Movies are back! At least, partially. Kind of. Just two years ago, the idea that blockbusters like In the Heights and Black Widow would hit streaming services and theaters at the same time would be unthinkable. But while 2021’s box office will likely be far lower than pre-COVID-19 numbers, the upcoming lineup looks like an absolute bounty compared to last summer. Most of these films were shot pre-COVID and have been sitting in the can for months; some will be available to watch from your living room, while others will necessitate that many venture into theaters for the first time in more than a year. From a new Fast and Furious installment to an origin story for Cruella to a documentary from Questlove, here are the most anticipated films through the end of August.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw (May 14)
In a surprising swerve for the comedian, Chris Rock came up with the idea for a new Saw movie and is both producing and starring in the project. Rock, coming off of a dramatic turn in Fargo, and Samuel L. Jackson play detectives investigating a series of gruesome murders that are targeting cops and find themselves caught up in the killer’s game. “Saw is really scary and really bloody. It’s a Saw movie. But every now and then, you take a little air out,” Rock told Collider last year.
Those Who Wish Me Dead (May 14)
Filmmaker Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) returns with another neo-Western that arrives just in time for fire season. Those Who Wish Me Dead, which will hit theaters and HBO Max, stars Angelina Jolie as a smoke jumper, stationed deep in the forested American West, who spots a boy fleeing after his father is murdered. She takes the boy under her wing and the two struggle to survive as assassins close in, setting the surrounding forest ablaze. Sheridan is once again poised to deliver a riveting thriller, set against real-world crises that affects millions of people every year.
The Woman in the Window (May 14)
Amy Adams and Julianne Moore have 11 Oscar nominations between them but have never appeared in a movie together—until now. Adams plays Anna, an agoraphobe with a pill dependency who befriends a new neighbor, Jane (Moore), across the street. One night, she witnesses Jane being violently attacked in her home. But when she reports the attack to the police, nobody believes her—and Jane has seemingly been replaced by another woman. The film, which also co-stars Oscar winner Gary Oldman and is based on a novel with its own strange backstory, has been shuttled between studios and is finally set to arrive on Netflix.
Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder (May 21)
Seventeen years after Zack Snyder began his directorial career with a zombie movie, he’s returning to the undead. Army of the Dead gathers an ensemble cast that includes Dave Bautista, Tig Notaro and Omari Hardwick for what appears to be a standard Vegas heist flick, until you learn Vegas has since been turned into a post-apocalyptic enclosure for the titular army of the dead. Though Synder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) was critically acclaimed, his work has grown more divisive. His heavily stylized action films have many fans, but some critics say they creak under the weight of their grim seriousness. That said, Army of the Dead’s trailer suggests a somewhat cheerier affair than recent Snyder fare.
Cruella (May 28)
The era of the female villain-turned-protagonist—or at least antihero—is in full swing, with Margot Robbie and Sarah Paulson recently taking on the roles of Harley Quinn and Nurse Ratched, respectively. Now comes Cruella, starring Emma Stone as a young fashion designer who eventually develops an unhealthy obsession with Dalmatian furs. Emma Thompson co-stars as Cruella’s intimidating boss; the movie will be released on Disney+ alongside a theatrical release.
Port Authority (May 28)
A troubled 20-year-old (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) arrives in New York City after being kicked out of his Pittsburgh home. He is taken in by Wye, a Black trans woman (Pose’s Leyna Bloom) who introduces him to the city’s flourishing ballroom scene and challenges his conceptions about gender, love and family. Danielle Lessovitz’s drama received positive reviews at Cannes two years ago; Martin Scorsese served as an executive producer.
A Quiet Place Part II (May 28)
Among several heavy horror hitters slated for this summer is A Quiet Place Part II, written and directed by John Krasinski. Its predecessor, 2018’s A Quiet Place, told a small story of a family surviving in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vicious monsters with excellent hearing. It proved to be a runaway success, earning $340 million worldwide off of a $17 million budget. The sequel, as sequels are wont to do, looks bigger and flashier. It will explore both the onset of the audiophile beasts and the aftermath of the tragic events of the first film, putting Krasinski’s IRL wife Emily Blunt in the lead, joined by a brooding and bearded Cillian Murphy. The recent trope of sensory horror movies that includes Hush, Bird Box and Don’t Breathe isn’t over yet—in fact, the latter also has a sequel planned for release in August.
Changing the Game (June 1)
Trans athletes have long been subjected to exclusion and scrutiny: over the last six months, both Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler introduced bills attempting to ban trans women from female athletic programs. In this Hulu documentary, Filmmaker Michael Barnett traces the lives of three trans high school athletes as they weather criticism and prejudice and compete in track, wrestling and skiing.
In the Heights (June 11)
Long before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote In the Heights, a musical inspired by the multicultural working class neighborhood in which he grew up. This film adaptation of the musical, which won the Tony Award for best musical in 2008, fuses New York rap, salsa dancing and exuberant Busby Berkeley-inspired set pieces to tell a story of immigration, cultural and generational gaps, gentrification and romance. Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) lends his sense of grandeur; rising multi-threat talent Anthony Ramos plays the protagonist Usnavi. The movie launches in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously.
Fatherhood (June 18)
Launching right in the zone of Father’s Day, this family movie stars Kevin Hart in a story based on Matthew Logelin’s memoir Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love. Hart plays a widower whose wife died in childbirth, now raising a daughter (Melody Hurd) on his own, with the support of his network of friends and family. Paul Weitz (About a Boy) directs and co-stars include Alfre Woodard and Lil Rel Howery.
Luca (June 18)
The latest Pixar adventure is a literal fish-out-of-water tale. Two young sea monsters who live in the Italian Riviera long for life on land; they disguise themselves as human and begin covertly sneaking into a nearby town filled with suspicious fisherman and friendly children alike. Jacob Tremblay (Room) voices the title character.
The Sparks Brothers (June 18)
As TIME’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote in her Sundance review of Edgar Wright’s “glorious” documentary of the fraternal art-pop duo: “If you’ve only sort-of heard of Sparks, The Sparks Brothers is a great place to begin. If you’re already a fan, you’ll go nuts for it.” The film charts the group’s evolution over decades, bringing in talking heads from the music sphere, among them Beck, the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, and members of Duran Duran.
F9 (June 25)
If the barren landscape of the last year of film didn’t provide you with enough big-budget explosions and car chases, then the ninth film in the long-running Fast and Furious franchise should satisfy that need for speed. Though the series has always vaulted the idea of “family,” this film, which brings back most of the expected regulars including director Justin Lin, plans to expand on that notion, with Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) son and the new threat of Dom’s brother, played by John Cena. The family’s not the only thing getting bigger, as the outrageous action of F9 seems poised to outdo everything that came before it.
False Positive (June 25)
Ilana Glazer, one half of the duo behind Comedy Central’s beloved series Broad City, has co-written her first movie, which she’s also producing and starring in. In Hulu’s False Positive, Glazer and Justin Theroux play a couple who seek the help of a fertility doctor played by Pierce Brosnan. Glazer’s Lucy gets pregnant, but as the pregnancy progresses, something appears increasingly off about the charming doc, and Lucy sets out to uncover the full story.
Zola (June 30)
Soon after a Detroit waitress who called herself Zola delivered a wild tweet-storm about a road trip to Florida involving stripping, sex work and guns, the internet demanded a movie adaptation. Five years later, director Janicza Bravo (Lemon), with a script co-written by Jeremy O. Harris (Broadway’s Tony-nominated Slave Play), delivered when the movie debuted to raves at Sundance at the top of 2020. Taylour Paige (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Boogie), stars alongside Riley Keough in the bizarre adventure, adapted from a Rolling Stone article that tells the inside story.
The Forever Purge (July 2)
The fifth and, reportedly, final Purge film will release this July, casting moviegoers back into a speculative near future in which America lets lawlessness reign for one day a year. Details are scarce about this franchise finale, which was initially due to come out last summer. It purportedly will follow the events of 2016’s The Purge: Election Year, with stars Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta hiding out in a Texas ranch from people continuing to Purge even after it has been outlawed. It’s debatable whether audiences are clamoring for more Purge after a tumultuous 2020, but series writer and creator James DeMonaco is set to see the series through.
Summer of Soul (July 2)
While Woodstock has long loomed large in American cultural memory, the Harlem Cultural Festival, another music festival from the same summer of arguably equal importance, was all but forgotten—until now. Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots unearths sterling footage of a stacked lineup of superstars that included Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight and many more. Questlove’s film won both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Festival. The groundbreaking concert footage is augmented by plenty of rich history contextualizing a moment of radical change.
Black Widow (July 9)
Before she became an Avenger, Natasha Romanov’s work as a Russian spy landed her in hot water with some bad people. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Black Widow for an origin story directed by Cate Shortland that casts Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour as the superhero’s equally lethal “family.” Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, this is the first installment in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It releases theatrically and on Disney+ Premier Access for $30.
Space Jam: A New Legacy (July 9)
Lebron James has been drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan since he entered the NBA, and that dialogue has only intensified since James won his fourth NBA title last fall. James may or may not be a better basketball player than Jordan, but by taking the lead role in the sequel to Space Jam, James has unequivocally embraced his position as Jordan’s cultural heir. But James has also gone further in Hollywood than Jordan ever did: his producing credits include Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker and Becoming, and he’s also proved his surprisingly agile comedic abilities in Trainwreck and Smallfoot. In the film, James assembles a super team of Warner Bros. characters to save his son, who has been trapped in the “serververse” by a villain played by Don Cheadle. The trailer included characters from an array of Warners films including King Kong, the Iron Giant, Scooby-Doo and a Game of Thrones dragon; basketball stars like Chris Paul and Diana Taurasi are also set to appear.
All the Streets Are Silent (July 23)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Manhattan’s streets were alive with the energy of the intersecting cultures of skateboarding and hip-hop. In the documentary All the Streets Are Silent, director Jeremy Elkin seeks to showcase this period and display its lasting impact on pop culture and fashion. Elkin uses both archival footage and contemporary interviews to bring the era to life, while Eli Gesner, founder of the skateboard and fashion brand Zoo York, narrates.
The Last Letter From Your Lover (July 23)
Based on the Jojo Moyes book of the same name, The Last Letter From Your Lover tells the story of a young journalist in modern day London discovering the 1960s correspondence between socialite Jennifer Stirling (played by Shailene Woodley) and a writer who’s enamored of her (Callum Turner). When the contemporary journalist, played by Felicity Jones, plots out the blossoming love affair and discovers that an unexpected rift separated them, she embarks on a mission to bring the two back together, 50 years later.
Old (July 23)
M. Night Shyamalan returns this summer with Old. The title refers to a story in which a vacationing family lounging on a secluded beach is shocked to find themselves rapidly aging; think a reverse Cocoon or a horror version of Big. Old stars Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps, and is reportedly inspired by a graphic novel titled Sandcastle. Shyamalan’s career has been marked by many swings in quality, including among his last few films, but you can always count on him to tell an imaginative, entertaining story.
The Green Knight (July 30)
Those looking to fill a Game of Thrones-sized hole in their hearts should be excited by The Green Knight. Writer and director David Lowery adapts the classic medieval legend of Sir Gawain, with Dev Patel starring as King Arthur’s fearsome nephew. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the A24 film is filled with beheadings, daring quests, chivalric romances, a creaky orchestral score and plenty of beautiful chainmail.
Stillwater (July 30)
Matt Damon takes the lead in this crime drama, Stillwater, written and directed by Spotlight filmmaker Tom McCarthy. Damon plays American Bill Baker, a blue collar, oil rig worker who goes to France after his estranged daughter, played by Abigail Breslin, is imprisoned there for murder. In a fish-out-of-water tale, Bill takes up a mission to exonerate her, while navigating a new life in a foreign country.
The Suicide Squad (Aug. 6)
The dark side of the DCU continues this summer with The Suicide Squad (not to be confused with 2016’s Suicide Squad). This sequel to the 2016 box office success/critical disappointment went through several directors before finally landing on James Gunn, beloved by many Marvel fans for directing the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Though set in the same universe, The Suicide Squad, which will also stream on HBO Max, features an almost completely new Squad of super-powered villains, forcibly enlisted to save the world from an existential threat. Say goodbye to Will Smith’s Deadshot and Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress, but say hello to Idris Elba’s Bloodsport, John Cena’s Peacekeeper and Sylvester Stallone lending his voice to King Shark. And fans will surely rejoice at the return of Margot Robbie, once again playing the devilish and delightful Harley Quinn.
Coda (Aug. 13)
This coming-of-age drama was a hit at this year’s Sundance; it follows a teenager (Emilia Jones) torn between musical aspirations and a devotion to helping her deaf family and their fishing business. The film arrives a year after Sound of Metal dealt with similar themes and won two Academy Awards; Coda is likewise expected to be an awards season contender. Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, perhaps the most prominent deaf actor ever, and Eugenio Derbez co-star.
Free Guy (Aug. 13)
Ryan Reynolds as the sarcastic hero in a hyperviolent action-comedy film? Depending on who you ask, that sounds like a derivative retread or box office gold. In this non-Deadpool film, Reynolds plays a bank teller who realizes he’s just a bit character in someone else’s video game. He decides to break out of his cyclical life and become the hero himself. Lil Rel Howery, Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi co-star.
Respect (Aug. 13)
This is the second Aretha Franklin biopic project of 2021. The first, National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha, received some positive reviews but was excoriated by Franklin’s family, who said they were cut out of the production process. This upcoming film features Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul, and has the family’s blessing: “the ‘ONLY’ person my mother was in favor of for the movie was JENNIFER HUDSON. Period,” Aretha’s son Kecalf Franklin wrote on Facebook last year. The film follows three decades of Franklin’s life, including her teenage pregnancies, early-career struggles and eventual breakthrough.
Paw Patrol: The Movie (Aug. 20)
Those canine police sure have their critics, but they’re also a multi-billion dollar business with countless pint-sized fans around the world. The voice cast of the franchise’s first feature film includes Kim Kardashian and Jimmy Kimmel.
Beatles: Get Back (Aug. 27)
When the Beatles recorded songs for the album that would become Let It Be in January 1969, they were on the precipice of collapse; an accompanying 1970 documentary film revealed clashes between bandmates that would eventually boil over into irreconcilable differences. But those sessions still resulted in the creation of enduring classics like “The Long and Winding Road” and “Get Back”—and dozens of hours of newly unearthed footage reveal not just tension but deep camaraderie and friendship between four men who had taken on the world for more than a decade. Culled together by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, They Shall Not Grow Old), this new film shows the band carousing in the studio in color: play-fighting, dancing, singing jokingly through gnashed teeth and trying to eat the cameras.
Candyman (Aug. 27)
Few directors have kept audiences on the edge of their seats more frequently over the last five years than Jordan Peele. Following Get Out and Us, he returns as a producer and co-writer of director Nia DaCosta’s forthcoming sequel to the 1992 classic Candyman, which depicted murder in the housing projects of Chicago. This film takes place in the present day, after those towers have been torn down and replaced by condos during the course of gentrification. But when an artist who was terrorized by the Candyman as a child (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) moves in, he finds that the hooked man’s presence lingers.
He’s All That (Aug. 27)
He’s All That will continue the trend of gender-flipping remakes with the help of TikTok superstar Addison Rae in her first movie role. Over 20 years after She’s All That revealed how much one’s appearance can change by removing glasses and taking down hair, Rae’s character Padgett accepts the challenge of transforming the dorky student Cameron (played by Tanner Buchanan) from a lunk into hunk. And just to make sure that this reboot appeals to as many people as possible, She’s All That lead Rachael Leigh Cook will co-star as Padgett’s mom. Hopefully fans of the original will not be too distracted by the absence of Freddie Prinze Jr.
Reminiscence (Aug. 27)
What if you could pay to relive a cherished memory? And what if Hugh Jackman was the one to lead you through the experience? These are two questions that Reminiscence seeks to answer, in the upcoming sci-fi drama film which also serves as Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy’s directorial debut. This Black Mirror-esque story, in which climate change has claimed Miami, stars Jackman as an enterprising master of a perilous craft, until an unexpected encounter changes everything. It also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton and Daniel Wu.
The first feature in nearly a decade from French director Leos Carax (Holy Motors), this musical drama starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard will open the Cannes film festival in early July and stream on Amazon later in the summer. The actors play a Los Angeles couple, he a comedian and she a singer, whose daughter is characterized by some sort of mysterious intrigue. Sparks, the band featured in Edgar Wright’s new documentary described above, came up with the story and music for the film.
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed (TBA)
Most people would associate the first part of this upcoming documentary’s subtitle with the late, soft-spoken landscape artist Bob Ross. But “betrayal and greed”? The Netflix film from director Joshua Rofé sheds light on the life of the Joy of Painting host who helped countless others paint “happy little trees” on PBS for over a decade, but also on the story of how his name and all that went with it was “hijacked by once trusted partners.” Fans can only hope the film will preserve the sweet, soulful image of the master painter and patron saint of internet ASMR.
Summer 2021 is a big season for Lin-Manuel Miranda movies. In addition to In The Heights, Miranda lends his voice to Vivo, a singing cartoon kinkajou (a small rainforest mammal) who must travel from Havana to Miami to deliver a love song on behalf of his owner. Miranda wrote original songs for the film, while In the Heights and Hamilton music director Alex Lacamoire wrote the score. Gloria Estefan and Zoe Saldana lend their voices.
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Write to Peter Allen Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org