Last year, the movie industry fell and couldn’t get up. Will the summer of 2021 see Hollywood find its legs again? That depends on whether audiences are ready to get on their feet and go to the theaters.
The movies will certainly be there, including a number that were due last summer but put on ice for the duration of the pandemic. The Lin-Manual Miranda musical “In the Heights,” the “Avengers” spin-off “Black Widow,” and John Krasinski’s sci-fi suspense sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” will all make their belated theatrical debuts in the coming weeks. The studios were unwilling to test the on-demand waters last year with such potentially lucrative properties, not to mention waste a grand big-screen experience.
Exhibitors and audiences have had to live without franchise blockbusters for over a year, an experiment that has strengthened indie distributors and films, kept arthouses alive, and sped up the evolution of the VOD model. So have we changed our habits for good or will the arrival in late June of “F9: The Fast Saga,” the latest in the hugely popular “Fast and Furious” series, release a pent-up party in the aisles?
The kings and queens of summer will be tiptoeing back into view as well, with star vehicles like “Cruella” (Emma Stone as the young Cruella de Vil) and directorial returns like M. Night Shyamalan (“Old”). Liam Neeson will continue on in his world tour of butt-kicking (“The Ice Road”). Chris Pratt will try to prove he’s an action star and not a cuddly bear in “The Tomorrow War.” And Disney will try once more to turn a theme park ride into a viable film franchise with “Jungle Cruise.” It stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, so don’t count it out.
Bio-pics? You’ve got ‘em: Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in “Respect.” Haunted houses? Check: Rebecca Hall in “The Night House.” Two Ryan Reynolds movies? Check (“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”) and double-check (“Free Guy”). There’s even a new “Suicide Squad,” in case the one they made five years ago has already been purged from your memory banks.
There’s even, if you squint hard enough, some substance to be found in this reinvigorated movie summer of 2021. “The Green Knight,” from director David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”) casts Dev Patel as Sir Gawain of the Round Table in an arthouse epic, and “Zola,” a Sundance hit back in 2020, adapts a different kind of epic, a 148-tweet Twitter thread about a wild cross-country trip. There are some fine music documentaries on tap — “Summer of Soul” commemorates the “Black Woodstock” of 1969 and “The Beatles: Get Back” is a deep dive into the “Let It Be” sessions from director-archivist Peter Jackson. And bringing it all back home is “CODA,” this year’s Sundance prize-winner about a family of deaf Gloucester fishermen and the hearing daughter (Emilia Jones) yearning to strike out on her own. That one’s a crowd-pleaser just in time for us all to be part of the crowd again.
CRUELLA Emma Stone plays Ms. de Vil in this live-action look at the character’s pre-Dalmatian days as an aspiring fashion designer in ’70s London. Emma Thompson costars.
A QUIET PLACE PART II Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (he wrote and directed) return in this sequel to the hit 2018 horror film where the only way to keep safe is to keep quiet.
Also opening: Endangered Species, Moby Doc, Oslo (May 29)
SPIRIT UNTAMED A young girl bonds with a wild mustang in this sequel to the 2002 animated feature “Spirit.” Voice talent includes Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore.
Also opening: Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Edge of the World, The Real Thing, Undine, Under the Stadium Lights
IN THE HEIGHTS Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakout musical comes to the screen. Jon M. Chu directed.
Also opening: Holler, La Dosis, Skater Girl, Wish Dragon
THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD This sequel to the 2017 comedy brings back Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, and Ryan Reynolds, respectively, as the title characters.
LUCA Two boys on the Italian Riviera run afoul of sea monsters in this latest Pixar animated feature.
RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT The title of the documentary is self-explanatory.
Also opening: 12 Mighty Orphans, Fatherhood, The Sparks Brothers, Summer of 85
F9: THE FAST SAGA They’re fast, they’re furious, and John Cena joins the gang.
THE ICE ROAD When a mine collapses in the far north of Canada in this Netflix drama, who do you turn to? Liam Neeson, of course.
Also opening: Blue Bayou, I Carry You With Me, Werewolves Within
AMERICA: THE MOTION PICTURE Three words: “George,” “Washington,” and “chainsaw.” The American Revolution gets reimagined. Don’t worry, it’s animated not live action.
Also opening: Zola
SUMMER OF SOUL (. . . OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) Questlove directed this documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Vintage footage showcases performers ranging from Mahalia Jackson to Stevie Wonder.
THE TOMORROW WAR Aliens have invaded, the fate of the planet rests with one man, and he’s played by . . . Chris Pratt? (Liam Neeson’s otherwise engaged in the Yukon.)
Also opening: The Forever Purge
BLACK WIDOW Marvel returns to the big screen, with Scarlett Johansson back as the title character. Florence Pugh joins the MCU as her young sidekick.
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY LeBron James, as himself, heads a Looney Tunes-heavy cast (also as themselves) in this live action/animated sequel to the 1996 original.
Also opening: Ailey, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Summertime
OLD A family on vacation find themselves rapidly, and inexplicably, aging. Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, and Ken Leung star. M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed.
Also opening: Hotel Transylvania: Transformia, The Last Letter From Your Lover, Settlers, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
JUNGLE CRUISE Yes, it’s based on a Disneyland ride. Hey, it worked with “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt star.
STILLWATER An Oklahoma oil worker (Matt Damon) works to free his daughter (Abigail Breslin), who’s imprisoned in France. Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) directed and cowrote.
Also opening: Enemies of the State, The Green Knight, The Last Mercenary
THE SUICIDE SQUAD A reboot of the 2016 film about the seamy DC superheroes. Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn. James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) wrote and directed.
Also opening: Ema, John and the Hole
CODA Set in Gloucester, writer-director Sian Heder’s film about the hearing daughter of deaf parents won prizes at Sundance this year. Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin star.
FREE GUY “The Truman Show” goes gamer? Ryan Reynolds plays a man who realizes he’s a character in a video game. Complications ensue.
RESPECT Cynthia Erivo was the Queen of Soul in March, in “Aretha: Genius.” Now it’s Jennifer Hudson’s turn. Forest Whitaker, Mary J. Blige, and Marlon Wayans costar.
Also opening: The Meaning of Hitler
THE NIGHT HOUSE Newly widowed, a woman discovers disturbing things about her late husband. Since Rebecca Hall plays the woman, the discoveries are worth attending to.
THE PROTÉGÉ Samuel L. Jackson raised orphan Maggie Q to be a skilled assassin. She now uses that training to avenge someone close to her. Michael Keaton costars.
REMINISCENCE Lisa Joy makes her feature-filmmaking debut with this sci-fi thriller about a man (Hugh Jackman) who can help people relive past events. Rebecca Ferguson costars.
SWEET GIRL In this Netflix drama, someone messes with Jason Momoa’s wife. Not a good idea.
Also opening: Demonic
THE BEATLES: GET BACK Peter Jackson (the “Lord of the Rings” films) directed this documentary about the band’s “Let It Be” sessions.
Also opening: Candyman, He’s All That
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS This latest addition to the MCU stars Simu Liu in the title role, with Awkwafina, Tony Leung, and Michelle Yeoh.