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Kick off the fall movie season with September’s 7 buzziest films

From ballet to poker, televangelists to Tony winners, here are the movies worth streaming or seeing on the big screen.

A triptych with three faces of three stars of upcoming movies.
Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.
Searchlight/Disney/Universal Pictures
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Welcome to the buzzy autumn movie season. While most of 2021’s biggest and most prestigious films are slated to come out later in the year, September always hails the start of the very long ramp-up to the next year’s Oscars.

To kick-start the fall movie calendar, there’s a film based on a hit Broadway musical and a small but riveting thriller about bankers. There’s a new MCU superhero and a familiar face from history. Dancers, gamblers, rock stars — they’re all here in September.

Whether you’re headed to the theater or bundled up on the couch, here are seven of the most interesting films to look for this month.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Release date: September 3

The latest installment in the Marvel universe centers on Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), who works as a parking valet in San Francisco alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). He’s been hunted down by the shadowy Ten Rings organization and is drawn into a wild adventure that forces him to confront his past, including his estranged father (Tony Leung). Shang-Chi is the second of four MCU films slated for release in 2021 (including this summer’s Black Widow and the upcoming Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home). With plenty of martial arts action and a cheeky sense of humor, it’s a fun start to the fall movie season.

How to watch it: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open in theaters for 45 days, then begin streaming on Disney+ in October.

The Card Counter

Release date: September 10

The Card Counter feels, in many ways, like the companion piece to First Reformed, writer and director Paul Schrader’s 2018 film about a broken man searching for salvation. Oscar Isaac plays William, a veteran haunted by his past who now travels the country playing blackjack and poker, sometimes in tournaments. He meets La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who suggests a business arrangement that might be to both their advantages. He also happens to meet Cirk (Tye Sheridan), who harbors a dark vendetta against a man named Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe) — and who leads William to finally face his demons. The Card Counter is a stylish film, but also a disturbing one that ties the US’s torture program to the twisting of individual souls. It raises a perennial question: Can a sinner be forgiven?

How to watch it: The Card Counter will open in theaters.


Release date: September 10

Azor is a tense, taut thriller set in 1980, when a Swiss private banker named Yvan (Fabrizio Rongione) and his wife Ines (Stéphanie Cléau) arrive in Buenos Aires from Geneva for a series of meetings. They’re there with one purpose: to settle the nerves of some wealthy clients following the disappearance of one of Yvan’s colleagues. Director Andreas Fontana tells a story steeped in intrigue and set against the backdrop of the years following the right-wing military’s 1976 coup, which overthrew the democratic government and ushered in a period filled with fear and death. The resulting film makes it clear just how thin the line is between comfort and tyranny.

How to watch it: Azor will open in limited theaters in New York City, with a national rollout to follow.

The Nowhere Inn

Release date: September 17

The Nowhere Inn is a semi-fictionalized story about the hazards and constantly seesawing power balance inherent to making a documentary. It’s a ton of mind-bending fun. Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia) and Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) wrote the screenplay, and each woman plays a version of herself — or, in Clark’s case, several versions of herself. In the film, Clark’s onstage alter ego is a sharp-edged, take-no-prisoners performance artist, while offstage she’s mild-mannered and pretty boring. She asks Brownstein to make a documentary about her, and for a while, Brownstein coaxes Clark to be “more” St. Vincent to make the movie more interesting. When St. Vincent finally takes over Clark, however, things start to go haywire. In The Nowhere Inn, it’s impossible to tell where reality ends and performance begins — or if all of life, in the end, really is performance.

How to watch it: The Nowhere Inn will open in theaters.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Release date: September 17

Jessica Chastain stars as Tammy Faye Bakker, who along with her husband Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) became embroiled in one of the marquee televangelist scandals of the 1980s. The story was told from Tammy Faye’s perspective in the 2000 documentary of the same name; this based-on-a-true-story version draws from the earlier one in many ways, but also digs into history that the documentary overlooked. In particular, it explores some of the hand the Bakkers had — intentionally or not — in fostering the marriage of evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party, with Jerry Falwell (a perfectly cast Vincent D’Onofrio) leading the charge.

How to watch it: The Eyes of Tammy Faye will open in theaters.

Birds of Paradise

Several young ballet dancers look out a window, seemingly in shock.
Birds of Paradise hits Amazon Prime on September 24.
Amazon Prime

Release date: September 24

Based on A.K. Small’s 2019 novel Bright Burning Stars, Birds of Paradise tells the story of Kate (Diana Silvers), an aspiring ballet dancer who arrives in Paris to study on scholarship at an elite dance academy. Kate’s stress in the school’s highly competitive atmosphere is exacerbated by her encounters with fellow dancer Marine (Kristine Froseth), and the pair’s relationship grows fraught as they experience personal, emotional, and sexual awakenings while striving to win the ultimate prize: a spot at the Opéra national de Paris. Jacqueline Bisset also stars in the film, which is directed by Sarah Adina Smith — and which is poised to be a delicious thriller for dance lovers.

How to watch it: Birds of Paradise will stream on Amazon Prime.

Dear Evan Hansen

Release date: September 24

Ben Platt heads to the big screen to reprise the Broadway role he originated as Evan Hansen, a high school student with social anxiety disorder. Through a series of tragic accidents, the family of a classmate who died by suicide comes to believe that Evan was close friends with their son. The 2015 musical was a massive, Tony-winning hit — despite some morally dubious storytelling — with songs by musical theater virtuosos Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land). The film version, directed by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), also stars Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore, and Amy Adams.

How to watch it: Dear Evan Hansen will open in theaters.