2021 summer movie preview: Our 25 most anticipated (mostly theatrical!) releases

·16 min read

The movies are back, baby. 

Theaters are slowly re-opening their doors and popping those kernels for the first time in more than a year as America begins its recovery from the devastating effects of the coronavirus. (There have been some sad cineplex casualties of the pandemic, notably the recent gut-punching announcement that ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters will close permanently.)

Summer Movie Preview
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros., Marvel/Disney, Universal, Paramount and MGM

Suffice to say, the theaters still in operation — many severely hurt from a year-plus out of business — will need a boost from its golden geese, the typically reliable summer movie blockbusters. And the good news is there are plenty in the pipeline (many of which were delayed from 2020) to bring butts back into the seats, with new releases from Marvel (Black Widow), DC (The Suicide Squad), Dom’s family (F9), John Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s family (A Quiet Place II, Jungle Cruise) and the Roots family (Summer of Soul).

Here are our most-anticipated major releases from May through August, most hitting theaters near you.

25. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Release date: July 23
Yo, Joe! The action-figure franchise takes another shot at big-screen success with an action-packed origin story for the team’s resident ninja warrior, Snake Eyes, played by Crazy Rich Asians heartthrob Henry Golding. Although the movie is billed as a solo adventure, other Joes — and Cobras — do make appearances, including Samara Weaving as Scarlett, Andrew Koji as Storm Shadow and Úrsula Corberó as the Baroness. Memo to newbies: knowing which masked ninja is Snake Eyes (black costume) and which is Storm Shadow (white costume) is half the battle.

24. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Release date: June 18
Its unwieldly movie title will no doubt make English teachers and grammar fans shudder, but this sequel to the 2017 sleeper The Hitman’s Bodyguard returns stars Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek, so consider Yahoo Entertainment’s Editor’s Interest Piqued. Plus its Britney Spears-soundtracked trailer, which finds Hayek luring Reynolds’s bodyguard out of beachside retirement, hits all the spots.

23. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Release date: June 4
James Wan has dabbled in the DC Extended Universe and the Fast and Furious universe, but let’s not forget that he’s also in charge of his own wildly successful cinematic universe. For eight years now, the director has overseen the Conjuring franchise, and its many spin-offs and side stories. Directed by Michael Chaves, The Devil Made Me Do It is the first mainline Conjuring tale since 2016, and brings back real-life paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) as they explore a notorious slice of supernatural history: the case of one Arne Cheyenne Johnson. Be afraid… be very afraid.

22. Jungle Cruise

Release date: July 30
It has been almost two years since co-stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt zinged each other with motion sickness and diarrhea claims at D23 when hyping their team-up, and now Disney’s latest theme park ride-to-big screen adaptation is finally ready to set sail. (The film was originally slated for Oct. 19, 2019 before it was delayed July 24, 2020, and then again another year because COVID.) Expect the Rock’s riverboat captain and Blunt’s scientist searching for the Tree of Life to be the polar opposite of Terrence Malick’s Oscar-nominated The Tree of Life.

21. The Tomorrow War

Release date: July 2
Between Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic Park, Chris Pratt has two ongoing mega-action franchises. He could be adding a third with The Tomorrow War, a passion project Pratt also helped develop and produce. He stars as Dan Forester, a high school teacher recruited by a group of time travelers to fight a global war against deadly aliens. Directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie), the sci-fi thriller co-stars Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons and Betty Gilpin.

20. Space Jam: A New Legacy

Release date: July 16
The debate over who is truly the NBA’s GOAT — Michael Jordan or LeBron James — has spilled over into the Looney Tunes-verse. James, who we do feel confident in saying is the better actor based on his hilarious appearance in Trainwreck, follows up Jordan’s 1996 favorite with this animated/live-action hybrid tip-off with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the “Tune Squad.” No word if there’s a Bill Murray cameo, but this one does have Don Cheadle.

19. BIOS

Release date: Aug. 13
A year ago in March, the announcement that Tom Hanks had contracted coronavirus stunned the world — and instantly made the pandemic feel “real” for many. Well, he's all better now and will be back on the big screen this summer with this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama. He stars as the last man on Earth, an inventor who builds an android to keep him and his dog company. Cue Wilson getting jealous.

18. Spiral

Release date: May 14
Sure, the Saw series felt like it had run its course with the release of eight films (and countless torture contraptions) over 14 years, beginning with 2004’s Saw and last seen with 2017’s Jigsaw. But the powers that be found an inspired way to recharge the murder machine with… Chris Rock as producer and star? The comedy favorite plays a Metro City detective being taunted by a Jigsaw copycat killer targeting law enforcement. Samuel L. Jackson costars.

17. Army of the Dead

Release date: May 21
Zack Snyder leaves Metropolis and Gotham City in the rearview and heads for Las Vegas like a zombie bat out of hell. For his first creature feature since 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, the Justice League director assembles a crack team of mercenaries, led by Dave Bautista, to stage an impossible heist in the middle of a post-apocalyptic Sin City populated by hordes of the walking (and thinking) dead. It goes without saying that bloody mayhem ensues in spectacular Snyder fashion. And did we mention there’s a zombie tiger? Rumor has it this big cat answers to the name Martha.

16. The Sparks Brothers

Release date: June 18
It was only a matter of time until famed music nerd Edgar Wright made his own rock doc. And that time is… now. Premiering at this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival, The Sparks Brothers offers an exhaustive, and endlessly entertaining, two-and-a-half hour deep dive into the extensive back catalog of the two-man band consisting of brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Even if you don’t know them, everyone else in the music (and film) business clearly does. The movie’s roll call of 80 talking heads includes “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman and Pamela Des Barres, all of whom testify to the Sparks’s genius. This is a film that should definitely be played loud.

15. Cruella

Release date: May 28
Disney’s best villain (sorry, Scar) gets her own Mouse House blockbuster that finally reveals how she became the Dalmatian-napping icon people write awesome songs about. Oscar winner Emma Stone inherits a role previously played in live action form by Glenn Close, and brings her own sense of humor — and fashion — to the 1970s-set prequel, which finds a young Estella de Vil getting a job at an upscale fashion house run by Emma Thompson. We probably don’t have to tell you that the place quickly goes to the dogs.

14. Summer of Soul

Release date: July 2
The Roots' drummer and all-around purveyor or good music Questlove provided some of the few highlights of an otherwise disastrous Oscars as the telecast’s musical supervisor. Will he be there again next year as a nominee? The first-time filmmaker made a splash at January’s virtual Sundance Film Festival with this found footage doc about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, aka “Black Woodstock,” featuring lively and vividly filmed performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone and more, and deeply insightful commentary on the concert’s post-civil rights era setting.

13. Free Guy

Release date: Aug. 13
With a title that could also sum up how we’ll be feeling once fully vaxxed and out and about this summer, this original actioner also owns one of the season’s coolest premises: Ryan Reynolds plays a bank teller video game avatar known as a NPC (non-player character) who becomes sentient and decides to make himself the hero of the action surrounding him. Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Taika Waititi co-star.

12. Zola

Release date: July 2
Meet the first major film ever inspired by a Twitter thread. Maybe that sounds gimmicky, but according to early reactions from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where it premiered, Zola is a knockout. Based on a viral 148-tweet thread from 2015, the stylish A24 drama from director Janicza Bravo stars Taylour Paige (Boogie) as the eponymous Detroit waitress who goes on a twisted odyssey to Florida with Riley Keough’s trainwreck of a sex worker. The always phenomenal Colman Domingo, meanwhile, is drawing major buzz for his role as a hard-edged pimp named X.

11. Old

Release date: July 23
M. Night Shyamalan ditches the superhero antics of Glass, but stays in the comic book realm with Old — an adaptation of the 2013 graphic novel Sandcastle. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps play a middle-aged married couple who find themselves who begin to rapidly age while on a beach vacation with their rapidly growing kids (Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlan and Thomasin McKenzie). Spoiler alert: the twist ending is that they’re all still young at heart.

10. The Beatles: Get Back

Release date: Aug. 27
Peter Jackson remixes Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s long-unavailable 1970 documentary Let It Be — which chronicles the making of the Fab Four’s final album — into a new production that combines existing footage with previously unseen (and unheard) songs and jam sessions. The New Zealand director has promised that this version of Get Back will be more joyous than the previous release, pushing back against the longstanding impression that the lads were at each other’s throats during those final months. We’ve got a feeling this is going to be something special.

9. Luca

Release date: June 18
Set in the lush Italian Riviera, Pixar’s latest animated feature stars Jacob Tremblay as the titular teenage sea monster who has grown tired of life under the sea and wants to be where the people are. So with best buddy Alberto by his side, Luca ascends to the surface in human form, and sets sail on an awfully big adventure. Luca marks the feature-length debut of Enrico Casarosa, who previously helmed Pixar’s 2011 Oscar-nominated short, La Luna.

8. Respect

Release date: Aug. 13
Awards season literally just ended, but it could be heating right back up again with the release of Leisl Tommy’s biopic of the unequivocal Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The project is all the more promising considering who will be belting out hits like “Respect” and “Rock Steady”: Jennifer Hudson, the one-time American Idol sensation who won an Academy Award for her very first film performance, as Effie in the Supremes-inspired 2006 musical Dreamgirls. Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron and Mary J. Blige round out the cast.

7. CODA

Release date: Aug. 13
See above re: awards season starting over. We were among the masses singing the praises of this 2021 Sundance sensation, which sold to Apple TV+ for a record $25 million following a major bidding war. Sian Heder’s remake of the French-language La Famille Bélier centers on the musically talented child of deaf adults (CODA) Emilia Jones, who struggles to follow her passion for singing as her family relies on her for their New England fishing business. Groundbreaking deaf actress Marlee Matlin could earn her first Oscar nomination since winning in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God.

6. A Quiet Place II

Release date: May 28
We won’t see much of John Krasinski in front of the camera this time — you might remember his character died a hero’s death at the end of the 2018 monster hit A Quiet Place. But he was back in the director’s chair — and who knows, maybe playing a monster again — filming real-life wife Emily Blunt and their movie family in this highly anticipated sequel, originally delayed from last spring to this September, but graciously moved up by Paramount to May instead. Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou join in on the whispering.

5. F9

Release date: June 25
They’re doing it. They’re really doing it. They’re going to space this time. Or at least that’s what the first full-length trailer for Universal’s latest Auto Spectacular promises with its climactic shot of Ludacris and Tyrese reaching for the stars. Among the more exciting subplots: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious and Fast & Furious 6 director Justin Lin returns behind the camera for the latest fast-moving, star-studded ensemble that you also know will have you reliably tipsy if you drink every time they say “family” or “brother.”

4. Candyman

Release date: Aug. 27
As of late August, you’ll no longer have to head to your bathroom mirror if you want a closer look at Candyman. After a year-long delay, Nia DaCosta’s long-awaited remake of the 1992 horror favorite is finally arriving in theaters to scare you silly. Set in contemporary Chicago, the movie stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a visual artist who discovers the dark history of his gentrified neighborhood. The first trailer for Candyman teased the return of Virginia Madsen, and Tony Todd may just be back as well. But only if you say his name three times.

3. Black Widow

Release date: July 9
By the time it actually comes out (in both theaters and on Disney+), Marvel’s next superhero tentpole will have been delayed a total of three times and 14 months due to the pandemic. Thanks to WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we haven’t minded. That’s not to say we’re any less excited for Scarlett Johansson’s long overdue solo adventure, which also very likely could be a character torch-passing to Oscar-nominated upstart Florence Pugh. Factor in the buzz that Julia Louis-Dreyfus shot scenes for Black Widow, in which she was supposed to appear beforeher Twitter-breaking arrival in FAWS, and yeah, OK, we’re more excited than we thought.

2. The Suicide Squad

Release date: Aug. 6
Speaking of Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy guru James Gunn might have the most highly anticipated superhero flick of the summer with this DC retry, which the filmmaker signed on to direct while briefly in exile from the Mouse House. Hopes are high he’ll give DC its own deliriously fun GOTG-type team-up, and the early returns (meaning first trailer) sure look promising. Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, Idris joins the fray as Bloodsport, John Cena gets really into playing Peacemaker, and Sylvester Stallone voices King Shark. What else can you ask for?

1. In the Heights

Release date: June 11
It’s very likely that next year’s Oscar ceremony will feature an old-fashioned rumble between Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. Due respect to Tony and Maria, but we’re giving the edge to Usnavi and Vanessa. Early reaction to Chu’s film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton Broadway smash has been euphoric, and the trailers promise fantastical dance sequences that transform the city into a stage. You can bet that Chu isn’t going to throw away his shot at making In the Heights the kind of big-screen experience that brings moviegoers dancing back into the multiplex.

Also Opening

Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish make an unlikely duo in the Crystal-directed Here Today (May 7); David Oyelowo makes his directorial debut with the Stand by Me- and Goonies-esque throwback The Water Man (May 7); You better not try to steal from Jason Statham’s money truck in Wrath of Man (May 7); Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola) directs Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) and Andrew Garfield in Mainstream (May 7). Emilia Clarke and Jack Huston co-star in the crime thriller Above Suspicion (May 7); Angelina Jolie teams with Oscar-nominated writer-director Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) for Those Who Wish Me Dead (May 14); David Hogg and the Parkland survivors continue their case for gun control in Us Kids (May 14); The Killing of Two Lovers (May 14) is another tough marriage story; Glenn Close tries to save daughter Mila Kunis from 10 years of heroin addiction in Four Good Days (May 21); Natalie Morales directs the female teenage buddy comedy Plan B from the producers of Harold and Kumar (May 28).

Netflix’s Spirit Riding Free gets a feature-length upgrade and serious star power (Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore) with Spirit Untamed (June 4); It’s Gina Rodriguez vs. the Apocalypse in Netflix’s Awake (June 9); Pierce Brosnan is a veteran criminal caught up in a gold heist in The Misfits (June 11); James Corden’s pants-less bunny is back to wreak havoc on Domnhall Gleeson in Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (June 18); Before a December remake, a West Side Story legend gets the doc treatment, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (June 18); Dawn Porter's documentary, Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer, unearths new details about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre (June 18); Kevin Hart is a widower taking on Fatherhood on Netflix (June 25); Broad City’s Ilana Glazer co-wrote a horror movie about a fertility doctor (Pierce Brosnan) called False Positive (June 25); Justin Chon writes, directs and stars in Blue Bayou with Alicia Vikander (June 25); the Werewolves Within virtual reality game gets a live action movie adaptation (June 25); Lord and Miller produce an animated spin on the American Revolution featuring the voices of Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Olivia Munn, Andy Samberg and more with America: The Motion Picture (June 30).

The Purge just keeps going with The Forever Purge (July 2); Rebecca Hall discovers her deceased hubby's disturbing secrets in The Night House (July 16); Waves breakout Taylor Russell headlines a sequel to 2019’s Escape Room fittingly called Escape Room 2 (July 16); Selena Gomez is back! But Adam Sandler is not in Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (July 23); Spotlight director Tom McCarthy focuses on Matt Damon and Abigail Breslin in the family drama Stillwater (July 30). David Lowery tackles the Arthurian legend The Green Knight with Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton.

District 9 director Neill Blomkamp returns with supernatural thriller Demonic (Aug. 20); Maggie Q is the world’s most skilled contract killer opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton in The Protégé (Aug. 20). You better tell the kids, there’s a Paw Patrol: The Movie (Aug. 20); Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton and Hugh Jackman join forces for the sci-fi thriller Reminisce (Aug. 27). 1999’s She’s All That gets a gender flip starring Addison Rae in… He’s All That (Aug. 27).