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Back to the box office: A 2021 summer movie preview

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The summer season is back!

With COVID restrictions easing and movie theaters reopening, the 2021 summer box office looks pretty crowded; there are a LOT of offerings, though as always, one anticipates the level of quality will be wide-ranging.

That said, there are few things I enjoy more than looking forward at the movie release slate to come, so now that I have the opportunity, I intend to take full advantage.

To that end, here is a list of 21 films coming to theaters over the next few months. Now, there are some of these movies that will be receiving simultaneous streaming releases – mostly the Warner Brothers/HBO Max entries and a few Disney+ offerings, with a handful of others as well – but they will all be hitting the big screen.

It’s worth noting that there will be plenty of big-time streaming-only films coming from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. These movies have their own blockbuster bona fides, but I’ve chosen to focus on films hitting the silver screen for the ticket-buying public.

In addition, this is just a fraction of all the movies coming your way this summer. If I missed something that you’re looking forward to, well – apologies. And I’m not saying these are the 21 BEST movies of the summer – a quick glance should disabuse you of that notion. This is just a cross-section of the (hopefully) good, (possibly) bad and (potentially) ugly from the weeks ahead.

(Please note that all of the listed release dates are subject to change.)

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A Quiet Place II (May 28)

For whatever reason, this one feels like the unofficial kickoff of summer movie season; there are a couple of big releases from the week or so prior, but this sci-fi horror sequel seems like the splashy return to theaters. Emily Blunt will continue wandering the monster-ravaged world of silence from the previous film, though it looks like flashbacks might give us a sense of how it all went down when the invaders first arrived. Director John Krasinski’s follow-up to the excellent first film was one of the first movies to be impacted by pandemic release delays, so it only makes sense that it’s one of the first to come back.

Cruella (May 28)

This film feels … unnecessary. I’m not sure that anyone was really clamoring for a gritty origin story for one of Disney’s more despicable villains, but here we are. The pedigree (sorry) of this film that offers up the beginnings of “101 Dalmatians” villainess Cruella DeVille is legit – Emma Stone is the titular character, while Emma Thompson looks to be vamping it up in a delightful way as well – but to be honest, I have no idea what telling this story is meant to accomplish. Animated Cruella worked as a villain precisely because we DON’T know anything about her except that she wants to make a dalmatian-skin coat. Do we really NEED a backstory?

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4)

“The Conjuring” is one of the most successful and dependable horror franchises going right now. Everyone’s favorite paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) are back at it. This time, they’re looking into the case of a murder suspect who has trotted out the tried-and-true “the Devil made me do it” defense; it’s up to the Warrens to figure out if he’s on the up and up. What follows involves a (maybe) cursed family, a (perhaps) Satanist and a boy who may or may not be evil. Regardless of your feelings regarding the veracity of the real-life Warrens, these movies work – no reason to expect different with this installment.

In the Heights (June 11)

Look, if you want to adapt a hit Lin-Manuel Miranda musical to the big screen, have at it. While the man himself won’t be revisiting the role he played on stage – that honor will go to Anthony Ramos – you can bet he’s got his hands all over this. The Jon M. Chu-directed project will attempt to bring Miranda’s paean to his Washington Heights roots to life; my guess it that it will prove successful. As we saw with “Hamilton,” there’s hunger for this kind of content; a full film adaptation should resonate. As to whether this is the best musical-to-movie adaptation of the year, well – we’ll just have to see what Spielberg has to say about it this winter.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife (June 16)

For those who have forgotten, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” was a movie in which a wisecracking bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) teamed up with a foulmouthed hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) to rescue said hitman’s wife (Salma Hayek) and … something about the Hague, I think? Anyway, all those people are back for another movie in which I assume one of these three will need rescuing and so another one of the three enlists the help of the third and hijinks will ensue. The original was fun for what it was, but the unfortunate reality is that any modicum of success means that a sequel is inevitable. Expect more of the same from all involved.

Luca (June 18)

Another year, another Pixar movie certain to be beautifully animated and emotionally devastating. This one tells the story of a couple of young boys doing boy stuff in Italy. The twist? One of the boys is actually a sea monster in disguise. Pixar’s tendency toward films that aim more squarely at adults in recent years seems likely to continue with this one – the director is quoted as saying that this movie pays homage to Fellini, so get ready for your film nerd friends to get into this one. However, we’re also hearing that Miyazaki is in the mix as well, so … well, yeah – Film Twitter is DEFINITELY going to have some stuff to say.

F9 (June 25)

One could argue that the release of this film – the ninth in the “Fast & Furious” franchise – will mark the true return of the Hollywood blockbuster. Expect the usual high-octane action antics of Vin Diesel’s Dom Torretto and his “family” – we can only imagine where the bonkers evolution of this series will take us next. We know Charlize Theron is back as the big bad, and while we won’t be seeing The Rock in these films going forward, word on the street is that he’s been replaced by a fellow wrestler-turned-actor – John Cena himself is joining the franchise and preparing to match oiled biceps with Diesel and the rest of the F&F crew. It’ll be dumb, but it’ll also be fun.

The Ice Road (June 25)

I’m certainly not going to let the opportunity to discuss yet another mid-budget Liam Neeson action movie get by me. Granted, this one is less “man seeking vengeance” and more “man on a mission,” but Neeson has proven adept at both in recent years. This one involves Neeson as an ice road trucker who is tasked with rescuing some Canadian miners from deadly danger, only they’re – get this – on the OTHER SIDE of a frozen lake. A lake that is melting. It’s a race against time across the lake before it thaws. This movie will almost certainly be both entertaining and profoundly stupid – a Venn diagram overlap that, like it or not, has become Neeson’s wheelhouse.

Zola (June 30)

Look, would I have expected that one of the summer’s most anticipated films would be based on a Twitter thread? No, but I’ve long since learned that I don’t know anything about anything when it comes to how movies get made. It’s been a while coming, but this story of a waitress whose efforts to make some quick cash as a stripper go wildly awry courtesy of a cavalcade of unsavory characters. It doesn’t hurt that the adaptation comes by way of Tony-nominated writer Jeremy O. Harris (who wrote the acclaimed “Slave Play”). And the buzz that has been surrounding this movie since Sundance has been loud and clear. Can it live up to the hype? All signs point to yes.

Summer of Soul (July 2)

This documentary has been wowing everyone who has seen it and it carries with it one of the most interesting stories of any movie of the summer. Decades ago, an enterprising promoter named Tony Lawrence put together a series of weekend concerts in Harlem’s Mt. Morris Park. These concerts were headlined by a series of the greatest musical acts of the period, late ‘60s/early ‘70s icons like Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone and Sly and the Family Stone. The series was filmed, pitched as a concert film … and then forgotten. It wasn’t until Questlove – yeah, THAT Questlove – dug up the footage, added some present-day talking head stuff and made what a lot of people are calling the best concert film of the 21st century.

Black Widow (July 9)

It has been a long time since we last saw a feature-length offering from the MCU – when Scarlett Johansson reprises the titular character, it will have been a full two years since the last movie (“Spider-Man: Far From Home” opened on July 2 of 2019). This one looks like it’s going to be fun, and despite the fact that it has been on the can for some time, most of the details remain under wraps. Thanks to trailers, we know that Florence Pugh and David Harbour, among others, will be joining Johansson on what promises to be an entertaining journey. Will the timeline be out of whack due to the release of MCU-connected TV series like “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”? Maybe, but those of us who ride for Marvel likely won’t much care.

Space Jam: A New Legacy (July 9)

I’ll be honest: I don’t really get the love for the original “Space Jam.” It had some moments, sure, and I’m not saying it was a bad movie (although you could DEFINITELY make that argument), but I just don’t have the same nostalgic connection that so many seem to have for it – I was just a little too old when it came out in 1996, I think. Still, in a time when everything old is new again, we’ve got this movie, swapping out Michael Jordan for LeBron James. I guess instead of aliens it’s a computer or something? Anyway, it’s LeBron playing basketball to save his son from the entirety of the Warner Brothers animated IP catalog. You’ve been warned.

Old (July 23)

The relative merits of M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography have been debated ad nauseum. He has made some very good movies and some very bad movies over the course of his career. However, I’d argue that his recent work has been pretty solid (I even liked “Glass” more than most). We’ll see if “Old” – starring Gael Garcia Bernal among others – can keep that streak going. The story of a family vacation on an isolated beach that causes everyone to age rapidly seems like it’s in Shyamalan’s wheelhouse; we’ll have to see what sort of twist he inserts into the end of the thing – or perhaps this time, the twist is … there is no twist!

Jungle Cruise (July 30)

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s a good thing that Disney keeps taking their amusement park rides and turning them into big-budget movies. That said, after the billion-dollar success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, well … you’d keep trying too. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got The Rock as their headliner, along with the always-game Emily Blunt. It’s a story of a scientist (Blunt) who hires a boat captain (The Rock) to take her up the Amazon on an expedition to track down a tree that apparently holds the secret to eternal life or something. Look, the details don’t really matter – this one promises to be an old-timey adventure and a heck of a lot of fun.

The Green Knight (July 30)

I know a number of people who were fired up to see the first trailer drop for this film, an adaptation of the medieval poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” directed by David Lowery and starring Dev Patel. It’s a straight-up Arthurian film, with Patel as Sir Gawain looking to rid the kingdom of those that would endanger its people, including, apparently, the titular giant. This one promises to be a stylish adventure that offers up the artistic vision of the Arthurian mythos that many have been awaiting for a long time. Put it this way – this isn’t going to be a Guy Ritchie film. Expect your medievalist friends to be delighted.

Stillwater (July 30)

This is an interesting one. Matt Damon stars as an Oklahoma oilfield roughneck who makes his way to France due to unfortunate circumstances. Specifically, his daughter (played by Abigail Breslin) got mixed up with the wrong people during her year abroad and wound up in jail on murder charges. Damon’s character moves to France and attempts to prove her innocence. Director Tom McCarthy – who also co-wrote the screenplay – looks to bring some of the same powerful do-good energy that he gave to “Spotlight.” And if the early images are any indicator, Damon is going hard – this could be the rare awards contender with a July release date.

The Suicide Squad (Aug. 6)

You have to respect the willingness of Warner Brothers and the DCEU crew to redo something that isn’t working. And the thing is, this do-over feels like it might do the trick. The delightful James Gunn takes the helm of this one, featuring an almost total change in cast (though we do still get Margot Robbie’s excellent Harley Quinn). Idris Elba is here, as are John Cena (Two massive franchise entries in one summer? Apparently, we CAN see you) and Pete Davidson. Plus, we get Sly Stallone as the voice of the CGI monstrosity King Shark. The first film felt very much like a missed opportunity – let’s see if this one can right the ship.

Respect (Aug. 13)

Jennifer Hudson starring in an Aretha Franklin biopic? Hell to the yes. This is another summertime offering that might just have some legs come awards time. It checks a lot of the boxes – it’s really going to come down to how well Hudson can handle the portrayal of the iconic soul singer. If she can summon up a reasonable facsimile of that Aretha swagger, she might just give us the performance of the summer. Granted, it’s a bit more cradle-to-grave than I like my bipics – I generally prefer the snapshot-style look into a famous person’s life – but there really does seem to be a lot to like here. At the very least, the music is going to slap.

Free Guy (Aug. 13)

Oh, look everyone – Ryan Reynolds is playing a snarkily self-aware character in the midst of a meta-style narrative structure! We’re all very surprised by that fact, yes? I will say that the premise – Reynolds plays an NPC in a video game who gradually becomes conscious of his presence in said game – is an interesting one. And it’s tough to deny that Reynolds has a particular presence that suits this kind of winking, prodding take on storytelling. Add in the possibility for wildly over-the-top video game action carnage and this could wind up being a really fun movie – the trailer has a grown-up “Wreck-It Ralph” energy. You’ll never look at those hapless “GTA” bystanders the same way again.

Candyman (Aug. 27)

Is it weird that this movie is landing in August instead of October? Yes. Do I care? Not really. As someone with a weird affection for the 1992 horror classic, I’m looking forward to this kinda-sorta-sequel. It’s got some pedigree behind it – Jordan Peele executive produced and also co-wrote the script. The excellent Yahya Abdul-Mateen III stars as a photographer who moves to Cabrini-Green and starts assembling an art exhibit devoted to the urban legend of the hook-handed havoc-wreaking titular baddie. As you might imagine, that doesn’t go well for anyone involved and it isn’t long before the body count starts rising. Oh, and lest we forget – Tony Todd is back.

Reminiscence (Aug. 27)

This one looks like the kind of near-future sci-fi that I dig, though its placement in the dog days of August make me wonder what kind of confidence the studio has in it. Hugh Jackman stars as a guy whose business revolves around helping people retrieve their past experiences. It’s a complex (and expensive) process. He winds up falling in love with one of his clients, which is great … until he spots her in someone else’s memories and things start to get strange. Again, the scheduling has me wondering, but with Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson starring – and “Westword” co-creator Lisa Joy making her feature directorial debut – I like my chances.

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 May 2021 10:54

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