It’s 2021. Finally. If you’re reading this, it means you’ve hopefully gotten through the wreckage of last year unscathed and are ready for a brighter future. And if you’re also a movie lover, this certainly includes a trip (or 20) back to the cinemas.
Sure, theaters were technically open in some places last fall, but the moviegoing season has largely remained dormant since March 2020. Yet given good news about vaccines starting to become available, and an absolutely stacked 2021 movie release calendar, we have reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
Indeed, 2021 promises many of the most anticipated films from last year, plus new surprises. From the superhero variety like Black Widow to the art house with Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, 2021 could be a much needed respite. So below is just a sampling of what to expect from the year to come…
The Little Things
One of the year’s earliest high profile releases is also the first of WB’s film slate on HBO Max. The Little Things is a serial killer thriller in the old school mold. It also boasts a brutally talented cast that includes Denzel Washington and Rami Malek as the detectives, and Jared Leto as the killer. As the latest movie from John Lee Hancock (The Founder, The Alamo), this looks like the type of star-led seediness that used to dominate the multiplex.
Maclolm and Marie
Assassination Nation writer-director Sam Levinson returns for a decidedly stripped down and intimate character study about two people on the threshold of their lives changing–and perhaps splitting apart. With Zendaya and John David Washington in roles unlike anything we’ve seen the pair in before, they play a couple returning home after the premiere of Malcolm’s (Washington) first movie. He’s on the cusp of life-changing success as a director, but when confronted by Marie about past secrets and hard truths… the night takes a turn.
Judas and the Black Messiah
It’s kind of hard to wrap one’s head around the annual “Oscar race” in a year when little trophies don’t seem so damn important, but Warner Bros. feels strongly enough about this movie that it’s getting it into theaters and on HBO Max right in the thick of the pandemic-delayed awards season. And judging by the marketing, it’s bringing heat with it.
Shaka King directs and co-writes the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), who became the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and was murdered in cold blood by police in 1969. LaKeith Stanfield plays William O’Neal, a petty criminal who agreed to help the FBI take Hampton down. This promises to be incendiary, relevant material — and it’s almost here.
Lee Isaac Chung directs Steven Yeun–now fully shaking off his years as Glenn on The Walking Dead–in this semi-autobiographical film about a South Korean family struggling to settle down in rural America in the 1980s. Premiering nearly a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, Minari had a quick one-week virtual release in December, with a number of critics placing it on their Top 10 lists for 2020.
Its story of immigration and assimilation currently has a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics lauding its heart, grace, and sensitivity. A few of ours also considered it among 2020’s best.
Utilizing both actors and real people, director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Marvel’s upcoming Eternals) chronicles the lives of America’s “forgotten people” as they travel the West searching for work, companionship and community. A brilliant Frances McDormand stars as Fern, a woman in her mid-60s who lost her husband, her house, and her entire previous existence when her town literally vanished following the closure of its sole factory.
Zhao’s film quietly flows from despair to optimism and back to despair again, the hardscrabble lives of its itinerant cast (many of them actual nomads) foregrounded against often stunning–if lonely–vistas of the vast, empty American countryside.
I Care a Lot
A solid cast, led by Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Chris Messina, and Dianne Wiest, star in this satirical crime drama from director J. Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed). Pike plays Marla, a con artist whose scam is getting herself named legal guardian of her elderly marks and then draining their assets while sticking them in nursing homes. She’s ruthless and efficient at it, until she meets a woman (Wiest) whose ties to a crime boss (Dinklage) may prove too much of a challenge for the wily Marla. It was one of our favorites out of Toronto last year.
Anthony Hopkins gives a mesmerizing, and deeply tragic, performance as Anthony, an elderly British man whose descent into dementia is reflected by the film itself, which plays with time, setting, and continuity until both Anthony and the viewer can no longer tell what is real and what is not. Olivia Colman is equally moving as his daughter, who wants to get on with her own life even as she watches her father’s disintegrate in front of her.
We saw The Father last year at the AFI Fest and it ended up being a favorite of 2020; Hopkins is unforgettable in this bracing, heartbreaking work, which is stunningly adapted by first-time director Florian Zeller from his own award-winning play.
This constantly postponed sci-fi project has become one of those “we’ll believe it when we see it” films until it actually comes out. Shot nearly three and a half years ago by director Doug Liman, Chaos Walking has undergone extensive reshoots and was at one point reportedly deemed unreleasable.
Based on the book The Knife of Letting Go, it places Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Far From Home) and Daisy Ridley (The Rise of Skywalker) on a distant planet where Ridley, the only woman, can hear the thoughts of all the men due to a mysterious force called the Noise.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Longtime Walt Disney Animation Studios head of story, Paul Briggs (Frozen), will make his directorial debut on this original Disney animated fantasy, which draws upon Eastern traditions to tell the tale of a young warrior who goes searching for the world’s last dragon in the mysterious land of Kumandra. Cassie Steele will voice Raya while Awkwafina (The Farewell) will portray Sisu the dragon.
Coming 2 America
The notion of whether nostalgia-based properties are still viable has cropped up repeatedly in the last few years. However, streaming, which is where Coming 2 America finds itself headed post-COVID, makes golden oldies much safer. This sequel—based on a 32-year-old comedy that was one of Eddie Murphy’s most financially successful hits—sees Murphy back as Prince Akeem, of course, along with Arsenio Hall returning as his loyal friend Semmi.
The plot revolves around Akeem’s discovery, just as he is about to be crowned king, that he has a long-lost son living in the States (we’re not sure how that happened, but let’s just go with it). That, of course, necessitates another visit to our shores—that is, if Akeem and Semmi presumably don’t get stopped at the border. The film reunites Murphy with Dolemite is My Name director Craig Brewer, so perhaps they can make some cutting-edge social comedy out of this?
The King’s Man
This might be a weird thing to say: but has World War I ever seemed so stylish? It is with Matthew Vaughn at the helm.
An origin story of sorts for the organization that gave us Colin Firth and the umbrella, The King’s Man is a father and son yarn where Ralph Fiennes’ Duke of Oxford is reluctant about his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) joining the war effort. But they’ll both be up to it as the Duke launches an intelligence gathering agency independent from any government. It also includes Gemma Arterton, Matthew Goode, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as charter members.
Oh, and did we mention they fight Rasputin?
Godzilla vs. Kong
Here we are, at last at the big punch up between Godzilla and King Kong. They both wear a crown, but in the film that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have been building toward since 2014, only one can walk away with the title of the king of all the monsters.
Admittedly, not everyone loved the last American Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but we sure did. Still, Godzilla vs. Kong should be a different animal with Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) taking over directorial duties. It also has a stacked cast with some familiar faces (Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, and Ziyi Zhang) and plenty of new ones (Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza González, Danai Gurira, Lance Reddick, and more).
It’ll probably be better than the original, right? And hey with its HBO Max rollout, questions of a poor box office run sure are conveniently mooted!
No Time to Die
Nothing lasts forever, and the Daniel Craig era of James Bond is coming to an end… hopefully in 2021. In fact, delays notwithstanding, it’s a bit of a surprise Craig is getting an official swan song with this movie after the star said he’d rather “slash his wrists” before doing another one. Well, we’re glad he didn’t, just as we’re hopeful for his final installment in the tuxedo.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga is a newcomer to the franchise, but that might be a good thing after how tired Spectre felt, and Fukunaga has done sterling work in the past on True Detective and Maniac. He also looks to bring the curtain down on the whole Craig oeuvre by picking up on the last movie’s lingering threads, such as 007 driving off into the sunset with Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, while introducing new ones that include Rami Malek as Bond villain Safin and Ana de Armas as new Bond girl Paloma. Yay for the Knives Out reunion!
Not to be deterred by the relative failure of Sony’s Monster Hunter in theaters at the tail end of 2020, Warner Bros. is giving this venerable video game franchise another shot at live-action cinematic glory after two previous tries in the 1990s. Director Simon McQuoid makes his feature debut while the script comes from Dave Callaham (Wonder Woman 1984, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) and the cast includes a number of actors you’ve seen in other films but can’t quite place.
The plot? Who knows! But we’re guessing it will feature gods, demons, and warriors battling for control of the 18 realms in various fighting tournaments. What else do you want?
A Quiet Place Part II
The sequel to one of 2018’s biggest surprises, A Quiet Place Part II comes with major expectations. And few may hold it to a higher standard than writer-director John Krasinski. Despite (spoiler) the death of his character in the first film, Krasinski returns behind the camera for the sequel after saying he wouldn’t. The story he came up with apparently was too good to pass up.
The film again stars Emily Blunt as the often silenced mother of a vulnerable family, which includes son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds). However, now that they know how to kill the eagle-eared alien monsters who’ve taken over their planet, the cast has grown to include Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou. While the film has been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, trust us that it’ll be worth the wait. Is it finally time for… resistance?
Last Night in Soho
Fresh off the success of 2017’s Baby Driver (his biggest commercial hit to date), iconoclastic British director Edgar Wright returns with what is described as a psychological and possibly time-bending horror thriller set in London. Whether this features Wright’s trademark self-aware humor remains to be seen, but since the film is said to be inspired by dread-inducing genre classics like Repulsion and Don’t Look Now, he might be going for a different effect this time.
The cast, of course, is outstanding: upstarts Anya Taylor-Joy (Queen’s Gambit) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) will face off with Matt Smith (Doctor Who), and British legends Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp. And the truth is we’re never going to miss one of Wright’s movies. Taylor-Joy talked to us here about finding her 1960s lounge singer voice for the film.
In the film, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is on the run after burning her bridges with the U.S. government and UN. This brings her back to the spy games she thought she’d escaped from her youth, and back in the orbit of her “sister” Yelena (Florence Pugh). Old wounds are ripped open, old Soviet foes, including David Harbour as the Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz as Nat and Yelena’s girlhood instructor, are revealed, and many a fight sequence with minimal CGI will be executed.
How’s that for a real start to Phase 4? Of course that’s still assuming this comes out before The Eternals after it was delayed, again, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chris Rock has co-written the story for a new take on the Saw franchise. Never thought we’d write those words! The fact that it also stars Rock, as well as Samuel L. Jackson, is likewise head-turning. It looks like they’re going for legitimate horror with Darren Lynn Bousman attached to direct after helming three of the Saw sequels, and its grisly pre-COVID trailer from last year.
Hopefully this will be better than most of the franchise that came before, and given the heavily David Fincher-influenced tone of the first trailer, we’re willing to cross our fingers and play this game.
What would you do if you discovered that you were just a background character in an open world video game—and that the game was soon about to go offline? That’s the premise of this existential sci-fi comedy from director Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum series and as an executive producer and director on Stranger Things. Ryan Reynolds stars as Guy, a bank teller who discovers that his life is not what he thought it was, and in fact isn’t even real—or is it? We’ve seen a preview of footage, so we’d suggest you think Truman Show, if Truman was trapped in Grand Theft Auto.
Just when you thought this never-say-die franchise had shown us everything it could possibly dream up, it ups the stakes one more time: the ninth entry in the Fast and Furious saga (excluding 2019’s Hobbs and Shaw) will reportedly take Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his cohorts into space as they battle Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena, making a long-overdue debut in this series). Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Helen Mirren, and Charlize Theron all also return, as does director Justin Lin, who took a two-film break from his signature series. Expect to see the required physics-defying stunts, logic-defying action and even more talk about “family” than usual.
Since Disney has already made an animated 101 Dalmatians in 1961 and a live-action remake in 1996, it is apparently time to tell the story again Maleficent-style. Hence we now focus on the viewpoint of iconic villainess Cruella de Vil, played this time by Emma Stone. She’s joined in the movie by Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Mark Strong, with direction handled by Craig Gillespie (sort of a step down from 2017’s I, Tonya, if you ask us).
The story has been updated to the 1970s, but Cruella–now a fashion designer–still covets the fur of dogs for her creations. This is a Mouse House joint, so don’t expect it to get too dark, and don’t be completely surprised if it ends up as a premium on Disney+ in lieu of its already delayed theatrical release.
This sci-fi yarn from director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) stars Mark Wahlberg as a man experiencing what he thinks are hallucinations, but which turn out to be memories from past lives. He soon learns that there is a secret society of people just like him, except that they have total recall of their past identities and have acted to change the course of history throughout the centuries.
Based on the novel The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz, this was originally a post-Marvel vehicle for Chris Evans. He dropped out, and the combination of Fuqua and Wahlberg hints at something more action-oriented than the rather cerebral premise suggests. The film also stars Sophie Cookson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Dylan O’Brien.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
James Wan is already directing a new horror film this year so he’s stepping away from the directorial duties on the third film based on the paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). That task has fallen to Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), so expect plenty of the same Wan Universe touches: heavy atmosphere, superb use of sound, and shocking, eerie visuals.
Details are scarce, but the plot—like the other two Conjuring films—is taken from the true-life case of a man who went on trial for murder and said as his defense that he was possessed by a demon when he committed his crimes. That’s all we know for now, except that, intriguingly, Mitchell Hoog and Megan Ashley Brown have been cast as younger versions of the Warrens.
With the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot criticized (fairly) for its lack of imagination and castigated (unfairly as hell) for its all-female ghost-hunting crew, director Jason Reitman–finally cashing in on the family name by returning to the brand his dad Ivan directed to glory in 1984–has crafted a direct sequel to the original films.
Set 30 years later, Afterlife follows a family who move to a small town only to discover that they have a long-secret connection to the OG Ghostbusters. Carrie Coon (The Leftovers), Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) star alongside charter cast members Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and, yes, Bill Murray.
In the Heights
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway hit musical gets the big screen treatment (by way of HBO Max) from director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians). Set in Washington Heights over the course of a three-day heat wave, the plot and ensemble cast carry echoes of both Rent and Do the Right Thing. While a success on the stage—if not quite the cultural phenomenon that Miranda’s next show, Hamilton—it remains to be seen whether In the Heights can strike a chord with streaming audiences.
Continuing its current run of all-new, non-sequel original films started in 2020 with Onward and Soul, Pixar will unveil Luca this summer. Directed by Enrico Casarosa–making his feature debut after 18 years with the animation powerhouse–the film tells the story of a friendship between a human being and a sea monster (disguised as another human child) on the Italian Riviera. That’s about all we have on it for now, except that the cast includes Drake Bell and John Ratzenberger.
Pixar’s recent track record has included masterpieces like Inside Out, solid sequels like Toy Story 4, and shakier propositions like The Incredibles 2, but we don’t have any indication yet of what to expect from Luca.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Can anyone honestly say that 2018’s Venom was a “good” movie? A batshit insane movie, yes, and perhaps even an entertaining one in its own nutty way, but good or not, it made nearly a billion bucks at the box office so here we are.
Tom Hardy will return to peel more scenery down with his teeth as both Eddie Brock and his fanged, towering alien symbiote while Woody Harrelson will fulfill his destiny and play Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage, the perfected hybrid of psychopathic serial killer and red pile of vicious alien goo. Let the carnage begin!
Top Gun: Maverick
It’s been 34 years since Tom Cruise first soared through the skies as hotshot pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and he’ll take to the air once more in a sequel that also features Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, and more. The flying and action sequences from director Joseph Kosinski (who worked with Cruise on Oblivion) will undoubtedly be first-rate, but the studio (Paramount) has to be nervous after seeing one nostalgia-based franchise after another (Blade Runner, Charlie’s Angels, Terminator, The Shining) crash and burn recently.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
With Shang-Chi, Marvel Studios hopes to do for Asian culture what the company did with the groundbreaking Black Panther nearly three years ago: create another superhero epic with a non-white lead and a mythology steeped in a non-Western culture. Simu Liu stars in the title role as the “master of kung fu,” who must do battle with the nefarious Ten Rings organization and its leader, the Mandarin (the “real” one, not the imposter from Iron Man 3, played here by the legendary Tony Leung). Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) will open up a whole new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with this story and character, whose origins stretch back to 1973.
The Forever Purge
One day nearly eight years ago, you went to see a low-budget dystopian sci-fi/horror flick called The Purge, and the next thing you know, it’s 2021 and you’re getting ready to see the fifth and allegedly final entry in the series (which has also spawned a TV show). Written by creator James DeMonaco and directed by Everardo Gout, the film will once again focus on the title event, an annual 12-hour national bacchanal in which all crime, even murder, is legal. How this ends the story, and where and when it falls into the context of the rest of the films, remains a secret for now. Filming was completed back in February 2020, with the film’s release delayed from last summer by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
There are two types of folks when it comes to the original Space Jam of 1996: those who were between the ages of three and 11 when it came out, and everyone else. In one camp it is an unsightly relic of ‘90s cross-promotional cheese; in the other, it’s a sports movie classic. Luckily for kids today, NBA star LeBron James was 11 for most of ’96, and he’s bringing back the hoops and the Looney Tunes in Space Jam: A New Legacy.
The film will be among the many Warner Bros. pics premieres on HBO Max and in theaters this year, and it will see King James share above-the-title credits with Bugs Bunny. All is as it should be.
An Uncharted movie has been a long time coming. How long you might ask? Well, when the idea of an Uncharted movie first started getting bandied around Hollywood, the earliest game in the series just launched to rave reviews in the PlayStation 3’s first year. We’re now on PlayStation 5(!), and Mark Wahlberg has gone from angling to play young hero Nathan Drake to starring his wisecracking sidekick, Victor “Sully” Sullivan.
Still, we’re here with an Uncharted movie finally in the can. Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom), the video game movie stars everyone’s favorite web-head, Tom Holland, as Drake, a pseudo-modern day Indiana Jones. Whether it lives up to that older franchise’s storied legacy remains to be seen (especially given its gaming roots), but one thing’s for sure, Holland will get to show off more gymnast skill thanks to Uncharted’s famous parkour iconography.
The Tomorrow War
An original IP attempting to be a summer blockbuster? As we live and breathe. The Tomorrow War marks director Chris McKay’s first foray into live-action after helming The Lego Batman Movie. The film stars Chris Pratt as a soldier from the past who’s been “drafted by scientists” to the present in order to fight off an alien invasion overwhelming our future’s military. One might ask why said scientists didn’t use their fancy-schmancy time traveling shenanigans to warn about the impending aliens, but here we are.
Disney dips into its theme park rides again as a source for a movie, hoping that the Pirates of the Caribbean lightning will strike once more. This time it’s the famous Adventureland riverboat ride, which is free enough of a real narrative that one has to wonder why some five screenwriters (at least) worked on the movie’s script.
Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows) directs stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt down this particular river, as they battle wild animals and a competing expedition in their search for a tree with miraculous healing powers. The comic chemistry between Johnson and Blunt is key here, especially if they really can mimic Bogie and Hepburn in the similarly plotted The African Queen. If they can sell that, Disney might just have a new water-based franchise to replace their sinking Pirates ship.
The Green Knight
David Lowery, the singular director behind A Ghost Story and The Old Man & the Gun, helmed a fantasy adaptation of the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And his take on the material was apparently strong enough to entice A24 to produce it. Not much else is yet known about the film other than its cast, which includes Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Ralph Ineson, and Kate Dickie–and that it’s another casualty of COVID, with its 2020 release date being delayed last year. So this is one we’re definitely going to keep an eye on.
The Suicide Squad
Arguably the most high-profile of the WB films being transitioned to HBO Max, The Suicide Squad is James Gunn’s soft-reboot of the previous one-film franchise. It’s kind of funny WB went in that direction when the first movie generated more than $740 million, but when the reviews and word of mouth were that toxic… well, you get the guy who did Guardians of the Galaxy to fix things.
Elements from the original movie are still here, most notably Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, but the film promises to be weirder, meaner, and also sillier. The first points are proven by its expected R-rating, and the latter is underscored by its giant talking Great White Shark. Okay, we’ll bite.
Seedy erotic thrillers and neo noirs bathed in shadows and sex are largely considered a thing of the past—specifically 1980s and ‘90s Hollywood cinema. Maybe that’s why Deep Water hooked Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal) to direct. The throwback is based on a 1957 novel by the legendary Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), and it pits a disenchanted married couple against each other, with the bored pair playing mind games that leave friends and acquaintances dead. That the couple in question is played by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who’ve since become a real life item, will probably get plenty of attention close to release.
Respect is the long-awaited biopic of the legendary Aretha Franklin, with the Queen of Soul herself involved in its development for years until her death in August 2018. Authorized biopics always make one wonder how accurate the film will be, but then again, Aretha had nothing to be ashamed of. Hers was a life well-lived, her voice almost beyond human comprehension, and the only thing now is to see whether star Jennifer Hudson (Franklin’s personal choice) and director Liesl Tommy (making her feature debut) can do the Queen justice.
In some ways it’s surprising that it’s taken this long—28 years, notwithstanding a couple of sequels—to seriously revisit the original Candyman. Director Bernard Rose’s original adaptation of the Clive Baker story, “The Forbidden,” is still relevant and effective today. Back then, the film touched on urban legends, poverty, and segregation: themes that are still ripe for exploration through a genre touchstone today.
After her breathtaking feature directorial debut, Little Woods, Nia DaCosta helmed this bloody reboot while working from a screenplay co-written by Jordan Peele (Get Out). That’s a powerful combination, even before news came down DaCosta was helming Captain Marvel 2. And with an actor on-the-cusp of mega-stardom, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, picking up Tony Todd’s gnarly hook, this is one to watch out for.
The Beatles: Get Back
Peter Jackson seems to enjoy making films about what inspired him in his youth: The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, his grandfather’s World War I service informing They Shall Not Grow Old. So perhaps it was inevitable he’d make a film about the greatest youth icon of his generation, the Beatles. In truth, The Beatles: Get Back is a challenge to a previous documentary named Let It Be, and the general pop culture image it painted.
That 1970 doc by Michael Lindsay-Hogg zeroed in on the band’s final released album, Let It Be (although it was recorded before Abbey Road). Now, using previously unseen footage, Jackson seeks to challenge the narrative that the album was created entirely from a place of animosity among the bandmates, or that the Beatles had long lost their camaraderie by the end of road. Embracing the original title of the album, “Get Back,” Jackson wants to get back to where he thinks the band’s image once belonged.
Death on the Nile
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) became a surprise hit for director and star Kenneth Branagh. Who knew that audiences would still be interested in an 83-year-old mystery novel about an eccentric Belgian detective with one hell of a mustache? Luckily, Agatha Christie featured Poirot in some 32 other novels, of which Death on the Nile is one of the most famous, so here we are.
Branagh once again directs and stars as Poirot, this time investigating a murder aboard a steamer sailing down Egypt’s famous river. The cast includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright, Tom Bateman, Ali Fazal, Annette Bening, Rose Leslie, and Russell Brand. Expect more lavish locales, scandalous revelations, the firing of a pistol or two, and, yes, more shots of that stunning Poirot facial hair.
The Many Saints of Newark
The idea of a prequel to anything always fills us with trepidation, and re-opening a nearly perfect property like The Sopranos makes the prospect even less appetizing. But Sopranos creator David Chase has apparently wanted to explore the back history of his iconic crime family for some time, and there certainly seems to be a rich tapestry of characters and events that have only been hinted at in the series.
Directed by series veteran Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World), The Many Saints of Newark stars Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti (Christopher’s father), along with Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, and others. But the most fascinating casting is that of Michael Gandolfini—James’ son—as the younger version of the character with which his late dad made pop culture history. For that alone, we’ll be there on opening night… even if that just means HBO Max!
Could third time be the charm for Frank Herbert’s complex novel of the far future, long acknowledged as one of the greatest—if most difficult to read—milestones in all of science fiction? David Lynch’s 1984 version was, to be charitable, an honorable mess, while the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries was decent and faithful, but limited in scope. Now director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival) is pulling out all the stops—even breaking the story into two movies to give the proper space.
On the surface, the plot is simple: as galactic powers vie for control of the only planet that produces a substance capable of allowing interstellar flight, a young messiah emerges to lead that planet’s people to freedom. But this tale is dense with multiple layers of politics, metaphysics, mysticism, and hard science.
Villeneuve has assembled a jaw-dropping cast, including Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem, and if he pulls this off, just hand him every sci-fi novel ever written. Particularly, if relations between the director and WB remain strained…
Following the monstrous (pun intended) success of Venom, Sony Pictures is making its second attempt to mine Spider-Man’s universe of villains with the dark tale of Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), whose efforts to cure himself of a fatal blood disease turn him instead into a blood-drinking anti-hero. Morbius has been lurking around the Marvel Comics canon since 1971, often either sparring or teaming with Spidey, and it remains uncertain whether he’s got the cache to carry a movie on his own. In addition, can Leto wash away the bad taste left behind by his tattooed and grilled Joker in Suicide Squad?
2018’s outstanding reboot of the long-running horror franchise—which saw David Gordon Green (Stronger) direct Jamie Lee Curtis in a reprise of her most famous role—was a tremendous hit. So in classic Halloween fashion, two more sequels were put into production (the second, Halloween Ends, will be out in 2022… hopefully).
Curtis is back as Laurie Strode, along with Judy Greer as her daughter, Andi Matichak as her granddaughter, and Nick Castle sharing Michael Myers duties with James Jude Courtney. Kyle Richards and Charles Cyphers, meanwhile, will reprise their roles as Lindsey Wallace and former sheriff Leigh Brackett from the original 1978 Halloween (Anthony Michael Hall will play the adult version of Tommy Doyle). The plot remains a mystery, but we’re pretty sure it will involve yet another confrontation between Laurie and a rampaging Myers.
The Last Duel
What was once among the most anticipated films of 2020, The Last Duel is the historical epic prestige project marked by reunions: Ridley Scott returns to his passion for period drama and violence; Matt Damon and Ben Affleck work together for the first time in ages as both actors and writers; and the film also unites each with themes that were just as potent in the medieval world as today: One knight (Damon) in King Charles VI’s court accuses another who’s his best friend (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer). Oh, and Affleck plays the King of France.
With obviously harrowing—and uncomfortable—themes that resonate today, The Last Duel is based on an actual trial by combat from the 14th century, and is a film Affleck and Damon co-wrote with Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?). It’s strong material, and could prove to be one of the year’s most riveting or misjudged films. Until then, it has our full attention.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
While the idea of a Hasbro Movie Universe seems to be kind of idling at the moment, corners of that hypothetical cinematic empire remain active. One such brand is G.I. Joe, which will launch its first spin-off in this origin story of one of the team’s most popular characters. Much of his early background remains mysterious, so there’s room to create a fairly original story while incorporating lore and characters already established in the G.I. Joe mythos.
Neither of the previous G.I. Joe features (The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation) have been much good, so we can probably expect the same level of quality from this one. Director Robert Schwentke (the last two Divergent movies) doesn’t inspire much excitement either. On the other hand, Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) will star in the title role, and having Iko Uwais (The Raid) and Samara Weaving (Ready or Not) on board isn’t too bad either.
Based on a Marvel Comics series by the legendary Jack Kirby, the now long-forthcoming Eternals centers around an ancient race of powerful beings who must protect the Earth against their destructive counterparts (and genetic cousins), the Deviants. Director Chloe Zhao (fresh off the awards season buzzy Nomadland) takes her first swing at epic studio filmmaking, working with a cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Brian Tyree Henry, and more.
In many ways, Eternals represents another huge creative risk for Marvel Studios: It’s a big, cosmic ensemble film introducing an ensemble that the vast majority of the public has never heard of. But then, it’s sort of in the same position as Guardians of the Galaxy from way back in 2014, and we all know what happened there.
Obviously we’ve all seen musical biopics before—too many after Walk Hard broke the formula down—but Elvis promises to be something different. A new passion project from Baz Luhrmann, the filmmaker behind Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet, and The Great Gatsby, Elvis is expected to be a radically stylized account of Elvis Presley’s rise to all shook up fame. With an impressive cast that includes Tom Hanks as manager “Colonel” Tom Parker and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King, and with up-and-comer Austin Butler as the King of Rock and Roll himself, it should be a hell of a show.
Will Smith’s King Richard promises to be a different kind of biographical film coming down the pipe. Rather than being told from the vantage of professional tennis playing stars Venus and Serena Williams, King Richard centers on their father and coach, Richard Williams. It’s an interesting choice to focus on the male father instead of the game-changing Black daughters, but we’ll see if there’s a strong creative reason for the approach soon enough. The film is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men, Joe Bell).
Mission: Impossible 7
Once upon a time, the appeal of the Mission: Impossible movies was to see different directors offer their own take on Tom Cruise running through death-defying stunts. But then Christopher McQuarrie had to come along and make the best one in franchise history (twice). First there was Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and then Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Now McQuarrie and company have set up their own separate quartet of films with recurring original characters like new franchise MVP Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) across four films.
Thus enters M:I7, the third McQuarrie joint in the series and first half of a pair of incoming sequels filmed together. The first-half of this two-parter sees the whole crew back together, including Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, Ilsa, Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and CIA Director Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett). They’re also being joined by Hayley Atwell and Pom Klementieff, but really we’re all just eager to see what kind of insane stunts they can do to top the HALO jump in the last one.
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg has just two remakes on his directorial resume: Always (1989) and War of the Worlds (2005). While the former is mostly forgotten and the latter was an adaptation of a story that has been filmed many times, his upcoming reimagining of West Side Story will undoubtedly be directly compared to Robert Wise’s iconic 1961 screen version of this classic musical.
A few numbers in previous films aside, Spielberg has never directed a full-blown musical before, let alone one associated with such powerhouse songs and dance numbers. His version, with a script by Tony Kushner, is said to stay closer to the original Broadway show than the 1961 film—but with its themes of love struggling to cross divides created by hate and bigotry, don’t be surprised if it’s just as hard-hitting in 2021. Certainly would’ve devastated last year….
Sony has finally gotten to a “Spider-Man 3” again in their oft-rebooted franchise crown jewel (technically though this film is still untitled). That proved to be a stumbling block the first time it occurred with Tobey Maguire in the red and blues, but the company seems undaunted since Tom Holland’s third outing is expected to bring Maguire back—him and just about everyone else too.
With a multiverse plot ripped straight from the arguably best Spidey movie ever, 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, Holland’s third outing is bringing back Maguire, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, Jamie Foxx as Electro (eh), and probably more. It’s a Spidey crossover extravaganza that’s only missing a Spider-Ham. But just you wait…
The Matrix 4
Rebooting or continuing The Matrix series has always been a tough proposition. While the original Matrix film is one of the landmark achievements in science fiction and early digital effects filmmaking in the 1990s, its sequels were… less celebrated. In fact, directors Lily and Lana Wachowski were publicly wary about the idea of ever going back to the series. And yet, here we are with Lana (alone) helming a project that’s been a longtime priority for Warner Bros.
The Matrix 4 also brings back Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Jada Pinkett Smith. This is curious since Reeves and Moss’ characters died at the end of the Matrix trilogy—and also because Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus did not, yet he wasn’t asked back. We cannot say we’re thrilled about the prospect of more adventures in Zion after the disappointment of the first two sequels, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit we’re still curious to see the story that brought Lana back to this future.
The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson has a new film coming out. Better still, it is another live-action film. While Anderson’s use of animation is singular, it’s been seven years since The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we maintain is one of the best movies of the last decade. Anderson is working with Timothée Chalamet and Cristoph Waltz for the first time with this film, as well as several familiar faces including Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and, of course, Bill Murray.
The French Dispatch is set deep in the 20th century during the peak of modern journalism, it brings to life a series of fictional stories in a fictional magazine, published in a fictional French city. We suspect though, if Anderson’s last two live-action movies are any indication, it’ll have more than fiction on its mind–especially since it’s inspired by actual New Yorker stories, and the journalists who wrote them! We missed it in 2020, so here’s hoping it really does go to print in 2021!
Other interesting movies that may come out in 2021 but do not yet have release dates: Next Goal Wins, Don’t Worry Darling, Nightmare Alley, Antlers, Blonde, The Northman, Resident Evil, Red Notice, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Army of the Dead.