The first part of autumn is a strange time for movie theaters. The biggest of the summer blockbusters have already come and gone, but it's a little too early for studios to unleash their top-tier Oscar hopefuls upon an audience that's still reeling from explosions and superheroes. But never fear, cinephiles: There are still plenty of promising films on the horizon in September and October.
But which upcoming movies are actually worth seeing? Let The Week be your guide:
September 6: Riddick
What it is: The third live-action entry in the action/sci-fi franchise that helped turn Vin Diesel into an unlikely leading man sees him return as the Furyan antihero, who's been betrayed and left for dead on an alien planet.
Why you should care: After Pitch Black became a surprise hit in 2000, 2004's misguided sequel The Chronicles of Riddick upped the budget and toned down the violence in an effort to reach mainstream audiences with a PG-13 rating. Nearly a decade later, Riddick looks like the leaner, meaner sequel Pitch Black always deserved — a hard-R sci-fi revenge flick with supporting turns from some of the most reliable sci-fi actors in Hollywood (including Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff and Dredd's Karl Urban).
What else is coming out: Salinger, a long-in-the-works documentary about the life and works of the reclusive Cather in the Rye author (who would have hated having a documentary made about him).
September 13: Insidious: Chapter 2
What it is: A follow-up to 2011's micro-budgeted haunted house story, which ended by revealing — spoiler alert! — that Patrick Wilson's protagonist had been possessed by an evil spirit.
Why you should care: The first Insidious is by no means a classic of the horror genre, but its no-frills (and relatively bloodless) haunted house scares were a refreshing change of pace from the director who launched the Saw franchise. Wilson and Rose Byrne are compelling actors, and there's plenty of opportunity for slow-burn horror as it becomes clear to both Wilson and his family that he's been possessed. And how can you not see a horror movie on Friday the 13th?
What else is coming out: The Family, an action comedy starring Robert De Niro as a former mobster whose family movies to France under the witness protection program.
September 20: Prisoners
What it is: When a father's adolescent daughter and her best friend are kidnapped, he abducts the man he believes is responsible in an attempt to get the real story before it's too late to save them.
Why you should care: For starters, there's the film's stellar cast, which includes Hugh Jackman as the grieving father, Jake Gyllenhaal as the detective assigned to the case, and Paul Dano as the accused kidnapper, alongside supporting players like Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Maria Bello. But Prisoners also offers the rare chance to see a grown-up film — and possible Oscar contender — in the cinematic doldrums of September.
What else is coming out: Rush, Ron Howard's dramatized retelling of the rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda; The Wizard of Oz in 3D, which gives one of the most beloved films in history a wholly unnecessary 3D "upgrade"; Battle of the Year, a 3D dance film that would be a dubious prospect even if it didn't feature Chris Brown in a major role.
September 27: Don Jon
What it is: Joseph Gordon-Levitt does triple duty as writer, director, and star of this dramedy about a Jersey Shore-esque bro whose romantic life is hampered by his obsession with pornography.
Why you should care: Over the last few years, Gordon-Levitt has proven himself to be an exciting screen presence, and early reviews for Don Jon — which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival — have offered similarly high praise for his talents as a writer and director, as well as the formidable cast he's assembled (which includes Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore).
What else is coming out: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, a sequel to the 2011 animated hit that ups the ante with food/animal hybrids; Baggage Claim, a high-concept rom-com about a flight attendant who resolves to find a fiance in the 30 days before her sister's wedding; Metallica: Through the Never; an oddball hybrid of 3D concert film and narrative drama, which intercuts footage from a 2012 Metallica concert with a story about a roadie being sent on a mission.
October 4: Gravity
What it is: When a rookie astronaut (Sandra Bullock) becomes uncoupled from her shuttle during a space walk, she and a fellow astronaut (George Clooney) are forced to collaborate to survive.
Why you should care: Did you watch the trailer? Director Alfonso Cuaron's long-awaited follow-up to 2006's Children of Men offers a unique and genuinely terrifying spin on the sci-fi/horror genre, where the villain isn't an alien or other extraterrestrial force — just the infinite blackness of space. If Gravity lives up to the promise of both the talent involved and its stunning trailer, it could stand up along the genre's most compelling offerings ever.
What else is coming out: Runner Runner, which sees Rounders screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien revisit the world of competitive poker with new stars Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.
October 11: Captain Phillips
What it is: Tom Hanks stars in the true story of Captain Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009 — the first such hijacking of an American ship since the early 19th century.
Why you should care: The real-life story of Captain Phillips is one of those rare recent events that seems tailor-made for a movie — a nerve-wracking and potentially deadly standoff between a band of Somali pirates and a group of men forced to constantly adapt in order to survive. And this is the first of two upcoming Tom Hanks leading roles that have all the early signs of a Best Actor Oscar. (The other, Saving Mr. Banks, hits theaters in December.)
What else is coming out: The Fifth Estate, in which Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch plays Julian Assange during the rise of WikiLeaks; Romeo & Juliet, a straight retelling of Shakespeare's play that aims to supplant Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation as the movie your 10th grade English teacher makes you watch; Machete Kills, an even more over-the-top sequel to 2010's grindhouse-style sleeper hit.
October 18: 12 Years a Slave
What it is: An adaptation of Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography of the same name, which recounts his shocking story of being a free black man in the North who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.
Why you should care: Northup's shocking story was a bestseller in its era, helping to shape anti-slavery attitudes in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War. And director Steve McQueen has enlisted what might be the most impressive cast of this year's Oscar season to tell the story; in addition to leading man Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave stars Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Michael Kenneth Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, and Beasts of the Southern Wild stars Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry.
What else is coming out: All Is Lost, a Castaway-esque (and almost entirely dialogue-free) showcase for Robert Redford about a man lost at sea; Carrie, a surprisingly promising-looking "reimagining" of Stephen King's novel, starring Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role; Escape Plan, a big-screen team-up that sees Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to breaking out of a maximum-security prison that Stallone helped design.
October 25: The Counselor
What it is: An ambitious lawyer becomes embroiled in an elaborate drug-trafficking conspiracy.
Why you should care: There are plenty of promising signs here: director Ridley Scott; supporting turns from actors like Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt; and yet another hotly-tipped Oscar season performance by Michael Fassbender. But the real reason to get excited here is The Counselor's screenwriter: novelist Cormac McCarthy, making his Hollywood debut with his first-ever produced screenplay.
What else is coming out: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, an execrable piece of counter-programming in which Jackass star Johnny Knoxville takes a Borat-style journey across the United States as the titular octogenarian.