Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Photo: Wilson Webb / 20th Century Fox.

Following Monday’s announcement that Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips would open NYFF51, Film Society of Lincoln Center has more thrilling news: Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will have its world premiere on Saturday, October 5 as the Centerpiece Gala presentation of this year’s 51st New York Film Festival (September 27 – October 13).

The film, directed by and starring Stiller, is loosely based on a classic story by James Thurber (previously adapted as a Danny Kaye vehicle) about a dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance, and action. When his job, along with that of his co-worker (Kristen Wiig) are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world, embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined. Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn also star. The 20th Century Fox release is set to open wide on Christmas Day.

NYFF’s Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, “Ben Stiller has expanded on James Thurber’s beloved short story and crafted a beautifully lyrical comic epic, grounded in present day realities and concerns. He is wonderful in the lead, Kristen Wiig is nothing short of magical as the woman of his dreams, and it’s great to see Shirley MacLaine in perfect form. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one terrific ride, and I’m thrilled that we’re able to present it as our Centerpiece screening.”

In a statement, Ben Stiller expressed his excitement for the premiere: “I am incredibly honored and excited to have The Secret Life of Walter Mitty premiere in the New York Film Festival. When I first heard, I wanted to make sure it was the one at Lincoln Center and not one in Utica or somewhere. Making this film has been a wonderful collaboration with a really special screenwriter, Steve Conrad, and all the extremely talented cast and crew who worked on this movie. Having grown up a few blocks away on Riverside Drive, I couldn't be happier to have it premiere here.”

Stiller talked with FilmLinc Daily ahead of the announcement, marvelling at how relevant this story from 1939 still is and why it spoke to him: “I think you get to a certain point where you realize your life is happening and is going by. For a long time, when I was younger, everything existed so much more into the future.”

NYFF’s tradition of Centerpiece Gala presentations began in 1994 with Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. Walter Mitty joins a tradition of highly-regarded Centerpiece films, such as Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, P.T. Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, and Pedro Almodovar’s Volver. Last year’s Centerpiece was Sopranos-mastermind David Chase’s feature film debut, Not Fade Away.

Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Photo: Wilson Webb / 20th Century Fox.

The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring top films from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones also includes: Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Cinematheque Programming; Gavin Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Film Comment; Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor, Film Comment and Sight and Sound; and Marian Masone, FSLC Associate Director of Programming.

Subscription Packages and VIP Passes for the New York Film Festival are on sale now to Film Society Members. General Public tickets will go on sale September 8 after a Member pre-sale period. For more information about becoming a Film Society Member, click here.

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Past New York Film Festival Centerpiece Films

1994 Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen, USA)
1995 Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
1996 Thieves 
(André Téchiné, France)
1997 The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, Canada)
1998 Black Cat, White Cat (Emir Kusturica, Yugoslavia/Germany/France)
1999 Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh, UK)
2000 Pollock (Ed Harris, USA)
2001 Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
2002 Punch-Drunk Love (P.T. Anderson, USA)
2003 The Fog of War (Errol Morris, USA)
2004 Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
2005 Breakfast on Pluto (Neil Jordan (Ireland/UK)
2006 Volver (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
2007 No Country for Old Men (Ethan & Joel Coen, USA)
2008 Changeling (Clint Eastwood, USA)
2009 Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, USA)
2010 The Tempest (Julie Taymor, USA)
2011 My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, UK)
2012 Not Fade Away (David Chase)