It may not mean much, but 2020 has officially been put to rest and the cinematic world is on its way to recovery. The coronavirus that completely altered the industry, exacerbated a change in viewing habits that was already happening for many of us, and—through a lack of governmental aid—influenced the (already shaky) balance between studios and theaters is finally seeing vaccines roll out. HBO Max may still be getting everything from Warner Bros. on the same day their films hit theaters, but aside from that, most of us are happily looking forward to a time—perhaps further in 2021’s future than we’d like to think—when we can safely return to movie theaters for the communal big-screen experience that made us love movies in the first place. What all that amounts to is that, yes, it’s easy to get excited when looking at the list of movies on their way in 2021.
It’s even easier when you realize that many of the movies that were supposed to wow us last year played release date hopscotch until landing in 2021. There’re lots to choose from, even if we won’t be touching on a few films, like Minari and Nomadland, that got minor virtual releases in 2020 (enough to qualify them for our Best of the Year list) and will be going wide in 2021. Suffice to say, you should go see those great films and read what we’ve already written about them—including an interview with Minari helmer Lee Isaac Chung. We also won’t be touching exclusively on film fest selections (note, for example, our most anticipated list of Sundance films for that kind of thing).
Take all the following release dates with a hefty helping of salt, considering that 2020’s film slate moved around more than a found footage camera, but this list should help you keep an eye on all the fun things on their way (eventually) to cinemas and home entertainment systems everywhere. Here are Paste’s Most Anticipated Movies of 2021, listed by release date.
Release Date: March 19
Director: Tom Gormican
As is common with many Nicolas Cage films, the premise alone is enough to warrant the price of entry. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent sees Cage play a version of himself, hired to show up at a party for a mega-rich obsessive (Pedro Pascal). It’s a $1M paycheck and hey, Cage loves a paycheck. But then things take a turn in Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten’s bananas-sounding screenplay: The Cage stan is a drug kingpin and the actor will have to perform as characters from throughout his oeuvre in order to keep those he loves safe. Exactly the kind of One Thousand and One Nights riff one would expect from Cage and team. It’s a great premise but with talent that has a whole lot to prove behind it: Gormican, who will also direct, is mostly known for a pair of terrible movies (Movie 43 and That Awkward Moment) and a one-and-done wonder Fox show Ghosted. This could be nothing, but then again, it could be everything. This is the polarizing nature of a Nicolas Cage joint.
Release Date: April 2
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
I think I speak for everyone (including the people behind the film itself) when I say boy, I sure hope we get to see No Time to Die this year. Daniel Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond was, unfortunately, the pioneer case for coronavirus delays and has since operated as a bit of a barometer for the film industry at large. Fukunaga’s helming of the film is still an exciting draw, even if we’ve been bombarded by the movie’s promotion cycle for what seems like 007 years. What Craig brings to his most grizzled portrayal of James Bond’s most grizzled iteration is another exciting point for the film, as is whatever the franchise plans to do with Lashana Lynch’s mysterious 00 operative. It’s both an oddity and an indicator of what’s in store for the future of this franchise.
Release Date: April 23
Director: Edgar Wright
While writer/director Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver wasn’t quite up to his impressive standard, his string of parodies and Scott Pilgrim have earned him a free pass for a misstep or two. No need to worry: His latest looks just as excitingly stylish as his previous effort, with Anya Taylor-Joy (who’s just been piling success upon success) leading the way. Taylor-Joy’s ripe for a juicy leading role after dominating the small screen thanks to Queen’s Gambit, and Wright’s ripe to remind us why he’s such an exciting directorial draw in the first place. And did we mention there’s time travel back to ‘60s London? Drown us in stylish psychological horror, please.
Release Date: May 21
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Put Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in a Saw movie and yes, I’ll be intrigued. It’s impossible not to be. This oddball take on the torture-happy horror franchise sees Darren Lynn Bousman (Saws II-IV) returning to the helm and, apparently, some comedy come into the often unintentionally silly series. Rock is primed for a late-stage career shift, especially after leading the latest season of Fargo, and the world of Saw certainly needs a shot in the arm. As long as said arm doesn’t have to be, say, dissected to get to a key.
Release Date: July 23
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Fresh off of resurgent efforts on screens both big (ok, maybe Glass wasn’t close to the wild promise of Split) and small (Servant), M. Night Shyamalan is BACK. Probably. Hopefully. Leaving his strange superhero-verse behind for a weird beach mystery (as long as Old sticks relatively closely to its graphic novel source of Sandcastle), Shyamalan has an impressive cast lined up for this ensemble horror: Gael Garcia Bernal, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Aaron Pierre, Alex Wolff, Vicky Krieps, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Rufus Sewell, Embeth Davidtz and Emun Elliott.
Release Date: July 30
Director: David Lowery
The A24 film we’ve been waiting for seemingly as long as No Time to Die, David Lowery’s positioning of Dev Patel as Sir Gawain is just flat-out exciting. Already an ambitious and psychologically dense Arthurian legend, The Green Knight’s potential under Lowery’s eye is endless: A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints—heck, even Pete’s Dragon showed how Lowery can weave a narrative into something mythic. With Ralph Ineson, Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton all playing key parts in this tale that should be catnip for English majors and Patel devotees alike, there are plenty of opportunities for things to go right for this medieval indie. And we always need more medieval films that aren’t some dumb variation on the King Arthur origin.
Release Date: August 27
Director: Nia DaCosta
As a Chicago resident, Candyman has a special place in my horror-loving heart. Nia DaCosta’s savvy take on revitalizing the series was already an exciting prospect before star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II absolutely popped off in 2020. Tony Todd’s return and DaCosta’s modernization of the story into a gentrification allegory give this some exciting elements tied to its franchise, but the film will also be a fascinating showcase for the red-hot director to strut her stuff before leaping further into the big leagues with Captain Marvel 2.
Release Date: October 1
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Dune is cool and if you don’t agree, then I’m sorry: There’s nothing I can do for you. Sure, Denis Villeneuve’s take on the Frank Herbert sci-fi classic might be overly ambitious—especially as it plans to split the bulging plot straight down the middle. But it can’t be more ambitious than David Lynch’s take, and even that one (despite its many haters, who are all well within their rights) is a fascinating piece of work. Even if Timothée Chalamet doesn’t have the chops or the world is simply too impenetrable for the casual moviegoer, Villeneuve will almost certainly find an angle on Arrakis worth exploring. No matter what, things will get spicy.
Release Date: November 5
Director: Chloé Zhao
We saw what filmmaker Chloé Zhao could do with The Rider and Nomadland, the latter of which was our pick for the best film of 2020. Now she’s got a superhero film coming out of the Marvel machine. It’s not so much that we’re anticipating this being extremely good, but as being extremely fascinating. How does a filmmaker like that operate in the MCU? The Mouse House’s spandex division has recruited indie filmmakers before, but few with the chops of Zhao. With a diverse cast and a weird group of characters (more Jack Kirby strangeness than straightforward crime-fighting), maybe Zhao can change everything we know about superhero movies. Maybe.
Release Date: December 10
Director: Steven Spielberg
What, you think we’re not putting the new Steven Spielberg on this list? Sure, Steven’s choice in projects has been a little spotty as of late (sorry BFG and Ready Player One) and Ansel Elgort isn’t exactly the most inspiring choice of lead, but we’ll never, ever count the filmmaker out. Spielberg’s love of the original music and the interesting casting of new faces means this new version of West Side Story has a lot of promise—and it’ll come out at the end of 2021, which means we’ll all be very, very ready for a feel-good musical spectacular.
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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