18 Movies You Must See in 2021

Culture
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Last year was a rough one for Hollywood, with COVID-19 shuttering production for months and closing theaters in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. But there’s some light at the end of the tunnel in 2021, with most of the delayed films from last year finally making their debut in some form or another. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will be making a triumphant return, while long-awaited remakes and sequels will hit screens alongside a handful of awards season hopefuls. Here are 18 movies to keep on your radar this year.

1

Nomadland

Ever since its buzzy debut at the Venice Film Festival, Chloé Zhao’s based-on-real-life drama has been eagerly anticipated by cinema fans. Starring Frances McDormand in an Oscar-tipped performance, Nomadland follows the story of a woman who leaves her small-town life behind after a job loss. She sells most of her possessions, buys a van, and sets out to travel around the country. Struggling to find work on the road, she’s introduced to the nomad lifestyle and develops survival skills that redefine her attitude toward the world.

In theaters February 19.

2

The Father

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins. Need we say more? This likely Oscar contender and guaranteed tearjerker centers on an aging man (Hopkins) who is finally forced to overcome his pride and confront the memory loss he’s long been denying when his daughter (Colman) moves into his flat to take care of him. Described by critics as a devastating portrayal of dementia, The Father looks like tough but essential viewing.

In theaters February 26.

3

Coming 2 America

There are a dizzying number of sequels and remakes coming down the pike this year, but few are as intriguing as this sequel to the iconic 1988 rom-com. Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall reprise their roles as Prince Akeem Joffer and Semmi in the sequel, which sees the prince dealing with an unexpected personal crisis on the eve of his coronation as King of Zamunda. After discovering that he has a long-lost son in America, Akeem sets out to find him and fulfill his father’s dying wish.

On Amazon Prime March 5.

4

The Many Saints of Newark

Making a sequel—or in this case, a prequel—to a show as acclaimed as The Sopranos is a fraught prospect, but David Chase’s much-anticipated crime drama is unlikely to let fans down. Set in 1960s New York, The Many Saints of Newark delves into tensions between the Italian-American and Black communities, laying the groundwork for what’s to come in the show while also exploring Tony Soprano’s childhood. In a moving touch, the young Tony will be played by the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael Gandolfini (pictured on set, above), and the all-star cast also includes Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga.

On HBO Max March 12. Subscribe

5

No Time to Die

Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as 007 is intriguing for a number of reasons, even if you’re not typically a Bond person—chief among them the fact that Phoebe Waller-Bridge worked on the script. Given the long history of thinly veiled chauvinism baked into this franchise, the idea of Waller-Bridge getting her teeth into Bond is hard to resist. Set five years after the events of Spectre, No Time To Die begins with Bond coming out of retirement to face down Rami Malek’s villain, described as “a danger the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

In theaters April 2.

6

A Quiet Place Part II

John Krasinski’s hit horror movie A Quiet Place won over audiences three years ago with a deceptively simple yet haunting premise: What if making any sound at all could get you killed? This sequel sees Emily Blunt reprising her role as the newly widowed Evelyn Abbott, who must continue fighting to protect her children from mysterious sound-seeking monsters in a post-apocalyptic world. Cillian Murphy joins the cast, while Krasinski will return in flashback form.

In theaters April 23.

7

Black Widow

8

Free Guy

This sci-fi comedy sounds kind of like a gaming-themed take on The Truman Show. Ryan Reynolds stars as a bank teller who gradually begins to suspect that the world around him is less than real. Sure enough, he discovers he’s a “non-player character” (i.e. background) in a video game called Free City—and as if that weren’t bad enough news, the game is about to go offline. Jodie Comer co-stars as Milly, a player character in the game who teams up with Reynolds’ Guy to try and save their virtual world.

In theaters May 21.

9

Cruella

This origin story promises to do for Cruella De Vil what Maleficent did for the Sleeping Beauty villain. Emma Stone plays the iconic 101 Dalmatians baddie in what’s described as a crime comedy. Set in 1970s London, the movie finds Cruella working as a fashion designer (natch) when she develops an obsession with dog skins. Welp.

In theaters May 28.

10

In the Heights

The debut of Hamilton on Disney+ was a much-needed bright spot in the garbage year that was 2020, so the long-awaited release of the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical couldn’t be more welcome. Directed by Crazy Rich Asians’ Jon M. Chu, In The Heights takes place in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights, where Miranda grew up, and follows a bodega owner (Anthony Ramos) torn between two futures. Should he stay in America, or move to the Dominican Republic, where he just inherited a fortune?

In theaters and on HBO Max June 18.

11

Zola

Can you even believe it’s only been five years since the Zola Twitter thread went viral? Time has lost all meaning—but the good news is, if you need a refresher on this absolutely wild saga, the movie adaptation is finally hitting screens this year. The thread written by Aziah ‘Zola’ Wells recounts what happens after Zola befriends a woman named Jessica while serving her at Hooters. Jessica persuades Zola to road trip from Detroit to Tampa in order to make money stripping, and things…do not go entirely to plan. Taylour Paige stars as Zola, along with Riley Keough as Jessica and Nicholas “Cousin Greg” Braun as Jessica’s dimwitted boyfriend.

In theaters June 30.

12

Space Jam: A New Legacy

If the concept of a sequel to the 1996 cult comedy Space Jam doesn’t grab you, maybe LeBron James making his lead debut will. The basketball superstar memorably played himself in Trainwreck back in 2015, and this time he’s starring as himself. According to the plot synopsis, A New Legacy will see James and his son making a fateful trip to the Warner Bros. studio lot, where they end up trapped in a digital world with the Looney Tunes. Entertaining movie sequel or overly meta exercise in milking IP to death? You be the judge!

In theaters and on HBO Max July 16.

13

Candyman

No matter how many times you said his name (kidding, please don’t do that), the long-awaited Candyman sequel did not show up in 2020. But this Jordan Peele-produced, Nia DaCosta-directed follow-up to the 1992 horror classic is finally coming in 2021. It stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony, the grown-up version of the baby who was kidnapped by the Candyman in the prior movie and rescued by Helen Lyle. Twenty-eights years later, Anthony has moved on—until a chance encounter unveils the horrific truth of his past.

In theaters August 27.

14

The Eternals

After Black Widow, Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue later in 2021 with Eternals. Led by an ensemble cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, and Richard Madden, the movie follows a race of immortal aliens who’ve lived undercover among humans for centuries, but have to come out of hiding and join forces to defend Earth from their ancient enemies.

In theaters November 5.

15

Dune

Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s hugely influential sci-fi novel was already one of the most feverishly anticipated movies of 2020, even before the coronavirus pandemic delayed it along with so many other blockbusters. It’s not easy to pithily summarize Dune, but the saga depicts a universe in which the ownership of planets is divided up among noble families, inspiring plenty of power struggles. Oscar Isaac stars as a nobleman in charge of a brutal and treacherous desert planet. Alongside his son (Timothee Chalamet) he must protect his territory in an intergalactic battle and oversee the mining of a powerful spice that gives people superpowers.

In theaters and on HBO Max October 1.

16

West Side Story

Blending the romantic melodrama of Romeo and Juliet with the energizing thrills of a Broadway show, West Side Story is exactly the kind of escapism we could all use in 2021. Adapted from the iconic musical, the movie follows the passionate but ill-fated love affair between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), whose ties to rival New York street gangs threaten to tear them apart. With Steven Spielberg at the helm and Pulitzer-winning scribe Tony Kushner (Angels in America) writing the script, this big-screen take on the Sharks and the Jets is bound to be worth the wait.

In theaters December 20.

17

The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s latest off-kilter comedy takes place at the European bureau of a Kansas newspaper and chronicles a series of separate but interconnected stories from the magazine’s final issue, all set in a fictional French city. Described as a “love letter to journalists,” the film brings together a number of Anderson regulars including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Tilda Swinton.

TBD 2021.

18

Cinderella

This isn’t your grandmother’s Cinderella. Directed by Pitch Perfect’s Kay Cannon, this musical reimagining stars Camila Cabello in the title role and will offer a bold new take on the beloved fairytale about a mistreated orphan granted one wish. That wish, for starters, will be granted by fairy godparent Billy Porter, and if that’s not enough to get you on board then I simply don’t know what to tell you. Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, and James Corden also star.

TBD 2021.

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