The Most Anticipated Films Of 2021
Even ignoring the mass delays which pushed most of 2020's blockbusters into this year, 2021's slate of films is looking incredibly promising.
Even ignoring the mass delays which pushed most of 2020’s blockbusters into this year, 2021’s slate of films is looking incredibly promising.
While there’s a good chance you missed some of 2020’s best films in favour of comfort views like Selling Sunset or finally watching The Sopranos, the industry is eager to move onwards and upwards from a relatively quiet year.
Junkee writer Merryana Salem already catalogued all the films that studios delayed into this year — Quiet Place II! Bond! Wes Anderson! Dune! Candyman! West Side Story! — but here are a few more to look out for, from huge studio IPs to the latest from French auteurs.
French director Leos Carax is breaking into song with his first English language film, an original musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. The two play a married couple, a comedian and an opera singer, whose child — the titular role! — has a bizarre, yet-undisclosed talent. Given how beautifully bonkers Holy Motors was, we expect big things.
Baz Luhrman’s output may be a little uneven, but his Elvis biopic has potential. Few details are known yet about the script, but the cast is promising — essentially Tom Hanks and a bunch of Australian actors, including Stranger Things‘ Dacre Montogomery, Richard Roxburgh, Xavier Samuel and David Wenham — and the spectacle alone makes it one of the year’s most anticipated films.
As for Elvis himself, the role’s filled by Austin Butler, a former Nickelodeon and Disney child star who had a small part in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Release: December 21, 2021
Another biopic, Blonde will see Ana de Armas and Adrien Brody take on tumultuous couple Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ acclaimed novel of the same name.
Directed by Australian Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination Of Jesse James…), Blonde has been in the works for more than a decade, with actress Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts once attached for the lead role. It’s one of several high-profile films starring Armas which will come out this year, including Bond film No Time To Die and Deep Water, the latter of which she met now ex-Ben Affleck.
Release: 2021, on Netflix
Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short) is following up the award-winning (but critically mixed) pastiche of Dick Cheney biopic Vice by directing his own social satire about astronauts trying to tell the world of an asteroid that will destroy us all.
Not too much has been revealed about the plot, but the cast alone is stacked: Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are the leads, with Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchette, Tyler Perry, Jonah Hill, Chris Evans, Timothée Chalamet, Matthew Perry, Kid Cudi and Ariana Grande all attached. Huge.
Release: 2021, on Netflix
After a year off, Marvel is returning to our cinemas with three films, but it’s the last of them that’s by far the most intriguing.
The Eternals brings in a new set of alien heroes into the MCU, and features a promising cast (Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, et al.), but the important part is the director Chloé Zhao, a Chinese director behind some of the past decade’s most acclaimed films centred on working-class America, including The Rider and Nomadland.
It’s reported that Zhao was allowed to forgo the green screen to shoot largely on location, and has injected her own style into the MCU. Time will tell what that means, but we’re cautiously optimistic.
Release: November 2021
After screening in competition at the 2020 Berlinale, High Ground was delayed for an entire year: having caught it at the former, it’s worth the wait.
From the director/screenwriter duo behind Yolngu Boy, High Ground is a brutal, captivating thriller set in 1930’s Northern Territory.
A former army sniper (Simon Baker) teams up with teenager Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) the sole survivor of an massacre against Indigenous people by his batillion, in order to track down Baywara, Gutjuk’s uncle who is leading a fight against colonial rule. Gutjuk, however, is working with his uncle. Gripping, thrilling and very, very pretty.
Release: 28 January 2021
Australian actor Anthony Hayes (Animal Kingdom, Mystery Road, The Slap) is currently directing a Stan Original with Byron Bay’s favourite actor, Zac Efron, out in the South Australian desert.
Efron stars as a traveller who finds a gigantic gold nugget in the desert with a friend, who leaves Efron’s character to guard the treasure while he finds the equipment to take it home. Think of it like 127 Hours, but the only thing keeping him there is greed.
Release: 2021, on Stan
Malcolm & Marie
You probably know the story by now: Zendaya asked Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson if he could create a film for them to work on during the pandemic, and eight days later, he had the script. The result is Malcolm & Marie, a tense, romantic drama where the mononymous actress stars alongside John David Washington (Tenet, BlacKkKlansman), playing a couple who discuss their prior relationships one night in their lavish, expensive home. The trailer is stunning, and we’ll soon see if the whispers of Oscars glory are true.
Release: February 5, on Netflix
Minari has already caused a stir, albeit for reasons out of its control. The film is a family drama set in ’80s America, where a Korean immigrant family move to rural Arkansas to start their own farm, with Jacob (Steven Yeun) promising his skeptical wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) that this is their chance at a perfect life.
And distributed by trend-setting American company A24 (Hereditary, Lady Bird, Uncut Gems, The Farewell, et al), Minari has all the makings of an acclaimed film. Having caught the film at Sydney Film Festival’s premiere, it’s stunning, funny, and impeccably acted, particularly by the children.
Despite being directed by an American Lee Isaac Chung, the Oscars has chosen to make it eligible for foreign film categories — assumedly just because ‘mostly in Korean’ equals ‘foreign’, ironically a narrative the film itself fights against.
Release: 18 February 2021
Memoria is Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first English language film. Ask your nerdy film friend: it’s a big deal. Weerasethakul is one of the ’00s most acclaimed directors, a singular filmmaker beloved by Cannes who makes bizarre, dreamlike films, hard to describe and near impossible to forget.
Memoria stars Tilda Swinton as a Scottish woman travelling through Colombia, meeting spirits while hiking in the mountains around Pijao and Bogotá. We’re in.
Nitram is already derided: the film, from Snowtown‘s Justin Kurzel, centres on the serial killer responsible for the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
The idea of the film alone has been called crude and disrespectful, but we know little of what it will look like, other than American actor Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards…, Get Out) will play killer Martin Bryant (the film’s title is his first name backwards, for whatever reason). Judy Davis, Essie Davis and Anthony LaPaglia also star.
Filming is underway in Victoria, with concerns that a Tasmanian shoot could be insensitive, and the film, a Stan Original, will premiere at MIFF later this year.
Release: 2021, on Stan
The Power Of The Dog
Acclaimed New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion shot The Power Of The Dog last year in her home country, largely freed from the worries of COVID-19. It is her first film since 2009’s Bright Star, though she directed TV series Top Of The Lake in-between.
An adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, it centres on two brothers who work as ranchers in 1920s Montana, and soon fall out over a woman. It’ll star Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and her husband, Jesse Plemons.
The Matrix 4
One of the few sequels that pique our interest, The Matrix 4 sees Lana Wachowski take the director seat without her sister, Lilly. Details on the plot are scarce, but several leading actors of the original trilogy will reprise their roles, including Keanu Reeves, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie-Anne Moss and Daniel Bernhardt.
Whatever this is, we can’t wait.
Release: December 21, 2021
Technically Nomadland has already come out, thanks to a two-week preview beginning Christmas Day. But this Chloé Zhao (whose upcoming Marvel film The Eternals also features on this list) film isn’t getting a wide release until March — and it’s too good to not include.
Based off a 2017 non-fiction book, Nomadland focuses on the camper van nomads who travel America year-round. Frances McDormand stars as Fern, a 60something woman who loses her job, husband and home in succession, after the sheetrock plant her small town is built around closes, essentially creating a ghost-town.
Fern joins the nomad lifestyle, a difficult, lonely but rewarding way of living, which attempts to find freedom among a system that promotes crippling debt. Featuring mostly non-actors and genuine nomads, Nomadland is both an upsetting look at how America discards the middle-aged and elderly, and a hopeful look at a world where purpose can be found outside of profit.
It’s really, really, really good.
Release: March 4
Run Rabbit Run
Australian director Daina Reid (The Handsmaid’s Tale) reunites with Elizabeth Moss for a chilling psycho-horror, as is seemingly the actress’s interest when it comes to Australian directors (The Invisible Man).
Moss stars as Sarah, a fertility doctor whose daughter Mia begins acting strangely: she grows increasingly concerned as the root seems supernatural. Moss, on the brink of sanity and salvation? Sign us up.
Three Thousand Years Of Longing
Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton star in George Miller’s latest film, billed as a fantasy epic. Filming was delayed by COVID-19, but is currently underway in Australia.
Tilda stars as a British traveller (hints of Memoria…) who unwittingly frees a Djin from a bottle in Instanbul, and is granted three wishes: problem is, she doesn’t know what she wants.
Miller is also working on Mad Max spinoff Furiosa, though it’s unlikely it will be released in 2021.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth
Joel Coen has written and directed this take on Macbeth sans any involvement from his brother, Ethan — a first for the duo, coming about after he was approached by A24 to adapt the classic in whatever way he saw fit.
Starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington as Lady and Lord, respectively, The Tragedy Of Macbeth is billed as an ‘otherworldly’ adaptation. We’re excited to see what that means, exactly, but either way, there will be plenty of madness and capital-a acting.
Triangle Of Sadness
Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s 2017 film The Square was an art-world satire entirely embraced by the world it ridiculed, winning the Palm d’Or.
His follow up is his first English language film, anchored by Woody Harrelson, who plays a Marxist charting a yacht with a bunch of billionaires: when it sinks and they wind up on a deserted island, they have to work together to survive. Maybe Elon Musk will say this is favourite film, too?
Best till last. Zola has been years in the making, and could simply not be more anticipated — at least, among the Twitter users who remember the viral 148 tweet thread from 2015 it’s based off. A Detroit waitress Zola told the story of a trip to Florida with a stripper named Jessica, featuring more twists and turns that anyone could handle, prompting mass calls for a movie adaptation.
Eventually, after it was originally announced James Franco would direct, the film found its way into the right hands. Jeremy O’Harris, the playwright behind celebrated Broadway work Slave Play, came on board, co-writing the script with director Janicza Bravo (Atlanta, Lemon).
Reviews from its premiere last Sundance call it completely wild and ‘rambunctious’, if not a little divisive. With comparisons plenty to Hustlers and Spring Breakers, it’s clearly going to be a lot of fun, if not purely to see Succession‘s cousin Greg take part in a wild weekend.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and freelancer who has written for The Guardian, The Big Issue and more. He’s on Twitter @jrdjms.