Fall Movies: Will Harry Potter Rescue Hollywood?

Robbie Coltrane and Daniel Radcliffe in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," the latest film in the series about the young wizard.
Warner Bros
The new season of movies is upon us. Bill Whitaker has some coming attractions:

Hollywood loves a winner ... and the Harry Potter franchise is the all-time box office champ, earning $5.4-billion worldwide.

It comes flying back this fall . . . in 3D . . . and may jolt Hollywood out of the dog days doldrums.

The audience this summer was the smallest in more than a decade.

"I think 'Harry Potter' is going to be the big one," said Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times.

"I mean, this has turned into a kind of money machine for Warner Brothers. There's only one more book, so they split it into two films, because they're just trying to, you know, squeeze as much money as humanly possible out of the franchise."

Squeezing money out of pockets is what Hollywood does best!

Remember "Wall Street's" Gordon Gekko, the role that won Michael Douglas the 1987 Best Actor Oscar? Well, he's back, in the "Wall Street" sequel, "Money Never Sleeps," this time ensnaring Shia LaBoeuf in his grand machinations.

You want action? You got it, coming at you fast in Russell Crowe's prison break thriller, "The Next Three Days" . . . and in "Faster," with Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock.

And faster still: 20th Century Fox is banking Denzel Washington's "Unstoppable," about a runaway train full of toxic chemicals, will BE unstoppable at the box office.

There's even some action for the AARP generation: "Red" has Dame Helen Mirren - with a machine gun!

"After you've played the Queen, there's nowhere to go but a machine gun," said Turan. "How do you top being Queen Elizabeth?"

Christina Aguilera makes it to the top in the musical "Burlesque," as an aspiring singer in a Tinsel Town club owned by Cher ("You gotta make me believe that you belong on that stage, that it's yours and that nobody can take it from you").

Gwyneth Paltrow takes the stage as a troubled country singer seeking a comeback, in "Country Strong."

"She's a good actress, hasn't had a really strong part in a while, so I'm really looking forward to this as possibly a kind of return to form," said Turan.

In "Morning Glory," big stars Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford go for big laughs as mismatched morning TV anchors.

Seeking romance? There's "How Do You Know?" from director James Brooks ("Terms of Endearment").

"His films always do something differently," Turan said. "So, if his name is on a film, you know, I'm definitely there."

And for the younger set, there's Disney's "Tangled," a cheeky take on the fairy tale Rapunzel.

Or the animated, anti-Superman-with-no-hair "Megamind": the "incredibly handsome master of all villainy" (in his own words).

For sci-fi fans there's "Tron: Legacy," sequel to the 1982 cult classic, "Tron."

The buzz about many fall films is generated far from Hollywood, at film festivals in cities like Cannes, Venice and Toronto. There they can catch the eyes of critics and distributors, and get people talking long before movies hit theaters.

"We're also there to launch key films into the marketplace," said Piers Handling, director of the Toronto International Film Festival, which opened Thursday.

"'Slumdog Millionaire,' 'American Beauty,' 'Crash,' 'Hurt Locker' all won our Audience Award," said Handling. "So I think a lot of the studios and distributors really pay attention to what Toronto audiences fall in love with."

Festival favorites this year include "Somewhere," from director Sophia Coppola, about a self-absorbed actor.

Natalie Portman is a ballerina in a dangerous pas de deux in "Black Swan."

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" takes a quirky look at teenage depression.

One movie which Handling thinks will break out of Toronto is a British film called "The King's Speech." It stars Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, and Colin Firth as King George the VI, struggling to overcome his stutter.

"I think all three of them are destined to be nominated" for awards, said Handling.

Also showcased at festivals: documentaries - about food ("Kings Of Pastry"), sex ("Client 9" on Elliot Spitzer's fall from grace), and money ("Inside Job" examines the economic collapse).

Turan's take on "Inside Job": "We really walk out of this feeling like, 'OK, I get it. I know how things fell apart. I know what went wrong.'"

Everyone knows fall is when Hollywood gets serious. "Fair Game" is the story of outed spy Valerie Plame.

"127 Hours," by the director of "Slumdog Millionaire," is the true story of a trapped outdoorsman who cuts his arm off to save his life.

"The Social Network" is about the founding of Facebook.

Clint Eastwood directs a new drama, "Hereafter," about life . . . and after life. "It sounds fascinating," said Turan. "It's the kind of movie that you don't want to know too much about before you see it, and people just see his name on a film and they feel it's something they can trust."

Hollywood is banking that with such an array of movies, everyone will find something to draw them to the theater this fall.