an abusive instructor (J.K. Simmons). Think Fame crossed with Full Metal Jacket, and check out the pulse-pumping trailer.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

First of all, that title will never fit on theater marquees. Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner are flummoxed parents to a son (Ed Oxenbould) whose day begins with gum in his hair and goes downhill from there. We should arrange a playdate with that wimpy kid who keeps a diary.

October 17

Birdman (Click the movie title to see the trailer.)

The season's most inscrutable movie, with the close-to-the-bone casting of Michael Keaton as a burned-out movie star, famous for playing a comic book hero. A comeback on Broadway is complicated by what seems in trailers to be grandiose mental illness, but who knows. Can't wait to find out, though.

Fury

Brad Pitt enjoyed killin' Nat-zees so much in Inglourious Basterds that he re-enlisted. Now he's a tank sergeant called Wardaddy in the 2nd Armored Division, leading a mission behind enemy lines in the final month of World War II. Writer-director David Ayer reportedly out-Tarantinos Tarantino in the violence department.

October 24

St. Vincent

What impressionable child wouldn't want Bill Murray as a role model? A boy from a broken home likes the idea but his mother (Melissa McCarthy) doesn't, in a movie written and directed by Theodore Melfi (you'd swear from the trailer it's Wes Anderson). Naomi Watts co-stars as Murray's babysitting partner and favorite stripper.

November 7

Interstellar (Click the movie title to see the trailer.)

Matthew McConaughey in outer space? All right, all right, all right. Since the idea is writer-director Christopher Nolan's (Inception), we're assured of deeper thinking than Gravity. Nolan is keeping the plot cryptic but it involves traveling through a wormhole into the unknown. They got the right astronaut.

Big Hero 6

Disney and Marvel join forces for an animated movie, and theaters may not be big enough to handle the crowds. Not the typical superhero but an inflatable robot named Baymax and his schoolboy maker defending "San Fransokyo" from danger. Trailers suggest Wall-E with Marvel action and Miyazaki whimsy.

November 14

Foxcatcher

Awards buzz followed Bennett Miller's fact-based movie from Cannes, where he was named best director. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are world-class wrestlers Mark and David Schultz, living out the Olympic dreams of disturbed benefactor John DuPont (a barely recognizable Steve Carell).

Dumb and Dumber To

That isn't a misspelling but it does ignore 2003's prequel. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return as Lloyd and Harry, still outrageously stupid and loyal to each other. Harry discovers he fathered a daughter and Lloyd thinks she's hot. The Farrelly brothers return to ground zero (as in IQ) to rekindle their careers.

November 21

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Click the movie title to see the trailer.)

Things are heating up in Panem, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) becoming a reluctant symbol of rebellion. Donald Sutherland has two more chances for a sentimental first-ever Oscar nod before the saga ends in 2015. Lots of questions to be answered, including what the heck is J-Law doing with that drip from Coldplay.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

     
                             
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