The pandemic closed theaters for much of last year, pushing many of the bigger titles from 2020 to 2021 or even later. With theaters opening back up, the summer movie season is more than making up for everything that we missed out on last year.
As there are finally about to be plenty of options at theaters, let’s take a look at some of the exciting blockbusters and smaller, under-the-radar films you’ll want to check out this summer.
‘Cruella’ (May 28)
Disney’s latest attempt to delve into the past of their iconic villains is one of the studio’s best live-action remakes in years. “Cruella” is a surprisingly fun movie that is part origin story and part heist film, with great performances by Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. Disney’s remakes have been almost too beholden to their original films, but “Cruella” proves that sometimes it’s good to be bad.
‘In the Heights’ (June 11)
The first musical from “Hamilton” creator Lin–Manuel Miranda, “In the Heights” tells the story of a bodega owner in New York trying to earn a better life for himself. Critics are already calling “In the Heights” a vibrant and joyous way to return to the movies after months of theater closings, and if anyone can get audiences excited about a major movie musical, it’s Miranda.
‘The Sparks Brothers’ (June 18)
“Baby Driver” and “Shaun of the Dead” writer/director Edgar Wright is known for his quick editing and frenetic directing, which makes him a fascinating choice for a documentary about the often overlooked pop-rock duo Sparks. The first trailer shows Wright’s stylistic choices seamlessly transition to this new type of film, and with interview subjects as varied as “Weird Al” Yankovic and Patton Oswalt, “The Sparks Brothers” is certain to create plenty of new Sparks fans.
‘F9’ (June 25)
Maybe the ultimate summer movie franchise, “Fast & Furious” returns with “F9,” which includes John Cena as the long-lost brother of Vin Diesel’s Dom, the return of fan-favorite Han, and cars, cars and more cars. Whenever this series seems like it can’t get any more ridiculous, it always outdoes itself, and with the first trailer hinting that we might see cars in space, “F9” looks ready to once again defy expectations.
‘Zola’ (June 30)
Based on a crazy Twitter thread that detailed a wild road trip between two dancers, “Zola” seems like it could end up being the surprise indie hit of the summer. From beloved studio A24, “Zola” could be 2021’s “Spring Breakers”: a debaucherous and insane story that is almost too nuts not to check out.
‘Summer of Soul’ (July 2)
The début documentary from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, “Summer of Soul” follows the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival—also known as Black Woodstock—which hosted such acts as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Gladys Knight & the Pips. There might be no one better to chronicle this event than Questlove, and “Summer of Soul” was a massive hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. For those who have missed movies and live music over the last year and a half, “Summer of Soul” might be just the ticket.
‘Black Widow’ (July 9)
By the time “Black Widow” is released, two years will have passed since the last film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet this long-anticipated spotlight for Scarlett Johansson’s character is an apt way to return to the MCU. “Black Widow” looks far more like a dark action-thriller than we’re used to with Marvel films, and with a cast that includes Rachel Weisz, David Harbour and Florence Pugh, “Black Widow” could make the Marvel drought worth the wait.
‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ (July 16)
Unlike the 1996 “Space Jam,” which mashed up the stars of the NBA with Looney Tunes characters, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” goes even crazier. Not only will this sequel mix basketball players like LeBron James with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but the entire history of Warner Bros. films is also on the table, including characters from “The Iron Giant,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” This return of “Space Jam” could somehow be even loonier than the original.
‘Old’ (July 23)
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is notably hit-or-miss. For every “The Sixth Sense,” there’s a “The Last Airbender.” His latest twisty film, “Old,” could go either way, as an ensemble cast finds themselves on a beach where they age their entire life over the course of a day. “Old” could very well be as eye-roll-worthy as some of Shyamalan’s silliest, but the intriguing concept and an impressive cast (featuring Gael García Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Embeth Davidtz and Alex Wolff) could make this one of his worthwhile experiments.
‘Jungle Cruise’ (July 30)
Disney’s latest ride-turned-movie, “Jungle Cruise” puts Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in a throwback adventure with fantastical elements and over-the-top villains. With “Pirates of the Caribbean” on a break, “Jungle Cruise” could be Disney’s next major action franchise, especially with Johnson at the helm of this ship.
‘The Green Knight’ (July 30)
Arguably the most gorgeous and sprawling movie on this list, “The Green Knight” retells the 14th-century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” with Dev Patel playing the titular Sir Gawain. “The Green Knight” could be one of the most unexpected surprises of the summer, as this fantasy classic has been highly anticipated for years, an ambitious hero’s journey finally getting its release this summer.
‘The Suicide Squad’ (Aug. 6)
After the disappointment that was “Suicide Squad,” DC decided to make “The Suicide Squad,” this time a reboot-slash-sequel with “Guardians of the Galaxy” writer-director James Gunn behind the project. The villainous crew this time is thoroughly ridiculous, complete with a talking shark and the return of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, playing up the dark humor in what could be the biggest superhero film of the summer.
‘CODA’ (Aug. 13)
When it made its début at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “CODA” broke the festival’s record for a film sale, selling for $25 million. “CODA” tells the story of a teenage girl born of deaf parents who discovers her love of music and has to decide between following her passions and helping her family. “CODA” has received rave reviews, and with Apple shelling out a huge amount for the indie film, this could be another surprise hit, and maybe even a big player at next year’s Academy Awards.
‘Candyman’ (Aug. 27)
While there are plenty of big horror films coming this summer (“A Quiet Place Part II,” “The Conjuring 3”), none looks quite as compelling as director Nia DaCosta’s sequel to the 1992 horror classic “Candyman.” Co-written by Jordan Peele, “Candyman” melds race, horror and the art world into what seems like a thoughtful take on the genre—as is usually the case with Peele. “Candyman” might just be a scream for the end of this summer.
Ross Bonaime contributes to The Free Lance-Star.