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'Joker,' 'Downton Abbey' and 18 more must-see fall movies 

Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from "Joker,"

 Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from "Joker," in theaters on Oct. 4. Credit: AP/Niko Tavernise

How is the fall movie season like the Long Island Expressway? 

They're both going to be a traffic-jam. 

Theaters will be crammed full of movies later this fall, following a somewhat quiet opening stretch. September should feel normal enough, with the usual two-to-three releases each Friday, though we'll see a spike of activity on Sept. 20, when the popular British series "Downton Abbey" gets the big-screen treatment. As for October, it looks fairly sleepy save for "Joker," the much buzzed-about drama featuring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role (it comes out Oct. 4). After that, things get hectic. 

The bottleneck starts in November, when four big releases will arrive in theaters every Friday (except for Thanksgiving weekend, which has been mostly reserved for Rian Johnson's mystery "Knives Out"). Some of the November titles are obvious awards-bait, most notably "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," starring Tom Hanks as the beloved television host Fred Rogers. Others are potential blockbusters based on well-known names, such as "Terminator: Dark Fate," Disney's "Frozen 2" and even a sequel to "The Shining" called "Doctor Sleep." That's not even counting the usual thrillers, rom-coms and kiddie fare. 

Fasten your seatbelts: Here are 20 big movies coming your way: 

HUSTLERS (Sept. 13)  Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Keke Palmer play strippers who decide to fleece their Wall Street clients. Based on a true story. 

AD ASTRA (Sept. 20) An astronaut (Brad Pitt) searches the solar system for his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones). James Gray, of "The Lost City of Z," directs. 

DOWNTON ABBEY (Sept. 20) Could this be the first PBS blockbuster? Featuring the original cast and a screenplay by series creator Julian Fellowes, this television adaptation should bring fans out in droves. 

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (Sept. 20) Sylvester Stallone, 73, returns to play Vietnam veteran John Rambo in the fifth episode of the franchise. The plot involves a kidnapping by the Mexican cartel. 

ABOMINABLE (Sept. 27) An animated adventure about a teenager trying to help a young Yeti find his family. With the voices of Chloe Bennet, Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson. 

JOKER (Oct. 4) This DC Comics origin story features the great Joaquin Phoenix ("The Master") in the title role. Its unlikely director: Todd Phillips, of "The Hangover." 

GEMINI MAN (Oct. 11) Will Smith plays an aging assassin who meets his younger self in this sci-fi thriller from director Ang Lee ("Life of Pi"). 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (Oct. 18) Angelina Jolie returns as a dark fairy in this Disney sequel. Elle Fanning also reprises her role, as Princess Aurora. The two become enemies in all-out Great War. 

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (Oct. 18) A sequel to Ruben Fleischer's 2009 cult hit, starring the original cast of Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone. 

HARRIET (Nov. 1) Cynthia Erivo plays the 19th-Century abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. With Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn and Jennifer Nettles. 

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Nov. 1) Edward Norton's first directorial effort since 1999's "Keeping the Faith" is a film noir featuring himself as a detective with Tourette's Syndrome. It's a reworking of Jonathan Lethem's acclaimed novel. 

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (Nov. 1) Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise their roles as Sarah Connor and the T-800 in the franchise's sixth installment. Tim Miller, of "Deadpool," directs. 

DOCTOR SLEEP (Nov. 8) Danny Torrance, the terrorized kid of "The Shining," is now a traumatized adult played by Ewan McGregor. Newcomer Kyliegh Curran is Abra Stone, a girl who shares his supernatural gift. Based on Stephen King's novel. 

LAST CHRISTMAS (Nov. 8) A cranky young woman working as a Christmas elf (Emilia Clarke, of HBO's "Game of Thrones") keeps bumping into the same optimistic guy (Henry Golding, of "Crazy Rich Asians"). Directed by Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids") and co-written by Emma Thompson. 

PLAYING WITH FIRE (Nov. 8) After firefighters rescue a group of kids from a blaze, they reluctantly become their babysitters. With John Cena, John Leguizamo and Keegan-Michael Key. 

CHARLIE'S ANGELS (Nov. 15) Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska play the secret agents of '70s television and '00s movie fame. Elizabeth Banks stars as team-leader Bosley. She also directs. 

FORD V FERRARI (Nov. 15) The American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) teams up with British racing maverick Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to beat the cars of Italy's Enzo Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans endurance race. 

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (Nov. 22) Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers – what else do you need to know? The story is based on Rogers' friendship with the journalist Tom Junod. 

FROZEN 2 (Nov. 22) Anna, Elsa and company travel beyond their kingdom's boundaries to find the source of Elsa's icy magic. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and the original voice-cast return. 

KNIVES OUT (Nov. 27) Writer-director Rian Johnson, of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," pays homage to the Agatha Christie mysteries of the 1970s. The movie features a large mansion and an all-star cast: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson and more.

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