What once was a simple task has become a Herculean undertaking in the time of COVID. While that statement can apply to just about anything, in this context I’m talking about projecting which movies will come out in 2021. Had I done this article a year ago, it would likely have included a large number of films that will populate this list. So many films got pushed, and many more still could this year, that a most anticipated list is purely guess work. Regardless, we soldier on. Here are some of the most exciting titles slated for release in 2021:
The Sure Things:
To ease our way in, let’s begin with some movies that I’ve seen and can vouch for. This first group all got 2020 qualifying runs, but have scarcely been seen outside of festival releases or very limited theatrical runs.
Nomadland - February 19th
When Nomadland gets its wide release, make time to seek it out. The film is achingly beautiful, softly speaking to the working class of the United States. Frances McDormand is incredible as Fern, a house-less worker traversing the country in her van.
Director Chloe Zhao allows her camera to drift onto the real life nomads that populate the screen with Fern, giving them space to share their experiences. Never does Nomadland look upon these folks with pity or define them by what they lack.
The Father - February 26th
A gem of the festival circuit, The Father has been generating buzz since early last year. Anthony Hopkins is tremendous as a man whose grip on reality is slowly being torn away by dementia. But make no mistake, the carefully constructed drama is much more than an acting showcase. In adapting his own play, Florian Zellner puts viewers into the mind of someone battling memory loss.
Minari - February 12th
The most genuine piece of Americana released in 2020, Minari follows the successes and struggles of a Korean-American family as they relocate from California to Arkansas and start a farm. Lee Isaac Chung imbues his film with such empathy for each character and their competing interests. It’s a masterful film that has a deeper understanding of the American dream than anything I’ve seen.
Blockbusters were among the first films to abandon the calendar in 2020. Their massive budgets and earnings potential at the box office all but necessitate theatrical releases. With vaccines expected to allow theatergoing again at some point this year, we’ll likely see a flood of backlogged studio tent poles hit screens this year.
Any of the 7 Superhero Movies on the Calendar
2020, for all its faults, gave us a much needed reprieve from the big MCU movies that tend to suck up all the oxygen in film circles. In their place has been a nauseating amount of casting rumors about Spider-Man 3 so, if just to end that cycle, new super flicks will be refreshing.
And for diehard fans of the comic book genre, 2021 has it all. Marvel is putting out 4 titles, starting with the long awaited Black Widow. Sony has its own slate of Spider-Verse live action films. The one superhero movie that catches my eye is The Eternals, Chloe Zhao’s first foray into studio filmmaking featuring a diverse cast and a plot reportedly centered on a lesbian relationship. If this is the start of Marvel telling new stories from different perspectives under the watch of exciting indie directors, count me in.
No Time to Die - April 2nd (Maybe)
Daniel Craig’s 007 just keeps staving off death as No Time To Die has been pushed more times than almost any scheduled film. As of now, the latest in the Bond franchise has a release date in early April but even that may be in peril.
Whenever No Time to Die does release, it should provide a fresh take on a film series that has sought to branch out a bit in this iteration. Helmed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, Maniac,) the new Bond should be as stylized as we’ve seen during Craig’s tenure.
The Tom Cruise Duo
Tom Cruise, now 58 years old, isn’t planning to give up his action star status anytime soon. He’s still doing all his own stunts and captivating audiences. Mission Impossible: Fallout was one of the best action films of recent memory and now both director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise are returning for M:I 7. We don’t know much beyond the film being a continuation of the story started in Fallout, but with McQuarrie behind the camera we have good reason to be hopeful.
It’s more than just M:I action for Cruise in 2021 as this year will also bring a long awaited sequel to Top Gun. Not too much is known yet, but the original is so beloved by so many folks that it’s hard not to be excited about Top Gun: Maverick.
Dune - October 1st
No matter what Dune actually ends up being it will just be nice to finally see the movie that has generated so much discussion over the last couple years. The cast is obviously impressive, the source material brings it’s own rabid fan base, as does director David Villeneuve. I get the sense that we will be talking about Dune long after even its release date.
The Old Reliables:
Here’s one category that didn’t suffer during a pandemic stricken 2020. We may have been without the usual blockbusters, but we still got major films from David Fincher, Sofia Coppola and Steve McQueen, among others. This year will be no different. Although we likely wont know for certain all the big name directors releasing this year until festival season, but we know a few already.
The French Dispatch - TBD 2021
Wes Anderson’s first live action film since The Grand Budapest Hotel back in 2014, The French Dispatch has been hotly anticipated since we first heard casting rumors back in 2019. Joining Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Owen Wilson are newcomers like Timothee Chalamet, Christopher Waltz and Kate Winslet.
If the all star cast isn’t enough, the trailer seems to show Anderson at his most stylistic. He’s one of the few directors that can consistently deliver a unique cinematic experience so it’s no wonder that Disney/Searchlight is saving The French Dispatch for a proper theatrical release.
Last Night in Soho - April 23rd
Another director with a style all his own, Edgar Wright is back with his first film since 2017’s Baby Driver. We don’t have much concrete information about Last Night in Soho, but the one-two punch of rising stars Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) is tantalizing on its own.
If Wright’s previous work is any indication, Last Night in Soho should be fast-paced and fun, with a story to match. Coming off Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver, it should be safe to assume a kickass soundtrack to go with the 1960s setting of Wright’s new horror/thriller.
West Side Story - December 10th
Ready Player One may not have lived up to expectations, but it’s tough to bet against Steven Spielberg. The prolific director has helmed more mega hits than any filmmaker of the last few decades. Despite his most iconic films — Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark — coming a generation ago, a new Spielberg film is still an event. The Post was nominated for Best Picture only 3 years ago.
West Side Story is Spielberg’s splashiest title in a long time. A remake of the 1961 musical by the same name, the film looks poised to be a major Oscar contender. It’s also notable in that it’s a big movie musical from a prestigious director. Those have been few and far between in recent years, but the rabid response to 2016’s La La Land shows that there is an appetite for the genre when done well.
The Promising Filmmakers:
When we look back on any given year, some of the most exciting filmmaking comes from rising stars. Barry Jenkins broke through with his sophomore effort Moonlight, Greta Gerwig’s revelation of a film Lady Bird was her second time behind the camera. Here are a few films that could prove to be breakouts for their up and coming directors.
Zola - June 30th
It’s been 4 years since Janicza Bravo made her feature debut with Lemon. While her first film was divisive in its reception, almost all who saw it agreed that it showed a distinct directorial flare. After some time off and a directing credit on the critically acclaimed Mrs. America, Bravo is back with Zola.
Possibly the first film based on a twitter thread, Zola brings the star power with Taylor Paige (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road). The story looks like a wild ride road trip movie that will really benefit from a singular directorial lens. Those who have seen it on the festival circuit indicate that Zola is one to get hyped for this year.
Candyman - TBD 2021
This one has been on the radar for cinephiles for a long time. Nia DaCosta made a splash with her indie darling Little Woods back in 2018. That debut left such an impact that it landed her both a reboot of Candyman and the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel.
Being one of the early casualties of COVID means we actually have seen a teaser from Candyman. By all indications DaCosta has brought the same strong thematic work that made Little Woods work and taken it to the next level with a bigger horror budget.
King Richard - November 19th
Another director poised to level up after an impressive indie debut is Reinaldo Marcus Green. His 2018 police drama Monsters and Men was not widely seen but received consistent praise. He has taken that success and now is poised for a major breakthrough with King Richard.
The film details the early lives of Venus and Serena Williams, with a focus on the tutelage of their father. With all the weight of Warner Brothers behind it and Will Smith set to star, King Richard could have its sights set on an Oscar run.
These are just a few of the interesting titles scheduled for release in 2021. If last year taught us anything, its that we never know for sure what is coming our way. Let’s get excited for some of these titles, regardless of when they arrive and keep our eyes peeled for some hidden gems. What 2021 film are you most looking forward to?