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68 Movies We Can’t Wait to Watch in Theaters in 2021

No matter when you decide to return to theaters, there’s no doubt that there will be great movies to watch in 2021.
Movies to Watch 2021
By  · Published on May 26th, 2021

Movies We Hope Will Be in Theaters in 2021

In addition to the list of release-date-having films of 2021, there is also a sizeable list of films that should come out this year, but we’re not sure about the dates yet. Many of these will debut at rebooted in-person festivals like Cannes, TIFF, and more before getting theatrical runs toward the end of the year. And while some of these might not make it into theaters this year — in fact, by the time this list is published, several of these may already have been bumped to 2022 — we’re rooting for every single one of them.

The Souvenir: Part II

Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir was a semi-autobiographical tale of a young film student (played wonderfully by Honor Swinton-Byrne) as she navigates the fog of young love with a charming but manipulative older man. It’s not the type of film one would normally expect to get a sequel, but this film will be a welcome return to the world that Hogg has so beautifully carved out on screen. Swinton-Byrne, who will return for the sequel alongside her mother both on-screen and off, Tilda Swinton, is a naturally gifted actor and it will surely be a joy to watch her develop even more as a performer. There’s also a profound honesty in how the film works through conflicting emotions and we can only imagine the sequel will benefit from the same rigorously empathetic perspective. (Anna Swanson)


After a handful of delays in post-production, including time to allow the octogenarian director Paul Verhoeven to recover from hip surgery, Benedetta is finally just around the corner. While some might assume that aging would cause a provocateur to settle down, Verhoeven is showing no signs of shirking away from controversy. His new film — the first since 2016’s gobsmackingly brilliant and incendiary Elle — follows the true story of a 17th-century nun persecuted for her relationship with another woman. Religious symbolism is nothing new to the Dutch filmmaker, but Benedetta is looking to be an especially explicit take on dogma and devotion. With the film set to premiere in competition for the Palme d’Or, it’s likely that the famously hyperbolic reactions of Cannes audiences are inevitable. But with Verhoeven at the helm, both walkouts and standing ovations will surely be well-earned. (Anna Swanson)

Bergman Island

While very little is known about the film, Bergman Island is one worth waiting for with bated breath based on the cast list alone. Following an American filmmaking couple who seek to work in the place that inspired the Swedish master, the film stars Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, and Vicky Krieps. Krieps, who knocked Daniel Day Lewis on his back and audiences off their feet in 2017’s Phantom Thread, is well-deserving of prominence and will surely find the opportunity to flex in the upcoming Mia Hansen-Løve movie. Additionally, Hansen-Løve, most well known for 2016’s Things To Come, is a wonderfully poetic and startlingly impressive filmmaker. With several brilliant films under her belt — including a best of the decade Goodbye First Love — Hansen-Løve is a filmmaker that should be on everyone’s radar. (Anna Swanson)

No Sudden Move

With their high stakes, crack teams of underdogs, painstakingly executed plans, and the promise of an inevitable snag in the works, heist movies are inherently cinematic; the definition of escapism. Steven Soderbergh, whose Oceans trilogy is largely responsible for the genre’s 21st-century resurgence, has been intelligently riffing on the vault-breaking set-up for two decades, which makes the prospect of a new caper from him a reliably exciting one. Set in 1955 Detroit, the synopsis for his next film is described thus: “No Sudden Move centers on a group of small-time criminals who are hired to steal what they think is a simple document. When their plan goes horribly wrong, their search for who hired them – and for what ultimate purpose – weaves them through all echelons of the race-torn, rapidly changing city.” Soderbergh has recruited a glittering ensemble that includes Don Cheadle, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser, Noah Jupe, Kieran Culkin, Amy Seimetz, Bill Duke, John Hamm, Benicio del Toro, and Matt Damon in a cameo role, plus consummate artisans like production designer Hannah Beachler (who won an Oscar for her work on Black Panther) and costume designer Marci Rodgers (a Guild nominee for her period work in BlacKkKlansman) to work behind the scenes. Their collective involvement, plus the logline’s teasing of the genre’s usual vicarious thrills alongside a more serious grappling with the social and economic realities of its period setting, makes No Sudden Move a solid bet for one of the year’s most hype-worthy films. (Farah Cheded)

The French Dispatch

There’s something profoundly comforting about having a Wes Anderson movie on the horizon. We know exactly what we’re getting — the director is a purveyor of a singular cinematic experience, the kind that only requires us to show up to our seats before it rewards our efforts by engulfing us in confectionary visuals and whimsical antics. Nothing about The French Dispatch signals we’ll be disappointed in either regard. The trailer confirms we’re in for extraordinary spectacle — dollhouse sets and formalist compositions — and an absurdist narrative feast populated by a mixture of Anderson’s usual band of collaborators and some new recruits. Inspired by The New Yorker magazine, The French Dispatch contains a triptych of stories, all of which fall under the literary framing of the titular publication (an American newspaper reporting from the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé). With the subjects of its chapters ranging from haute cuisine and jailbreak to the real-life protests that brought France to a standstill in May 1968, The French Dispatch promises an eclectic array of Andersonian hijinks. After the pandemic squashed multiple attempts to bring the movie to theaters, this summer will finally see The French Dispatch premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Fingers crossed it won’t be too long after that till the rest of us can gorge ourselves in Anderson’s cinematic patisserie. (Farah Cheded)

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Adventure

Richard Linklater’s films feel like the antithesis to the isolation the last year has imposed on us. Connection is what they’re all about: fired by his infectious curiosity for people and ruled by a decisive preference for talk over action, his movies vitalize us with their humanist core, shaking us out of misanthropy. Linklater is a listener with an ear for insightful conversation around a favorite set of themes — youth, nostalgia, and the ends and beginnings of new eras — and he makes enthusiastic eavesdroppers of us all. His next movie, Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Adventure, looks set firmly within that tradition: taking place in the historic summer of 1969 in a Houston suburb near NASA, it follows the effects on one child’s imagination of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The project reunites him with longtime editor Sandra Adair, responsible for the relaxed rhythm that typifies his films, as well as his School of Rock star Jack Black and Everybody Wants Some!!’s Glen Powell. Apollo 10 ½ is partly rotoscoped a la Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, and will presumably make use of animation’s imaginative capabilities when it intertwines the child’s perspective (based on the director’s own childhood) with the POV of the astronauts and mission control. That intriguing approach isn’t the only reason we want to see Apollo 10 ½ on the big screen; it’s also because there’s no better place to float along the soothing drift of a Linklater movie than one that matches the sociability of his style. (Farah Cheded)

Petite Maman

Following on from Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma’s upcoming Petite Maman marks a return to the lower key, intimate explorations of childhood that defined her early gems like Tomboy, Girlhood, and Water Lilies. It’s a register and subject the director is a master of: the connecting threads throughout that unofficial coming-of-age trilogy were Sciamma’s striking directness, and her astonishing, instinctive memory for what childhood feels like. Her directorial voice has always been loyally sympathetic to the plights of her angsty subjects, too, and it’s a search for that kind of cross-generational rapport that forms the basis of Petite Maman. The loss of her grandmother allows a young girl the chance to connect with her grieving mother in a fantastical way, with Sciamma employing magic realism here to sweep away logistical concerns so that she can get at something more profound. That imaginative leap must land, because reviews out of the Berlin Film Festival, where Petite Maman premiered in March, have been ecstatic. This is the kind of film that promises a reflective watching experience, one best served by the reverie-inducing soft darkness of a screening room. (Farah Cheded)

The Card Counter

Described by Paul Schrader as “a mix of the World Series of Poker and Abu Ghraib”, The Card Counter sounds like no other movie on 2021’s roster — or indeed that of any year. Marking another notch in the writer/director’s late-career renaissance, the film stars Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, and Tiffany Haddish in a distinctly Schrader-esque tale of revenge, redemption, and morality. Isaac plays William Tell, a professional poker player and former soldier who is drawn back into his murky past by an angry young man (Sheridan) who seeks revenge on a colonel (Dafoe), with Haddish playing William’s mysterious financier. The Card Counter is clearly no minor work for Schrader: after a positive COVID-19 result shuttered production in summer 2020, the prolific Facebook poster told his followers he was ready to die to get the movie in the can. That didn’t happen, thankfully, and the break in shooting even ended up proving productive, as Schrader consulted with peers like executive producer Martin Scorsese on rewrites for then-un-shot scenes. With the director on an artistic climb since 2017’s superlative First Reformed, there’s every reason to hope The Card Counter will match those heights in an equally idiosyncratic fashion. (Farah Cheded)

The Way of the Wind

Religion, which has long simmered under the surface of Terrence Malick’s films, has gradually inched its way into the foreground over the director’s career, promoted from visual symbolism — the plague of locusts in Days of Heaven — to the explicit subjects of offerings like A Hidden Life. That increasingly head-on approach is confirmed by Malick’s next film, The Way of the Wind, the title of which is drawn from a Bible verse. Described as “a retelling of several episodes in the life of the Christ”, the film features Mark Rylance playing four versions of Satan, Son of Saul’s Géza Röhrig as Jesus, and Matthias Schoenaerts and Aidan Turner as apostles. Jörg Widmer, the DoP responsible for A Hidden Life’s beatific look, returned to shoot the film in Iceland, Malta, Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, and Italy, so we can expect The Way of the Wind’s cinematography to similarly match the transcendence of its subject matter. The spiritual wrestling that will inevitably form the basis of the film is as much a reason to hope we get to see The Way of the Wind in a theater as its reliably rhapsodic sound and image are, too. As evidenced in A Hidden Life, Malick has a way of implicating us in the acute metaphysical agony of his characters; a cerebrally intense experience best served by an environment that can transport us to that clutter-free plane of the mind in which Malick’s films are best appreciated. (Farah Cheded)

Triangle of Sadness

From the pivotal gaffe of Force Majeure to The Square’s excruciating exhibition of the bystander effect, Ruben Östlund has proved himself a master of discomfort. The Swedish director uses his films to skewer human behavior in a way that isn’t entirely unsympathetic to his subjects, but that amounts to deliciously torturous viewing all the same. His next film (his first fully in English), continues in that vein: a riff on The Lord of the Flies, Triangle of Sadness illustrates the thin line between civility and atavism by following the sinking of a superyacht and the subsequent stranding of its guests on a desert island. Led by a Marxist captain (Woody Harrelson), the former passengers — billionaires, models, and a cleaning lady — find their social hierarchy overturned as they contend for survival. The film is also characterized as a critique of appearance-based industries: Harris Dickinson plays a balding fashion model, while the movie’s title itself is suggestively described by Östlund as a “term used by plastic surgeons to fix a wrinkle between the eyes with Botox in 15 minutes.” His previous features prove that, if there’s one thing an Östlund film is going to do, it is inspire passionate post-screening discussions — something we hope to be able to partake in when the film releases later this year. (Farah Cheded)


When you crunch the numbers, Spencer might be the 2021 movie with the greatest vetted potential. As if the story of Princess Diana isn’t beloved enough, the team of high-level creatives working on the project is immaculate. Pablo Larraín is directing and producing — with Kristen Stewart playing Diana and Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris, Amy Manson, and Timothy Spall supporting — which is enough promise in itself. But it just gets better. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is writing the score, Portrait of a Lady on Fire cinematographer Claire Mathon will be behind the camera, Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade will be producing (along with several others), and Steven Knight, responsible for brilliance and dumpster fires alike, penned the screenplay. Imagining what they might come up with is as fruitless as trying to imagine what colors our eyes don’t allow us to see. We can’t imagine them because they don’t exist, as far as we’re concerned. But we can trust them to create something fresh. They’re veterans in the art of cinematic creativity. They won’t be satisfied with something dull. (Luke Hicks)


Back with a feature for the first time in six years, the Palme d’Or-winning Apichatpong Weerasethakul plans to unveil his first English-language film after over 25 years of filmmaking in his home country of Thailand. Weerasethakul’s films are so predicated on the culture, history, and people of Thailand that it’s hard to imagine what a star-led Tilda Swinton vehicle that takes place in Colombia will look like. But, the prospect is achingly enticing. The most striking image release so far shows a very We Need to Talk About Kevin-esque Swinton looking sadly through a window, a gentle but pronounced red gradient spread unevenly across the screen. Not to mention, the comments Weerasethakul’s made on the film will send chills down your spine, specifically in regards to Swinton: “I wrote this movie with her in mind knowing that she is an actress who needs no explanation. In fact, it was she who showed me this character.” (Luke Hicks)

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