No matter how many times Christopher Nolan assures us his new film, Tenet, set to be released in theaters in July, will revive the much-missed cinema-going experience, and no matter how many times a local reporter reminds us that, hey, at least drive-ins are thriving, we must acknowledge that 2020 will be an odd year for summer movies. Every May before this, we’ve dutifully rounded up a list of films we were excited to see over the next three months, from the intended blockbusters to the seasonal A24 releases to the evermore popular streaming options. This year, we can guarantee you’ll have streaming options, but beyond that? We can’t promise much. Some multiplexes are opening in states like Georgia and Texas, while others are still in the throes of reimagining operations in a socially distanced, financially precarious new world. In lieu of available big screens, some studios are opting for the “virtual” theater debut and “digital” releases while others are holding out hope that all this will be sorted come July.
With that in mind, we’ve created a list of movies you can expect to see this summer, with a few major caveats: You’ll have to stream many of them from the comforts of your own home or by springing for on-demand screenings while shutdowns stretch on. Others, they just might go the way of Top Gun: Maverick and The French Dispatch, delayed further down the calendar, Nolan forbid indefinitely. What is a summer without movie theaters? That’s another discussion entirely. For now, here’s an extremely tentative accounting of the films you may or may not watch this summer (and a reminder of the ones you definitely won’t see, too).
(Note: We have only included films that are releasing between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2020, and have divided those films into three categories outlining the streaming, on-demand, and theatrical titles we find to be most exciting. While some studios are distinguishing “virtual theatrical” releases from the standard VOD experience, we have opted to use the catchall, lower-caps term “on demand” to refer to movies being made available digitally. And although Unhinged is being touted as the first official summer movie to hit theaters in July, several other films are simultaneously releasing on demand and in theaters — which, at this point, are mostly drive-ins. Given the uncertainty of conventional theaters reopening around the country, we just assume you’re more likely to see these movies at home. And as for the exclusively theatrical releases, well … this list is likely to change over the next several weeks.)
The Movies You’ll Stream
The Vast of Night
This microbudget sci-fi debut might be the best discovery of what’s been an admittedly bent and broken movie year. Part Twilight Zone, part David Fincher, Andrew Patterson’s film takes place over the course of a night in a small 1950s New Mexico community experiencing what could be an extraterrestrial encounter. With most residents at the high-school basketball game, two young characters are left to navigate the unusual happenings — Fay (Sierra McCormick), who operates the telephone switchboard, and Everett (Jake Horowitz), a DJ at the local radio station. The premise of The Vast of Night might sound familiar, but nothing about the way the story unfolds is. Patterson makes audacious stylistic choices like cutting to black for a long stretch of audio and having the camera lope through what feels like the entire town in another. But the film’s finest achievement may be how lived-in its period setting feels, untinted by nostalgia or the distance of years.
On Prime Video May 29
Our reigning queen of the onscreen breakdown, Elisabeth Moss, takes on the role of Shirley Jackson for a film that looks at the famous writer from the perspective of a young couple (Odessa Young and Logan Lerman) who moves in with her and her professor husband (Michael Stuhlbarg). Shirley isn’t your standard, staid biographical exercise — it’s the work of Josephine Decker, whose last film, 2018’s Madeline’s Madeline, served up a brilliantly fractured portrait of a teenage girl with a mental illness and a gift for theater. This new film looks similarly kaleidoscopic in its treatment of reality, catching Shirley at a moment in which she feels creatively blocked as well as brittle about a marriage that’s become, reluctantly on her part, an open one. If Decker wants to blow up the biopic, she won’t find a better collaborator than Moss, who’s been thrillingly fearless in her choices and her willingness to put all sorts of sharp edges on display on screen.
In theaters, on demand, and streaming on Hulu June 5
Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee makes an action movie? Spike Lee makes a historical epic? Spike Lee tackles the legacy of the Vietnam War? Spike Lee reunites with Delroy Lindo? In what promises to be one of the director’s most ambitious films, this story about a group of black vets returning to Vietnam in search of buried gold only to uncover the skeletons of the past will surely get the world talking. In part because, with all the big studio films having moved off the schedule, this Netflix release will feed on the Discourse for weeks. But mostly because Lee appears to be in the midst of an artistic renaissance, and his recent work has been some of the most vital and entertaining of his career.
On Netflix June 12
With the Eurovision Song Contest itself canceled for this year, we’ll have to settle for the next best thing: Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as a pair of not-very-good Icelandic singers who have to compete against the world’s cheesiest disco-hybrid acts at the Eurovision Song Contest. Ferrell’s straight comedies haven’t exactly set the world on fire of late, but we’re looking forward to the recreation of Eurovision’s endearingly over-the-top spectacle, as well as those supremely catchy songs. (Also, this one has volcanoes so it might literally set the world on fire.)
On Netflix June 26
The Old Guard
Gina Prince-Bythewood made two of the best films of the past couple of decades in Love & Basketball and Beyond the Lights, but they were financial disappointments that had to settle for retrospective glory; today, they’re both considered modern classics. This time, she’s adapting Greg Rucka’s comic book about a small, diverse group of immortal warriors, led by Charlize Theron, for Netflix. An action movie is an exciting change of pace for Bythewood; if she can deliver a genre film while maintaining her distinctive voice, expect something truly special.
On Netflix July 10
If we’re gonna get a biopic about Nikola Tesla (see Tesla, opening in August), then we damn sure better get one about Marie Curie. This one, directed by the great Marjane Satrapi (who created the graphic novel Persepolis and co-directed its animated film version), stars Rosamund Pike as the headstrong, passionate Polish scientist who won two Nobel prizes whose discoveries of radium and polonium transformed humanity.
On Prime Video July 24
An American Pickle
One of the permanent theatrical casualties of the lockdown may well turn out to be the studio comedy. While so many other releases, big and small, are being held for theaters, a lot of comedies (like The Lovebirds and The King of Staten Island) have been shunted right to streaming or VOD. And here’s another case in point: An American Pickle, which went from being a planned Sony release to becoming the first original film to premiere on the soon-to-launch streaming service HBO Max. The film, based on a 2013 novella by Simon Rich, stars Seth Rogen in two roles — that of a 1920s immigrant who ends up in the present day due to a pickling accident, and that of the computer coding great-grandson with whom he has nothing in common. The film’s the solo directorial debut of Brandon Trost, who served as a cinematographer on Rogen’s The Interview, This Is the End, and Neighbors, among other titles.
Streaming on HBO Max on August 6
Ya no Estoy Aquí
On Netflix May 27
Spelling the Dream
On Netflix June 3
The Last Days of American Crime
On Netflix June 5
On Disney+ June 12
On Prime Video June 19
On Netflix July 3
Boyz in the Wood
On Prime Video August 7
Charm City Kings
On HBO Max August 14
On Netflix August 14
On Prime Video August 21
The Movies You’ll Watch on Demand (Probably)
The King of Staten Island
Pete Davidson’s scattering of film work has been streaming heavy, with seemingly random supporting roles in Netflix’s Set It Up and The Dirt giving way to a more memorable turn as the older bestie/bad influence in Hulu’s Big Time Adolescence. Before the pandemic, The King of Staten Island was set up to be the SNL star’s shot at making a big-screen splash — his very own Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow. Then the pandemic arrived, and turned the dramedy into one of the most high-profile projects to be shunted to video on demand. It remains the comic’s most significant swing at being a movie star to date, with a script, which he collaborated on, drawing inspiration from Davidson’s own life. The twist is that this film version of Davidson never seems to have taken up comedy, instead drifting into his mid-20s, aimless and stoned. Marisa Tomei plays his widowed mother, and Bill Burr plays the firefighter she starts dating — a development that forces Davidson’s character to confront his long-suppressed grief over his father’s death.
On demand June 12
If you’re looking to make your first film in a storied career that takes place outside of your home country, you could do worse than turn to France — especially if that means enlisting Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as your stars. The two screen legends are paired together for the first time in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s non-Japanese debut, cast as a mother and daughter whose difficult relationship is explored when the pair reunites to celebrate the publication of the former’s book. Deneuve’s character is a famous actress whose new memoir features more than a few fabrications, while Binoche’s is a screenwriter who grew up believing, with plenty of justification, that her mother placed more value in her work than her child. While rumblings from the festival circuit suggest this isn’t one of Kore-eda best works, he’s a master of the subdued family drama, and it can’t hurt that he also tosses Ethan Hawke in the mix as Binoche’s American husband.
In theaters and on demand July 3
One of the standouts at Sundance this year was this horror debut from Australian director Natalie Erika James, a deftly creepy drama about three generations of women staying together on a property filled with memories and the detritus of departed loved ones. Emily Mortimer is a Melbourne divorcée who returns to her childhood home with her daughter (Bella Heathcote) after receiving notice that her mother (Robyn Nevin) has gone missing. The house is filled with evidence that the older woman may be experiencing dementia, and when she makes a return as abrupt as her disappearance, what follows is slow-drip dread that plays on both supernatural and real-world fears.
In theaters and on demand July 10
Indie legend Michael Almereyda’s offbeat biopic about visionary scientist and genuine weirdo Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) premiered at Sundance earlier this year to mixed reviews, but this director can be divisive: He has a way of mixing time periods and tones and styles in telling his tales of tormented oddballs. (See also: his beloved 2000 updating of Hamlet, also starring Hawke; his 1994 Pixelvision vampire tragicomedy Nadja; and his 2015 Stanley Milgram biopic, Experimenter.) And even when he fails, Almereyda creates memorable work.
In theaters and on VOD August 21
Also on Demand:
The High Note
On demand May 29
In theaters and on demand June 5
Judy & Punch
On demand June 5
The Short History of the Long Road
In theaters and on demand June 16
In theaters and on demand June 19
On demand June 19
The Ghost of Peter Sellers
On demand June 23
John Lewis: Good Trouble
In theaters and on demand July 3
Sometimes, Always, Never
On demand July 10
The Painted Bird
In theaters and on demand July 17
In theaters and on demand July 24
In theaters and on demand July 31
Out Stealing Horses
Made in Italy
In theaters and on demand August 7
In theaters and on VOD August 14
The Movies You’ll See in Theaters (Maybe)
Christopher Nolan’s top-secret thriller starring Robert Pattinson, John David Washington, and Elizabeth Debicki might become the first movie to get a proper wide release in theaters in the COVID-19 era. That seems to be Nolan’s hope, as he has made trying to preserve the theatrical experience one of his admirable lifelong goals. And certainly, if any movie might get wary theatergoers into auditoriums after, you know [waves hands] all this, Tenet may well be the one. But that also makes it the film most likely to get postponed to next year if everything continues to be totally fucked.
In theaters July 17
Quarantine dealt a real body blow to Disney’s latest live-action adaptation of an animated standard, which was set to be released right as the country started shutting down. The film, originally scheduled to reach theaters on March 27, actually got as far as having a glitzy premiere on March 9, screening for a Hollywood theater full of people who couldn’t have known how soon afterward normalcy would disappear. Directed by Niki Caro, the new Mulan takes a more realistic approach to the folklore legend, dropping the musical numbers and upping the action. It’s a film that was assembled with a lot of thought to the international market, with Chinese star Liu Yifei in the title role, supported by an array of talent that includes Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jet Li, and Gong Li as a fabulous-looking shapeshifting witch. That also means that its commitment to its current July release date will probably be as contingent on the resumption of regular moviegoing in China as in the U.S.
In theaters July 24
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water was one of 2015’s most delightful surprises, a lively, witty blend of kid-friendly gags and stoner humor. This latest SpongeBob movie promises all 3-D animated versions of the characters — they were only partly 3-D last time — which may or may not be slightly creepy and weird. But if any series can pull off slightly creepy and weird while also remaining fun and playful, it’s this one.
In theaters August 7
Sound of Metal
A bleached-blond Riz Ahmed is superb as Ruben, a drummer whose music career, personal life, and sense of self all implode when he starts to experience hearing loss while on tour with his bandmate and girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke). Darius Marder’s film begins as a frustrating portrait of a man in denial about his disability — reluctant to learn sign, hostile to members of the supportive deaf community he’s allowed to join, and focused only on the idea that his life can be restored as it used to be. But Sound of Metal slowly deepens to reveal itself to be an insightful drama about addiction, recovery, and coping mechanisms, filling in details about Ruben’s history that make his behavior understandable, and using rich sound design to put us inside his experiences.
In theaters August 14
Wonder Woman 1984
Patty Jenkins’s sequel to her gargantuan 2016 hit promises all sorts of funky ’80s style and music and action spectacle (after the WWI–set original). Let’s just hope we ourselves don’t have to travel through time to see it. It’s already moved once — but Warner Bros. can’t afford to do VOD numbers on this, so if the world isn’t ready to open up come August, this will likely move again.
In theaters August 14
Bill & Ted Face the Music
It’s been almost three decades since the lovable doofuses played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves dueled with Death for their souls over a game of Battleship — a hefty amount of time even in an era in which audiences didn’t blink at a xXx follow-up (a mere 12 after the last one) and third Bad Boys installment (a cool 17 years in coming). But onscreen, at least, nothing dies anymore — it just gets returned to, reimagined, or rebooted. For Bill and Ted, this new outing seems to be a way of engaging with the malaise of middle age, with the characters getting tasked to save the world with a song and the help of — of course — some famous figures. Dean Parisot of Galaxy Quest is directing, while Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who wrote the first two films, are handling the script. And this is one title that seems entirely capable of handling additional delays, if it comes to that — when your film is this long in coming, what’s a few more months?
In theaters August 21
The New Mutants
If the promised release of The New Mutants is anything less than the final harbinger of the apocalypse at this point, it’ll feel anticlimactic. Originally slated to come out in April 2018, the superhero-horror movie was bumped to early 2019 with talk of reshoots to make it scarier. Then it was delayed again, and again, and somewhere in there Fox was acquired by Disney and the coronavirus happened. And now here we are, with the movie — which stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga as teen mutants being held in a secret facility — slated for theaters in late summer, in something close to its original form. But when a movie already has so much history under its belt, why not keep waiting? If it’s held for long enough, The New Mutants could eventually come out in a world that’s moved on from superhero movies to some other genre entirely.
In theaters August 28
A Quiet Place Part II
Can John Krasinski make lightning strike twice? Some may be skeptical about a follow-up to the 2018 hit set in a world where monsters hunt by sound and humans have to remain deathly silent in order to stay alive. But then again, who had “John Krasinski makes a horror film for the ages” on their 2018 bingo card either? Let’s not underestimate the man — and let’s definitely not underestimate returning stars Emily Blunt and young Millicent Simmonds, who are joined this time around by Cillian Murphy, who in retrospect seems like he should have been in this thing all along.
In theaters September 4
Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho made an animated prequel to accompany his brutally entertaining zombie-apocalypse phenomenon when it came out in 2016. Seoul Station was, if you can believe it, even more bleak than its live-action companion, surveying the spreading undead pandemic from the perspective of a young runaway and the two men searching for her as panic escalates. Now Yeon’s made a follow-up to Train to Busan — though given the high body counts and low survival rate in this series, it should be unsurprising to learn that it picks up with new characters. Set four years after the events of the first two films, Peninsula takes place in a decimated South Korea in which there are few survivors, with Gang Dong-won as a soldier assigned to take on a retrieval mission that, given the genre, probably goes terribly wrong.
In theaters on a date TBD
Also in Theaters:
In theaters July 1
In theaters July 31
The Empty Man
In theaters August 7
In theaters August 14
The Secret Garden
The One and Only Ivan
In theaters August 14
Let Him Go
In theaters August 21
In theaters August 28
The Beatles: Get Back
In theaters September 4
The Movies You Thought You’d See in Theaters (But Definitely Won’t, Sorry)
Moved from June 12 to September 25
Moved from June 12 to a date TBD
Moved from June 19 to November 20, 2020
In the Heights
Moved from June 26 to June 18, 2021
Top Gun: Maverick
Moved from June 24 to December 23, 2020
Minions: The Rise of Guru
Moved from July 3 to July 2, 2021
Moved from July 10 to March 5, 2021
The Forever Purge
Moved from July 10 to a date TBD
The French Dispatch
Moved from July 24 to October 16
Moved from July 24 to July 30, 2021
Moved from July 24 to October 30, 2020
Moved from July 31 to March 19, 2021
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
Moved from August 7 to January 15, 2021
Moved from August 14 to a date TBD
Moved from August 14 to February 26, 2021