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Upcoming Must-See Movies in 2021

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.

Woody Harrelson in Venom

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

June 25

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

July 2

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.

Marvel's Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

July 10

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

July 9

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

Space Jam: A New Legacy

July 16

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.

Tom Holland as Nathan Drake in Uncharted

Uncharted

July 16

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

July 23

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.

Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson in Disney's Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise

July 30

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

July 30

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

August 6

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.

Deep Water

August 13

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.

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Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in Respect

Respect

August 13

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.

Candyman

August 27

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

August 27

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

September 17

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.

James Gandolfini as Tony in The Sopranos

The Many Saints of Newark

September 24

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!

Dune

October 1

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…

Jared Leto as Morbius

Morbius

October 8

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?

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween (2018)

Halloween Kills

October 15

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

October 15

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.

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Ray Park as Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

October 22

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.

Marvel's Eternals Logo

Eternals

November 5

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.

Elvis

November 5

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.

King Richard

November 19

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).

Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise Filming Mission Impossible 7

Mission: Impossible 7

November 19

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 Remake Steven Spielberg

West Side Story

December 10

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….

Tom Holland as Spider-Man

Spider-Man 3

December 17

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

December 22

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

TBA

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.

About the author

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Joseph Ellis

Joseph is an experienced freelance journalist. He has worked as a journalist for a few online print-based magazines for around 3 years. He brings together substantial news bulletins from the field of Technology and US. He joined the Sunriseread team for taking the website to the heights.

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