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The 20 Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2021

·12 min read
Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast / Photos via Warner Bros/Disney/Marvel
Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast / Photos via Warner Bros/Disney/Marvel

It’s been a horror of a year. Over 3.5 million people have died from COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic (though estimates suggest it could be more than double that figure), nearly 500 million jobs were lost, and the prudent among us spent 14 months masked, social-distancing from our dearest friends and family, and mostly restricted to our homes—with the occasional swab shoved up our noses.

We’ve also been deprived of life’s many diverting communal pleasures, such as live music and the cinema, instead opting to binge-watch comfort television, scope out celebs flouting restrictions on Deuxmoi, or doomscroll the news. With theaters mostly closed, studios shelved the majority of their films, which is one reason why nobody watched the Oscars. But now, vaccinated movie lovers can finally lose themselves in exciting new films on the big screen—and do so maskless.

These are the most anticipated movies of the summer. And please: get vaccinated and watch responsibly.

CRUELLA (May 28)

Was the world really asking for a Joker-esque origin story centered on the Dalmatian-skinning Disney villainess? No. Is Cruella a cynical exploitation of Disney IP? Yes. Still, it’s plenty fun seeing Emma Stone and Emma Thompson try to outdo one another whilst competing for the fashion-designer crown in ‘70s London, Richard Jewell’s Paul Walter Hauser is a joy as Stone’s pranking accomplice, there’s a cute little dog with an eye patch who picks people’s pockets, and filmmaker Craig Gillespie (Fright Night) punctuates the shade with some fun stylistic flourishes.

A QUIET PLACE PART II (May 28)

This world-expanding sequel to John Krasinski’s 2018 hit—which grossed an astonishing $340 million against a $17 million budget—has had a strange trajectory. After holding its New York City premiere on March 8, 2020, the film’s release was postponed to May 28, 2021, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic (it will hit the streaming service Paramount+ 45 days later). So, it seems oddly fitting that this long-delayed post-apocalyptic film would be the one that got people’s butts back in theater seats, grossing over $60 million during the long Memorial Day weekend. Like its predecessor, A Quiet Place Part II is expertly acted—with Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou joining Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe—and directed to within an inch of its life by Krasinski.

Counterpoint: Disney’s Girlboss ‘Cruella’ Actually Rules

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (June 11)

Puerile men’s rights activists—including future president Donald Trump—doomed the all-female Ghostbusters reboot before it even hit theaters in 2016. So, following its lackluster performance, Sony went back to the drawing board, hiring Jason Reitman (son of Ivan, who helmed the original two films) to direct, and recruiting original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts (RIP Harold Ramis and miss you on screen, Rick Moranis). The plot centers on a family who moves to a farm in Oklahoma, and, after experiencing some supernatural happenings, discover their ties to the original Ghostbusters. Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, and J.K. Simmons will try their damnedest to prove that they too ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

IN THE HEIGHTS (June 11)

This one has a pretty bizarre backstory. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics to the Washington Heights-set Broadway musical, developed the project with Harvey Weinstein. After Weinstein was revealed to be a serial rapist, his producer credit was removed, and the project was sold to Warner Bros. for $50 million. Now, Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu’s vibrant movie-musical, following a Dominican bodega owner (Anthony Ramos) dreaming of—and singing and dancing his way to—a better life, will drop in theaters and on HBO Max.

LUCA (June 18)

Directed by newcomer Enrico Casarosa, who served as a story artist on Ratatouille and Up, and helmed the Oscar-nominated short La Luna, the latest from Pixar and Walt Disney Animation is inspired by his childhood in Genoa. Set in a seaside Italian town during the 1950s, it tells the tale of two young boys, best friends Luca and Alberto, who are really sea creatures from a community on the ocean floor. Featuring the voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Gaffigan, the film will stream exclusively on Disney+.

SUMMER OF 85 (June 18)

It’s not all studio tentpoles this summer. The latest from French auteur François Ozon (Swimming Pool) sees two attractive teenagers in coastal Normandy (Felix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin) find love—or is it lust?—over the course of a summer in 1985, thus illustrating the blithe beauty of gay romance before AIDS ravaged the LGBTQ community. Think of it like Call Me by Your Name sans the problematic Armie Hammer element.

F9 (June 25)

The Fast and the Furious films’ unquestionable peak was Fast Five, which transformed the hood-lifting, street-racing saga into an Italian Job-style heist movie, replete with The Rock and Gal Gadot. Those two are no longer part of Dominic Toretto’s crew, and plots and characters have been retconned so many times it’ll make your head spin faster than their tires, but these films still offer two-plus hours of escapist mayhem. Filmmaker Justin Lin, who resuscitated the franchise with Tokyo Drift and Fast Five is back at the helm here, and Vin Diesel and co. will square off against John Cena, who plays Dom’s very angry brother (plus more Helen Mirren!).

ZOLA (June 30)

The Twitter thread seen ‘round the world about a young Black stripper who gets caught up in a cross-country pimping-and-trapping nightmare is now a film, and, while Taylour Paige proves a formidable leading lady, Riley Keough’s messy sex worker Stefani and Colman Domingo as her violent pimp X steal the show—as does Succession’s Nicholas Braun as Stefani’s spooked white-trash boyfriend. Let the memes commence.

SUMMER OF SOUL (July 2)

Is there anything that Questlove can’t do? That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself after watching this exceptional documentary by The Roots’ bandleader, which will premiere in theaters and on Hulu. As the story goes, for over 50 years, footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival sat in a basement, never seeing the light of day. So, Questlove and his team manage to unearth the footage—and also explore why this extraordinary assemblage of talent, including Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone, hasn’t received the credit it deserves.

How Forest Whitaker Is Changing Hollywood

BLACK WIDOW (July 9)

It’s taken Marvel a comical amount of time to give Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow her own standalone film—they’ve been putting this project together for over a decade—but the $200 million blockbuster is finally coming (to theaters and Disney+ simultaneously). Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film sees Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) uncovering the secrets of the Red Room—the KGB’s assassin-training program. She’s joined in the globe-trotting adventure by Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, another Black Widow; David Harbour and Rachel Weisz as their parent figures; and of course, none other than Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.

SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (July 16)

When LeBron James took his talents to L.A., we knew he had his eye on more than bringing championship gold back to the Lakers. And, after his impressive acting debut as Bill Hader’s wingman in Trainwreck, he’s back with his first starring role in a film: a reimagining of Michael Jordan’s 1996 film Space Jam. Gone are Bill Murray and the music of R. Kelly (thank god); this time, LeBron must travel to a virtual universe and lead a team of Looney Tunes characters against the Goon Squad in order to save his son from the clutches of an evil computer algorithm, played by Don Cheadle. The Goon Squad is voiced by basketball stars Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Diana Taurasi, and Nneka Ogwumike, while Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Draymond Green, and Chiney Ogwumike make physical cameos. It will drop in theaters and on HBO Max.

OLD (July 23)

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is pretty hit (Split) or miss (Glass) these days, but his latest sounds promising. It centers on a family—Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlen, and Thomasin McKenzie—who venture to a secluded beach during their vacation, only to realize that it speeds up the aging process. It was filmed in the Dominican Republic in September 2020 during the pandemic and is Shyamalan’s first movie to not shoot at all in his Philadelphia hometown.

JUNGLE CRUISE (July 30)

Despite featuring the talents of The Rock, Emily Blunt, and Paul Giamatti, I didn’t care at all about this Disney theme park ride turned film until The New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan shared some details on Jesse Plemons’ Prince Joachim, Jungle Cruise’s unhinged German villain: “Jesse Plemons plays the villain in this and when I asked him about it he said, ‘God, I really went for it with that one. We’ll see what happens. It’s as big as I’m capable of being.” Sign me up.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (Aug. 6)

Let’s be real: the DC superhero universe has largely been a disaster, and the first Suicide Squad film was no exception. But with director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) at the helm, and his demented style of comedy on display in early footage, this bloody revamp looks surprisingly good. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn leads Task Force X to a South American island to destroy an evil Nazi-era prison, and she’s joined in the mission by Bloodshot (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Savant (Michael Rooker), Dick Hertz (Pete Davidson), and King Shark, a man-eating beast voiced by Sylvester Stallone. Oh, there’s also Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Peter Capaldi as superintelligent villain The Thinker, and Taika Waititi in a top-secret role.

CODA (Aug. 13)

I have yet to see Sian Heder’s Coda, about a hearing teenager (Emilia Jones) helping her culturally Deaf family run a fishing business in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but the feel-food film was all the rage at Sundance this year—winning the Grand Jury, Audience, and Best Director awards, while selling to Apple TV+ for a record $25 million. As our own Kevin Fallon wrote, “CODA really is a remarkable film, the kind that has musical sequences that would have garnered mid-screening rounds of applause from an excited festival audience, and so heartfelt it would have incited more than one group sobbing session on its way to a post-credits ovation.”

FREE GUY (Aug. 13)

The high-concept action-comedy from filmmaker Shawn Levy (Date Night) stars Ryan Reynolds as a man who’s a bank teller in an open-world video game when he suddenly gains the awareness that he’s in a program and attempts to become the hero. The film features Jodie Comer as a gun-shooting programmer who enters the game to help the teller, Taika Waititi as the game’s wacky publisher, and a bevy of A-list cameos from Hugh Jackman, Tina Fey, The Rock, and John Krasinski.

Why the Deaf Family Dramedy ‘CODA’ Became Sundance’s Biggest Sale Ever

RESPECT (Aug. 13)

Marking the feature directorial debut of Broadway’s Liesl Tommy, this biopic of legendary singer Aretha Franklin traces her life from the fraught early days in Memphis, Tennessee, to her rise up the ranks of the music industry and civil-rights activism. Jennifer Hudson will portray Aretha—in what feels like certain awards bait—while Forest Whitaker plays her domineering father C.L. Franklin, Marlon Wayans is her first husband/manager C.L. Franklin, Audra McDonald plays her mother Barbara Siggers Franklin, and Marc Maron features as her producer Jerry Wexler.

CANDYMAN (Aug. 27)

Directed by rising star Nia DaCosta, who will next helm Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels, and co-written by Oscar winner Jordan Peele, this sequel to the Candyman films of the ‘90s once again sees a demonic spirit—who appears when his name is said into a mirror five times—terrorizing the residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects. The film will surely make a star out of lead Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and also features Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and Tony Todd reprising his role as Candyman.

REMINISCENCE (Aug. 27)

Written and directed by Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy, this sci-fi thriller centers on Hugh Jackman as a man who allows clients to relive any memory they desire. When he falls for one of his clients (Rebecca Ferguson), who’s then accused of murder, he must infiltrate her memories and expose the truth. The film, which will be released in theaters and on HBO Max, also stars Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Wu, and Cliff Curtis.

THE BEATLES: GET BACK (Aug. 27)

Since leaving Middle Earth, filmmaker Peter Jackson has become fascinated by the process of colorizing and updating archival film through cutting-edge production techniques. For 2018’s They Shall Not Grow Old, he analyzed over 700 hours of World War I footage from the Imperial War Museum to create a moving portrait of what British soldiers endured in The Great War; and in The Beatles: Get Back, he’s uncovered 56 hours of never-before-seen footage that was captured for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary Let It Be, about the making of The Beatles’ final studio album. The film was made with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the Lennon and Harrison families, and will premiere in theaters and on Disney+.

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