After innumerable delays, last year’s biggest films finally arrive
Summer is approaching, and things are, thankfully, starting to look pretty different from where we were a year ago. This time last year, theaters and studios were trying their damndest to keep moviegoers coming to theaters despite frequent statements from both moviegoers and the CDC that it wasn’t a safe proposition. Thanks to the miracle of science (do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior Dolly Parton?) many folks are fully vaccinated—or on their way there—and going back to the theater is looking pretty promising. For those who don’t feel safe going back to a theater yet, studios are slowly figuring out ways to hybridize their releases so there are plenty of options to watch at home.
In either case, this summer provides a wealth of exciting viewing options, including movies that were held over from last year’s schedule and some returning familiar faces. In any case, it’s just nice to have something to get excited about again, whether you’re rejoining safely distanced groups of strangers in a theater or still watching from your couch. Mark your calendars for these upcoming standouts.
The Woman in the Window
May 14, Netflix
We’ve all felt like we’re under house arrest this last year. Why not watch a movie about a woman who’s literally trapped in her home? Amy Adams plays an agoraphobe who sees her neighbor (Julianne Moore) murdered by her husband (Gary Oldman) through her apartment window. Or did she? There are some Rear Window hijinks going on in this adaptation of A.J. Finn’s book. The script comes from Tracy Letts, the cleverly twisted mind behind Bug, August: Osage County, and Killer Joe—which is reason enough to be intrigued.
Those Who Wish Me Dead
May 14, theatrical/HBO Max
If you’re like me, you started playing video games last year and came across the great indie game Firewatch (or maybe you played it years ago. Whatever.) Those Who Wish Me Dead doesn’t feature any middle-aged men whose wives have early-onset dementia. However, it does feature fire towers, national parks, and forest fires, as well as Angelina Jolie being a badass. They had me at fire towers, honestly.
Army of the Dead
May 21, Netflix
Roger Ebert said movies are a machine that generates empathy. He also said, “if we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.” It’s good when movies are about things, but sometimes they’re just for fun. Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead hits Netflix in May. It’s got Dave Bautista, Garret Dillahunt, and a CGI-inserted Tig Notaro fighting undead showgirls and Elvis impersonators. Do you really need anything else?
In the Heights
June 11, theatrical/HBO Max
After 2020 caused Hamilton to skip theaters and go VOD, it’s nice that Lin-Manuel Miranda gets another shot at theatrical release. In the Heights is poised to be 2021’s big summer blockbuster. Early reactions to this adaptation of LMM’s breakthrough musical have been extremely positive, and pre-existing love for the show itself is strong. By the middle of June, you may be ready to escape to an air-conditioned theater and enjoy a bright, fun story about the lives of folks in New York’s Washington Heights with a room full of distanced, masked, and hopefully vaxxed strangers. But it’ll still be simultaneously available on HBO Max, just in case you’re not.
June 18, Disney+
Disney and Pixar’s next film, which releases directly to Disney+, comes from director Enrico Casarosa who previously made the adorable Pixar short La Luna (the one about the family who cleans shooting stars off the moon). Casarosa’s feature debut follows a pair of young boys having summer adventures in an Italian seaside village. They’re hiding a secret, though: the boys are both sea monsters disguised as humans, and the villagers historically hate their kind.
Aug. 27, theatrical/HBO Max
The details on Reminiscence are, for the moment, pretty sparse; there’s only been a teaser that dispensed almost no information. What we do know, however, is intriguing. It’s written and directed by Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy. In it, a scientist (Hugh Jackman) discovers a way to relive the past—this is different from time travel somehow(?)—and uses it to look for a lost love (Rebecca Ferguson). That premise and casting project some potential The Fountain vibes, which would work well with Joy’s established track record.
Overland Park’s own Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the franchise that made his name with Spiral, the long-delayed latest addition to the Saw series. This time around, Bousman directs surprising-but-welcome stars Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella, who play cops tangoing with a Jigsaw copycat killer who appears to be targeting law enforcement.
May 28, theatrical/Disney+ premiere access
Listen, I know the rest of the internet is rolling their eyes at Cruella, and I get it: this is absolutely an unnecessary studio cash-grab. But hear me out: it might not suck. Tony McNamara co-wrote the screenplay, and his writing worked wonders for Emma Stone in The Favourite. Craig Gillespie, who last made I, Tonya, is in the director’s chair. That’s a combination of elements that could add up to something pretty fun if we’re willing to give it a chance.
Fast & Furious 9
By now you’ve seen the trailer for F9, right? You probably watched it last year, when we all thought we’d see it in 2020. Then you watched the new trailer last month to remind yourself how rad it’s going to be. Justin Lin is directing again. John Cena is playing Vin Diesel’s evil long-lost brother, challenging Dom Torretto’s lifelong assertion of #family. We might finaly get cars in space. Oh, and Han is back. I’m ready, you’re ready, we’re all ready. Let’s do it. If there was anything that absolutely needs to be seen in a theater, here it f’ing is.
Director Janicza Bravo teamed up with celebrated playwright Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play) to adapt a viral tweet thread into a movie that got an outstanding reception at Sundance last year just before things shut down. Cinephiles have been eagerly awaiting Zola, about a stripper who takes a trip to Florida with a new friend that spirals out of control, ever since. Distributor A24 only exacerbated matters with frequent teases (but no actual date confirmation) on social media for months. It’s finally almost here, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The Night House
Director David Bruckner has been a steadily growing, dependable horror filmmaking hand since 2007’s The Signal. Bruckner’s latest—The Night House—is another delayed 2020 Sundance release that picked up favorable notices after its premiere, particularly for its effective use of sound and jump scares. Rebecca Hall plays a woman reeling from her husband’s suicide, and possibly haunted by an unknown, supremely creepy presence in the lake house he built for them. It all sounds very promising, but maybe don’t buy a big bucket of popcorn beforehand, lest you end up like that poor schlub in the AMC Theaters pre-roll.
When the trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s Old unexpectedly showed up before this year’s Super Bowl, it was a weird and welcome surprise. It’s got a crackerjack cast including Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps, who visit a beach with their family where they and a group of other folks start rapidly aging for unknown reasons. Yes, the goofy title and the fact it’s a Shyamalan joint mean it could be a total disaster. However, even that man’s disasters are typically interesting. Trainwreck or no, it’ll likely be worth checking out.
The Green Knight
The Green Knight is another delayed 2020 movie from A24, this time coming from A Ghost Story’s David Lowery. It’s a retelling of the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with Dev Patel playing Gawain. The material seems like a departure for Lowery, whose interest in lore and mysticism usually tips toward Americana. However, the legend’s themes of mortality, identity, and honor are right up his alley. The trailer gives off strong A24 horror vibes (think Midsommar and The Witch). For a specific subset of movie fans, that signifies we’ll be in for a real treat.
The Suicide Squad
When it was announced James Gunn would be taking on The Suicide Squad, both a sequel and corrective to David Ayer’s bleak and messy 2016 movie, you could hear the collective cheer go up across the internet. Gunn is a great fit for this material, more because of his edgier pre-Marvel work like Super than for his Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and the trailers released so far reflect that. In addition to a gonzo style and impressive cast, the movie also prominently features local boy-made-good David Dastmalchian, who plays beloved DC character…(checks notes) Polka-Dot Man.
It’s been delayed and delayed, but cross your fingers, it looks like Nia DaCosta’s Candyman “spiritual sequel” will hit theaters at the end of August. Horror fans have been champing at the bit for DaCosta’s movie for what feels like forever, and I personally can’t wait to see what socially-conscious terrors she and co-writer and producer Jordan Peele have in store for us. It should be a fitting cap on what looks to be a promising summer movie season.