Anticipating movies these days is a fool’s errand. Unless it’s guaranteed to be hitting a streaming platform, the release date of any film should have an asterisk appended to it. That’s not cynical, but the nature of covering this industry amidst the pandemic.
So, you could imagine how fun this list was to put together. (Spoiler: It wasn’t.) Dragging over last year’s offerings to this one seems like an easy task, but the shift opens the door for so many questions, all of which boil down to: “What are the odds?”
For many features — you know, like Ghostbusters: Afterlife, or No Time to Die, or Halloween Kills, or any film without a streaming opt-in — the release date is as certain as we are about anything right now in life. “We’ll see” is the name of the game.
Having said that, a few studios and streaming giants are hip to the ages. Case in point: Three weeks into the new year and we already have assurances by HBO Max, Netflix, and Shudder that new movies are on the way to your living rooms.
Those offerings certainly lend some much-needed gravitas to this list, which is why we’ve split this feature into two parts. The first half sports the more reliable fare as we’ve already outlined, while the latter lists films that depend more on theatrical distribution.
Read ahead and be sure to bookmark as the year evolves. We’ll keep tabs as the dates shift, the schedules flex, and the times — to crib from Bobby D — keep a-changin’. Here’s hoping with a vaccine, we’ll all be back laughing together. Eating popcorn. Living.
Update on Thursday, January 21st: Ghostbusters: Afterlife and No Time to Die have both moved to Fall 2021 with Uncharted bumped all the way to 2022. The list has been amended to reflect these changes.
Update on Friday, January 22nd: A Quiet Place Part II has been bumped to Fall 2021.
Update on Monday, January 25th: Last Night in Soho is now expected for Halloween season.
Update on Thursday, February 25th: New dates for Bad Trip and Army of the Dead.
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Movies You’re Likely to See
These are the titles that are either already set to drop on streaming networks such as HBO Max or Netflix, or they at least have the option of doing so if the studios see fit. For instance, Disney’s slate remains up in the air for 2021 — particularly, its Marvel blockbusters — though last year’s releases such as Mulan and Soul suggest a likely course.
The Little Things
Release Date: January 29th via Warner Bros.
Who’s In It? Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto
What To Look For: After dialing things back to the ’30s for Netflix’s The Highwaymen, director John Lee Hancock is offering a more modern slice of crime for HBO Max with The Little Things. At the front and center of it all are Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Rami Malek as two sheriffs on the hunt for the same serial killer. Their best suspect is fellow Oscar winner Jared Leto, probably because he’s no doubt doing his whole Weird Leto thing. Admittedly, none of this reads as compelling beyond the star power, but hey, it’ll at least be entertaining seeing Malek play a Los Angeles sheriff. Sure. –Michael Roffman
Release Date: February 5th via Darkstar
Who’s In It? Peter Vack, Buddy Duress, Nikki Belfiglio, Austin Brown, Julia Fox
What To Look For: One of our favorite films out of last year’s Fantasia Festival was writer-director Ben Hozie’s thoroughly modern rom-com PVT Chat. Uncut Gems standout Julia Fox stars as an online dominatrix who strikes up a curious relationship with a lonely New Yorker with a penchant for kink. What ensues is a delirious cat-and-mouse game with twists you’ll never see coming. It’s smart, it’s sexy, it’s stylish, and it’s all too real. As our own Mike Vanderbilt wrote in his glowing review, “It’s a fantasy with a happy ending, and don’t we all deserve one? Even us perverts?” Yes, we certainly do. –Michael Roffman
Release Date: March 4th via Shudder
Who’s In It? Brea Grant
What To Look For: Like PVT Chat, director Natasha Kermani’s second feature similarly turned heads at last summer’s Fantasia Festival. Now, the slasher satire is set to drop on Shudder. Brea Grant, who also wrote the script, stars as May, a self-help author continuously stalked by a mysterious man whom no one else seems too concerned about. Sound familiar? It’s a bit of a blunt metaphor, but in the wake of 2020, the film’s themes of frustration and gaslighting are bound to hit close to home. –Jenn Adams
Coming 2 America
Release Date: March 5th via Amazon Studios
Who’s In It? Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, John Amos, Teyana Taylor, Wesley Snipes, James Earl Jones
What To Look For: Coming to America saw crown prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) trade his birth ponytail, a custom-trained wife who barks, and all the riches of Zamunda for a McJob, a rat-infested apartment in Queens, and a chance to find a “woman who arouses his intellect as well as his loins.” More than 30 years later, Prince Akeem returns to America to take the son he never knew he had under his wing. There’s no doubt odd couple Murphy and Arsenio Hall can still keep us in stitches as they jump into a variety of characters. What remains a mystery is whether this sequel will retain the heart and magic of the original. –Matt Melis
Justice League: The Snyder Cut
Release Date: March 18th via HBO Max
Who’s In It? Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher
What To Look For: Because Hollywood is built on fandom, the incessant demands of #ReleasetheSnyderCut will finally be answered this Spring with a staggering four-hour, four-part reworking of Justice League. Director Zack Snyder returns to deliver his original vision of the 2017 blockbuster, adding in new scenes, new looks, and even new villains. You know, like the DC Extended Universe’s biggest baddie, Darkseid (Ray Porter)? Rest assured, this is no ramshackle cut, but an entirely new film, one that Warner Bros. spent a reported extra $20-$30 million on. If we’re lucky, it won’t start a trend. –Michael Roffman
Release Date: March 26th via Netflix
Who’s In It? Eric André, Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish
What To Look For: It’s been a long road for Bad Trip. If you recall, Eric Andre’s highly anticipated feature was originally slated for theaters a long, long time ago in a year we called 2019. Then it was slated to premiere at last year’s South by Southwest. Then came COVID-19. Now, it’s finally getting a release, and our 2020 Comedian of the Year couldn’t be more stoked. “I’ve been working on the movie, in fits and starts, for almost like seven years,” he told us in December, adding with relief: “But it’s at Netflix, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I think tons of people are going to see it next year.” He’s not wrong. –Michael Roffman
Godzilla vs. Kong
Release Date: March 31st via HBO Max
Who’s In It? Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Jessica Henwick, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir
What To Look For: Godzilla vs. Kong is a rematch 58 years in the making. Last we saw the two titular monsters, Godzilla is the reigning alpha-predator of the world and Kong is still master of his domain on Skull Island. Obviously, something will bring these two titans of kaijudom together for the ultimate battle royal. Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler reprise their roles from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to further Monarch’s study into the Titans’ origins with a presumed third-party coming in to complicate their research and set off the titular showdown. Is Legendary’s potential finale to the MonsterVerse one where we see Toho favorites’ Mechagodzilla or Mecha-King Ghidorah? Only time will tell. –Kyle Cubr
Release Date: April 16th via HBO Max
Who’s In It? Ludi Lin, Joe Taslim, Tadanobu Asano, Jessica McNamee, Mehcad Brooks, Josh Lawson, Lewis Tan, Chin Han, Hiroyuki Sanada
What To Look For: It’s been well over 20 years since the last Mortal Kombat film (see: 1997’s godawful Annihilation). Since then, the franchise has been relegated strictly to video game consoles, where the brand has evolved from one generation to the next. Now, after countless stops and starts (including a go by web series wunderkind Kevin Tancharoen), producer James Wan is finally dragging the IP out of development hell for a complete and total reboot. Granted, the logline reads a lot like Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 original, but the recent confirmation of fatalities suggests this film may test our might. –Michael Roffman
Release Date: May 7th via Marvel
Who’s In It? Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz
What To Look For: Having been over a decade since she first made her debut in the MCU, Scarlett Johansson will finally be taking on a lead role in Marvel’s Black Widow. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film follows Natasha Romanoff as she confronts the skeletons of her past. Based on what we’ve seen over the years (!), those skeletons include stellar espionage action and one hell of a supporting cast. Of course, the question remains: If theaters are a no-go, will Disney go the route of Mulan and Soul? The suits have been mum, but the option is clearly on the table for them. And us. –Michael Roffman
Army of the Dead
Release Date: May 21st via Netflix
Who’s In It? Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Tig Notaro, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt, Raúl Castillo, Omari Hardwick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Matthias Schweighöfer
What To Look For: The real Zack Snyder joint of 2021 doesn’t involve capes or tights. No, it consists of sand, slots, and ghouls. With Army of the Dead, Snyder returns to his zombified roots, only this time he’s not remaking another George A. Romero classic (see: 2004’s Dawn of the Dead). No, he’s got his own story, and it’s pretty, pretty, pretty good. Here’s the elevator pitch: “Ocean’s 11, but with zombies.” Given the talent involved — we’re looking at you, Bautista, Notaro, and Dillahunt — we’re at the very least getting a mildly enjoyable afternoon watch on Netflix. At best? A genre smash. We like those odds. –Michael Roffman