Release dates might still remain in flux, but after a year of pushed-back features, the 2021 fall movie season is positively bursting with brand-new offerings.
After more than a year of pushed-back release dates, ever-evolving release plans, and a raft of virtual festivals and other in-home viewing pivots, the release date calendar is looking a touch more normal these days. While many things are still in flux, the fall of 2021 is shaping up to offer one of the more stacked seasons in recent memory. From festival favorites to awards contenders, scrappy indies and dark horses, this autumn might still contain its own surprises, but one thing is for sure: movie-goers are in for some serious treats at the multiplex and beyond.
Some of these titles were moved off of 2020, including “No Time to Die,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Dune,” “Eternals,” and other big budget blockbusters, while other films have only recently emerged as major contenders (we’re looking at you, Cannes heavyweights like “Titane,” “Bendetta,” and “Lamb”), but all of them hint at a stacked season with offerings sure to appeal to everyone. Streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime aren’t resting on their laurels either, rolling out a bevy of big films and festival favorites, both in theaters and in the comfort of home, while Warner Bros. will continue to offer its packed slate in both theaters and on HBO Max.
This list includes films that have currently set a firm release date or are definitely expected in 2021, though many of IndieWire’s most-anticipated 2021 films have yet to announce release plans, including titles like “Memoria,” “The Worst Person in the World,” and a variety of other films set to bow on the fall festival circuit. At 45 titles now, this list offers a wide variety of choices for audiences, but we’re expecting to add still more as the months roll on.
Of course, everything remains in flux, and as plans continue to change, this list will be updated. Whether that includes changing release dates, the method of a film’s release, or adding in some of those anticipated titles that have locked in an official date in 2021, this preview remains particularly fluid. For now, however, these are the films we are most excited to see in the coming months.
Eric Kohn, Anne Thompson, Christian Blauvelt, David Ehrlich, Zack Sharf, Ryan Lattanzio, Jude Dry, and Tambay Obenson contributed to this article.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (September 3, theaters)
Simu Liu stars as the Marvel Comics warrior in the film kicking off the MCU’s Phase 4, which looks to be a breakthrough in representation for the franchise: the film boasts an all-Asian or Asian-American cast — including Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Ronny Chieng — especially significant after the whitewashing controversies Marvel brought upon itself with “Doctor Strange” and Netflix’s “Iron Fist” series. Liu’s title character is a martial artist taught to be an assassin for a secret criminal society, the Ten Rings, led by his father Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai).
After 10 years of trying to lead a “normal” life in San Francisco, Shang-Chi’s life is disrupted when his father reenters the picture. Directed by Asian-American filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12,” “Just Mercy”), the movie seems to have a lot of the CGI spectacle that defines most Marvel Studios efforts, but with a different kind of Oedipal story anchoring it. At the very least: no abundance of superheroes in masks! Because he’s visible the whole time, Simu Liu ended up doing a lot of his own stunts for “Shang-Chi.” —CB
“Language Lessons” (September 10, theaters)
The coronavirus pandemic and its attendant lockdowns and quarantines have already inspired a wide variety of scrappy slices of entertainment, from “Songbird” and “Malcom & Marie” to “Locked Down” and “How It Ends,” and that’s just in the narrative arena. While the desire to keep creating as usual production options are on hold is understandable (heck, even admirable), it’s led to a mixed bag of final products, even the best of them hampered by the restrictions of the era. In short, a year into this thing, “Zoom fatigue” is very real, and getting an audience excited to watch a film that plays out almost entirely via video conferencing and messaging is no small ask.
Fortunately, Natalie Morales’ winning “Language Lessons” offers one of the best uses of the format yet, a “Zoom film” that utilizes its constraints to craft an intimate, expressive two-hander, no fatigue in sight. Morales also stars in the film alongside her co-writer, Mark Duplass, who first conceived of the film’s relatively simple idea before pitching it to Morales as a workable lockdown project; the pair’s obvious creative harmony helps the film stay afloat even during some (scattered) rough moments. The film’s clever use of the format is hardly its most refreshing element: told any way, the heart of “Language Lessons” would be moving and well worth exploring. Built on seemingly familiar tropes, Morales’ film resists the usual expectations of what might happen when two strangers bond intensely and under cute-sounding constraints. —KE
“The Card Counter” (September 10, theaters)
At 75, veteran director Paul Schrader shows no sign of slowing down or changing directions. Following his mesmerizing religious guilt eco-thriller “First Reformed,” Schrader continues his “man-in-a-room” trope with this intriguing look at a gambling war veteran (Oscar Isaac) who attempts to talk the son of his old war buddy (Tye Sheridan) out of exacting revenge on a man who destroyed their lives.
Set against the backdrop of smoky Vegas casinos and taut hotel room confrontations, “The Card Counter” is poised to return to Schrader’s most engaging fixations on alienated, angry men so frustrated with the world around them that they eventually decide to do something crazy to fix it. (Yes, that tradition goes all the way back to his “Taxi Driver” script.) It’s also one of several showcases for Isaac’s talent this fall, but unlike “Dune,” could provide the actor with more intimate, relatable material to foreground his ability to inject even the slightest glance with intense connotations. Tiffany Haddish also co-stars as a potential romantic interest for Isaac, and a woman with a few gambling schemes of her own. —EK
“The Nowhere Inn” (September 17, theaters)
This experimental film collaboration between friends (and exes) Carrie Brownstein and Annie Clark is sure to upend expectations. The film is a scalpel-sharp critique of the nature of celebrity and the madness of fame, and what’s set up as a straightforward documentary about Grammy winner St. Vincent and her career soon devolves into a psychological thriller.
In his Sundance 2020 review, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn described the film as “absurd and eerie, ridiculous and deep. Pitched somewhere between traditional rockumentary tropes and a heap of zany Adult Swim shorts, it dips into the deadpan folksy satire of Brownstein’s ‘Portlandia’ before veering into a shapeshifting psychological thriller worthy of vintage De Palma.” It may not sound like the most commercial fare, but between the diehard fans these two both inspire — it shouldn’t matter one bit. —JD
“Blue Bayou” (September 17, theaters)
The over-cranked by achingly heartfelt “Blue Bayou” is by far the biggest film that writer-director and leading man Justin Chon (“Ms. Purple”) has made so far, and while it lays on the treacle even thicker than his previous work, it also unfolds with the kind of emotional sweep and moral urgency that suggests Chon will be a major force in the movies for a long time to come. The crux of this issue-driven melodrama hinges on the immigration status of this country’s foreign-born adoptees; a bill was passed in the year 2000 that granted them American citizenship, but that long-overdue change didn’t retroactively apply to anyone who was brought to this country before that.
It’s a legal quirk so illogical that it’s never even occurred to Korea-born New Orleans tattoo artist Antonio LeBlanc (Chon, directing himself in a tender performance that goes for it and then some), who was spirited away to the United States by an abusive foster couple when he was three years old, but it’s also one so devastating that it threatens to destroy the family he’s made with his pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and their young daughter from her first marriage (Sydney Kowalske). It’s bad enough for Antonio that Kathy’s ex is a possessive cop, and even worse that his partner is a virulent ultra-racist played by Emory Cohen. Needless to say, things get out of control in a hurry.
Schmaltzy and improbable as this tear-jerker gets, Chon’s performance never allows you to fully disengage from the fact that actual stories like it are happening every day of the week for no other reason than because we allow them to. That verisimilitude is bolstered by the film’s exquisite casting, costume design, and sense of place. It’s because of these subtler flourishes that “Blue Bayou” allows you to sink into its depths, and leaves you lingeringly heartbroken that so many people have been allowed to drown there. —DE
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (September 17, streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
Ever since a certain reality competition show made drag America’s new favorite pastime, the next generation has traded dreams of pop stardom for visions of drag superstardom. This fall, we get a glitzy musical movie about a British teen with drag dreams, the latest evidence that drag has permeated fully into the mainstream. Based on the stage musical of the same name, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” follows a 16-year-old outcast who pursues his dreams against all odds.
Newcomer Max Harwood stars alongside exciting supporting cast members Richard E. Grant as Jamie’s drag mother and Sharon Horgan as his teacher. With a pop-inspired original score and the killer combo of musicals and drag, it could very well be the fall hit to gag for. —JD
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (September 17, theaters)
Michael Showalter’s “The Big Sick” rode a wave of festival acclaim out of Sundance to an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and Focus is surely hoping Showalter’s upcoming directorial feature “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” follows the same trajectory. Launching at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Tammy Faye” stars Jessica Chastain as the eponymous televangelist and Andrew Garfield as her husband, Jim Bakker.
The supporting cast includes Cherry Jones, Fredric Lehne, Louis Cancelmi, Sam Jaeger, Gabriel Olds, Mark Wystrach, and Vincent D’Onofrio. All eyes are on Chastain, who appears physically transformed in the film, thanks to prodigious makeup and prosthetic work. Chastain spent four hours each day in the makeup trailer transforming into Bakker with help from her longtime makeup artists Linda Dowds and Stephanie Ingram, plus Justin Raleigh. —ZS
“Dear Evan Hansen” (September 24, theaters)
The hit 2015 musical will finally reach the masses, with original star Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as a teenager with social anxiety. When a popular kid at his school dies by suicide, Evan Hansen fabricates a friendship with his former classmate, becoming further entangled in his web of lies. Directed by “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” author Stephen Chbosky (who also helmed his book’s successful film adaptation), “Dear Evan Hansen” playwright Steven Levenson adapted his original Tony-winning script.
In addition to Platt, the all-star cast features Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever, and Amandla Stenberg. The music hails from “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land” composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The film is launching the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival as the event’s opening night pick, which gives it plenty big shoes to fill: previous editions of the festival have leaned into musical offerings, including last year’s “American Utopia” from Spike Lee. —JD
“Titane” (October 1, theaters)
During the first half of Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning “Titane,” it’s hard to tell if you’re watching the most fucked up movie ever made about the idea of found family, or the sweetest movie ever made about a serial killer (unforgettable newcomer Agathe Rousselle) who has sex with a car, poses as the adult version of a local boy who went missing a decade earlier, and then promptly moves in with the kid’s still-grieving father. During the second half, it becomes obvious that it’s both — that somehow it couldn’t be one without the other.
Following the cannibalistic “Raw” with another ravenous film that pushes her fascination with the hunger and malleability of human flesh to even further extremes, Ducournau has made good on the promise of her debut and then some. Whatever you’re willing to take from it, there’s no denying that “Titane” is the work of a demented visionary in full command of her wild mind; a shimmering aria of fire and metal that introduces itself as the psychopathic lovechild of David Cronenberg’s “Crash” and Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” before shapeshifting into a modern fable about how badly people just need someone to take care of them and vice-versa. —DE
“The Many Saints of Newark” (October 1, theaters and streaming on HBO Max)
The long-awaited prequel to HBO’s Emmy-winning drama series “The Sopranos,” David Chase’s “The Many Saints of Newark” tracks the relationship between a young Tony Soprano (played in the prequel by Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini) and his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). Dickie is the father of Christopher Moltisanti, played by Michael Imperioli in “The Sopranos.” The narrative setup is irresistible for “Sopranos” fans, as is the chance to watch the late Gandolfini’s son step into the role made iconic by his father.
Joining Gandolfini and Nivola in the cast are Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Michela De Rossi, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga. The film was written by Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos” who wrote and directed the series’ pilot episode and series finale, and directed by Alan Taylor, a franchise veteran who directed nine episodes of “The Sopranos” and won the 2007 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for the sixth season episode “Kennedy and Heidi.” —ZS
“Lamb” (October 8, theaters)
Where to begin with the batshit crazy premise of “Lamb”? The main appeal of the story is a spoiler, though one that distributor A24 has already included in the trailer. Still, anyone sufficiently intrigued by an icy Icelandic drama about a pair of aspiring parents and sheep farmers who encounter a bizarre opportunity to fulfill their dreams might want to stop here. First-time writer-director Valdimar Jóhannsson has been schooled in the eloquent atmospheric horror of “The Witch” and “Hereditary” to such a precise degree that “Lamb” may as well exist as a spin-off.
Still here? OK, here goes: “Lamb” is about a young couple, María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), who adopt a child with the head of a lamb as their daughter. That’s right: One night, while helping their animals give birth, they discover one of them has delivered a child with the body of a human infant attached to a head that looks not unlike the furry, dead-eyed critters roaming around in the pen. As they begin to care for it, the couple at first seem to have found the idyllic family life that has eluded them. When Ingar’s brother shows up, his own response to the odd dynamic leads to a whole new set of complications, while an ominous force watches from afar. In spite of its main ridiculous twist, “Lamb” amounts to a rather grounded look at a relationship on the rocks, parental anxieties, and the vindictiveness of the natural world. All of which means that no measly spoiler can ruin the atmospheric intensity of this striking debut. —EK
“No Time to Die” (October 8, theaters)
Knock on wood, but at long last, after countless delays (pandemic-related and otherwise) dating back to fall 2019, the 25th outing in the Bond universe is upon us. Cary Joji Fukunaga takes the reins from Sam Mendes, bringing the unique stamp he set with viscerally engulfing films like “Beasts of No Nation” and “Sin Nombre,” and mystery-unraveling TV such as “True Detective” to Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007.
As one of the first major releases to see the plugged pull on its release at the onset of Covid, “No Time to Die” (along with studios MGM and United Artists) has a lot of pressure on its shoulders to deliver the goods a year and a half later. “No Time to Die” finds James Bond reckoning with his legacy, now retired from the MI6, but of course, he’s called back to the demimonde of international espionage by a cast of adversaries and allies alike: from Rami Malek as the shadowy Lyutsifer Safin, to Lea Seydoux as psychiatrist (and Bond’s love interest) Madeleine Swann, Lashana Lynch as new 00 agent Nomi, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, Christoph Waltz as Ernst Blofeld, and Ben Whishaw as MI6 Quartermaster Q. Bringing a new look to the Bond universe is Oscar-winning “La La Land” cinematographer, and 007 newbie, Linus Sandgren. —RL
“Bergman Island” (October 15, select theaters)
A triple-layered meta-romance about a filmmaker who flies to Sweden with her partner and pitches him a screenplay about her first love — Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island” is such a rare and remarkable movie for the very same reason that you wouldn’t expect it to exist in the first place. Set on the remote skerry in the Baltic Sea that Bergman adopted as his home and began to terraform with his artistic persona after making “Through a Glass Darkly” there in 1961, Hansen-Løve’s zephyr-calm story of loss, love, and artistic reclamation draws such an extreme contrast to the scorched Earth films that have become synonymous with Fårö that even its nighttime scenes reveal the shadows that fiction has the power to cast across reality.
In other words, Hansen-Løve’s film isn’t really an homage to Bergman at all — at least not one that worships at his altar with the kind of orthodox piety required for Paul Schrader to refract “Winter Light” into “First Reformed.” While the iconic Swedish artist is amusingly inescapable in “Bergman Island” (his films are name-checked in almost every scene, many of which take place on the exact spots where they were shot or in the house where he wrote them), this supple puzzle-box is more interested in him as a means to an end. —DE
“The Last Duel” (October 15, theaters)
One of two major Ridley Scott-directed period pieces hitting theaters this fall (along with “House of Gucci”), “The Last Duel” returns to the filmmaker to the blood-soaked, embattled territory of his biggest epics, including “Gladiator” and “Exodus.” And it also returns screen pals Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to writing, and starring in, their material: here, the story of a knight (Damon) avenging his wife’s sexual assault (Jodie Comer), committed by a squire who also happens to be his closest friend (Adam Driver).
Affleck (playing a count with, as the trailer indicates, possibly bleach-blond hair) and Damon also brought aboard savvy indie writer/director Nicole Holofcener to co-write the script based on “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France,” and bring this “Rashomon”-esque story of warring perspectives a female point of view. Based on a true story, the battle between the two men became the last legally sanctioned duel in France. —RL
“Halloween Kills” (October 15, theaters)
David Gordon Green’s latest plunge into the horror universe established by John Carpenter, “Halloween Kills” gets the classy burnish of a Venice Film Festival world premiere in September before going wide in the U.S. this October, right in time for its namesake holiday. Last we saw Michael Myers in 2018’s “Halloween,” he was trapped and burning (alive?) in Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) basement. Alas, anyone familiar with the Michael Myers cycle of life knows he will rise (and kill) again, this time in a movie that reportedly digs deeper into Laurie’s post-traumatic stress disorder from nearly half a century of being terrorized by the masked killer.
Green wrote the film with comedian Danny McBride and Scott Teems. The cast brings back not only Curtis, but also Judy Greer as her daughter Karen, Will Patton as Deputy Frank Hawkins from both the 1978 and 2018 “Halloween,” and they’re joined by the likes of ‘80s icon Anthony Michael Hall and even “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kyle Richards, reprising her role from the 1978 movie. —RL
Sundance Film Festival
“Luzzu” (October 15, theaters)
The list of films shot or produced on location in Malta is a short one, with the island’s shimmery Mediterranean beauty primarily the backdrop for swords-and-sandals epics. A rare locally-produced film that is also about Malta itself, and features actual Maltese people, “Luzzu” marks the debut of director Alex Camilleri with a vérité fishing drama populated by nonprofessional actors. Léo Lefèvre’s granular cinematography, meanwhile, provides a dreamy complement, casting the coast in rich blues and the city with an almost dusty, world-worn quality.
A neorealist telling in the tradition of the Dardenne brothers, who also work with locals on their films, “Luzzu” is beautifully shot, if at times emotionally restrained, in its centering around a man who’s occasionally hard to read. But it boast a true discovery in the casting of Jesmark Scicluna, a real fisherman who plays a version of himself, and here playing a struggling parent trying to eke out a living along the docks. —RL
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (October 15, theaters)
Tom Hardy seems hellbent on delivering the oddest superhero moviegoers could possibly see on any screen these days. This sequel to the 2018 film about a human male (Hardy) merging with an alien symbiont begins in full buddy-comedy mode — if your best friend happens to live inside you and pop out at comically inconvenient times. Hardy’s Eddie Brock is greeted with “Hi, Eddie; hi, Venom” when he enters his local convenience store. But at a moment’s notice, Venom threatens to eat the clerk.
The buddy-comedy shenanigans are something this sequel’s director Andy Serkis wants to play up. He told IGN, “They are now what is, in effect, the ‘Odd Couple’ stage of their relationship. … They’ve been together for a year and a half, say, since the last story. And they’re figuring out how to be with each other. And it’s like living with this maniac toddler.” Of course, a supervillain has to enter the mix: Woody Harrelson seems properly deranged as a death row inmate who gets superpowers and becomes the being Carnage…on account of the experimental drugs being pumped into him for his execution by lethal injection. How’s that for an origin story? —CB
“Dune” (October 22, theaters and streaming on HBO Max)
The wait for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” finally ends on October 22, and here’s hoping the film fares better with critics and moviegoers than David Lynch’s infamous 1986 adaptation. Villeneuve has been wanting to make a film adaptation of Frank Hebert’s science-fiction novel since he was a teenager, and the footage that has been released so far in trailers promises eye-popping set design and breathtaking action.
“Dune” stars Timothée Chalamet in his first leading blockbuster role as Paul Atreides, whose family has ownership of the dangerous desert planet Arrakis. The planet is the home of the world’s most valuable resource, a drug called spice that extends human life and gives its users super-human abilities. By taking ownership of Arrakis, the Atreides family becomes an enemy of the rival Harkonnen empire and the planet’s natives, known as the Fremen.
The supporting cast includes Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem, among others. “Dune” world premieres at the Venice Film Festival before its October release. —ZS
“The French Dispatch” (October 22, theaters)
A freewheeling three-part salute to old-school journalism in general — and The New Yorker in particular — Wes Anderson’s charming sketchbook of stories about American expatriates in France delivers a welcome salute to storytelling as a way to make sense of the world. While its central publication is based in the fictional French city of Ennsui-sur-Blasé and serves an audience across the globe in Kansas, there’s no doubting the inspiration behind the scenes. “The French Dispatch” closes with a dedication to everyone from William Shawn to James Baldwin and Lillian Ross, all treasured writers from The New Yorker history books whose work inspired the eccentric tales within.
Molding elements of their work into his standard ironic cadences, Anderson explores topics as far-reaching as an imprisoned painter (Benicio del Toro) subjected to the absurdity of the art world, student revolutionaries (including Timothée Chalamet) in the sixties, and a convoluted kidnapping plot that involves both food porn and animation (and stars Jeffrey Wright). Closer to a French New Wave experiment than the more controlled ensemble stories in his repertoire, “The French Dispatch” is an endearing, liberated, and ridiculously star-studded explosion of Andersonian aesthetics that doesn’t always cohere into a satisfying package, but never slows down long enough to lose its engrossing appeal, and always retains its purpose. —EK
“Last Night in Soho” (October 29, theaters)
The air of mod London glamour and otherworldly detachment emanating from Anya Taylor-Joy in the first trailer for Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” brings to mind the immortal words of a certain Brit rock classic from The Zombies: “Her eyes were clear and bright/But she’s not there.” Indeed, she doesn’t seem quite all there. And neither does Thomasin McKenzie, who plays a fashion student inexplicably transported to the 1960s, and into the body of her idol, a singer named Sandy (Taylor-Joy).
From “Shaun of the Dead” to “Baby Driver,” Edgar Wright has established himself as a technically skilled filmmaker capable of catering to both the cinephile crowd (can you catch all the references?) and mainstream audiences (who cares?) alike. For “Last Night in Soho,” he digs back into his bag of tricks (and endless well of movie knowledge) to conjure a movie inspired by crimson-colored, giallo sensibilities, with a dash of Polanski paranoia, for a time-hopping, body-jumping tale of women on the collision course to a psychological meltdown. Whatever Wright is up to, this is sure to be a trippy ride. —RL
Check out the rest of our fall preview, including November and December releases and more, on the next page.