For Hollywood, 2021 may be a turning point in the film industry. It could be the best of times. It could be the worst of times.
As 2020 shambles toward its inevitable finale, theater chains are struggling to survive in a world crippled by the pandemic. Mandatory lockdowns and social distancing rules necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have hurt many businesses, with companies such as Regal and AMC facing catastrophic revenue loss and the potential for bankruptcy. Some blockbusters that had been scheduled for release in 2020 were postponed while others were released digitally through video on demand platforms.
The happy ending to 2020 is that vaccines have been developed and approved. Vaccinations have already begun across the United States, but it is likely to be a slow process … and it may not be enough to revive the movie industry. Toward the the end of the year, Warner Bros. announced that it plans to release its 2021 slate of movies in theaters and on HBO Max. That list will include “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “The Suicide Squad,” and “Matrix 4.” The move is a shocking deviation from industry standards — but given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising to see other movie studios follow a similar path.
So, don’t call it a comeback — not yet, anyway. In the best-case scenario, 2021 isn’t likely to see an immediate resumption of the summer blockbuster paradigm, with massive box office numbers such as those generated by “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019. In 2020, the top domestic box office winner was “Bad Boys for Life,” released Jan. 17 before COVID-19 hit daily headlines. The Sony Pictures film grossed $204 million domestically. That’s quite a nosedive from the haul earned domestically by the previous year’s top contender: “Avengers: Endgame” brought in $858 million domestically, with worldwide earnings of $2.7 billion.
Even though Walt Disney Studios/Marvel Studios has a backlog of Marvel Cinematic Universe films ready to go, it isn’t likely that movie theaters will experience crowds like those any time soon.
What movies will lure audiences back into the theaters in 2020? What stars will compel shell-shocked introverts into returning to public spaces? Will some of 2020’s postponed movies finally get the love they deserve? Following is a look at 12 of the most anticipated films of 2021.
- Release date: March 19
- Starring: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Tyrese Gibson, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris
- Genre: Superhero, horror and action
If you read comic books, you are probably really excited about this. If you don’t read comic books, you probably have no idea who Morbius is.
“Morbius” will be the second film in the Sony Marvel Universe — as if we need another shared universe based upon comic book characters. It follows “Venom,” released in 2018. Both Venom and Morbius are characters associated with Spider-Man. The rights to Spider-Man and all the title’s associated characters remain with Sony.
‘No Time to Die’
- Release date: April 2
- Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Christoph Waltz, Lashana Lynch
- Genre: Action, adventure and thriller
Let’s all just pretend we didn’t notice that the font used by graphic designers for the film’s poster isn’t nearly identical to the “The Love Boat” font, OK?
Like many Gen Xers, I have an affection for Ian Fleming’s British MI6 secret agent. I recall watching the Sean Connery films with my father when they ran as special movie presentations on one of the three major networks. The first Bond film I saw in a movie theater was 1983’s “Octopussy.” When Daniel Craig took over the part in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” I was pleased.
This time, Bond has left active service. Of course, his retirement doesn’t last very long.
- Release date: April 16
- Starring: Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones
- Genre: Science fiction drama
A man, a robot and a dog walk into a bar — except the bar is an underground bunker and the world is a wasteland. Following a cataclysmic solar event, a terminally ill robotics engineer spends his final days ensuring that his beloved canine companion will be cared for after he’s gone.
- Release date: May 7
- Starring: Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, William Hurt
- Genre: Superhero, action and adventure
We’re all wondering what Marvel Studios is going to do with our beloved Natasha Romanoff. Obviously, Black Widow’s fate in “Avengers: Endgame” limits certain storylines. This much-anticipated film will presumably peer into the character’s past and provide clues to how her life choices led her to join forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. and, eventually, the Avengers.
- Release date: May 28
- Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron
- Genre: Action
“F9” is short for “Fast & Furious 9,” although I contend that it should be “F29.” I didn’t bother to look up the story synopsis, but I’m gonna guess it involves sweaty-but-attractive antiheroes wearing muscle shirts and driving fast vehicles while not-so-nice and not-so-attractive antagonists shoot at them and blow things up. Let me know if I got it right.
‘Top Gun: Maverick’
- Release date: July 2
- Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris
- Genre: Action and drama
Disclaimer: I wasn’t a fan of the original. I’m not entirely sure why we need a sequel, other than to provide writers at “Family Guy” with some new material. I have nightmares that this will become another endless Tom Cruise franchise like “Mission: Impossible.”
Fine: I’ll say something positive. It will be nice to see Val Kilmer on the big screen again. Happy?
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’
- Release date: July 9
- Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Ronny Chieng and Michelle Yeoh
- Genre: Superhero and action
This could be the film that brings a lot of moviegoers back to the theaters, depending upon how the vaccination campaign is going. Finally, Marvel fans will get a comic-book-accurate depiction of the Mandarin — portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-wai — as the leader of the Ten Rings organization faces Shang-Chi.
- Release date: July 16
- Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Taylor Ali and Tati Gabrielle
- Genre: Action and adventure
This adaptation of the video game series of the same name created by Amy Hennig has been a long time coming. Development dates back to at least 2008, when Avi Arad announced he was working with a division of Sony to bring the story to the big screen. At one point, Nathan Fillion launched a Twitter campaign to play Nathan Drake, the protagonist of the video game series. That role eventually went to Tom Holland.
- Release date: Oct. 1
- Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Chang Chen, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem
- Genre: Epic science fiction
I’m not ashamed to admit that I adore David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” despite its shortcomings.
Denis Villeneuve directs this new adaptation. This is the same guy who helmed “Blade Runner 2049” in 2017. Here, he’ll bring to the big screen the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding.
- Release date: Nov. 5
- Starring: Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Barry Keoghan, Gemma Chan, Kit Harington
- Genre: Superhero, action and adventure
I hate to sound repetitive, but if you read comic books, you are probably really excited about this. If you don’t read comic books, you probably have no idea who the Eternals are.
“The Eternals” will help launch Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spanning more than 7,000 years, the story involves an immortal alien race created by the Celestials. Directed by Chloé Zhao and written by Matthew and Ryan Firpo, the film boasts an ensemble cast led by Angelina Jolie as Thena and Richard Madden as Ikaris.
Wish you were here to see this one, Jack Kirby.
‘West Side Story’
- Release date: Dec. 8
- Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Corey Stoll, Brian d'Arcy James and Rita Moreno
- Genre: Romantic musical drama
If Broadway can stage revivals of its beloved classics, Hollywood can’t be blamed for trying to go back to the well. Tony and Maria — our star-crossed lovers who have apparently never read “Romeo and Juliet” — fall in love despite the fact that they are linked to rival street gangs. In 1950s New York, their romance sets off a clash between the Jets and the Sharks that will undoubtedly end in tragedy.
‘The Matrix 4’
- Release date: Dec. 22
- Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lambert Wilson and Daniel Bernhardt
- Genre: Science fiction and action
The new installment in the franchise will be directed by Lana Wachowski, who co-directed and co-wrote three of the previous films with her sister Lilly. The series revolves around a cyberpunk trope in which the creation of artificial intelligence resulted in a race of self-aware machines that imprisoned mankind in a virtual reality system — the Matrix — to be farmed as a power source. After 2020, some people might opt for a cushy life as a captive battery.