Los Angeles — Hollywood aims to help you escape from all that lousy economic news in the real world this fall, with a lineup heavy on fun and fantasy.
But Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas won’t let audiences completely off the hook. They’re putting Gordon Gekko, poster boy for greed a generation ago, back into theaters to remind fans about the sharks that got us into this mess.
Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — a followup to the 1987 hit that won Douglas the best-actor Academy Award — picks up with ex-con Gekko broke, barred from the stock market, alienated from his family and trying to find a place for himself in 2008 as the global economy races toward chaos.
“You’re in the joint for eight years, coming back without your fortune and the ability to trade. He’s estranged from his daughter, he’s lost a son while he’s in prison,” Douglas said. “Initially, Gordon’s more vulnerable.”
The key word is initially. Gekko still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
The “Wall Street” sequel is among September and October releases arriving as a prelude to the big holiday season, whose heavy-hitters include the latest in the “Harry Potter,” “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Meet the Parents” franchises.
Here’s a look at highlights among films debuting in early fall:
Zack Snyder (“300”) directs the animated adventure “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” based on Kathryn Lasky’s children’s books about owls on a mythic quest against evil.
The animated comedy “Alpha and Omega” features the voices of Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere in a tale of two wolves on a journey home after park rangers move them halfway across country.
“Secretariat” gives wholesome treatment to the story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner, with Diane Lane as the housewife who takes over her ailing father’s stables and guides the horse to triumph.
Lane was 8 years old at the time and traveling outside the United States with a theater company, yet she recalls the story of Secretariat gripping people around the world.
“The export of Secretariat to the rest of the world, coming from the American news wire, was really something. It was a great sigh of relief compared to all the other offerings we brought to the global news at that time,” Lane said. “I had such a crush on Secretariat as a little girl. He was like Pegasus to me at the time. I’ve always had a crush on that species. There’s something about horses and girls.”
Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver star in “You Again,” a comedy about a woman and her mother coping with their old high school rivals at a family wedding.
Other comic tales include: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” about a stressed teen (Keir Gilchrist) who finds a mentor (Zach Galifianakis) at a mental clinic; Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a reluctant pair forced to care for their orphaned goddaughter in the romance “Life as We Know It;” “Easy A,” a comic twist on “The Scarlet Letter,” with Emma Stone as a teen turning a rumor about losing her virginity to her own advantage; and Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe,” about a former ugly ducking (Gemma Arterton) who returns to her British hometown a striking beauty.
The sober British drama “Never Let Me Go” reunites Keira Knightley with close pal Carey Mulligan, who got her start with a small part in Knightley’s “Pride & Prejudice.”
“My first job was with Keira when I was 18, and she was the star of the movie. It’s really amazing that I get to play alongside her now in a kind of more level way,” said Mulligan, who also co-stars in the “Wall Street” sequel.
“Never Let Me Go” features Mulligan, Knightley and Andrew Garfield (recently cast in the title role of the next “Spider-Man” movie) as three boarding school friends raised for a stark destiny in an alternate-reality Britain.
Among other dramatic offerings: David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake in a drama about the founders of Facebook; Hilary Swank in “Conviction,” the story of a woman who embarks on an 18-year crusade to clear her brother (Sam Rockwell) of murder; and Woody Allen’s latest mix of comedy and drama, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” with Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto as Londoners struggling with old and new relationships.
Matt Damon and director Clint Eastwood, who collaborated on last year’s “Invictus,” reunite for “Hereafter,” a drama about a Frenchwoman, a British boy and an American man with unusual connections to death whose lives gradually intersect.
Damon said the film seeks answers about the most serious question: Is there an afterlife waiting for people when they die?
“I have to believe there is. I guess I choose to believe there is,” Damon said. “If I’m wrong and the light’s just going to go out, then I’ll be none the wiser. But it seems like a pretty cruel twist of fate if it’s this and only this. I like to believe there’s a bigger point.”
Three horror franchises return: “Paranormal Activity 2,” a followup to last year’s supernatural sensation; “Saw 3D,” with survivors of diabolical killer Jigsaw finding new terror as they seek solace from a self-help guru; and “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” with Milla Jovovich back on the job killing undead zombies.
Hollywood’s love affair with vampires continues with “Let Me In,” adapted from the best-seller “Let the Right One In,” about the friendship between a bullied boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a young bloodsucker (Chloe Moretz).
Other frightening tales include “Buried,” with Ryan Reynolds as an American contract driver in Iraq who wakes up buried alive in a coffin; “My Soul to Take,” Wes Craven’s tale of a serial killer who may have returned from the dead; and “Devil,” about a group of people beset by supernatural terror after they’re trapped in an elevator.
Ben Affleck performs in a couple of money-related dramas. In “The Company Men,” Affleck stars alongside Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner in a story of executives coping with hard times after their downsizing company lets them go.
Affleck directs and stars in “The Town,” playing a bank robber who falls for a branch manager (Rebecca Hall) his gang took hostage on their last job.
“In ‘Company Men,’ we’re going down the economic ladder, and in ‘The Town,’ we’re trying to steal our way up,” Affleck said.
Affleck deliberately chose not to act in his directing debut, “Gone Baby Gone.” With “The Town,” he joked that at least he knew the director and star would not clash.
“There was a lot of harmony between the director and the lead actor on this movie,” Affleck said. “I knew as a director that I would always be on time, I would always be cooperative, and our tastes would always be in sync.”
Affleck pal Damon narrates Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job,” a sweeping chronicle of the 2008 economic crisis.
Amid that crisis, Stone and Douglas unleash Gekko for their “Wall Street” sequel. Estranged from his daughter (Mulligan), Gekko ingratiates himself with her fiance (Shia LaBeouf), a young investment whiz who falls under his future father-in-law’s spell.
LaBeouf said today’s climate as depicted in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” makes 1980s Gekko-style greed look like child’s play.
“We’re living in the epitome of greed now more so than ever,” LaBeouf said. “Greed where you have people with absolutely no scruples, and you’re dealing with money on a totally different level. ... These are hustlers who could sell water to a whale. It’s cutthroat in a different way. It’s a totally different business now.”