Our movies have always had a complicated relationship with the past, mostly because they’re how we retell the past to suit our present emotional and cultural needs. Every fall movie season for two decades running — since Labor Day became the unofficial starting gun for the Oscars — has been about A) dramatizing a heretofore unheralded person, group, or event, B) steeping audiences in a lavish re-creation of a bygone era, and/or C) catering to the popular culture’s sense of the past by remulching a beloved artifact for new audiences and fresh profits.
Let’s start with C: “Star Wars,” anyone? When “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” opens on Dec. 18, the signal fantasy franchise of our era will once again try to achieve liftoff. There’s a new James Bond movie, with Daniel Craig’s final turn in the role before moving on. There’s a digitally animated “Peanuts” movie, which freaks us out a little just thinking about it. And, holy Balboa, there’s a new “Rocky” on the way, only it’s called “Creed” and it stars Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) as Apollo Creed’s son.
Among the straight-up period pieces that will attempt to rend our hearts and open our eyes, “Brooklyn” features Saoirse Ronan getting out of 1950s Ireland, “Carol” is a 1950s love story between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, “Pan” (as in Peter) lets Joe Wright (“Atonement”) have a go at an Edwardian origin story, and “The Revenant” casts Leonardo DiCaprio as an 1820s mountain man. Meanwhile, “Suffragette” deposits us at the start of the 20th century and a lineup of first-wave feminists played by Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep.
But it’s the true stories — or the film industry’s version of same — that define the fall movie season. Two of the higher-profile releases will dig up serious Boston dirt: “Black Mass” (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) and “Spotlight,” the latter lionizing some of this very paper’s reporters as they uncover the pedophile priest scandal that led to Cardinal Bernard Law’s resignation in 2002.
We’ll go back to disasters of the recent past (“Everest,” in 3-D IMAX; bring a fleece) and a few centuries ago (“In the Heart of the Sea,” based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s bestseller about some very bad things that happened to the whaleship Essex). “Stonewall” tells the story of the 1969 New York bar riot that kicked off the modern gay era. And you can plot the biopics on a chronological timeline, starting with the 1920s (“The Danish Girl,” about the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery, played by Eddie Redmayne) and moving into the Cold War era (“Bridge of Spies,” with Tom Hanks, from director Steven Spielberg), the 1970s (“Pawn Sacrifice,” with Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer), the 1990s (Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” with Michael Fassbender), and the modern day (“The 33,” about the Chilean mine collapse of 2010, and “Snowden,” in which director Oliver Stone casts Joseph Gordon-Levitt as info-leaker Edward Snowden).
Oh, there will be other movies of the moment: a new Pixar (“The Good Dinosaur”), what sounds like a new “Gravity” (“The Martian,” with Matt Damon), a new Quentin Tarantino (“The Hateful Eight”), and a final “Hunger Games” installment. But that last movie is about a possible future, and these days it seems our eyes are looking back while we try to figure out exactly how we got where we are now.
BLACK MASS Real life + “The Departed” + “GoodFellas” = this, with Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother Bill, and Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly.
CAPTIVE An escaped murder (David Oyelowo) encounters a recovering drug addict (Rooney Mara) and takes her hostage.
EVEREST A massive storm hits the mountain. Can climbers Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, and Robin Wright survive?
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS Having escaped in last year’s “The Maze Runner,” Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario and the Gladers now have to figure what to do next.
SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE Years after a college fling, Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie try to help each other with their problem with commitment.
THE INTERN Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”) wrote and directed this comedy about a retiree (Robert De Niro) who interns for the founder (Anne Hathaway) of an online company.
A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND The mind in question belongs to a troubled English teen (Asa Butterfield) who puts his talents to use in the International Mathematics Olympiad.
COMING HOME Love and history collide in this drama about a couple (Gong Li and Chen Daoming) separated by the Cultural Revolution and a brain injury. Zhang Yimou directed.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 In this sequel to the 2012 animated feature, it’s no longer monsters-only at the title hostelry. Complications ensue.
PAWN SACRIFICE It’s Cold War chess in 1972, with Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) contending for the world championship in Reykjavik.
STONEWALL A young man (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) comes of age politically and sexually at the time of the 1969 Stonewall riots.
THE WALK Robert Zemeckis directed and co-wrote this real-life drama about Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his 1974 Twin Towers tightrope walk.
Other September openings:The Second Mother; The NewGirlfriend; Cooties; Goodnight Mommy; Gueros; Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey; Misunderstood; The Quay Brothers in 35mm.
BREATHE This French drama, actress Mélanie Laurent’s second directorial effort, follows the darkening course of a friendship between two teenage girls.
THE MARTIAN A Mars mission leaves an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded. Can he be rescued? Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, and Jeff Daniels costar. Ridley Scott directed.
SICARIO Government agents Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Jon Bernthal, and Benicio Del Toro battle Mexican drug lords.
99 HOMES A construction worker (Andrew Garfield) loses his home to a sleazy real estate broker (Michael Shannon) – then goes to work for him.
ADDICTED TO FRESNO Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne play sisters who work as hotel maids in this very dark comedy. Aubrey Plaza turns up as an unusual love interest.
LEGENDTom Hardy times two: He plays the legendary London gangster twin brothers the Krays, in this biopic written and directed by Brian Helgeland.
THE KEEPING ROOM In this historical drama, three women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru) must fend for themselves as the Civil War draws to a close.
MISSISSIPPI GRIND Writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck offer this tale of two gamblers (Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn) in search of a Southern hot streak.
TIME OUT OF MIND Richard Gere plays a homeless man whose friendship with another guest at a shelter helps him renew his relationship with his daughter (Jena Malone).
STEVE JOBS Michael Fassbender stars as the Apple Computer visionary. Danny Boyle directed Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography.
FREEHELD A police lieutenant (Julianne Moore), diagnosed with a terminal illness, fights to get her partner (Ellen Page) pension benefits. Based on a true story.
PAN This new version of “Peter Pan” stars Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried, and, as Captain Hook, Garrett Hedlund.
BIG STONE GAP Adriana Trigiani’s comic romantic novel about a “spinster” in a small Appalachian town comes to the screen. Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, and Jane Krakowski star.
BRIDGE OF SPIES Steven Spielberg directed this based-on-fact story about a prisoner exchange between the CIA and KGB at the height of the Cold War. Tom Hanks stars.
CRIMSON PEAK Who better to make a haunted-house tale than Guillermo del Toro? Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, and Tom Hiddleston head the cast.
BEASTS OF NO NATION Cary Fukunaga wrote and directed this adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel about an African child soldier. Idris Elba stars.
GOOSEBUMPS Real life meets reel life, as the supposedly fictitious demons of best-selling children’s horror author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) afflict a Maryland town.
LABYRINTH OF LIES In this German historical drama, a journalist and prosecutor in 1958 seek to reveal the truth about Nazi atrocities.
ROCK THE KASBAH A washed-up music promoter (Bill Murray) hopes a young Afghan singer will be his meal ticket. Barry Levinson directed the comedy.
ASTHMA A stolen Rolls-Royce, a rock musician (Benedict Samuel), a tattoo artist (Krysten Ritter): It’s a love story.
BURNT Bradley Cooper stars as a former superstar Paris chef determined to make a comeback in London. Also in the cast are Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Uma Thurman, and Sienna Miller.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS A live-action version of the popular ’80s TV cartoon about three teen girls hoping to make it big in the music biz.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER Witches better watch out! Vin Diesel, as the title character, is on the case.
ROOM A young woman (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son deal with having been imprisoned in a single room for years. Joan Allen and William H. Macy costar.
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS In this comedy-drama, a group of US political consultants do their thing in South America. Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, and Zoe Kazan star.
SUFFRAGETTE Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep star in this historical drama about the fight for female suffrage in early-20th-century Britain.
TRUTHRobert Redford is Dan Rather, and Cate Blanchett his producer Mary Mapes, in this real-life story about what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what’s news.
I SMILE BACK There’s a twist to this drama about a married mother with a history of very bad behavior who tries to straighten out her life: Sarah Silverman plays the mother.
SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE Think of it as the ultimate scouting jamboree — and the toughest way to earn a merit badge.
Other October openings:Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension; Victoria; Bare.
SPECTREDaniel Craig is back as James Bond. Keeping him on his toes are Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, and Christoph Waltz.
SPOTLIGHT Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams star in this based-on-fact story about the Spotlight Team of The Boston Globe and the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal.
BROOKLYNColm Tóibín’s acclaimed novel about ’50s New York and a young Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) comes to the screen.
THE PEANUTS MOVIECharlie Brown and the gang are back, in this animated feature based on the Charles Schulz comic strip.
MISS YOU ALREADY There are laughs as well as tears when two friends (Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette) find themselves on divergent paths.
THE 33 Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Juliette Binoche star in this real-life drama about 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months.
BY THE SEA Angelina Jolie wrote and directed this story of a couple (Jolie and Brad Pitt) dealing with marital difficulties as they travel through the South of France.
TRUMBO Bryan Cranston plays the title role in this biopic about blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.
LOVE THE COOPERS Consider the comic possibilities when four generations collide at one Christmas table. Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, and John Goodman star.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 2 The saga of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) concludes.
SECRET IN THEIR EYES Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor are FBI agents, and Nicole Kidman is a district attorney, in a story of murder committed and trust betrayed.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR What if dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct? Well, for one thing, maybe they’d have humans for pets. Or so assumes this latest animated feature from Pixar.
CREED As in Apollo Creed — Rocky Balboa’s boxing nemesis. Yes, Sylvester Stallone’s pug is back. He’s training Apollo’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), for the ring.
THE NIGHT BEFORE Three guys (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie) go in search of the ultimate Christmas party. Lizzy Caplan costars.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN James McAvoy plays the title character. Daniel Radcliffe plays his assistant, Igor. And? The movie’s told from Igor’s point of view.
Other November openings:
The Hallow; The Wonders; Rings; My All American; Mediterranea.
MACBETH Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are the ultimate Shakespearean power couple. With Paddy Considine as Banquo and David Thewlis as Duncan.
KRAMPUS Santa gives good people gifts at Christmas, right? In this comic horror story, a demon does the opposite. Coal in your stocking is the least of it.
YOUTH A famous conductor (Michael Caine) is being urged to come out of retirement. Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”) directed. Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, and Jane Fonda costar.
THE DANISH GIRL Eddie Redmayne is the title character in this biopic about the first male-to-female transsexual.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA Chris Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy star in this 19th-century whaling saga directed by Ron Howard. Based on Nathan Philbrick’s award-winning book.
I SAW THE LIGHT Tom Hiddleston plays Hank Williams in this biopic about the country-and-western great.
THE DARK HORSE A based-on-fact New Zealand film about a chess champion (Cliff Curtis) who battles bipolar disorder.
STAR WARS: EPISODE VII — THE FORCE AWAKENS A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
. . . it’s on J.J. Abrams to show us what happens next.
CAROL A young woman (Rooney Mara) falls in love with an older, married woman (Cate Blanchett) in the 1950s. Todd Haynes directed this adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel.
SISTERS Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play siblings who want to throw one last party in the house they grew up in before their parents sell it.
SON OF SAUL Two days in the life of an Auschwitz inmate. Winner of this year’s Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
45 YEARS A couple (Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay) are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Until, that is, a frozen corpse turns up in the Alps.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP Suspecting that Dave (Jason Lee) is about to get engaged, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore have their work cut out for them.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT Having made a semi-western, with “Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino goes whole hog. Channing Tatum, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Samuel L. Jackson star.
JOY Writer-director David O. Russell reunites with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for this story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano.
THE REVENANT In his first film after “Birdman,” Alejandro González Iñárritu directed and co-wrote this story of an 1820s frontiersman seeking vengeance. Leonardo DiCaprio stars.
SNOWDEN Oliver Stone directed this drama about NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Zachary Quinto plays journalist Glenn Greenwald.
CONCUSSION Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, in this real-life story of the neuropathologist who discovered the football-related brain trauma CTE.
EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE Wim Wenders directed this drama about the aftermath of a fatal auto accident. James Franco, Rachel McAdams, and Charlotte Gainsbourg star.
DADDY’S HOME Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell star in this comedy about two dads who are part of the same family.
POINT BREAK A remake of the 1991 movie — except this time the gang being infiltrated consists of extreme athletes, not surfers. Edgar Ramirez and Luke Bracey star.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.