Fall 2021 movie preview: Bond, Spidey and Gaga highlight 25 films we're most excited to see

<em>No Time To Die, House of Gucci, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dune </em>and <em>West Side Story.</em> (Photo: Everett Collection)
No Time To Die, House of Gucci, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dune and West Side Story. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Cue the “My fall plans / Delta variant” meme that’s been inescapable on social media in recent weeks.

There is a bounty of potential box-office blockbusters and buzzy Oscar contenders scheduled to arrive in theaters over the next four months (with a few others firmly entrenched on streaming platforms), but there’s no way we’ll say with any certainty that all of these movies will stick with their release dates. Such is the nature of theatrical film programming in the time of coronavirus. Just this week Paramount pulled both of its fall tentpoles (Jackass Forever and Top Gun: Maverick) from the schedule, shifting the films to 2022 in hopes that the still-raging Delta variant will be in the rear view.

Other studios seem poised to plow forward. And at this moment in time, there is much to love on the fall movie schedule, from a quartet of superhero entries (Shang-Chi, Venom, Eternals and Spider-Man) to a handful of superstars shooting for Oscars (Will Smith in King Richard, Lady Gaga in House of Gucci, Jennifer Lawrence AND Leonardo DiCaprio in Don’t Look Up). Here are the 25 films (still scheduled to open this fall) we’re most excited about.

25. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Release Date: Oct. 1
Directed by: Andy Serkis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris
The scoop: How will Sony follow up 2018’s bonkers box-office smash? Apparently with a lot more carnage — or rather Carnage, as in Cletus Kasady, Woody Harrelson’s psycho serial killer who antagonizes Tom Hardy’s journalist-turned-antihero/symbiote Eddie Brock. Also new this go-around: Hardy gets story-writing credit on a script ultimately penned by Kelly Marcel. And directing his fourth movie is Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis, who may have also learned a thing or two about making Marvel Comics movies from his MCU stint in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther.

24. Halloween Kills

Release Date: Oct. 15
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Anthony Michael Hall
The scoop: David Gordon Green’s 2018 horror blockbuster reignited Michael Myers’s decades-long killing spree, and now the John Carpenter-created boogeyman is ready to start hacking and slashing all over again. Picking up mere moments after its predecessor ended, Halloween Kills finds Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode assembling her own team of avengers to take the fight to Michael. Look for the return of such Haddonfield all-stars as Tommy Doyle, Marion Chambers and Deputy Frank Hawkins in what promises to be an Easter egg-filled reunion. And you don't have to go to the theater to scream your heart out: Universal is premiering Halloween Kills on Peacock the same day it opens in multiplexes.

23. A Journal for Jordan

Release Date: Dec. 24
Directed by: Denzel Washington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams
The scoop: Denzel Washington has directed the inspirational dramas Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters — not to mention the emotional stage adaptation of Fences — but he’s never aimed so squarely at the tear ducts as he does with his fourth effort behind the camera. Based on the memoir by Dana Canedy, Journal tells the true story of an Iraq War soldier (Michael B. Jordan) who compiled life lessons for the young son he shared with New York Times journalist Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams) before he’s killed in action. Like we said, get the Kleenex ready.

22. The French Dispatch

Release Date: Oct. 22
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray
The scoop: Wes Anderson’s 10th feature film once again showcases an A-list ensemble — including such regulars as Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, alongside first-timers like Elisabeth Moss and Timothée Chalamet — as well as his trademark visual style. An extended homage to 1960s-era magazine journalism, The French Dispatch brings to life a series of articles published in a fictional New Yorker-esque publication. Early buzz out of the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie had its delayed world premiere, suggests that Anderson might deserve a Pulitzer as well as an Oscar.

21. Spencer

Release Date: Nov. 5
Directed by: Pablo Larraín
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins
The scoop: Move over, Emma Corrin: Kristen Stewart is coming for your crown as the internet’s favorite Princess Di. The Twilight star convincingly transforms herself into the internationally beloved Princess of Wales in Pablo Larraín’s intimate drama, which unfolds over the 1991 Christmas holidays as Diana faces the enormously consequential decision to remain with or quit her royal family. While the initial news of Stewart’s casting was greeted with a collective groan, Spencer’s early images and trailers suggest that she may be crowned with her first Oscar nomination.

20. The Harder They Fall

Release Date: Oct. 22 in theaters, Nov. 3 on Netflix
Directed by: Jeymes Samuel
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Regina King
The scoop: Jonathan Majors is having a major moment right now. The breakout star of Last Black Man in San Francisco and Lovecraft Country also made major waves at the end of Loki, which he’ll continue with in Ant-Man 3. But first he’ll headline this Western from writer-director Jeymes Samuel (who co-wrote with Boaz Yakin), playing a cowboy who reassembles his old gang to seek vengeance against his parents’ murderers. Idris Elba, Delroy Lindo and Regina King highlight a stacked supporting cast.

19. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Release Date: Nov. 19
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd
The scoop: Juno and Up in the Air filmmaker Jason Reitman officially takes over the family business as the co-writer and director of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a direct sequel to dad Ivan’s first two ghostbusting favorites (which apparently pretends the all-female version never existed). Set 30 years after Part II, the action relocates from NYC to Oklahoma, where a single mother (Carrie Coon) and two kids (Finn Wolfhard and McKenna Grace) discover the legacy of family patriarch Egon (the late, great Harold Ramis). Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts all swoop in for cameos again.

18. Tick, Tick… Boom!

Release Date: Nov. 12 in theaters, Nov. 19 on Netflix
Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexandra Shipp
The scoop: Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda steps behind the camera for the first time with an adaptation of a musical written by another Broadway icon: Rent auteur Jonathan Larson. Tony winner Andrew Garfield plays a lightly fictionalized version of the composer in his semi-autobiographical stage piece, which depicts his attempts to make his mark on the New York theater scene prior to his death in 1996. The first trailers make it clear that Miranda isn’t going to throw away his shot at crafting a memorable movie musical.

17. King Richard

Release Date: Nov. 19
Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Jon Bernthal
The scoop: Call it The Pursuit of Greatness. Will Smith is once again in dad mode — specifically as a father who will stop at nothing to advance his children — this time as Richard Williams, the Compton man determined to mold young daughters Venus and Serena into tennis superstars against all odds. (You probably know how this turned out.) Hollywood doesn’t hand out Oscar nominations after movie trailers, but the first look we got at the film in July sure looked like Smith should dust off his tux.

16. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film

Release Date: Nov. 26
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (natch)
Starring: Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, Alana Haim, Benny Safdie
The scoop: There’s some debate as to whether this film actually has a title already (Wikipedia says yay, IMDb says nay), and it’s a good one: Soggy Bottom. (Honestly, why would you call it anything else?) But whatever it’s called, it will be an event for cinephiles who adore the work of the filmmaker behind favorites like Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread. Cooper Hoffman — son of late Anderson collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman — stars as a high school student who becomes an acting wunderkind in 1970s San Fernando Valley.

15. Red Notice

Release Date: Nov. 12
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds
The scoop: Netflix has done a remarkably good job on fulfilling their promise to deliver a new original movie every week. But few have been as big or star-powered as this highly anticipated triple-threat teaming Wonder Woman, Deadpool and the future Black Adam. Dwayne Johnson is a top-gun FBI profiler who faces off with a pair of criminals (Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds) during a daring heist.

14. The Many Saints of Newark

Release Date: Oct. 1
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Michael Gandolfini, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Vera Farmiga, Ray Liotta
The scoop: Alan Taylor directs but you know David Chase had his gloves all over this movie prequel to his celebrated HBO classic The Sopranos. The feature traces the formative years of young Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini’s son Michael) as he’s mentored by his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), dad to Tony’s beloved cousin Christopher (at least before being offed by Tony). The story also digs into a rivalry between the Italian family and a budding Black gangster (Leslie Odom Jr.) as racial unrest consumes Newark.

13. The Tragedy of Macbeth

Release Date: TBD
Directed by: Joel Coen
Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins
The scoop: Joel Coen goes solo for his all-star adaptation of William Shakespeare’s notorious “Scottish play,” which stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand — who have five Oscars between them — as Lord and Lady Macbeth. Shot in sumptuous black-and-white, the closely guarded film will premiere at the New York Film Festival before receiving a limited theatrical release and a global streaming launch on Apple TV+ later in the fall. The only tragedy here are the pesky rumors that the Coen brothers may be splitsville for good.

12. Last Night in Soho

Release Date: Oct. 29
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith
The scoop: From Cornettos to the Cold War, Edgar Wright’s time-traveling psychological thriller stars Thomasin McKenzie as an up-and-coming fashion designer who finds herself transported back to ’60s-era London in the body of aspiring singer Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). Expect the music-savvy filmmaker to fill the soundtrack with the very best tunes from the Swinging ’60s, while ace costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux — whose previous era-appropriate credits include An Education and Brooklyn — provides a perfect period fashion show.

11. The Matrix: Resurrections

Release Date: Dec. 22
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith
The scoop: Prepare to enter the Matrix for the first time since the underrated 2003 sequels to the Wachwoski siblings’ industry-transforming 1999 head trip. Digital savior Neo (Keanu Reeves) and ass-kicking warrior Trinity (Carre-Anne Moss) are among the familiar faces that writer-director Lana Wachowski resurrected for the fourth installment in the franchise, while newcomers include Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Considering how each installment in the original trilogy kept topping its predecessor in the action department, Resurrections may herald yet another revolution in blockbuster filmmaking.

10. The Last Duel

Release Date: Oct. 15
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
The scoop: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have written their first screenplay together since their 1997 Bah-stan-based Oscar-winning breakout Good Will Hunting and it’s… a 14th century historical drama about the last legally sanctioned duel in France? Plot twist. (We must mention the script was also co-written by not-too-shabby-herself Oscar nominee Nicole Holofcener.) Damon plays Jean de Carrouges, who challenges his friend and squire Jacques Le Gris to a fight to the death after Carrouges’s wife (Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of rape.

9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Release Date: Sept. 3
Directed by: Destin Daniel Crettton
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung
The scoop: Marvel finally drops its first Asian-led superhero adventure, which is poised to delight fans of the MCU. Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton effortlessly graduates to the tentpole realm with a thunderous triumph that introduces titular new supe Simi Liu, kicks to Awkwafina for some reliably hilarious comedic relief, features Asian acting legends Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh in key roles, includes some jaw-dropping martial-arts set pieces and marks another major cultural milestone in blockbuster filmmaking.

8. West Side Story

Release Date: Dec. 10
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno
The scoop: Sixty years after the Oscar-winning film adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical comes this contemporary remix from an up-and-coming filmmaker named [checks notes]… Steven Spielberg. West Side Story represents the filmmaking titan’s first foray into musicals, so he’s sure to bring some extra splash to the story of Jets vs. Sharks and star-crossed lovers Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort). In an especially cool casting feat, original Anita and screen legend Rita Moreno returns in the role of Valentina.

7. Nightmare Alley

Release Date: Dec. 17
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman
The scoop: Guillermo del Toro’s first film since taking home Best Director and Best Picture honors for 2017’s The Shape of Water stars Bradley Cooper as a duplicitous carnival worker who forges an alliance with an ethically dubious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett). The horror-loving filmmaker has already revealed that Nightmare Alley — which is adapted from the cult 1946 novel — will be a rare supernatural-free yarn. But with Pan Labyrinth’s master of the macabre behind the camera, you can bet there will still be blood.

6. Dune

Release Date: Oct. 22
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa
The scoop: Is it just us or did Denis Villeneuve keep getting better with each film? PrisonersSicarioArrival… the masterpiece that was Blade Runner 2049. This pattern spells good news for fans of Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi saga, as 2049, especially, showed Villeneuve could be the perfect man to crack the code on what some have declared an unfilmable book (just ask movie masters Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch). At the very least, this star-studded Dune is certain to be eye-popping.

5. Eternals

Release Date: Nov. 5
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie
The scoop: Chloé Zhao follows up her Oscar-winning gem Nomadland with one of the most highly anticipated superhero ensembles in years. Hopes are high that Zhao will transfer her breathtaking directorial aesthetic into the Marvel Universe fold with an A-list affair about extraterrestrial immortals who land on Earth to do some protecting. As for where they’ve been this whole time, a major question that popped up after the film’s teaser trailer? Marvel’s got answers.

4. House of Gucci

Release Date: Nov. 24
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino
The scoop: Lady Gaga is not messing around. Three years after storming into the awards race with A Star Is Born, the pop star-turned-actress transforms into Patrizia Reggiani, the Italian “Black Widow” who orchestrated the assassination of her husband, fashion scion Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Also let’s take a moment to appreciate Ridley Scott, the 83-year-old (!) filmmaking great who has two films in our top 10 her.

3. Don’t Look Up

Release Date: In theaters Dec. 10, on Netflix Dec. 24
Directed by: Adam McKay
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande
The scoop: Adam McKay’s evolution from broad comedy maverick (Anchorman, Step Brothers) to Hollywood’s leading social satirist (The Big Short, Vice) hits its zenith with this star-studded, highly anticipated Netflix original. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play low-level astronomers on a media tour attempting to warn ambivalent Americans about an asteroid on its way to destroy Earth. Sounds about right. Meryl Streep is the president, finally.

2. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Release Date: Dec. 17
Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Alfred Molina
The scoop: WandaVision and Loki opened the door to the Marvel multiverse, but Spider-Man: No Way Home kicks it all the way in. The wall-crawler’s third solo adventure finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) asking Dr. Mephisto… uh Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo his public unmasking only to end up undermining MCU reality as we’ve known it for three phases and counting. The first trailer for No Way Home was viewed more than 355 million times within its first 24 hours, and confirmed the return of at least one classic Spidey villain: Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus. And where Doc Ock goes, Tobey Maguire is sure to follow.

1. No Time to Die

Release Date: Oct. 8
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Naomie Harris, Ana de Armas
The scoop: Good things come to those who wait? Daniel Craig’s James Bond swan song is now on its sixth different release date, having been delayed twice before the pandemic (initially due to director Danny Boyle’s departure) and three times since. The film is finally arriving in a few short weeks (fingers crossed). With Craig’s long goodbye, Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) bringing the thrills from a script co-written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Rami Malek playing the Big Bad, a brooding theme song by Billie Eilish, and we remain steadfastly psyched for Bond 25.

Also Opening

Camila Cabello is your newest live-action Cinderella (Sept. 3); Michael Keaton shows his Worth in a 9/11 drama (Sept. 3); Karen (Sept. 3) is a movie that actually exists; Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste are coupon-scheming Queenpins (Sept. 10); James Wan returns to horror in between Aquaman installments with Malignant (Sept. 10); Paul Schrader brings Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish to the table with The Card Counter (Sept. 10); Sydney Sweeney headlines Amazon’s erotic thriller The Voyeurs (Sept. 10); Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales meet virtually for Language Lessons (Sept. 10); Krysten Ritter dips into YA horror with Nightbooks (Sept. 15); you won’t believe your eyes when you see Jessica Chastain’s transformation in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Sept. 17); Clint Eastwood is still cranking out Westerns at age 91 with Cry Macho (Sept. 17); Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Sept. 17) tells the tale of a 16-year-old aspiring drag queen; Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd have marital issues in The Starling (Sept. 17); Justin Chon’s poignant Korean American-in-the-South drama Blue Bayou (Sept. 17) will draw inevitable comparisons to Minari, and that’s not a bad thing; Nicolas Cage is robbing banks in Prisoners of the Ghostland (Sept. 17); Ben Platt moves Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen (Sept. 24) from stage to screen with help from Julianne Moore and Amy Adams; and alert the under-10 set to My Little Pony: A New Generation (Sept. 24).

Meanwhile, October sees Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac and clan return for animated sequel The Addams Family 2 (Oct. 1); see why Julia Ducournau won Cannes’ Palme d’Or with the body-horror thriller Titane (Oct. 1); you might not look at Lamb (Oct. 8) the same again after A24 indie; Chucky’s back! (Oct. 12); 12 Years a Slave Oscar winner John Ridley teams Leslie Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo for Needle in a Timestack (Oct. 15); Zach Galifianakis headlines the futuristic animated comedy Ron’s Gone Wrong (Oct. 22); Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga drew early Oscar buzz at Sundance for the racial drama Passing (Oct. 27); Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead already has a prequel with Army of Thieves (Oct. 29); and there’s one scary ancestral creature coming for Keri Russell in Antlers (Oct. 29).

Famed home-cooking influencer Julia Child gets the documentary treatment with Julia (Nov. 5); Hannah Marks returns with the "ethical non-monogamy"-com Mark, Mary and Some Other People (Nov. 5); The Power of the Dog (Nov. 17), Jane Campion’s first film in nine years, is garnering strong early reviews out of the Venice Film Festival; the creators of Zootopia team with Lin-Manuel Miranda for Disney Animation’s Colombia-set Encanto (Nov. 24); Sandra Bullock is an ex-con opposite Viola Davis in The Unforgiveable (Nov. 24); Halle Berry makes her directorial debut with the MMA drama Bruised (Nov. 24); Kaya Scodelario takes over for Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (Nov. 26); and Ethan Hawke goes on a hero’s journey in Abel Ferrara’s Zeroes and Ones (Nov. TBD).

Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her directorial debut with The Lost Daughter (Dec. 17), starring Olivia Colman; Pharell and Bono join an already packed cast for the animated sequel Sing 2 (Dec. 22); Ralph Fiennes takes control of the Kingsman series with the prequel The King’s Man (Dec. 22); Pedro Almodóvar reteams with frequent muse Penélope Cruz for Parallel Mothers (Dec. 24); Zachary Levi wins the Super Bowl (spoiler alert!) in American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story (Dec. 25); Clifton Collins Jr. gives a career-best performance in Jockey (Dec. TBD); Joaquin Phoenix shows his tender side in Mike Mills’s C’mon, C’mon (TBD); and Sean Baker’s Red Rocket (TBD) promises a career comeback for Simon Rex, who plays an aging porn star.