Here are the 19 biggest and buzziest films of the season.
Though plenty of movies came out in the summer of 2020, the pandemic and widespread movie theater shutdowns led major Hollywood studios to postpone their biggest releases into 2021 and beyond. Now the summer is nearly upon us, and with theaters reopening across America, a whole lot of movies are coming our way.
What can you watch this summer as the multiplex — and much of the world — reopens? Lots of franchise fare and sequels. Original animated films and goofy comedies. Horror, musicals, thrillers, and plenty of superheroes. For movie lovers, it may feel like coming home.
There are many more movies coming this summer than we can collect in one list. But here are 19 of the biggest, buzziest titles scheduled to hit theaters — and, in many cases, streaming services — from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
A Quiet Place Part II
Release date: May 28
The follow-up to the 2018 smash hit horror film, A Quiet Place Part II brings back Emily Blunt as she fights to keep her family alive in a world where creatures that hunt by listening are lurking everywhere. Cillian Murphy, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds also star, and John Krasinski returns as the film’s writer and director. Expect some good jump scares!
How to watch it: A Quiet Place Part II will open in theaters.
Release date: May 28
Emma Stone stars in a pleasantly bonkers origin story for the 101 Dalmatians villain. She’s an aspiring fashion designer — Estella “Cruella” de Vil — who becomes obsessed with Dalmatian furs. Emma Thompson turns up as Baroness von Hellman, Estella’s boss. The movie is stylishly designed, well-acted, and, above all, a really goofy romp.
How to watch it: Cruella will open in theaters and be available as a “premier access” rental on Disney+.
Release date: June 11
In the Heights is poised to be the smash hit of the summer — and that would probably be true even if it wasn’t perfectly timed to welcome moviegoers back to theaters after a long pandemic year. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (pre-Hamilton) musical was a hit on Broadway, and now it’s been translated to the big screen by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu. Starring a bevy of talent — Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Jimmy Smits, Marc Anthony, and Miranda himself — it’s a joyful, music-filled story about a community pulling together and their dreams of a better life.
How to watch it: In the Heights will open in theaters and on HBO Max.
Release date: June 18
Pixar’s latest is set in the Italian Riviera, a place I’d give my eyeteeth to vacation in right about now. The film is a coming-of-age story about a kid named Luca, who’s about to have the best summer of his life in Italy. He meets another boy and they become fast friends. But Luca has a secret: He’s actually a sea monster. What? I don’t know, but it sounds fun to me.
How to watch it: Luca will stream on Disney+.
Release date: June 25
You don’t go see a Fast & Furious movie for the plot; you go for the cars and the camaraderie, and that’s what F9 promises to serve up as well. Directed and co-written (with Daniel Casey) by Justin Lin, who made Fast & Furious 6, F9 has been delayed several times due to the pandemic. But now it’s here, with a stacked cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren, and Charlize Theron. And, presumably, some really cool stunts.
How to watch it: F9 will open in theaters.
Release date: June 30
I am reasonably confident that Zola (which premiered at Sundance in 2020) is the first movie based on a Twitter thread, and it is a humdinger. In 2015, stripper A’Ziah King — who goes by Zola — told the story, in 148 tweets, of a strange-but-true trip to Florida with a girl named Stefani; the trip went terribly, terribly wrong when King discovered Stefani’s “roommate” was actually her pimp. King later admitted some parts of her account were exaggerated, but Zola director Janicza Bravo is less interested in facts than she is in crafting an entertaining tale and exploring how our perceptions of the characters are affected by who’s telling the story. It’s wild, raunchy, and very funny, with a cast that includes Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun (a.k.a. Succession’s Cousin Greg), and a marvelous Taylour Paige, plus a screenplay co-written by Bravo and Slave Play writer Jeremy O. Harris.
How to watch it: Zola will open in theaters.
Summer of Soul
Release date: July 2
One of the biggest crowd-pleasers and award winners at the (virtual) 2021 Sundance Film Festival was Summer of Soul, and that’s no surprise. Ahmir Thompson — better known as Questlove, the drummer and frontman for the Roots — directed the film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, sometimes dubbed “Black Woodstock.” The staggering concert, held over a series of weekends in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park, featured everyone from Sly and the Family Stone to Nina Simone to Stevie Wonder to Mahalia Jackson. The events were filmed, but the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. Now it’s been compiled into a documentary about a pivotal moment in Black cultural history — and the result is absolutely infectious.
How to watch it: Summer of Soul will open in theaters and stream on Hulu.
Release date: July 9
Black Widow was originally set to premiere in May 2020; now it’s finally coming out, effectively launching “Phase 4” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and returning the MCU to the big screen for the first time in two years. Scarlett Johansson stars in the movie, a prequel of sorts set after 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow) is on the run and must confront her past. Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz also star.
How to watch it: Black Widow will open in theaters and be available as a “premier access” rental on Disney+.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Release date: July 16
Ready to feel old? The original Space Jam came out 25 years ago, in 1996. In Hollywood years, we’re more than due for a new one, or at least one that takes advantage of new IP, so Space Jam: A New Legacy is on its way. This one stars LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, and Cedric Joe — alongside Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, Sylvester the Cat, Foghorn Leghorn, and Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya).
How to watch it: Space Jam: A New Legacy will open in theaters and on HBO Max.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
Release date: July 23
The Hotel Transylvania franchise always serves up good, goofy fun, and the fourth (and reportedly final) installment probably will, too. In this movie, Johnny — husband of Mavis Dracula and son-in-law of Dracula himself — is feeling bad because he’s not a real monster like the rest of the family. So he decides to turn into one, with the help of Van Helsing; hijinks ensue. Series creator Genndy Tartakovsky wrote the screenplay, and Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg return. Brian Hull, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Steve Buscemi, and David Spade round out the cast. Production on the film took place during the pandemic — a little easier, admittedly, when your film is animated.
How to watch it: Hotel Transylvania: Transformania will open in theaters.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Release date: July 23
In this world of franchise entertainment, everybody gets an origin story. So this spinoff of the G.I. Joe franchise will focus on the character of Snake Eyes, the G.I. Joe team’s original commando, who’s always been a bit of a mystery. Henry Golding (of Crazy Rich Asians) plays Snake Eyes, and the film is directed by Robert Schwentke (who made several films in the Divergent series). Andrew Koji, Iko Uwais, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, and Peter Mensah also star.
How to watch it: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins will open in theaters.
The Green Knight
Release date: July 30
If the words “epic medieval fantasy film starring Dev Patel” fill your soul with glee, then you are in luck, my friend. David Lowery (The Old Man and the Gun) wrote and directed this adaptation of the Arthurian legend “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Patel stars as Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), who takes off on a journey to confront a green-faced knight (Ralph Ineson). Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, and Erin Kellyman also star.
How to watch it: The Green Knight will open in theaters.
Release date: July 30
Jungle Cruise is a popular ride at several Disney theme parks, beloved for the jokes its pun-loving skippers tell as they navigate many of the world’s major rivers — and now it’s set to be a movie, too. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who makes horror films as well as Liam Neeson-starring thrillers), Jungle Cruise tells the story of a riverboat captain (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) around the turn of the last century, who brings a scientist (Emily Blunt) and her brother (Jack Whitehall) on a trip into the jungle to find the Tree of Life. It also stars Édgar Ramírez, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti. Huh!
How to watch it: Jungle Cruise will open in theaters.
The Suicide Squad
Release date: August 6
Confusingly, the next DC Comics movie is titled The Suicide Squad, and it’s being billed as a “standalone sequel” to 2016’s critically panned Suicide Squad. Directed by James Gunn (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, at that other comic book studio), it stars Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, and Peter Capaldi as a band of convicts on a mission to eliminate a Nazi-era prison and laboratory. The trailer looks trippy, and Gunn’s sensibility is always interesting, so maybe this one will be more fun to watch.
How to watch it: The Suicide Squad will open in theaters and on HBO Max.
Release date: August 13
CODA, which takes its name from the common acronym for children of deaf adults, was the hit of Sundance earlier this year, hauling in a record $25 million acquisition deal from Apple TV+ and all four of the festival’s top honors: the grand jury prize, the audience award, the directing prize for Sian Heder, and a special jury prize for the film’s ensemble cast. And no wonder — it’s a truly heartfelt, music-laced story about a teenager (Emilia Jones) who is the only hearing member of her family. She wants to go to college for music, but her family is struggling to keep their fishing business afloat. Sweet, thoughtful, and unusual in its extensive use of sign language and its casting of deaf actors (including Oscar winner Marlee Matlin), it’s the kind of film you can’t help but love.
How to watch it: CODA will open in theaters and stream on Apple TV+.
Release date: August 13
Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds as a non-player character (NPC) named Guy, a bank teller, in a video game called Free City. When new code is inserted into the game by its publisher (Taika Waititi), Guy suddenly becomes self-aware, and he starts trying to become the game’s hero. Meanwhile, the developers (Jodie Comer and Joe Keery) are trying to shut the whole thing down. Free Guy will be released in 3D and IMAX 3D (interesting) and looks odd, but maybe fun?
How to watch it: Free Guy will open in theaters.
Release date: August 13
Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin in this biographical drama, directed by Liesl Tommy and written by Tracey Scott Wilson. The film was delayed by the pandemic, but its original late-2020 release slot — prime Oscar contention territory — suggests the producers think they have a great performance on their hands. And the cast is great: The film also stars Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Skye Dakota Turner, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige. Respect, indeed.
How to watch it: Respect will open in theaters.
The Beatles: Get Back
Release date: August 27
A few years ago, Peter Jackson — yes, that Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings — directed a hit documentary called They Shall Not Grow Old, which used movie magic to allow World War II soldiers to “tell” their own stories. Now he’s back with The Beatles: Get Back, created from restored and never-before-seen footage of the band recording their 1970 album Let It Be. Sounds like the perfect late-summer movie to me.
How to watch it: The Beatles: Get Back will open in theaters.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Release date: September 3
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the second of four Marvel movies scheduled for 2021 release. (The others are July’s Black Widow, November’s The Eternals, and December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.) And it looks like it could be great. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy), it centers on its title character (played by Simu Liu), who is drawn into the shadowy Ten Rings organization and must confront his past. The film also stars Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, and Ronny Chieng.
How to watch it: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open in theaters.
Author: Alissa Wilkinson